Cruising And Tourism: Wretched Excess

The monumental, pre-COVID levels of cruise ships and world tourism were not sustainable.

The monumental, pre-COVID levels of cruise ships and world tourism were not sustainable.

A friend in Juneau, Alaska sent me this article, “Towns and businesses across Alaska brace for a second summer without cruise ship tourists” which states in part:

“[Alaska] saw more than 1.33 million cruise ship tourists in 2019. Last year, Southeast Alaska — the industry’s core region — saw just 48, according to figures compiled by a Juneau economics firm. More tourists arrive by cruise ship in Alaska than by any other means. This year, the expectation had been for something better than 2020, but the Canada decision [Banning all cruise ships in Canadian waters until 2022], coupled with a separate ban on cross-border land access, will block hopes for a rebound.”

The truth is that the cruise industry worldwide was a house of cards that was eventually going to collapse of its own weight. The industry was what the New Yorker used to call in snippets here and there at the end of articles, “wretched excess”; like a $5 million wedding or a $100,000,000 penthouse. Placing 5,000 people on what amounts to a floating hotel is a recipe for disaster. The cruise ships look like city block-sized icebergs that have broken off and floated away. These ships dump their shit, literally, and trash into the oceans. Even before COVID-19, patrons on board these vessels were getting terribly ill from food poisoning (norovirus for one) and other diseases (influenza, coronaviruses, salmonella, rhinoviruses, Legionnaires and hepatitis A) that were passed around easily due to the close quarters aboard. People drinking to excess and gorging themselves at the endless buffets has now ended in what my mother would have described as an “unmitigated disaster.”

Arrival of these enormous craft in a port brought an onslaught of insouciant and largely ignorant tourists buying souvenir junk and leaving with nothing more than full stomachs and not a shred of knowledge about where they had just been for the last 3 or 4 hours. Places like Key West, Florida, and Venice, Italy, have sighed in relief now that they are no longer plagued by these rabbit-warrens-on-water that loosed thousands and thousands of passengers daily to the detriment of any livable existence by the residents. Yes, some made money off the seagoing rubes but the contract was written on flimsy paper.

Enormous Crowds Jostle to See the Mona Lisa
Enormous Crowds Jostle to See the Mona Lisa

All over the world, even outside the areas served by these cruise ships, millions of tourists were dumped yearly into cities like Rome, Paris, Mexico City, Jerusalem, Cuzco, Bangkok or Zermatt, not to mention sites such as parks, ancient ruins and animal sanctuaries. Tourists were destroying the environment and made visiting sites all but impossible due to the volume of visitors who stomped about in their obliviousness and ignorance, taking photos they would probably never look at again or even understand why the photo was taken in the first place.

Local, formerly vibrant neighborhoods near tourists sites have been bought out by junk store owners, chain clothing or electronic gadget companies and real estate speculators (AirBnB, VRBO) thus chasing out local shops providing food sales, services and goods for the community. Rents go sky high and long term renters are put onto the street or forced to move to distant suburbs far from their employment. Those who do manage to remain in their apartments or homes are bombarded with constant noise from the streets filled with careless and drunken tourists. All this in the name of commerce and entrepreneurship.

And according to the song (The Party’s Over - sung by Doris Day), the pretty balloon has been burst and the moon has been taken away. Pre-COVID cruising and worldwide tourism are unsustainable industries.

“The party’s over, it’s time to call it a day

They’ve burst your pretty balloon

And taken the moon away

It’s time to wind up the masquerade

Just make your mind up

The piper must be paid”

But will these areas and cities be recreated as places to live and not merely exist as someone’s piggy bank? Or as with the arrival of a tsunami that leaves the beach totally bare, will the waters of tourism and cruising suddenly return as a huge wave, only to flood the land yet again, destroying all in its path?

About Dick Conoboy

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

David A. Swanson

Feb 10, 2021

Brings back memories of the  Prinsendam, when some 300 passengers along with the crew went over the side in a dark and stormy night after the ship caught on fire some hundred+ miles off the coast of SE Alaska in 1980.


Ruth Fruland

Feb 10, 2021

Rabbit-warrens-on-water is nicer than my opinion of cruise ships as abominations from hell. Who knew The Love Boat would create such a many-pronged disaster? I saw one parked in Galveston Texas a few years ago and it made the small, quaint, coastal town look like a minature lego set. 


Jim Kyle

Feb 10, 2021

Unfortunately, the cruise ships will probably return full force to Alaska in 2022.  Many of the smaller towns have sold out, with large portions of their downtowns dedicated to serving cruise ship visitors during the summer.  Those towns will want them back, and the cruise ship companies’ deep pockets will enable their survival.  

Covid permitting, there is another story here.  Absent cruise ships, this summer will be an ideal time to visit Southeast Alaska, as well as more distant destinations if you have the time.  Board the ferry in Bellinghanm.  Staterooms are available, or you can camp out on deck.  Plan your itinerary around scheduled ferry stops in the various ports.  You will be welcomed with open arms and visit fascinatng towns, all without fighting the hordes of trinket-buying visitors.  


Nicholas Sotak

Feb 11, 2021

I had the opportunity to visit Juneau a couple years ago (via aircraft) in December.  My wife’s aunt, a local, showed me around town.  When we got downtown near the docks I was surprised to see what looked like many upscale stores.  I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it was along the lines of, “All these shops are owned by the cruise companies and they sell stuff to people on the cruise ships.”  If this is true, other than relatively low wage employment and possibly some tax benefit, what good are the cruises doing for the local economy?  It’s almost certainly out-weighed by the cost to the environment and culture.

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