Mega Ships, Mega Problems? The Controversy Surrounding Icon of the Seas.

Icon of the Sea cruise ship sailing across the ocean.

According to Cruise Market Watch, in 2024, the market value of the cruise industry is anticipated to be $65.1 billion; up 12.1% from the previous year. This growth isn’t just monetary; passenger numbers are also up to 27.6 million, a 12.3% increase compared to 2023.

With such a high demand for cruising, there is heavy competition among cruise lines for their share of the revenue, and with competition comes the need to be bigger and better than their competitors.

Is bigger always better? The arrival of the world’s largest cruise ship, Icon of the Seas, challenges us to consider the true impact of these floating giants on our ports, communities, and the environment.

The Evolution of Cruise Ships

The first passenger cruise ship, Prinzessin Victoria Luise, was 52 feet wide and 407.5 feet long. It had 120 cabins, a library, a gymnasium, and a darkroom for photography.

Compare that with Icon of the Seas: 159 feet wide, 1198 feet long, with 2805 staterooms. It has eight ‘neighborhoods,’ seven pools, nine hot tubs, and six waterslides, and weighs over 250,000 gross tons.

You can see the dramatic increase in size, weight, and passenger capacity. Whereas Prinzessin Victoria Luise was clearly a cruise vessel, Icon of the Seas is nothing short of a floating city.

Some cruise passengers love the idea of sailing on the largest ship on the ocean and can’t wait to spend their days enjoying the expansive amenities of these behemoths. Others long for the intimate and luxurious environment of cruise days gone by.

Does Size Matter?

The real question — how do these massive ships affect the ports they sail to? Cruising has been integral to sustaining economies in locations that depend on tourist dollars; at first glance, bringing more tourists should be good, but that may not always be the case.

Let’s look at Bimini, Bahamas. Bimini has a population of just over 2400 residents and spans 8.8 square miles. The infrastructure of this island cannot support 5,000 extra visitors in a single day.

Bringing in this large number of tourists also pushes large corporations, often owned by cruise companies, to build colossal port areas filled with shops, bars, and restaurants. That takes tourism dollars away from the area business owners and diminishing the culture and original charm of the islands.

Another issue is that ports need to be bigger to accommodate supersized cruise ships. When ships can’t fit, cruise lines push to build new docks. That disrupts the local marine life and reefs.

When it comes to pollution, bigger ships can equal more significant problems. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, a 3,000-passenger cruise ship generates the following amounts of waste on a typical one-week voyage:

  • 1 million gallons of “gray water”
  • 210,000 gallons of sewage
  • 25,000 gallons of oily bilge water
  • Over 100 gallons of hazardous or toxic waste
  • 50 tons of garbage and solid waste
  • 1 Cruise ship can emit more particulates than 1 million cars

What’s the Solution?

Some cities, such as Venice, banned cruise ships in an effort to repair the ecological damage done by pollution and overtourism. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee threatened to list Venice as an endangered city due to damage from cruise pollution, leading to the current restrictions.

Passenger ships heavier than 25,000 tons can no longer dock there.

Other popular port cities, such as Santorini, have become too popular and feel the strain. Fifteen thousand permanent residents call Santorini home; they express frustration with the massive numbers of cruisers coming to shore every day.

Residents complain the island’s population doubles when cruises are in port, leading to overcrowding and increased trash. Over-commercialism has caused the prices of nearly everything on the island to skyrocket. Some residents are finding it impossible to afford to stay.

To combat this issue, Santorini limits the number of passengers coming ashore daily. The cap is 8,000 per day, but residents say this is still too many people.

Port cities aren’t the only ones trying to offset megaships’ environmental toll. Cruise lines are beginning to take responsibility and work towards cleaner fuel solutions. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and fuel cell technology both help reduce emissions.

Currently, only 21 cruise ships sail with LNG technology. Aida Cruise Lines has two ships, Disney Cruise Line has 2, Tui has 2, MSC has 3, Silver has 1, Princess has 1, Carnival has 3, Silversea has 1, P & O has 2, Costa has 2, and Royal Caribbean has 2, including Icon of the Seas and Utopica of the Seas (sailing 6/24).

What Can You Do To Help?

As a cruiser, you can do your part to mitigate the damages by being as responsible as possible. Try sailing only on ships committed to helping the environment and the surrounding communities. Support the surrounding economy by booking excursions and tours with area companies.

Eat at local restaurants outside the port area. Pick up your trash and try to leave the natural environment better than you found it. Be respectful of customs and traditions, and embrace the differences rather than trying to impose your ways on them.

If consumers continue to demand more amenities and activities, and cruise lines continue building ever-larger ships, someone has to ask: How big is too big?

This article was produced by Media Decision and syndicated by Travel Binger.

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