10 Ideas For More Sustainable Cruise Travel


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, the more I learn in my degree program, the more cruise travel has started to torment me.  The statistics are alarming, and I feel an immense sense of contradiction and even some major guilt about this style of travel.  In efforts to keep this post somewhat positive, I will stay away from the most depressing facts about cruises, and instead focus on small ways everyone could make their cruise travels less negative. 

Here are 10 ideas for a more sustainable cruise

Cruise on smaller ships.

I know, I know.  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, I 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 of it 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 were projected to take 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.  If you need some ideas on cruise ship excursions, click here.

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.

Tell us about your thoughts on how you can lessen your impact on cruise vacations in the comments below!

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