Just how bad IS taking a cruise for the environment?

Can a cruise vacation be an environmentally friendly way to travel?

This question came up between a friend and me recently. She had an opportunity to take a cruise with her family. The cruise would be fully paid for and would port in places she wanted to see. 
Neither she nor I are big cruise takers. It’s just not my preferred method of travel and I knew some of the environmental impacts that cruises have on the world. 
A free vacation?! Somewhere warm? During the miserable Pacific Northwest rainy and gray season? I would have a really hard time saying no to that for sure!
We got to talking and I wondered if you DID take a cruise if there was a way to help lessen the impact these monsters have on the environment? 
Let’s say that you or a friend or family member has mobility concerns and a cruise is really the best way to travel? Then what? Is there a time when cruise travel is an acceptable choice?
First, let’s address the problem with cruise vacations: 
List of problems: 
  • overcrowded port towns
  • ocean pollution
  • air pollution
  • fast/ hurried experiences in towns
  • cities/ businesses that care more about the income that tourism generates than the impact these kinds of visits can have on the culture, economy, and environment
  • soil erosion
  • garbage created on-ship
  • massive use of fossil fuels - using a whopping 140-150 TONS of fuel each day
So, What can you do?

Do your research

Believe it or not, some cruise lines are better than others when it comes to environmental impact. Friends of the Earth released this handy report card grading many cruise lines on how well they match up and what efforts they take to run a clean operation. 

cruise ships and eco travel
See full report card here


Take a Repositioning Cruise 

While still not perfect, these trips are going to happen whether the boat is full or not. Many cruise lines will offer a repositioning ticket when they have to make a trip back to a home berth after the season is over. Tickets will tend to be cheaper and there will be fewer "frills" as a full-priced cruise. 

Manage what you can aboard

While you may not have full control over everything aboard a cruise ship, you can control a few things. 
  • Pack some dry shampoo and shower less often to save on water.
  • Use a reusable water bottle for water when possible. 
  • Ask them to hold the straws in your beverages. 
  • Turn off your room lights when they aren't needed.
  • If you bring any electronics, like curling irons or blow dryers, keep them unplugged unless using them.

Book your passage on the 'World's most eco-friendly' cruise ship

Scheduled to launch in 2020 in time for the Olympic games in Tokyo, the Japanise built "Ecoship" promises to be energy efficient, cut Co2 emissions by over 40% and emit zero waste! 
It may sound too good to be true, but the Ecoship may just turn the whole cruise industry on its head. I'm very excited to follow it's progress. 


So, in a nutshell, cruises are not the best for the environment, however, there are some companies making some big strides to improve.
Now, while more eco-friednly cruise ships will help lessen the impact on the environment, they will not help lessen the impact in many of the ports that travelers vist. Just something to keep in mind. 

What ways can you think of to make cruising more eco-friendly? Do you have any ideas of alternatives?

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1 comment

  • I have taken a few cruises and it bothers me that they don’t put recycle bins in the cabins. There are typically only a couple on the whole ship and you have to go searching. But what really gets me is the FOOD WASTE! This idea that cruising means you just order everything on the menu and throw out what you don’t like is obscene. And everyone loves a buffet on vacation but people treat it like “free food” and so they can just pile up multiple plates and then toss the excess. Changing this would require changing people’s whole way of thinking about cruises.


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