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.
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.
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 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.