31 August 2009

Are Cruises Eco-Friendly?

I try to be as eco-conscious about my decisions as much as possible.... when offered to go on a 9-day cruise in the Caribbean, I hesitantly accepted, wondering about the ramifications of that kind of travel on the environment.

We stayed on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas boat. The huge boat is 9 years old, weights 137 tons, is 1,000 feet long, and 137 feet wide. It holds 3,840 guests, and 1,214 workers. The boat cruises at an average of 25 mph. The boat sails constantly with new groups of guests constantly, all year long. Imagine a moving city/hotel that holds 5,000 people every week of the year = 270,000 people x 9 years = 2,430,000 million people.

Boy, was I pleasantly surprised. I realize now that huge cruise ships must find ways to reduce their amount of trash because it saves them money, hence, making the cruise more eco-conscious for all of us, perhaps more than airlines and hotels.

My bed sheets were never taken out/washed the entire 9-day stay. My used towels, left on the racks, were simply re-folded and put back on the rack (I know because I put a tiny make-up smudge on one corner on purpose).

Here is a photo-journal of all the good eco-things (and some bad) about the cruise I went on.

The showerhead was low-flow, and the warmest setting for the shower was mildly warm. I couldn't increase it to a hot temperature (I love hot showers, so this was a nice way to detract me from taking hot showers!). I also know the ship can provide hot temperatures because in the spa, I used their shower, and it was hot! Wonder why.
This shampoo/conditioner dispenser was excellent, much better than the tiny bottles they put in your hotel room every day. I used this everyday.

Those signs were in every room, every bathroom and peppered on various locations on the ship.

I could control the temperature in my room. Of course we put it at the lowest possible setting, but the air conditioning in the cruise liner was too strong (yes I froze), and the cold air still seeped in our room regardless of that setting. I was told that people remedy this by opening their balcony window to let the outside air in (which is obviously just making the air conditioner run even more). I think this is probably the biggest pet peeve I have about cruises - their freezing temperatures!!!! Royal Caribbean, take note!
Their trash cans in the rooms are NOT lined with plastic bags.
The bathroom trash can, again, NOT lined with a plastic bag. Nice! When I had my period (yes I got it on the cruise, ugh), there were paper bags specifically for discarding pads and tampons that said "100% recyclable" and "biodegradable". Hmm. Too bad, I forgot to bring my Sea Sponges!!! So I bought tampons from the cruise shop - double UGH).

I didn't take a picture of my laundry bag (they washed my clothes) and returned it in a paper bag (not plastic). The original laundry bag was plastic, though....
All of their lights are LED bulbs that put out less heat and require significantly less energy.
Recycling bins can be found on each floor.
Unfortunately, their milk comes in paper cartons (better than plastic, regardless). I also was disappointed the condiments were all individual sized (ketchup, mustard, relish, syrup, butter, and so on). There should be bulk canisters for these things. Also, water is provided in dispensing tanks, so there were no plastic bottles anywhere. You could purchase them from the ship, but of course they were tad too expensive (thank goodness), and I didn't see anyone drinking from them or leaving them around.
All of the utensils, dishes and napkins were metal, plastic/ceramic or cloth. I only found one small section of the ship that provided paper napkins (and it was hard to find).

A small half-page article in a thick magazine by the Royal Caribbean cruise for the 2009-2010 year mentions their endeavors in being eco-conscious. They mention that all their windows have tinging materials that filter out almost all UV rays which saves air conditioning (if only they'd turn down their air conditioning setting!). Their dishwashers, laundry equipment, ice makers are all water-conserving and energy efficient. The newer ships all have better hull shapes and improved propeller systems which save energy and fuel.

What do you think? Do those little things cancel out the amount of carbon emissions the ship emits? I wish I took a photo of the gray-black billowing smoke from the top of the ship. Does the moving ship make a negative, irreparable impact on the ecosystems underneath?

(not a photo of a Royal Carribean ship, it's a photo I found on the internet)

I've read that it's better to cruise than to fly, because of the low MPH (the lower MPH you go, the more fuel you save over time) and I've never met a plane that could carry 5,000 passengers, board them, feed them, and take them to 4 islands over 9 days. What do you think?

p.s. This blogging style, "photo-journals" - I borrowed from Beth Terry, blogger at Fake Plastic Fish. I love her blog posts, check her out!


  1. Hi Raychelle. Thanks so much for forwarding this post to me. I love all the photos of the eco-friendly as well as the not-so-eco-friendly. Imagine what kind of impact we could have on businesses if all of us blogged about the positive and negative aspects of companies we patronize.

    The only time I ever went on a cruise, I got so sea sick, I thought I would die. A shot of Dramamine did the trick. That was back in 1984, and I haven't taken a cruise since.

    Did you have a good time?

  2. Thanks Beth for your comment :)

    I loved the cruise - the pools (using filtered ocean water), spas and endless buffets were awesome :-P Loved the islands as well, couldn't believe how incredibly clear blue the beaches were.

    I don't process medicine in general well, so I tried to stick it out. I threw up a few times the first few days, thanks to Hurricane Bill. The last few days were a bit rocky as well, thanks to Tropical Storm Danny - but I was able to ride it out just fine, no ralphing after Day 3 :) Whew.

  3. I hate to sound like a stick in the mud. I suppose the greenest way to travel is not to travel at all. I can't imagine not traveling because it really opens my eyes as to how other people live outside of my little bubble. I've had so many wonderful experiences traveling - foreign, domestic, heck even day trips in my own state, that it makes me want to do it as efficiently as possible.

  4. condo blues,

    you're absolutely right. i guess if we all had TO travel, there are choices we can make... would it be better to take a cruise than to fly to each island and stay in a hotel?

    if i needed to go to europe, would it be better to take a passenger ship up there instead of flying? i'm just amazed at the number of disposable stuff at hotels and on airplanes - why not use reusable stuff like the shampoo dispenser, no plastic bags for their trash cans, instead of plastic cups for each flight seat, use reusable cups that can be washed & reused for every flight?

  5. Great report, Raychelle! It's a very honest article about the pros and cons of cruising around the sea on that ship. I like the mathematics part. It makes me wonder how many cruises are operating around the world on a given day.

    Raychelle's question: Does the moving ship make a negative, irreparable impact on the ecosystems underneath?

    Yes. Cruises do make negative and irreparable impacts underneath by destroying the coral reefs and wildlife in the sea.

    Here is a lengthy article talking about how cruises have negative impacts on ecosystems due to masstourisms. This article below was published in 1996. Although it is 13 years old, I feel the article is a very informative piece to read. It brings us to where we are right now with cruises, which is probably why Raychelle saw a lot of eco-friendly practices on the cruise she was on. Like, did those eco-signs and eco-practices exist on that cruise 10 years ago?

    Here's the article: Indecent Proposal: Cruise Ship Pollution in the Caribbean
    by Mary B. Uebersax

    I think it is important to maintain the cooperation between the sea (Caribbean for instance) communities, private industries, national and international organizations for the compilation and implementation of eco-policies for cruises and to handle masstourisms.

    I like this eco-post. I learned a lot!

  6. Anthony, thanks for commenting, and sharing Uebersax's paper. I thought her point about cruise ships "stealing" from the local economy made sense (if we flew there, we would stay in their hotels, eat in their restaurants, use their public transportation, etc). Good food for thought!

  7. what an interesting post! i'm so glad that cruise ships are making efforts to reduce their waste BUT...they are still killing dolphins, manatees whales and other sea animals by running over them. =( i don't remember where i saw the stats but in hawaii, it's really bad.

  8. thanks keri. crap. sea animals don't deserve that, no one does. i'm curious, would you choose to take a passenger cruise or fly there? i've read that simply taking off in a commercial plane consumes 30,000 gallons of fuel, and numerous bugs and birds are killed in the process. which one is the lesser evil? cruising or flying? i don't know myself. hmm.

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