Cruise Line Ratings • Friends of the Earth

Cruise Line Ratings

Cruise Line Ratings

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Millions of Americans take to the sea to enjoy a getaway from their hectic daily lives. But hidden behind this “luxury” travel experience is an industry that is notorious for polluting the ocean, leading to viral outbreaks, and destroying a variety of vulnerable marine ecosystems around the globe.  

Cruising to exciting and unique destinations may sound like an experience of a lifetime but unfortunately, this form of travel is extremely harmful to the ocean and to our own human health.  

Of course, some cruise corporations are worse than others. That’s why Friends of the Earth compiles a yearly Cruise Ship Report Card to put a spotlight on the cruise industry’s dirty business practices and help potential cruise passengers make the best choices for the environment and their health.  

Friends of the Earth Cruise Ship Report Card

Our Cruise Ship Report Card is renewed every year to hold the cruise industry accountable. The goal is to shine a light on each cruise line and cruise ship to see where they fail — not just for the environment and the climate, but also for public health, coastal communities, passengers and crew, and marine ecosystems.  

Each cruise line is ranked on their environmental footprint. We start by taking a deeper look into the cruise ships that are part of the fleets of the major cruise lines. We consider the following for the more than 200 cruise ships on our report card: 

  • Total people on board (including travelers and staff) 
  • Destinations 
  • Sewage Treatment 
  • Air Pollution Reduction 
  • Water Quality Compliance 

After those are all considered, the cruise lines themselves are also looked as a whole to review how transparent they are and how they behave in many of the destinations they travel to. All in all, we stack all the data up and give each cruise line a grade between A and F. Sadly, the harsh truth is that a large chunk of these cruise lines continue to fail year after year!  

Cruise Ships and Pollution

So why do these rankings matter? Cruise ships are notorious for being Big Polluters, but that still that hasn’t stopped people from hopping onboard while the cruises pollute everything in their path. Every day, the cruise industry keeps up their greenwashing campaigns that make passengers feel that they’re doing their part for the planet. Unfortunately, this is all propaganda. Most cruise lines are making surface level changes, nothing to substantiate real sustainability. Sure, towel reuse programs and LED lightbulbs are great, but when you’re spewing millions of gallons of black water over marine mammals, fish, and other sea life, or emitting exorbitant greenhouse gases into coastal communities, these changes are minuscule at best.  Our cruise ship report card is a great way to remind travelers that the industry is continuing to spew pollution into our air and water.  

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Cruise Ship Emissions

Here’s the dirty truth – the overwhelming majority of cruise ships run on heavy fuel. Why? Because it’s cheaper than the alternative. While this is great for the industry’s bottom line, it’s devastating for the planet. In fact, cruises around the world emit the same pollution as approximately a million cars daily.  

And these cruise ship emissions are expelled not only at sea, but while they are docked at ports as well. Cruise ships have to be powered 24/7. Their guest rooms and bathroom facilities need electricity, their casinos still need to run, food still needs to be prepared and served in giant illuminated dining rooms — and all the while, cruise ship engines are running even if the boat is stationary. That’s a whole lot of energy coming from the engines. Enough energy to power a small city!  

The emissions are being forced onto port cities and inhaled by cruise passengers. While onboard, passengers are breathing in emissions 20x higher than a busy, polluted roadway. And port city residents are facing increasing health impacts — especially respiratory problems.  

Environmental Impact of Cruise Ships

The impacts to the environment don’t end there when it comes to cruise ships. Cruise ships also: 

  • Develop damaging ports in diverse, biologically rich locations 
    • Take Disney for example. Soon, tens of thousands of passengers will be disembarking at Lighthouse Point in the Bahamas every year. It has been a treasured region by Bahamians for generations and is a pristine, showstopping sight. Unspoiled beaches, turquoise waters, and a high concentration of sharks, fish, marine wildlife, and endangered coral are all about to be at risk. Disney pushed forward with its private beach development despite local objections. 
  • Dump raw sewage and waste into ocean waters 
    • Cruise ships dump not only black water (sewage) and food waste into the ocean, but they also dump gray water and fuel waste as well. The waters are filled with toxins, chemicals, and bacteria — none of which are part of a healthy oceanic habitat. Most if not all big cruise companies behave this way. 
  • Spread bacteria and viruses 
    • Before the COVID-19 pandemic, cruise ships were a hotbed for norovirus. The nasty stomach bug spread like wildfire due to the close quarters. Now, with how easily COVID-19 also spreads, the cruise industry has another major virus that is causing its passengers and coastal communities harm.  
  • Increased ocean noise 
    • Noise pollution is detrimental to many marine creatures. The noise from moving ships is radiated down to the ocean floor, which is then reverberated back to the water’s surface. This noise has already been linked to disrupting normal behaviors of wildlife, increasing stress, masking communication, and impairing feeding. And the more big cruise ships there are, the louder our oceans get.  

Why the Cruise Ship Report Card?

Let’s be honest. The cruise industry isn’t going to clean up its act on its own. Friends of the Earth created our Cruise Ship Report Card to ensure that their polluting ways can’t hide from the public. We want to ensure that their greenwashing efforts are called out and that these mega corporations are held responsible for the destruction they cause the planet.  

If you’re interested, we keep a record of report cards from previous years to see how they’ve stacked up over time. One day, we hope to see a report card full of As. Unfortunately, that day hasn’t come.  

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