Category Archives: Cruising Across the Atlantic 2009

The Not-so-Shiny Jewel: An Investigation into the Environmental Impacts of the Cruise Industry

An endangered fin whale was impaled on the bow of a Princess cruise ship in Vancouver in July, raising the issue of the tragic impacts of large ships on marine mammals

An endangered fin whale was impaled on the bow of a Princess cruise ship in Vancouver in July, highlighting the damage that large ships cause to marine mammals

Norwegian Cruise Lines tried to charge me $55 for the “Behind the Scenes” tour of the Jewel, but when I mentioned that I wrote a ‘travel blog’, they made an exception and let me join the tour free of charge.

The tour included meeting the captain on the bridge, touring the laundry room, garbage and recycling area, theatre, galley, and food storage facilities and gave me a deeper insight into the inner workings of the ship.  Even though I’m sure they made sure everything was ‘ship shape’ in advance, I was still able to discover some things about the cruise industry that weren’t so pure.

I cover this stuff on my blog not just to take a swipe at Norwegian Cruise Lines, but to increase pressure on the entire industry to prioritise environmental considerations in their operations.   Similar coverage has led to improvements in discharges at sea and recycling among other things.

To be fair to NCL, according to Friends of the Earth’s Cruise Ship Environmental Report Card the company rates among the most environmentally friendly cruise lines, getting a “B-” overall.  Of course this grade is relative, and it is staggering to think that most cruise lines perform worse than the Jewel, given what I saw and heard during my 11 days at sea.

During the tour I had a chance to interview the captain and the environmental officer on board about issues such as whale strikes and carbon emissions, two of the many unsavory aspects of the cruise industry.  Indeed I detected not a little bit of discomfort when I brought up these touchy subjects.

The Captain had some interesting opinions on climate change...

The Captain had some interesting opinions on climate change...

First up was a chance to meet the captain on the bridge.   After a presentation of the instrument and navigation equipment, we had a chance to ask questions.    I asked, “Captain, surely you are aware of the recent unfortunate incident where a cruise ship arrived in Vancouver harbour with a dead endangered whale impaled on its bow.   What do you do to avoid killing or injuring marine mammals while at sea?”  He admitted that radar was powerless to detect whales, and a visual scan of the sea, together with last minute attempts at course changes were all they could do to avoid the carnage.  You can imagine it’s not easy to change the course of a massive ship, and he acknowledged whale strikes were probably quite common and “really unfortunate.”  Even aside from the discharges, emissions, and waste inherent in cruising, there is no doubt that, unseen beneath the waves, the hull of a cruise ship the size of the Jewel is striking and its propellers are mutilating a large number of whales, porpoises, and other marine life. If fishing fleets are equipped with sonar to detect schools of fish, I don’t see why cruise ships can’t use the same technology to detect marine mammals and avoid them.

Where the reality struggles to meet the rhetoric: Port of Halifax

Where the reality struggles to meet the rhetoric: Port of Halifax

I also asked the Captain about carbon emissions, about the fact that the Jewel emits more than one tonne of carbon into the atmosphere every minute. His answers were very revealing.   I asked him what NCL was doing to reduce this major climate impact, and he replied “that it was up to the oil companies to produce fuel with less carbon” and “the government should reduce taxes on fuel” which- to anyone who understands the nature of the climate crisis- represents a significant and dangerous misunderstanding of the nature of the problem.   Clearly he was confusing carbon dioxide with carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide or particulate pollution.  The only thing that would help reduce emissions of carbon dioxide would be to use less fuel, to make the engines and on board energy use more efficient.  Or perhaps use natural gas to power the engines, though they were not built to burn CH4.  And of course lowering taxes on fuel would just reduce any incentive to conserve.

A floating Las Vegas, courtesy of cheap bunker oil...

A floating Las Vegas, courtesy of cheap bunker oil...

The waste of energy on board is staggering.  When in port at Halifax, we were walking back to the ship at night and the Jewel was lit up like a Christmas tree, her smokestacks belching burnt bunker fuel smoke, doing nothing good for the lungs of the residents of Halifax nor the global climate.  Some ports have now installed electrical hook ups so that cruise ships need not run their engines for power while at port, but of course the emissions are just being transferred from the ship’s engines to a power plant, most likely in some deprived neighborhood nearby.

It’s scary that ignorance of the nature of climate change still permeates senior staff of companies like NCL.  In the year 2009 there is no excuse for this.

It’s not just energy that is wasted aboard cruise ships.  According to the environmental officer on board, the Jewel disposes over 2500 gallons of food overboard per day- more than one gallon of food waste per day going to “feed the fishes” as their glib environmental program proclaims.

Roughly one gallon of food per day is tossed overboard for every passenger aboard the Jewel, an incredible waste

Roughly one gallon of food per day is tossed overboard for every passenger aboard the Jewel, an incredible waste

Most of this doesn’t come from plate scrapings but from the inherent waste from ‘freestyle’ buffet dining.  After four hours, everything is thrown away.   This lack of respect for the true value of food is only possible because of bargain basement oil making food production artificially cheap.  The whole enterprise is based on cheap oil and unconstrained carbon emissions.  NCL, like many other industries, has its head buried in the sand, and is particularly vulnerable to rises in oil prices and limits on carbon.  It not only serves the environment for passenger ship companies to make significant changes in their operations to reduce waste, it’s also sensible from an economic perspective.

As far as solid waste is concerned, it appears that NCL does a decent job recycling the ‘easy’ stuff like cans and bottles, but chooses to incinerate quite a bit that could be recycled, like cardboard and paper- even 10% of plastic waste, which leads to some pretty nasty emissions like dioxins.

The chemicals produced on board are pretty shocking too.   They have a huge photography business on board the ship, with staffers snapping photos of you many times during the cruise.  All of these shots are printed out and displayed for sale, whether you buy them or not.   According to the photo staff, only about 2% of the photos are ever bought, with 98% being thrown away.   This causes a huge amount of unnecessary photochemical and paper waste.

When Leah and I were standing in the queue to disembark at Lerwick, we overheard a woman who mentioned that there was a bad smell coming from her drain.   She had reported this to the staff, who came and poured a large amount of bleach in a vain attempt to eliminate the smell.  The outlet of the sinks goes to the grey water systems, and it is very likely that chlorine bleach is making its way directly into the ocean.  I asked the environmental officer about this incident and ‘whether it was NCL policy to dump bleach down the drains.’  He said no it wasn’t and that he would investigate.

Is it the 'end of the line' for seafood within a generation or two if we continue on as we are?

Is it the 'end of the line' for seafood within a generation or two if we continue on as we are?

There is no doubt that our poisoned, over-fished oceans are in serious trouble.  I keep meaning to see the film “End of the Line,” a wake up call about this growing crisis.  According to the film, the oceans will essentially be devoid of most edible fish within about forty years if we continue overfishing and abusing our oceans.  NCL claims to ‘meet or beat’ environmental regulations, but clearly the reality is failing to meet the rhetoric.

The tactics that NCL (and most other cruise lines) use to extract money from their passengers are pretty revolting. It was clear that they depend heavily on the extras charged on board: drinks, gambling, specialty restaurants, shore excursions, and bingo.   Especially Bingo.   A Dutch guy who I met calculated that they take in about $10,000 from retirees hoping to win big, but award only 4 prizes of $250.  A tidy profit of nearly $9000 per game.

I am proud to say that my total onboard bill came to the tidy sum of $0.   I figure I probably cost NCL money.   So, if that’s true, according to Chris Hutt’s comment on my earlier post about being responsible for carbon emissions in direct proportion to how much profit a company makes off of you, does that mean I have a negative carbon footprint?

The 1100 staff aboard the Jewel are paid slave wages and have virtually no job security

The 1100 staff aboard the Jewel are paid slave wages and have virtually no job security

According to the Dutch guy who spoke confidentially with several of the staff, the junior stewards make only about $500/ month (less than $6000/ year) including tips, work at least ten hours per day, and have to share a small cabin with 3 others.   Most are from the Philippines.   Once they finish 10 months with NCL, they have to go to a different company.   This is a fairly obvious way to avoid their employees unionising and demanding better pay and working conditions.   Most cruise ships, including the Jewel, are based in the Bahamas because of the country’s lax labor and environmental standards.

A metaphor for the cruise industry: an apple that we got from the 'Chocaholic Buffet' was beautifully dipped in chocolate, but when we cut it open it was rotten inside.

A metaphor for the cruise industry? An apple that we got from the 'Chocaholic Buffet' was beautifully dipped in chocolate, but when we cut it open it was rotten inside.

Overall, we were more nauseated on board the ship from the conspicuous consumption, waste, and the overt sense of entitlement from many of the passengers than we were from the rough seas.  Yet there remains the possibility of a future of ocean travel that places sustainability at the forefront, that recognizes the growing demand for alternatives to aviation, and provides a higher quality of travel experience, based on respect for local cultures, the ocean environment, and the proud history of seagoing.

It is this promise of a different kind of transatlantic voyage that will keep me using boats to get across the Atlantic, even if they’re not perfect environmentally, to speak out where I see abuse, and encourage others to ramp up pressure on the industry, to bring about the kind of low carbon, high quality voyages that we deserve.

Marina-Sail-Boat

Passengers Aboard the Jewel

The Garden Cafe, colloquially known as the "Feeding Trough"

The Garden Cafe, colloquially known as the "Feeding Trough"

I’ve met some interesting people on board over the past few days, several of whom are using the cruise ship as ‘alternative transport’ across the Atlantic.  Of course they are vastly outnumbered by Americans who flew to Heathrow specifically for a cruise experience, but still it’s interesting to hear their stories.  I’ve asked the cruise director, a rather cheesy Canadian named Darin, if I can host a discussion on the 29th of people who don’t fly for various reasons which he has termed, rather uncontroversially, “Fear of Flying.”

Here are some of the people I’ve met over the course of the last ten days at sea:

Jo Jo from Nashville I met during lunch in the buffet.  She was frustrated that she can’t walk to the shops where she lives- she says she waits until she’s really hungry to get into her car and suffer through the terrible Nashville gridlock just to get to the supermarket.  She mentioned that there was a nice cycle path by the river in Nashville, but it didn’t go anywhere near where she lives.   She was scared to cycle in her neighbourhood because of a few speeding drivers.  She wants to live somewhere with a higher quality of life, where she can walk to the shops but says it’s too expensive to move to a place like Portland.  She wishes politicians in Nashville would do something about the traffic and lack of transportation options.

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Grant expressing his feelings about the NCL Jewel

Grant from Vancouver who was afraid of flying after a nasty experience in an airplane flying through a typhoon over Taiwan.  He’s accompanied by his Swiss girlfriend Sophie, a goldsmith who lives with him in Vancouver.  A couple of years back he took a cargo ship from Sydney to Los Angeles, which he said was ‘painfully boring.’  He left the cruise ship early in Halifax because he ‘just couldn’t take it any more.’

Leah and I with Klaus and Eve, rare 'kindred spirits' on the Cruise

Leah and I with Klaus and Eve, rare 'kindred spirits' on the Cruise

Klaus, a German living in London with his English wife Eve. He is a refugee from the City, London’s financial district, and disgusted at the excesses that led to last year’s crash.  He was appalled with his friends for suggesting that Ian Tomlinson ‘deserved what he got’ when he was killed at the hands of the Metropolitan Police on April 1st during the G20 protests.   They live in Greenwich, visited the Climate Camp on Black Heath in August, and were really inspired by what they saw.  They were on our bike tour in Reykjavik and we’ve been hanging out with them since then.   They even came to my Driven to Excess presentation in Halifax.

Hannah (also from Nashville) is staying in one of the Jewel’s massive suites with her parents, country music stars. Apparently they go cruising several times a year, and they’ve adapted well to life on a cruise ship, not bad when you have your own private hot tub in your stateroom.

Elizabeth, an art student who’s been studying in Edinburgh, returning home to Massachusetts, who chose to take the Jewel so that she could carry her large number of canvasses that would have been costly to bring aboard an aircraft.

Wishing safe and pleasant travels to all those we met on board the Jewel!

Iceland: Revolutions and Rainbows

Thingvellir Natl Park- 30 miles from Reykjavik  (Photo: Leah Arnold)

Thingvellir Natl Park- 30 miles from Reykjavik (Photo: Leah Arnold)

Leah and I have been really looking forward to visiting Iceland, the highlight of our transatlantic trip.   This morning we cruised up the channel to Reykjavik harbour, lined with snow dusted mountains.  When we arrived at the port, I stubbornly refused to get on a bus into the City Centre, unapologetic pedestrian that I am, resulting in an hour long walk through the industrial port area, then through a series of public housing towers, and finally along a street with forlorn looking banks.  Later we found out that this was now referred to by Icelanders as the Avenue of broken dreams.

The informative 'Free' Reykjavik Bicycle Tour (photo Leah Arnold)

The informative 'Free' Reykjavik Bicycle Tour (photo Leah Arnold)

We met Stefan and Ursula of the ‘Free’ Reykjavik Bike Tour in the city centre, who we had been in touch with via e-mail beforehand.  They just started the business several months ago, and rely on tips to make money from the venture, which they report has been extremely popular.   We were driven to the bike shed, where eight of us were matched with bikes for the tour, and then set off, following Stefan like ducklings along the pavement (riding on the sidewalk is permitted in Iceland).  I have never seen such courteous behaviour from drivers.   They stopped for us even when we didn’t have right of way at junctions.  We rode through the city, which was somewhat bleak, but with the characteristic clean lines of Scandinavian architecture.

Exploring Reykjavik's Cycle Paths

Exploring Reykjavik's Cycle Paths

We stopped by Iceland’s parliament building, the site of the recent ‘pots and pans revolution’.   Growing out of the financial crisis that hit Iceland particularly hard, one man had enough.  Hordur Torfason was so upset with the irresponsible behaviour by the banks and the inability of the government to protect Icelanders’ savings that he rented a flat bed truck and speakers, showing up every Saturday to protest outside the parliament.  Over the following weeks, the protest grew from a dozen people to hundreds and eventually to thousands.   In January, with a crowd of citizens banging pots and pans together so that government officials inside the parliament could no longer ignore their demands, riot police lined the parliament building.  It got heated as police used pepper spray to keep the crowd back. One teenager threw a brick and hit an officer in the face.  Instead of descending into violence, many in the crowd turned around to protect the officers from any further projectiles.

Bjork's House!!!

Bjork's House!!!

Elections were held, and a coalition of social democrats and the left green party came into power.  The old finance minister was sacked.   Stefan reported that the heads of government departments weren’t particularly qualified or experienced in the areas which they governed- they just happened to have wealth and influence.  Certainly sounds familiar…

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Rainbow over falls in Thingvellir (photo by Leah Arnold)

Stefan told us that there were only 700 police (including office staff) for the whole island’s population of 400,000, and not always enough of them to deal with violent crime and theft.  He said that since the recession started, there has been an 80% increase in burglaries and a huge increase in the drug trade, particularly indoor marijuana growing operations.

Iceland’s incredible natural resources have not escaped the notice of the multinational corporations, and Stefan said that he has seen a significant degradation in the natural areas of the island over the past decade.   Particularly threatening has been the spread of aluminium smelters by such corporations as Rio Tinto.  He said there was an ongoing tension between the tourist industry who wanted to preserve these wilderness areas (albeit for tourists to fly in) and the multinationals who sought to rape the land for extraction and profit.  The pressure to allow further exploitation has mounted with the desperation caused by the financial crisis.  Perhaps this is part of the plan.

An organisation known as Saving Iceland is dedicated to stopping this destruction and preserving Iceland for future generations, using peaceful direct action. Somehow, Stefan reported, there always seemed to be enough police to act as security guards for the corporations, an increasing trend internationally as evidenced by the collusion between police and Eon energy company documented by the Guardian.

Woolly-feeted Ptarmigan!! (photo by Leah Arnold)

Woolly-feeted Ptarmigan!! (photo by Leah Arnold)

After the bike tour, we convinced Stefan to drive us out to Thingvellir National Park, where people walked from all over the island in 930 to establish the first Icelandic parliament.   The volcanic landscape was unlike anything I’d ever seen- just breathtaking.  We were lucky enough to witness rainbows above the landscape and when we arrived at the visitor’s centre, we were greeted by ptarmigans with woolly feet, a very odd looking bird indeed.  After a brief visit to a waterfall, Stefan dropped us back at the ship, and we bid farewell to this fascinating island in the mid Atlantic.

Disco on the High Seas

Choppy Waters

Choppy Waters

We knew it was going to be a rough night when the captain- in typical understated fashion- came on the intercom and said it ‘might be a little choppy this evening.’  Sick bags appeared by the elevators, and the crew sealed off the lower exterior decks in anticipation of the storm.   Throughout the evening, the swells became more intense, with huge waves lifting the Jewel into the air then crashing it down until it landed with a huge shudder that shook the hull and made the staircases and rivets creak disturbingly. Later that evening, after a few screwdrivers (vodka orange) we ventured out onto the pool deck.  It was like a hurricane, with the wind howling, the trash cans and deck chairs blowing around the deck, and the waves in the pool sloshing around violently, a chlorine infused mimicry of the ocean waves below.  In fact, most of the water ended up on deck before they had a chance to drain the pools.

Wild Weather on the Deck of the Jewel (Photo Leah Arnold)

Wild Weather on the Deck of the Jewel (Photo Leah Arnold)

Though the ship was equipped with stabilisers- large wing structures extending into the water from the hull, these were (bizarrely) only usable in calm weather, as they had been known to break off in rough seas, costing the cruise line $50 million, according to the staff.

Luckily that night was 70’s night in the Spinnaker Lounge, so we dressed in our flares (bellbottoms for you Americans) and headed up to Deck 13 at the bow, which was experiencing the rough sea’s worst (or best, being intoxicated as we were and enjoying every minute of the wild weather). Upstairs outside the Spinnaker, a crewmember was desperately trying to seal a door that was refusing to keep shut in the gale, making us wonder what kind of weather the Jewel, which normally cruises the Caribbean, was built to withstand.

Out for the night in the "Spinnaker Lounge" with Leah and Sophie

Out for the night in the "Spinnaker Lounge" with Leah and Sophie

The band played all the classic disco tunes, from Stayin’ Alive to Dancing Queen.  It was quite an experience trying to boogie while being thrown around the dance floor, much to the amusement of the retirees sipping their cocktails.  The gravity became really intense as the bow reached the bottom of each trough and then lifted us a dozen meters into the air, leaving the seventies hipsters nearly weightless as we reached the top of the wave and descended into the next trough.  It was quite a night, and as we stumbled back to our cabin, we were not out of place with the other off-balance passengers, turning green and clutching the stair rails.

Dancing Queen.... (photo by Leah Arnold)

Dancing Queen.... (photo by Leah Arnold)

Down on Deck 4 in the middle of the ship, where our ‘stateroom’ is, it was a bit better as the pitching and rolling was less extreme.  Still, even though our cabin was on the inside, we could feel the crash of the waves striking the hull, and several large waves during the night made us wake up in a cold sweat.

The inevitable downside to turbulent drunken carousing is turbulent hung-over-ness as we discovered the next morning.   Still we kept our breakfast down.

Mmmmmm.....greasy breakfast

Mmmmmm.....greasy breakfast

Invasion from the Sea

Shetland fights back against cruise ship invasion (photo Leah Arnold)

Shetland fights back against cruise ship invasion (photo Leah Arnold)

I’m writing this from the public library in Lerwick, Shetland islands, on a rainy and blustery morning, where the cruise ship has anchored off shore and small boats attached to the side of the ship (sort of like pods from the side of a space craft) brought us ashore.

I plan to update the blog during each stop, rather than pay their exorbitant internet fees onboard (almost a dollar a minute) so I can update it daily- in fact I’m going to try and not give NCL a single penny more during the cruise- we’ll see how it goes.

Last night we watched a broadway style stage production in the large onboard theatre- called Band on the Run- a musical about 1970’s music.  It was actually pretty entertaining.   Everything is sort of undefinably fake and plasticky on board though so its nice to get some fresh air and get away from the crowds– off to hike along the cliffs around Lerwick!

The Cliffs of Lerwick.... (photo courtesy Leah Arnold)

The Cliffs of Lerwick.... (photo courtesy Leah Arnold)

Cruise ships started descending on the Shetlands in greater numbers about a decade ago, and you can imagine the impact of 2000 passengers arriving in a town of only 7000 people (both the positive economic impact and potentially negative cultural impact).  Looking out into the harbour, the ship looks like an invading presence in this small maritime outpost.

The Port of Lerwick wasn't big enough for our behemoth (photo: Leah Arnold)

The Port of Lerwick wasn't big enough for our behemoth (photo: Leah Arnold)

Maritime twee (photo by Leah Arnold)

Maritime twee (photo by Leah Arnold)

Later that afternoon…

A 4000 year old "broch" in Shetland

A 4000 year old "broch" in Shetland

We walked around Lerwick and visited what’s known as a Broch- a defensive structure dating from the bronze or iron age (back to 2000 BC) It was made of stone and you could see the shelves they presumably used for storage etc.  Pretty eerie thinking about the generations that had inhabited it.

We also witnessed some more modern (and unsavory) aspects to life on the Shetlands- such as cars parking on the pavement.

Picking up bad habits from the mainland...

Picking up bad habits from the mainland...

But we were happy to see the Shetland Community Bike Project thriving in Lerwick, one of a growing number of community based bike repair centers springing up around the world.

Shetland Community Bike Project

Shetland Community Bike Project

Departure from Dover

On the gangway, excited to be on our way

On the gangway, excited to be on our way

When Leah (my friend who I’m travelling with) and I arrived at the Dover Cruise Terminal, the Jewel towered above us.  The ship is even more massive than it appeared from photographs- a veritable floating city designed to fulfil every whim of the largely American, retired passengers who keep Norwegian Cruise Line literally afloat.

And you can see why cruising appeals- everything is taken care of for you from all-you-can-eat buffets and specialty restaurants to pilates and spinning classes, two swimming pools, half a dozen bars, a huge theatre, and 24 hour room service.

The "Stardust" Theatre at the Bow

The "Stardust" Theatre at the Bow with a typical cross section of passengers...

There are 2400 passengers on the ship and about 1100 (mostly Filipino) crew.  Before boarding the ship, and at every opportunity you are offered hand sanitizer, presumably to reduce the risk of swine flu transmission, but also the dreaded norovirus, a gastrointestinal virus that has been the bane of cruising, sickening thousands of passengers- a real threat to the reputation (and profits) of cruise companies.

According to sources on the web, the cruise industry is growing at a rapid pace.  This is evident from the recent additions to NCL’s fleet, which are all on the scale of the Jewel, constructed in 2005: the Sky (built 1999), the Spirit (2000), the Star (2001), the Sun (2001), the Dawn (2002), Pride of America (2005), the Jade (2006), the Pearl (2006), and the Gem (2007).  At least prior to the recession, the demand for cruising was predicted to skyrocket, and the industry has responded by rapidly growing their fleets.  Due in 2010 is the Norwegian Epic, an obscene monster of a cruise ship.  I shouldn’t have to mention the obvious- that this growth is based on artificially low fuel prices, unconstrained carbon emissions, and a culture of unbridled consumption.  All this clearly cannot last.

One tonne of CO2 every minute.....scary

One tonne of CO2 every minute.....scary

A couple of weeks before the cruise, I e-mailed NCL to ask them about their carbon emissions.  Unsurprisingly, I didn’t receive a reply.  But fortunately, courtesy of the Freestyle Daily newsletter, we can glean the following about the Jewel’s environmental performance:

*Fuel consumption at top speed with all 4 engines running: 1 gallon per second

*Fuel type: Heavy Bunker B IFO 380 cst

*Fuel oil capacity: 713,300 gallons

*number of light bulbs on board: over 25,000  (primarily low efficiency halogen- after all when bunker oil is so cheap, who cares about efficiency?)

I’ll leave it to those of you who love doing carbon calculations to work out the horrendous impact implied by these figures.

The "AGE locker...." Is this where they keep the cadavers?

The "AGE locker...." Is this where they keep the cadavers?

The vibe of the ship feels a bit like Las Vegas, somewhere I never want to return to.   And Leah and I feel (and probably look) quite out of place here amongst the retirees.  But we’re going to make the best of it and try to enjoy ourselves, while trying to better understand the phenomenon of cruising and expose what we can of the dark underbelly beneath the glitz.

Your reluctant cruiser.....

Your reluctant cruiser.....

Cruising to Climate Chaos

'The Norwegian Jew'

'The Norwegian Jew'

Yes yes I know I haven’t blogged for several months.   Sorry people.   Perhaps a part of me wanted to allow the Sustrans article to stew in its own juices (more about Sustrans soon). Or maybe I just needed to step back from it all.  But I’m back online now, and headed to the States for a few months.  I plan to continue to present my Driven to Excess research, see what trouble I can stir up, and of course catch up with friends and family.

I’m booked on the next Virgin flight from Heathrow…….Ha!!!  Got you!  Justkidding…  I’ll actually be travelling with my friend Leah, via the Norwegian Jewel cruise ship (depicted above).   I know that cruises are the floating symbol of excess, the Las Vegas of transatlantic options, the carbon glutton of the seas- some say three times the impact of flying, but……

Unfortunately I don’t know anyone with a sailboat, and the recession’s impact on the cruise industry mean that you can get relatively cheap passage at the moment. This is in comparison to basic accommodation on a cargo ship which is twice as much!  I’ll be reflecting on these conundrums and more here on my blog during my overland return journey to San Francisco from September 19th to October 15th, so watch this space! 

When I rang up NCL Cruise Lines to book the voyage, I thought the agent said the ship was called the ‘Norwegian Jew.’     I could imagine this man with long braided sideburns eating gefilte fish out of a fjord…

Anyway… my friend who works in the travel industry, writes to me:

“The most damaging mode of transport you could have chosen.  I hope campaigners against big fat polluting cruise ships close the port on the day you travel xxx”

Yes, Ali, I hope so too.    Indeed I am experiencing carbon guilt.   Nevertheless I am going to try and enjoy it, sliding down the waterslide and going for a swim, enjoying a show or two and trying not to think of the Africans, Bangladeshis, and Tuvaluans for whom the emissions from the smokestacks mean they’re homes will be submerged and livelihoods destroyed.

Anyway, we will be stopping for the day in Lerwick, Shetlands, Reykjavik, Iceland,  St. John’s, Newfoundland, and Halifax, Nova Scotia before arriving in New York on the 30th.  I have talks scheduled in Halifax, New York, and hopefully the University of Iceland in Reykjavik will come through soon as well.

I will be blogging daily across the Atlantic, finding out what life is like on a cruise ship, how ‘environmentally friendly’ these ships actually are, and interviewing other passengers, particularly those who are on board to avoid a transatlantic flight.

Stay tuned from the 19th of September, when the Jew leaves Dover.  Come down to the dock and protest if you like ;)   J x