A Guide To Green & Sustainable Cruising Options

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase.  

Whether you’re a cruising aficionado, have never cruised, or are just looking for ways to make more sustainable choices when you travel, I hope all of you will enjoy this informative guest post from Julie M. Smith of Go, Green Mamas!

I have put together this guide to green cruising for the environmentalist in you. In this article, you will learn the environmental hazards of this leisurely activity, how to choose your cruise ship to reflect your green values, and what individual actions you can take to make less of an ecological footprint on your next cruise.

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The Appeal of Cruise Vacations

I definitely understand why more than 25 million people opt for this vacation mode annually.  I mean, what other type of vacation allows you to see so many places at such an affordable cost? Not to mention the fact that you are traveling to these destinations from the comfort of your oceanfront room, with tons of entertainment and activity options onboard to suit every personality. It really does seem like the perfect vacation for families, friends, and couples alike.

These are some of the main reasons that led me to choose a cruise vacation for my honeymoon over a decade ago. My husband and I found the food to be high quality and diverse, the shore excursions exciting, the onboard entertainment didn’t disappoint, and the hospitality subpar to none. And a few years back, I revisited cruise life with a different cruise line, as part of a milestone birthday party with friends. Again, I found it to be an awesome experience.

I later learned, however, that the very cruise line I had supported on that trip has inflicted many criminal violations against our environment. I think you will agree that a good time is not a good tradeoff for a serious environmental decline. That’s why I believe that it is crucial to have this guide to green cruising in planning your next vacation at sea. 

The Environmental Impact of Cruising

The problem is that I have really become concerned and passionate about preserving our environment in recent years. I feel a responsibility to the coming generations, especially my children. And, of course, cities on the water cannot operate without waste; massive amounts of it, in fact.

Here are the issues at hand:

Cruise ships’ heavy use of fossil fuels results in each individual producing the same amount of emissions during a 7-day cruise as they would during 18 days on land.

The bilge water, which collects in the lowest part of the ship’s hull, contains such contaminants as the oil and grease that leaks from the ship. It is generally expected that this water will be treated prior to being dumped, but this is not always the case.

The air pollutants from the smokestacks include harmful substances such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, two components that make up acid rain

The sewage can often add up to around 20,000 gallons per day.

The greywater, which contains cruise remnants such as detergents, food waste, oxygen-depleting nutrients, and various pathogens. This water is also supposed to be treated, but this is again not always the case as seen here.

The amount of plastic waste, though it is slowly being replaced on some cruise lines, is disturbing.  Even more concerning is when ships hastily dump it right into our oceans.

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Choosing a Green Cruise Ship

Friends of the Earth put together a cruise ship report card that can be very helpful in determining which cruise lines, and even individual ships, to go with when you are seeking a greener cruise.

In 2019, it was found that Disney Cruise Lines gets the best grade overall by far when it comes to environmental practices. The grade takes into account sewage treatment, air pollution reduction, water quality compliance, transparency, and any criminal violations thus far. 

Unfortunately, none of the cruise lines appear to be doing a sufficient job with air pollution reduction. If you flip over to the “cruise ships” tab, however, you will see that certain ships in several of the lines have achieved a good grade in all areas. 

Here is more in-depth information about the environmental practices of each major cruise line.

A Guide to Green Cruising

Once you’ve chosen your best cruise ship option for green cruising, there are numerous additional steps you can take in planning and preparing for a cruise that is gentler on the environment. Here is a list of options to consider.

Selecting Your Cruise Vacation

  1. Find a “greener” cruise ship from the cruise ship report card.
  2. Consider a smaller cruise ship or even a river cruise.
  3. Here is an informative link about cruise lines that are going above and beyond in the sustainability department.

Onboard Practices

  1. Only take from the buffet what you know you will like and be able to eat. More than 30% of buffet food gets tossed because it is left on passengers’ plates.
  2. Choose to eat onshore whenever possible, forcing cruise lines to reevaluate their practices.
  3. Refuse single-use plastics such as straws, water bottles, cups, and bags. Many cruise lines are already cracking down on this, but you also need to be cognizant of sustainability on land. Bring your own reusable straws, bottles, and bags.
  4. Conserve resources such as electricity and water. Being on vacation is not a good excuse to leave the lights on, take long showers and toss linens in the laundry after one use. Open the windows and turn off the a/c when weather permits.
  5. Keep waste to a minimum. Recycle anything you can and never bring onshore waste onboard.
  6. Bring your own toiletries. Avoid any temptation to simply blow through those wasteful mini bottles of shampoo and packages of soap.
  7. Skip the printed receipts. Nowadays an emailed version is pretty commonly offered.

When Onshore

  1. Opt for reef-friendly sunscreen. Mineral and zinc oxide-based versions don’t have the detrimental bleaching effects that conventional sunscreens do.
  2. Invest in the local communities by venturing further away from your cruise ship. Ask the locals where the best places to eat, shop, etc are. Live like the locals and you will gain a much more authentic and memorable experience.
  3. Show off your local experiences on social media as a way to advertise and promote the locals who are so generously hosting you.
  4. Consider the genuine act of “voluncruising”

As with most things we do in life, there are more sustainable choices we can make when going on a cruise. It’s just a matter of making ourselves aware and then taking a little extra time to follow that path. We can have our fun and protect our environment at the same time by cruising consciously.  Bon Voyage!

Emily again!  I love all the useful information Julie shared about how we can make more sustainable choices when we cruise and also help the local businesses that we visit.  A company I recently discovered called Pemco Cruises out of Bali, Indonesia offers the opportunity to pitch in by helping them clean the ocean while you enjoy your cruise!  I look forward to seeing this eco-tourism trend continue to grow in popularity as we all realize the numerous ways we can help to clean up the world.  The Virgin Voyages Cruises that launch for the first time in April of 2020 have also placed a large emphasis on sustainability, though their prices are not very affordable.

Have you been on an eco-friendly cruise or vacation?  Does this change how you will book cruises in the future?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

About The Author

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Julie M. Smith, M.S., is a natural living blogger at Go Green Mamas. Like many of us, she is passionate about keeping her family healthy; however, she took her concern a step further, by formally studying environmental toxins. Julie also cares deeply about the environment, and blogs frequently about ways mere moms can help save it. She is mom to two little girls and wife to her tech support guy. When she’s not writing, she enjoys organizing events for her women’s circle, wandering charming neighborhoods, and any opportunity to travel.  Follow her on Facebook and find more great green-living tips on her blog.

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