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Cruise Ship Blues: The Underside of the Cruise Industry

by Ross A. Klein

Ross Klein is a sociologist who has logged over 300 days vacationing on cruise ships from various parts of the world. In Cruise Ship Blues he uses that experience and a lot of research to incriminate the cruise-line industry, the fastest growing segment of leisure travel, for their blatant liabilities.

Klein points out that as far back as 1978 The Sunday Times and London Times lost $100,000 in advertising revenue from Cunard Line shortly after one of the newspapers reported the discovery of cockroaches and filth aboard some of that company’s ships. There are only two types of media as far as industry executives are concerned – good media and bad media – and Klein claims that the major players use their multi-million-dollar advertising clout to minimize the entries in the bad column. This is just one of the reasons that Klein’s book is one of the first comprehensive studies of the cruise industry’s dark underside.

The book not only discloses routine onboard safety, security, and food violations, but examines the industry’s abysmal environmental record. Perhaps the most outstanding example was Royal Caribbean International’s 1999 agreement to pay an $18-million fine after pleading guilty to numerous pollution-related charges. Klein also highlights lousy labour conditions, sexual/racial assaults and harassment (of both employees and passengers), as well as the industry’s disdain for customer complaints and the many ways “all-inclusive” passengers are coerced into paying upward of $200 per day in extra fees.

But for a book about ocean travel this one reads dry as a desert bone. The writing is serviceable, but Klein fails to make the obvious connections to the general eco-political climate that fosters such go-for-broke global capitalism. Regarding the industry’s misrepresentation through advertising he naively admits: “One of my biggest struggles on cruises was reconciling the incongruity between image and reality.” Still, it’s good that after more than 30 trips through the industry’s murky and incorrigible waters, Klein is finally sounding the ship’s alarm.