It’s easy to see the appeal of cruise ships. They are floating wonderlands, full of all-you-can-eat buffets and endless entertainment. Plus, they’re a very convenient, not to mention luxurious, way of ticking a few glamours locations off your bucket list. They are the ultimate escape from the reality of everyday, normal-person problems.
That said, beneath their shiny, fun-filled exterior, there’s a much grittier side to cruises that usually goes unseen - and the cruising industry would probably rather keep it that way. For example, a record number of cruise ships failed to meet health and safety inspections in 2017, and reports about overflowing sewage and bed bug infestations are not unheard of. Throw in some intimidating statistics about their environmental impact and they soon start to sound less like floating palaces and more like a nightmare on the high seas.
Despite this, more than 20 million people go cruising every year, so either people either don’t know all of the weird, often grimy, nitty gritty, or they simply don’t care - the enjoyment outweighs any risk.
Cruise ships are, after all, insane and wonderful feats of engineering and logistics, and for every dodgy statistic there’s another awesome fact ready to blow your socks off. So here are 10 awkward truths about cruise ships, and 10 insane facts that will make you see the industry in a whole new light.
20 Most Cruise Liners Are Unregulated And Untouchable By US Law Enforcement
Most cruise ships are registered to foreign countries such as Panama or Liberia, simply because these countries are often unable to properly enforce strict regulations and rules for the cruise liners to follow.
This allows cruise ships to get away with using cheap labour, polluting the seas and skies, not following proper sanitation policies, and not preparing properly for cruise ship mishaps and accidents.
This handy little arrangement is referred to as "flying flags of convenience.” Reassuring, huh?
19 Lifeguards Are Not Standard Practice - So Keep An Eye On Your Kids In The Pool
Cruisers are often shocked to learn that it's not standard practice for cruise lines to employ lifeguards to keep watch over onboard pools. Since 2013, there have been at least 17 drownings or near-drownings on cruise ships, and at least 10 of these fatal instances befell a child under the age of 11.
After several tragic drownings, a handful of lines decided to introduce cruise ship lifeguards. Disney Cruise Line became the first to adopt the practice in 2013, stationing lifeguards across its entire fleet. Other lines have been slow to follow suit, but four years after Disney, two other lines jumped on the bandwagon - Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line.
18 The Cruise Industry Produces One billion Gallons Of Sewage A Year (And Yes, It Goes In To The Ocean)
According to a 2014 report by Friends of the Earth (FOE), your average cruise ship produces between 140,000 to 210,000 gallons of sewage per week, which amounts to more than one billion gallons of sewage a year. And guess what? That’s right, it gets dumped in the ocean.
Each ship has its own treatment operation, and each comes with varying efficiency. According to FOE, some ships use waste treatment technology that’s more than 35 years old, leaving harmful levels of sewage, bacteria, heavy metals and other contaminants in the water.
More major lines, however, are now trying and adhere to higher environmental standards, effectively filtering and disinfecting water before discharging into the sea.
17 An Estimated 200 People Pass Away Every Year On Cruise Ships - And The Vessels Are Equipped To Deal With It
Not surprisingly, cruise lines are loath to talk about people passing away on their ships, but it happens. There are an estimated 200 passenger deaths a year, a total that excludes people who die going overboard.
The fact is, there are a lot of elderly people travelling on cruise ships. The average age of a British cruise passenger is 57, with 40 per cent aged 65 and over, according to industry figures. This means that there are quite a few natural passings that occur each year.
When it happens, the body is placed in the ship’s morgue, which ocean-going ships are legally required to have.
16 One Cruise Ship Can Generate The Same Amount Of Sulfur Dioxide As 13.1 Million Cars - On A Daily Basis
There’s no escaping the uncomfortable truth that cruise ships leave behind a trail of pollution - a toxic problem that is growing as the cruise industry and its ships get ever bigger.
Marine pollution analysts in Germany and Brussels claim that some of the largest ships will burn at least 150 tonnes of fuel a day, and emit more sulphur than 13.1 million cars, more NO2 gas than all the traffic passing through a medium-sized town, and more particulate emissions than thousands of London buses.
Industry body Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) says that companies had invested significantly over the last decade to develop new technologies to help reduce air emissions. Considering the industry shows no signs of slowing down, let’s hope this is the case.
15 Every Ship Has An Outbreak Prevention Plan
Nothing is scarier to cruisers than a Norovirus outbreak, which is why the US Health Department requires that every ship maintain a detailed OPP, or Outbreak Prevention Plan. On Royal Caribbean’s Harmony, regular sanitary conditions are called “OPP1,” and they get ratcheted up to “OPP2” when there’s a “6 in 6,” (six passengers reported ill in six hours).
If the incidence rate escalates and the situation reaches OPP3, guests are no longer allowed to handle their own food and the entire crew, from the ice dancers to the children's entertainers, is recruited to help serve the buffets, and all restaurants and cabin linens are put in red biohazard bags and obsessively laundered in a special facility on land. Sounds delightful.
14 More Than 200 People Have Disappeared From Cruise Ships Since 2000
Every once in a while, a news story appears about someone who became lost at sea while aboard a cruise, either by tumbling overboard, or under more mysterious circumstances. From 2000-2013, about 200 passengers vanished without a trace, and most of these disappearances are attributed to passengers going overboard.
If it’s any consolation, not all those who fall overboard are lost forever; at least 10 people were successfully plucked from the water during that same timespan, including one who was rescued after an unimaginable 18 hours.
13 Pirates Are Real And Attacks Do Happen
For any ship sailing along the coast of Africa near Somalia, pirates can post a legitimate threat. Forget rum-swigging, diamond geezer Captain Jack Sparrow, because these are ruthless, lethal criminals armed with rifles.
In more than a decade, there have been only six reported incidents of pirates attempting to attack cruise ships. In 2016, passengers on the Sea Princess departing from Sydney, Australia, were subjected to a 10-day dusk-til-dawn blackout to avoid a perceived pirate threat.
To prepare for any eventuality, ships are often equipped with high-pressure water hoses and sonic cannons that can fire concentrated beams of sound capable of permanently affect human hearing from over 900 feet away.
12 Feel Itchy? Bed Bugs Can Be A Problem
Cruise ship infestations are rare, but they do occur. Bloggers have posted about possible bed bugs problems, and an outbreak on Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas caught media attention in early 2005.
Typically, these little blighters are brought on board via guests' hand bags or luggage, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the problem is increasing in first world countries like the US, UK and Canada. In fact, university studies have claimed that since the ban of DDT, a pesticide effective against bed bugs, the insects have become more immune to the chemicals currently being used to destroy them. So bed bugs are stronger and possibly here to stay. Great.
11 Air Quality On Cruise Ships Can Be Around 20 Times Worse Than Air In A Busy City Centre
A British documentary team uncovered damning information about the air quality on cruise ships. Broadcast on UK television, their film focused on levels of ultra fine particulates, a complex mixture of tiny particles that can burrow deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream. The air they tested was dangerously polluted, with more than double the particulate levels of central London.
The team set sail on P&O Cruises’ luxury ship Oceana, which can carry more than 2,000 passengers, and recorded 84,000 ultra fine particles per cubic centimetre on the deck, which is similar to what you’d find in cities like Delhi and Shanghai.
Although some ultra fine particles are naturally occurring – for example through ocean spray or smoke – most of the particulate matter on a cruise ship will be the byproduct of burning fuel.
10 Fun Fact: The Crew Speaks In Code
In event of an emergency situation, crew want to avoid sending passengers into a full-blown panic. If you’ve been on a cruise, you’ve probably heard the occasional, incredibly loud announcements made over the ship’s tannoy. Generally this is limited to mandatory evacuation drills or special events, but once in a while, it’s used to communicate in secret.
There are shorthand codes for everything from fires to medical emergencies, which can be announced without alarming passengers. Code Alpha means there’s a medical emergency, Code Bravo equals fire, Code Adam means there’s a missing child, while if you hear Code Oscar, someone has gone overboard.
9 A Titanic Replica Is In the Works
A questionable idea, if ever there was one, but work on the replica - 1,000 feet long by 92 ft wide, requiring 23,000 tons of steel - is underway in the Sichuan countryside, China. The Qixing Energy Investment Group first announced the project in 2014 and the construction, which began in 2016, has been in full swing since.
The ship, known as the Romandisea Titanic, is reportedly half complete, with six of its nine decks built, as of September last year. While it will be the exact size of the original vessel (measuring 269 metres long and 28 metres wide), China’s Titanic will not be sailing across the ocean and will instead be permanently docked on the Qi River, where visitors will be able to stroll around replica interiors, indulge in a similar banquet enjoyed on the original vessel, and take part in themed parties and games.
The Blue Star Line’s long-awaited Titanic II - the other life-size replica in the pipeline since 2013 - has yet to begin construction.
8 Retiring On A Cruise Ship Might Be Cheaper Than Assisted Living
As people get older, many move into assisted living facilities, where linens are changed, meals are provided, activities are offered, and medical care is readily available. Sound familiar?
Average costs for an assisted living facility, as of 2017, are around $3,750 per month, according to the Genworth Cost of Care survey. This is around $45,000 annually. The nightly cost of a cruise, on the other hand, averages around $100 per night or less, and more and more people are swapping old folks’ homes for a ride around the world instead.
Luxury cruise line Crystal Cruises has noticed this trend. The company is now planning on offering long-term leases - for 40 years - for staterooms on their new vessels. These suites, however, will likely be in the multimillion-dollar range. But hey, if you’ve got the money, there are worse ways to retire.
7 Living On The World: The Most Exclusive Floating Residence On The Planet
The World is a ship dedicated to full-time residents only and is the largest private residential ship on the planet. Home to only 165 residences, guests spend extensive time exploring the world’s most exotic destinations, and return onboard to a lifestyle that exists nowhere else on earth. It doesn’t come cheap, however.
One of its 165 luxurious shipboard condos can cost from $825,000 to $7.3 million. First, though, you'll have to prove your net worth exceeds $5 million. Then add another 10 percent to 15 percent of the purchase price for annual maintenance and other fees based on your apartment size.
Residents, who collectively own the boat, select its itinerary yearly in cooperation with the management team and captain.
6 Awesome Manoeuvres: Sailing Under The Great Belt Bridge With Less Than A Foot To Spare
Allure of the Seas did something remarkable in 2010 by sailing under the Great Belt Bridge in Denmark with just inches to spare. The ship, which is the size of about four football pitches and cost over £1 billion to build, made the trip in broad daylight while sailing from Europe to its home port in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Weather conditions meant the vessel had to speed up, lowering its placement in the water, in order to squeeze through.
It required a steady hand and nerves of steel, yet it shows just how agile even the most grandiose cruise ships can be.
5 Cruise Ships Go Through More Food And Drink In One Week Than You Will In Your Life (Probably)
If you thought your food shopping bill was high, just imagine the groceries a cruise ship gets through in one week. Here’s a cool fact - a whole county in Iowa raises all its cattle exclusively for sale to Carnival Cruise Lines. And Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, the largest cruise ship ever built, gets through 5,000 dozen eggs, 9,700 lbs of chicken and 5,000 lbs of french fries every single week.
The amount of alcohol consumed in seven days of cruising is also staggering. Symphony’s smaller sister, Oasis of the Seas, stocks 820 bottles of vodka each week, alongside 179 bottles of whiskey, 293 bottles of scotch, 765 bottles of rum and well over 6,000 bottles of red and white wine.
4 A Cruise Ship Provided Shelter For Tulane Students During Hurricane Katrina
After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast back in 2005, Tulane University was one of 30 colleges in the area in need of assistance and looking for solutions on how to proceed in its wake. One of the issues was where to house students after dorms were destroyed, and the university came up with a unique solution: Bring in a cruise ship.
The Israeli-owned 800-foot MV Dream Princess all the way from Europe to the Mississippi River, where at least 150 students and staff made it their temporary home for five months until repairs were made on campus.
3 Mark Twain Popularised The Early Cruise Industry
In 1867, Samuel Clemens (under the pen name Mark Twain) was a passenger on the first cruise to begin in America, and he documented his five month voyage from Europe to Jerusalem onboard the Quaker City. The result was the novel Innocents Abroad, a candid depiction of his time aboard. The release of the book changed the face of travel writing and sparked major interest in pleasure cruising after the American Civil War.
2 The “Curse Of Camilla” And The Superstition Behind Ceremonial Ship Launching
Throughout history seafarers have sacrificed fine wine, animals and even their fellow man to invite good luck and safe voyage aboard new ships. In 1891, Victoria smashed a bottle of champagne - the more aristocratic option - against the HMS Royal Arthur and it’s remained the tradition of choice ever since.
It’s actually fairly difficult to smash a bottle of champagne, but failure to do so is often seen as a bad omen. In 2007, Camilla of Cornwall failed to break a bottle of champagne against the ship and three weeks later, the luxury liner was hit by a highly-contagious stomach flu bug.
Nearly 80 passengers came down with Norovirus during the ship’s maiden voyage, which was later coined by the British press as the “The Curse of Camilla.”
1 Taking Cruise Ships Back To The Bare Essentials
According to the US Association for Nude Recreation (AANR), nude recreation is a $440 million dollar (per year) industry, so it makes perfect sense for the cruise line industry to get involved. Third party companies such as Bare Necessities and Castaways Travel charter ships for passengers who enjoy holidaying in their birthday suit, and have enjoyed major success.
Once a year, Bare Necessities charters a major vessel carrying 3,000 passengers in their birthday suits, aptly named “The Big Nude Boat.”
The level of nudity clearance is dependent upon each cruise but naked dining is almost always prohibited. After all, you wouldn’t want to lose your appetite when there’s an all-you-can-eat buffet.
References: businessinsider, cruise1st.co.uk