The booming cruise business seems to be going in two different directions.
There are the gigantic, floating resorts where the ship itself is the destination. The ports, as far as the cruise line is concerned, are incoveniences with ships stopping just long enough for guests to visit a few “approved stores” either owned by or providing major kickbacks to the cruise lines, before loading long lines of passengers back on board so they can do what they are intended to do: spend money on board. On board everything is for sale, well, almost everything. Water, liquor, soda, artwork, jewelry, clothing, Botox, teeth whitening, Chinese Medicine, more spa treatments and cosmetics than you ever thought possible, tours for the brief time you are in port away from the “recommended” shops, ice cream, upscale restaurants for those who aren’t satisfied with Las Vegas-style buffets and don’t want to wait in endless lines with overweight fellow passengers who came aboard just to eat. “I paid for it and I’m going to eat it.”
There are elaborate Broadway and Vegas wanta-be shows, and some cruise lines are even charging extra for these. You can watch movies on your cabin TV, some free and some at extra charge. They are the same movies you could watch at home, but … hey. And, believe it or not, there are also lectures … which we’ll talk about in a moment. Big ship cruising is not for everyone, but masses of people flock aboard these giant ships which on weekends turn South Florida into a giant cruise ship parking lot.
Don’t get me wrong. You can escape from the masses on board a mega ship … for a price. Everything has a price on board the giant cruise ship. Serenity spas and escape areas on board are all available, of course at extra charge.
The cruise business is just one part of the overall problem in tourism today: we tend to destroy what we love. It’s wonderful that almost everyone can explore the great wonders of the world, but the very existence of some of the most treasured tourist destinations, places like Venice, Machu Pichu, Angor Watt are in danger of being destroyed, overrun by too many tourists.
One of the popular Caribbean island destinations is George Town, Grand Cayman. The Caymans, in addition to being a popular destination in which to park money, used to be a quant Caribbean town kind of quintessentially what you’d dream of in a Caribbean island resort. At the height of the cruise season tiny George Town, population 28,836 gets 20,000 cruise ship visitors per day! Not only do the tallest buildings in town all sail away at 5 PM, the number of cruise tourists is almost more than the number of inhabitants!
Nassau, St Thomas, St Maarten, Grand Cayman, yada yada, have all become giant shopping centers with cruise ship parking lots during daylight hours. It is genuinely hard to find an unspoiled spot in the Caribbean and if you’ve found one, don’t tell anyone! Most of the shops pushed by the cruise lines are not locally owned, although they do provide some local revenues and employment, but the cost is the destruction of the traditional island culture and lifestyle. Not just on the islands, but even in popular European destinations such as Venice, local inhabitants are forced out because they can’t afford to live any longer in their homes.
Venice is pushing back, struggling to survive, attempting to put limits on high season tourism. I would avoid at all costs visiting Venice, or Rome, Florence or Barcelona during the overrun summer months. Taking a cruise at the beginning or end of the season is the way to go and still enjoy the experience!
Next time I’ll talk about the other direction in cruising, which is the fastest growing part of the industry and the most exciting.