Cruises… some people love them, some people hate them.  They are a great way to see bits and pieces of a lot of places in a short amount of time.  But, in terms of sustainability and environmental impacts, cruises can be terrible.  Here you will learn a few easy ideas to make your cruise more sustainable.  Trust us, anyone can do these things and still have a great vacation!

Here are 10 ideas for a more sustainable cruise

Cruise on smaller ships

It’s the time of mega ships.  Virtual floating cities that keep getting bigger and bigger with more and more to offer the passengers.  Some people may argue that because a cruise is self contained, it is in fact sustainable.  However, we beg to differ.  Think about waste, pollution, and the damage something that big carrying that many people on something that big may cause.

Check to see if your older ship has been recently retrofitted

Look for things like new engines and refurbishing to include new eco-friendly silicone paint to enhance its hydrodynamics and decrease fuel consumption.  Or, pick a newer ship with these features.

Bring some reusable drink cups

Drinks are served every day on these ships by the thousands.  Even if you don’t drink alcohol on board (because those packages are shockingly expensive in my opinion) there will be water, juice, coffee, and tea.  Bring a tumbler that doubles for hot and cold drinks and help reduce the amount of water, detergent, and energy used with washing dishes.

Check to see what products they provide

Some cruise lines provide individual bottles or in-shower pumps products like shampoo and body wash.  Check to see what they will be providing and leave your bottles at home.

Individual bottles provided by Celebrity.

Pass on the pictures

If you really don’t want a picture of your group eating dinner or walking off the gangway, politely tell them no and move on.  Even if you don’t buy these gems, many cruise lines still print them in hopes you will change your mind.  That’s right, they print EVERY SINGLE PICTURE.  Not only does this lead to significant amounts of hazardous chemicals being used for on-board printing, but those abandoned pictures are trashed at the end of each cruise. Save printed the cruise line pictures for formal nights and pass on the random shots. There are plenty of people willing to take a digital pic for you instead.

Eat less

On a cruise everyone seems to go into the mentality about seeing how much they can gorge themselves because it’s included.  While I would encourage you to try new, exciting foods, perhaps doing so in moderation is best.  The average cruise ship passenger wastes over 1.10 pounds of food per day.  Add that up over a 7 day cruise and 3,000 passengers, and that’s over 23,000 pounds of food that will be put out to sea each week on just one cruise!  Did I mention that 25.3 million people took a cruise in 2017?!  I’ll let you do the math on that one….

Don’t book shore excursions through the cruise line itself

I’m not going to lie, there are benefits to doing this.  For example, booking through the cruise line generally means the ship will not leave port without you if you are late coming back.  However, I say plan better and give back to the community instead.  Cruise lines contract with specific on-shore tour providers which give them (the cruise line) more of a financial kick-back on the purchases made by passengers.  Not only are the costs you are paying going to be higher, but you are also short-changing the great local providers who have not been able to secure these elite contracts.  We have some great  ideas on cruise ship excursions!

Make sure to deal with your trash

All you need to do is a quick Google search to see what happens when trash blows overboard.  Add to that the cruise lines who have been penalized for deliberate dumping and you can see why this is such a big deal.  The amount of plastics in the ocean is a major problem already.  The same goes for leaving things on your balcony; don’t let them blow overboard and into the belly of a whale.

Plan cruises around whale migration season

Although the occurrence is higher with freighters in commercial shipping lanes, this really bothers me.  The amount of whales which are killed as a result of a ship strike is alarming.  Most ships use sonar to determine where whales and other marine life might be.  But sometimes, a strike happens, and there have been plenty of stories in the news about this recently. However, it seems easy to me to avoid planning cruises in major migratory routes during peak migration season.  Also, look for cruise lines which have partnered with REPCET.  Taking smaller boats on whale watching excursions is a better way to see whales.  Not only are they required to stay a certain distance away at all times but they are easier to maneuver, lessening the chance of impact and are generally staffed with naturalists on-board too.

Try to avoid cruise ship owned islands

Seriously think about it.  If the cruise line owns the island and the few bars, restaurants and amenities there, then what is the economic benefit to the host community? NONE! Because there is no host community!  100% of the proceeds go back to the cruise line instead of providing an economic boost to the community.  Furthermore, because it is owned by the cruise line, you don’t even get a glimpse of what the culture there is like.  In my opinion, something like that pretty much defeats the entire purpose of travel.

While these ideas will not solve all the issues related to cruise travel, they will help.  I have always been a firm believer that if everyone does something small, it will create big end results.  If everyone put a few of these ideas in to practice whenever they cruised, the efforts would add up to lessen negative impacts.

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  1. I have to admit I don’t think a cruise is for me at all but I suppose one day i may change my mind. If I ever do then this is a great guide of how to lessen the impact of a trip. Will pin and share this.

    1. They definitely aren’t for everyone! But the ideas can also be applied to other types of travel too! Thanks for commenting and sharing!

  2. This is food for thought for us. We love cruising and until now have not really thought about the impact that cruising can have. You include such valid points which we will take in to consideration in the future. Have pinned for future reference. #feetdotravel

    1. I enjoy cruising as well, but am really starting to feel conflicted about it. It’s been a personal struggle as I’ve learned more and more about the industry. I figure if each of us does something easy like the ideas mentioned here, we can all help lessen our impacts though.

  3. Jenn, this is an absolutely brilliant post and one very close to my heart! We did a Caribbean Cruise a few years back and I had wrestled with my conscience over it for many of the reasons you have mentioned here. What I was adamant about though, was booking trips locally to give money to the island we were visiting otherwise visitors rock up, pootle around, sometimes leave trash/rubbish and don’t actually spend a lot of money in that country but they have to clean up the mess! Hmmm, sorry, I am starting to get on my soap box but it seems that you and I can probably have our own conversation about this privately and share our concerns. In the meantime, we can all take something from this post regarding sustainable cruising for those who love it, nice work! Pinned to many of my boards to ensure the message is reached. #feetdotravel

    1. You’re right – a lot of passengers don’t spend much money in port. And, it is important that they support local businesses upon their arrival! So glad you liked the post – thank you for sharing!!

  4. This is all really great information on a problem that many people may not understand. After all, cruises are considered the “big thing to do” right now, and I know so many people who take cruises and would feel so terrible if they knew how it impacted the environment. Some of these even shocked me, like how they print every photo (whaaaat? why not just keep them digitally) and visit islands that don’t benefit a community in any way. Yikes. We’ve never done a cruise, but we may continue to avoid them in the future and travel other ways instead. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Isn’t the photo thing interesting? I’m not joking… they are displayed on wall after wall on the ship. I think they do this all in a marketing scheme… people see how good they look, they can hold the photo in their hands, it is a nice, glossy print, they get caught up in the moment, and sold! If they were digital, people would not have the same connection and therefore they wouldn’t get the attachment which causes them to buy them. Just my opinion…. And yes, many cruise lines own their own islands. Just another way to add to their pockets. For example – Labadee, Haiti is owned by Royal Caribbean. But seriously to go to Haiti and see it as some idyllic tropical paradise when it is actually the only 3rd world country in North America!?!? I don’t think so….

  5. Love your ideas on lessening the impact to the environment while on a cruise. I agree if everyone will just do some small change the impact will make a difference and if they share the information tips more will help save our environment. You provided great information on what to look for on a cruise. I have seen the impact of cruise lines building an area to keep the people in one location on an island and not spreading the money to the locals who need it the most. Can not also believe the cruise lines print all pictures taken. They should show a video and let people buy it instead. wow. Thanks for sharing! #feetdotravel

  6. Liked your tips a lot! So true, most of the people don´t even think of pollution and damage something that huge may cause. And it does. We all like to focus on positive aspects of our vacation – but the ecological situation only gets worse, including oceans/marine life… I took a cruise once and have a conflicted attitude as well ever since. They don´t really give back to the community…at all. So instead of supporting small local businesses we end up investing in huge corporations… thanks for sharing and bringing the awareness #feetdotravel

  7. I’ve only been on a few cruises, but really enjoyed the ability to see so much during the day and travel time being at night while I was sleeping. I haven’t thought of some of these tips. They seem very doable!

  8. All of these tips are easily implemented and would make a huge difference if everyone followed them. I’ve been astounded at the food waste especially and, as you say, booking shore excursions through the cruise line may be convenient but who’s benefiting? We do enjoy cruising, but are very mindful of the impact on both the environment and the people and businesses in port. I’ll be sharing this on all of my social accounts. Great post!

  9. Interesting topic. I will admit I’ve never been on a cruise but have certainly wondered what it would be like. I’ve seen some documentaries on how these mega ships work and the vast quantities of resources they go through. Any reduction in waste has to be a bonus.

  10. Some great points here Jenn on cruises since they can have such a drastic effect. I like that you covered both environmentally and culturally sustainable ideas, which are both equally important I think. It’s definitely important to see your money going to the local communities in my opinion.

  11. Good things to think about whether you cruise or not in all kinds of travel. I guess it’s more drastic when you have that many people together. I have seen things in our National Parks that make me cringe too. Great post Jenn for awareness!

  12. I know very little about cruise travel as that hasn’t been the focus on my travels but it’s very important to understand the industry and ways to make your experience more sustainable. Very useful tips and something I’ve never really thought about before – thank you for sharing!

  13. We have been on quite a few cruises and these stats don’t surprise me, especially regarding excess food waste. People can be gluttons that’s for sure. I also have mixed opinions on cruises and the more I road trip and travel in other ways, the less I want to cruise. This is another great reminder post, and I truly enjoy reading your sustainable thoughts.

  14. You are absolutely right. The photo printing sounds unnecessary. Reusable cups sound like a good idea. Love this post. Surely something to ponder about.

  15. i have cruised because i cannot fly. sea travel is my only possibility to reach countries i cannot get to by foot or other transportation. i tried freight travel, which would eliminate many of the problems you listed (all staterooms are inside, no verandah suites, outdoor dining, tables for leaving behind plastic cups, etc.). the stabilization mechanism is rudimentary (it uses gravity and natural flow of water according to what crew explained), whereas a passenger ship has its own official stabilizers to reduce the incidence of seasickness. however, i cruised on a ship that was about half the size of the freighter, and every little movement was felt. i spent most of the month-long trip sick in bed, unable to attend onboard activities, so what’s the point? may as well be on a freight ship where the only entertainment is self serve (small gym facilities with dartboard, out of tune instruments in the lounge, scratched up DVDs that mostly don’t play lol). so, for me, the bigger the ship, the less misery i suffer.

    however, my case is a bit different than most who cruise. i am not really there for the fun and games – it’s a means to an end. so i don’t mind a stripped-down experience. i didn’t see any whales – once i was sick in bed, another, the ship was outlawed to approach because it was birthing season (glacier bay alaska takes a lot of care to reduce harm to the wildlife there).

    both cruise and freight had pros and cons for relatively the same price tag and travel time. and in my situation, global impact is hard to adjust, unless i just don’t travel. i didn’t travel for most of my life. freight travel ‘saved’ me, in a way, by opening up opportunity.

  16. I definitely agree on the artificial excursions that don’t give you the value of going around the world in the first place. I mean, if you’re not going to spend any time in any foreign place in a way that’s real, why not just anchor offshore in your own country’s waters or just cruise around little bit in circles or something?

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