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Vegan Cruises – Legit Or A Ton Of BS?

For many, cruises are the ultimate luxury holiday, but what about vegan cruises?

For travelers looking to take a holiday with minimal planning, and maximum personal enjoyment a cruise might seem ideal. Sit back and relax while being chaperoned around the wide open seas, down a traversing river, or even across a seemingly endless ocean. All while enjoying a multitude of entertainment options, daily excursions, nightly entertainment, and basically all the food and drinks you can handle. What more could you ask for?

Don’t think your vegan diet will stop you either. There are plenty of big name cruise brands offering plant based cuisine, and even smaller all vegan cruise brands cropping up.

Yet it’s not all rainbows and sunshine when it comes to cruises. Sustainable travelers and ethical vegans may want to consider a few things before booking any type of cruise, vegan cruise or not.

Are Vegan Cruises Really Vegan?

Vegan Cruises - Are They Really Vegan?

Are vegan cruises just for dietary vegans or can ethical and environmental vegans feel good about them too? What impacts do most cruises have on the environment, people, and animals?

Mark Watson, director of Tourism Concern, an advocate for ethical tourism encourages travelers to say no to cruises. He states, “There isn’t anything positive you can say about going on a big-ship ocean wide cruise. A cruise ticks all the bad boxes,”. This includes mistreating workers, polluting the sea and air, land grabbing, and keeping money out of the local economy.

What are the details of said cruise ‘bad boxes’? What impacts do cruises have, and what is being done to improve things?

The Environmental Impacts of Cruises

Cruise Ship Pollution

It was a lovely sunny day in Spain. After a fantastic week of eating vegan ice cream, and traveling around Andalusia, it was time for a relaxing beach day!

We headed to the popular beach Playa del Malagueta. Yet this was not the picture perfect beach seen on postcards. I remember arriving at the beach in Malaga and wondering what the awful smell was. A loud horn suddenly pierced the air. To our right we spotted a giant cruise ship, just one of around 120 ships that arrive between the months of April, May and June.

The sea itself had a layer of oil clinging to the shoreline. My bikini was soon covered in brown and black specks after swimming just a few lengths.

As two vegans who care about the environment, we had enjoyed a car-free week exploring this beautiful region by bus and train. Yet at the end of our trip, our efforts seemed futile as this huge cruise ship was poured out noise, air, and water pollution.  We wondered, as vegans, can we ethically support cruises? Does it change anything if they’re vegan cruises?

Cruise Ship Pollution Causes

Around 30 million people went on a cruise last year.

While Flysgskam or flight shaming is receiving global attention there seems to be less coverage on the environmental impacts of cruises.

A cruise ship is essentially a floating city. These floating cities are thirsty for power. Power to supply air conditioning, heating, swimming pools, cooking, showers and more.

This power has to come from somewhere and to keep costs down, cruises often use the dirtiest types of fuel to feed their hungry machine. This dirty fuel, also called bunker fuel, emits harmful emissions. These emissions have negative impacts on the environment through both air and water pollution.

Air Pollution Caused by Cruise Ships

Huge black billows of smoke pour out of the top of massive chimneys on cruise ships. No surprise that the smoke pollutes the air everywhere the ship travels and docks. Recently, an undercover report also revealed that the air onboard can be just as polluted as major cities like Beijing and Santiago.

So, why do cruise ships cause air pollution?

A study recently showed that one of the biggest cruise companies emits 10 times more sulphur oxides than all of Europe’s 260 million cars. This is a huge amount of sulphur! Sulphur Oxide is also dangerous to our health as it can cause acid rain and very fine dust which leads to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Cruise Ship Water Pollution

Cruise ships not only contribute to air pollution but to water pollution as well. There are a few main causes of water pollution from cruise ships. Cruise ships pollute oceans by discharging grey water, black water, solid waste, oil spills and other chemicals.

Grey Water and Black Water

Another way that cruise ships damage the oceans is by discharging so called grey water and black water.

Grey water is water that has been used for cleaning. For example, water used for sinks, laundries and showers is grey water. Black water, on the other hand, is better known as sewage water.

While both grey water and black water from ships pass through a sewage treatment plant before entering the sea, huge amounts of harmful pollutants are still present in the waste. Grey water and black water contain chemicals, metals, minerals and bacteria which adversely affects marine life and the marine eco-system.

Solid Waste and Oil Spills

Cruise ships should not, but often do, dump solid waste such as plastic into the sea. Yet worst of all cruise ships can pour huge amounts of the dirtiest type of fossil fuels into the world’s oceans.

Cruise ships use around 150 tons of fuel oil every day. This oil can reach the ocean through improper repair work or a faulty engine system, causing marine pollution. Ships may also burn unfiltered oil , sometimes illegally, in protected areas.

What’s Being Done About All the Pollution Caused by Cruise Ships?

Yikes! Seems that cruise ships cause some serious damage!

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Environmental groups and governments are introducing means to try and tackle the issue of cruise ship pollution.

Recently, in January 2020 a new sulphur cap was introduced to help tackle the issue of pollution caused by cruise ships. Globally, cruise ships must now reduce their maximum sulphur content of marine fuels to 0.5% (previously 3.5%)! This is a great step in the right direction to ensure that cruises reduce the amount of toxic waste they emit!

Out of sight out of mind? Cruise ships sometimes deposit solid waste in the form of garbage into the ocean. While these ships may be doing this far from land, it is still illegal. In an attempt to curb this practice, cruise companies can be fined for dumping plastic. The recent case with Princess Cruises which is a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise is a great example. Princess Cruises dumped huge amounts of plastic during its cruise in the Bahamas and were hit with a $20 million fine. 

Given the popularity of cruises, it seems unlikely that there will be a ban on them in the foreseeable future despite their contribution to air and water pollution. Yet crimes at sea will not go unpunished and groups are trying to limit the pollution caused by these floating cities.

The Ethical Impact of Cruises

Poor wages, abysmal working conditions, discrimination. There are a lot of ethical issues with cruises when it comes to how they treat their employees.

Poor Wages and Long Hours for Cruise Workers

Exploitation of Cruise Ship Workers

Cruises can cost a lot of money. Regent Seven Seas Cruises class themselves as one of the most luxurious cruises. An 18-night cruise can cost up to $20,000 for the master suite! It may, therefore, surprise you that these high costs often do not equate to high or sometimes even fair wages for crew workers. Indeed, some argue that rather than call cruise ships ‘floating cities’, we should call them ‘Sweatships’.

One of the ethical implications of choosing to go on a cruise ship holiday is that you may be supporting poor working conditions. Back in 2014, officials in Brazil rescued 11 crew members who had been forced to work up to 16 hours a day on an Italian cruise ship operated by MSC Crociere.

Furthermore, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) conducted a thorough survey of 400 cruise ship employees a few years ago. This survey showed that 95% of crew members work 7 days a week with little time off and up to 14 hours a day.

Vice also recently wrote an interview about the differences in pay on cruise ships for different ethnicities. They stated that “In the 21st century, the boats are the global GDP pie chart in miniature.”. Those from the Philippines and Bangladesh work the hardest and the longest hours, yet receive the least amount of pay. Their wages are determined by their ethnicity which often equates to just one dollar an hour. The next tier are the Eastern Europeans in the cruise caste system. They are generally assigned low-level serving jobs. At the top, of the cruise hierarchy are Westerners. They get the highest-paying jobs, most in entertainment, engineering and accounting.

Locals Suffer from Over Tourism with Little Financial Gain

Overtourism in Dubrovnik from cruise ships

It is not just those who work on cruise ships who can be negatively affected but also locals where the cruise ships dock.

Giant cruises can take over small towns. Dubrovnik and Kotor in the Adriatic are typical examples of places that struggle under the sheer number of passengers who overtake the old towns for a few hours, spend very little as they will probably eat back on the cruise and won’t be spending any money on local accommodation.

While the cruise ship industry is the largest economic sector in the Caribbean very few cruises buy food locally and often use their own tour guides. Thus, excluding many locals from benefiting from this type of tourism.

Combating Ethical Issues of Cruises?

Cruise Ships in the Bay of Kotor

As ethical vegans, we care about animals as well as our fellow human beings. So what is being done to tackle the ethical issues of cruises?

Some locals and governments are fighting back. Certain cities are implementing new initiatives in an attempt to curb the effects of overtourism. For example, ships are being limited in Venice’s historic centre and the number of cruise ships will decrease in the next few years. Visitors of the Galapagos Islands must pay an entrance fee and are required to stop at one inhabited island to contribute to the local economy.

For the cruise ship workers, however, it is a different story. An attempt to find examples of cruise companies paying fair wages, results only in the discovery of more horror stories. Even Business Insider struggled to gather information about cruise members wages as many of the big brands like Carnival and Norwegian refused to comment for their article.

Of course, some employees in higher positions can make a living, for many, cruise ship work is backbreaking and offers little remuneration.

How Cruises Impact Animals

Vegan Cruises and Cruise Ships Killing Whales

It is perhaps unsurprising to state that cruises harm marine life. These giant boats need a lot of energy to keep afloat and ensure their passengers want for nothing. As the ships sail the seven seas, they pollute the waters which harm ecosystems, cause physical damage to sea mammals, and can destroy coral reefs.

Physical Damage to Sea Mammals

There are no exact figures, but every year many marine mammals die after colliding with cruise ships or from cruise ship noise pollution. On the West Coast of California alone, around 80 whales die a year after colliding with ships. Noise pollution can also result in death by altering hormonal levels in mammals, like whales, which can cause them to develop diseases and reduce reproduction.

Coral Reef Damage

Cruise ships can also damage marine life by running aground in coral reefs. When ships ground in coral reefs they damage the flora and fauna as well as increase the likelihood of spilling oil or toxic waste into the coral reefs.

Damage from Ballast Water

Damage from ballast water is a relatively unknown way that cruise ships can harm marine life.

Ballast water is water used to stabilize the ship as it sails. The ship sucks in water as a way to balance it as it sails. Cruise ships collect water from one part of the ship to use as ballast water and discharge it in from another area. The amount of foreign discharged water is a huge, and contains micro-organisms as well as other sea animals.

This water harms marine ecosystems and can even completely change them. Furthermore, ballast water can cause native species to become extinct or cause huge swells of certain species such as the increase of jellyfish in the Baltic Sea.

What’s Being Done to Help Marine Life?

Many vegans choose to go vegan due to senseless animal cruelty. Can vegans go on a cruise without feeling guilty if their mode of transport is harming the very things they are trying to protect?

What is being done to help marine mammals, fish and watery ecosystems?

While shipping has caused a threat to whale mortality since the 1800s, in the late 20th century the sheer scale of the issue became apparent as 20% of dead whales which were washed up showed signs of ship collision damage. Since then the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has attempted to identify high risk areas. Ironically, the US National Marine Fisheries Service implemented speed restrictions in areas with a high density of whales in an attempt to reduce the threat of ship collisions.

Marine biologists and activists are trying to help locals protect their coral reefs. Recently, a huge debate has erupted as the plans to build a new mega cruise ship port will destroy part of the coral reefs on the Cayman Islands. You can sign the petition here to show your support!

Is There Such Thing as an Eco-friendly Cruise?

Woman on Cruise Ship

Most cruises are not an eco-friendly version of transport and often run unethical workplace practices. So, what is the alternative?

Initiatives have been put in place to try to limit the amount of dangerous sulphur emitted as well as trying to get ships to slow down in areas with whales. Yet is this enough? Which brands are trying to sail the seas in a more environmentally-friendly way?

One cruise ship which is trying to do its bit for the environment is the Star Clipper. Star Clipper is not a traditional cruise ship – it is a clipper.

Clippers were ships that sailed the seas before steam power. Star Clipper is a high-tech replica of the 19th century ships, and the company sets out its own Blue Seas Policy to provide [[[ ‘the most sustainable, carbon-neutral and pollution-free experience as possible.’ Star Clipper strive to use wind power as their primary source of power. Additionally, they do not use high-polluting fuel but rather a lower pollutant fuel. Finally, they claim that they never dump black or grey water into the oceans and try to align themselves with the ideals of sustainable tourism laid out by WTO.

What About Vegan Cruises?

Vegans may have heard that vegan cruises are now available. Vegans can enjoy a plant-based meal while enjoying the ease of everything being planned for you. Yet how much do vegan cruises adhere to environmental concerns?

On the Vegan Travel – Vegan Cruises & Tours website, they clearly outline the steps they are taking to ensure better exhaust filtering, improve energy efficiency, as well as guarantee the proper processes of water and waste treatment.

Similarly, Holistic Holiday at Sea, another 100% vegan cruise which call themselves “luxury and eco-friendly sailing”, state on their website that their ship is among one of the greenest in the industry. It has an advanced water treatment system as well as energy saving technology. The cruise ship has even received awards from governments for being “on the cutting edge of eco-friendly cruising”.

Interestingly enough, the most eco-friendly cruise ship is not finished yet. Peaceboat’s eco ship aims to challenge the world of cruising. On their website, they acknowledge that the cruise industry is not going anywhere but that current ships are not sustainable. Their “Ecoship Project aims to challenge the status quo and has set itself a radical set of targets to demonstrate what is possible, and necessary for the industry to exist in a sustainable world.” With retractable wind generators, zero-waste aims and closed-water systems – Ecoship aims to be the world’s most sustainable cruise ship. 

Alternatives to Cruises for Ethical Vegans

Vegan Cruise Alternatives - Train Travel Switzerland

If you don’t want to risk supporting a vessel which can damage the environment, you can still enjoy a nice holiday!

Organized Tours: Why not consider joining an organized tour? Everything from hotel bookings to activities are arranged for you in advance. Vegans may want to consider joining a vegan tour group from companies like World Vegan Travel!

Train Travel: In Europe, there is no need to go on a cruise as there are excellent trains to carry you to your destination.

Cycling: If you were thinking of joining a river cruise, why not cycle instead!? There are many excellent cycle paths next to major European Rivers such as the Danube Cycle Path or the Rhein Cycle Path. Cycling next to a river tends to be flat and if you follow the river downstream, mostly downhill!

Conclusion: Is There Such Thing as a Vegan Cruise in 2020?

There are a few vegan cruises to choose from which will serve you tasty vegan food during your vacation. These vegan cruises seem to be moving in the right direction. Their ships are cited as some of the greenest in the industry, and are more energy efficient compared to non-vegan cruises.

Ships like the Star Clipper and the Ecoship show what the future of eco-friendly cruises may look like. However, environmental vegans and ethical vegans may still want to consider alternative holidays to vegan cruises in 2020.

There is no denying that cruises do harm the planet and its animals. Many cruises maximize profit by paying their staff little for the hours they work. While it’s great that there are now cruises that market themselves as 100% vegan, there is still a lot to consider. Do some research before booking your trip. Decide for yourself whether it’s right for you, the environment, your fellow humans, and last but not least animals.

Please note – Some of my selections contain affiliate links. These allow me to earn a small percentage every time you make a booking. Using the links enables me to provide all the information found on this site free of charge.