Is cruise ship travel a slow and sustainable form of travel? In many ways it epitomizes slow travel — the unhurried pace, the focus on leisure and experiential activities, the languid vibe on board the boats. But slow travel is by its very nature low impact, which cruise ship travel isn’t always. So is it a sustainable mode of travel?
After recently receiving an invitation to do an Orion Expedition to Malaysian Borneo, we’ve been doing some research to find out. I’d always taken for granted that cruise ship travel was a slower and more sustainable mode of travel than flying. It turns out what I was thinking of was cargo ship travel, widely considered to be one of the most sustainable means of transport after walking, cycling, horse, donkey, camel, trains, buses, and fuel-efficient cars.
It seems that not all cruise ships are sustainable, especially those monumental ocean liners like the Queen Mary 2, which have a colossal carbon footprint. Big cruise ships are not great for the environment at all, especially the ocean. There’s a tremendous amount of electricity used, fuel burnt, garbage, sewage and even hazardous waste created, and a massive amount of wastewater disposed in the sea.
Then there are the negative effects on ports of call. Cruises are essentially all-inclusive holidays, where everything is paid in advance to the cruise company, so locals see very little benefit from shore excursions, aside from a small amount of money spent on souvenirs, and the large amount of waste left. Venice is the best or rather worst example. In Venice, the disposal of plastic water bottles left by day-trippers is a very serious problem, as is the impact of the ships on erosion of the islands from the waves created.
Having said that, it seems cruise ship companies are becoming much more environmentally conscious. The various reports I’ve been reading all claim that more eco-friendly improvements are being introduced by cruise companies every day.
These include things like more aerodynamic designs, itineraries that make better use of tides, installation of solar power panels, LED lights, low-flow showerheads, and heat-transfer windows to cut down on cooling, reducing air-conditioning emissions and allowing more natural light, use of cleaner burning fuels and non-toxic cleaning supplies, onboard crushing of aluminium, tin and glass for recycling, re-using used cooking oil as an alternative fuel, replacing plastics with bio-degradable materials, and sourcing local sustainable produce for meals.
Some researchers have argued that cruise ship travel is even worse than flying for the amount of carbon emissions created. However, it’s very tricky to compare the carbon footprint of a cruise ship voyage with that of a flight, because a cruise ship is not just a means of transport, but includes accommodation, meals, entertainment, and leisure activities.
Fortunately, smaller vessels like Orion Expedition’s mega-yachts, which is what we might be travelling on (see this post), are significantly greener and more sustainable than massive cruise ships like the Queen Mary 2. Designed to be self sufficient for 22 days at sea, the Orion ships boast energy efficient engines, water recycling, and innovations like collecting air conditioning condensation for use.
Orion also claims to be sustainable in other ways, working with local communities, including traditional owners and tribal chiefs, to carefully and sensitively manage tourist visits and experiences, ensuring their authentic, and giving back to the locals in other ways, from investing in the protection of natural resources to looking after their well-being.
I’m also thinking that, just as we would in a hotel or apartment rental, we need to be responsible ourselves when we’re at sea, doing small things like turning lights out, re-using towels, giving the air-conditioning a miss if it’s not necessary, having showers instead of baths, and, just as we do in the restaurants we eat at, wherever possible, selecting dishes to eat that have created with local, seasonal, and sustainable produce.
Until recently, cruise ship travel was not something we’d contemplated, partly for responsible travel reasons, but also because we weren’t sure it was a style of travel that was for us. That cruise ship travel is becoming more environmentally friendly, with even mega-liners like the Princess Cruises ships (remember The Love Boat?) now boasting long lists of sustainable practices, is definitely working in its favour. And the undeniably slower pace of travel is definitely appealing.
I’m imagining what a cruise will be like. The closest experience we’ve had to the experience is ferry hopping around the Greek Islands and along the coast of Croatia. I remember the excitement of departures, the anticipation that builds along the way, gazing out to sea as I lazily read a book, wondering what the place we’re sailing to will be like and whether our expectations will be met. And then the feeling a sense of excitement again as the destination appears in our sights and come into focus on approach. I’m imagining all that and more — and maybe more of less — in between, if you know what I mean.
So what do you think? Does cruise ship travel come to mind when you think of slow and sustainable travel? Are you a fan of cruises? Any tips for these slow and sustainable travellers?