by Erinn Stam
Cruises are one of the most popular and low-cost vacation options, allowing passengers to visit multiple locations while enjoying all the standard amenities of a luxury vacation. However, cruises also contribute a disproportionate amount of waste when compared with other means of travel. The U.K.-based Climate Care estimates that cruise ships emit more carbon dioxide than long-haul flights, and other studies have shown that cruise ships generate about 21,000 gallons of sewage a day, 170,000 gallons of grey water (waste water from laundry, showers, and dish cleaning), and other harmful wastes. Cruise ship passengers are also estimated to dispose of more trash daily than local residents.
Eco-conscious travelers who still want to enjoy the cruise experience can choose from one of several alternative options. Before booking your Caribbean vacation or Mexico holidays on a massive cruise liner, here are a few alternatives to consider:
Small Ship Cruises
Smaller ships carry fewer crowds (maybe 100 to 500 people instead of thousands) and, therefore, produce less waste. They also typically make stops at smaller ports that are less commercialized for tourists, or at stops that are not accessible to larger ships. Some travelers may find the experience on a smaller ship to be more intimate and engaging (some travelers on some ships can get involved in onboard activities such as hoisting the sails), but others may find the lack of options aboard a small ship to be too limiting.
For some ideas for small ship cruising, check out this collection of articles from Tourism Review.
Adventure Travel Cruises
If the idea of being crowded around the deck of a small ship with strangers on your vacation doesn’t sound appealing, combine the eco-friendly lure of small ship cruising with adventure travel for a more stimulating vacation. Explore exotic locales such as the Amazon Rainforest, the Galapagos Islands, or the wilds of Antarctica. These cruises offer you the opportunity to see the native wildlife, explore rugged terrains, and tour archeological and cultural sites. These vacations combine the spirit of independent travel with the guided tourism of a cruise on a smaller scale that is more eco-friendly and individually tailored. G Adventures and Southwind Adventures both offer specialty adventure cruises worth looking into.
Volunteer Travel Cruises
Find ways to give back while also enjoying the ability to see the world. Volunteer opportunities are available on some cruise ships that combine social advocacy work and travel. For example, Peace Boat is a “non-profit organization that works to promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment… Peace Boat carries out its main activities through a chartered passenger ship that travels the world on peace voyages. The ship creates a neutral, mobile space and enables people to engage across borders in dialogue and mutual cooperation at sea, and in the ports that we visit.” Volunteers for the program can participate in a number of ways, including interpreting and teaching. Volunteers must apply for the program, and restrictions apply.
Educational Travel Cruises
Finally, another responsible way to enjoy cruise travel is to combine luxury with continuing education. There are many programs at sea that offer training or certification for those interested in continuing their education or in supplementing a traditional degree program. Options range from short-term certification programs to semester-length programs for undergraduate and graduate students. For a sampling of available programs, check out Study Abroad at Sea Links and Semester at Sea.
Travelers can also enjoy educational cruises that are meant for personal enrichment, rather than culminating in a certificate or other mark of completion. Whatever program you choose, there are a variety of destinations available, and programs typically combine leisure and extracurricular activity with the educational program so that travelers can enjoy cultural experiences in the locations visited on the cruise.
Erinn Stam is the Managing Editor for nursing programs. She attends Wake Technical Community College and lives in Durham, NC with her lovely 4-year-old daughter and exuberant husband.