Dear Umbra,

My husband, though a very warmhearted man, does not follow the environmental tides quite as much as I do. He would desperately like to take a cruise for our second honeymoon. I know cruise ships dump waste in the oceans and are not good for the ecosystem in general, but could you tell me which cruise lines are the most environmentally conscious? In the spirit of compromise, I have agreed to go, but would like to make the least harmful choice possible.

Thanks for your help!

Sienna
Annapolis, Md.

Dearest Sienna,

I’m not sure how seasick I’d get on a cruise, but I can tell you that doing the research to answer this question made me kind of queasy. I’m sorry to report that I have nothing positive to say about cruises. I searched around for environmental ratings, but I found only upbeat industry statements on the pleasures of voluntary compliance and scathing environmental reports about poor government oversight and endemic dishonesty on the part of cruise companies. I called a travel agent, who shall remain nameless, and she had nothing good to say about them either. It’s all bad. I suggest that instead of looking for an eco-friendly cruise, you work on Husband a little more and convince him not to go. My two-prong plan: First, educate him about the horrors of cruises, and second, provide irresistible alternatives.

Cruisin’ for a bruisin’.

Here’s a primer for prong one, starting with the first and perhaps most compelling argument for a non-environmentalist: Late last year, the cruise industry was slammed with a communicable intestinal bug called the Norwalk virus. Many folks who spent their hard-earned money to stroll the deck and sunbathe instead spent their vacation kneeling in the bathroom. A ship would go out, folks would get sick, the ship would come back and get doused in bleach — and on the next cruise, more kneeling. This happened on separate ships owned by separate companies. Surely this should make your husband think twice.

Next argument: The environmental problems, as I mentioned, are staggering. Cruise ships are floating cities, with all of a regular city’s emissions, solid and liquid waste, and public health problems, but little accountability. Everything generated on the ship, from cocktail napkins to dry-cleaning fluids, has to go somewhere — and we all know how much easier it was to pee in the pool than get out and go to the bathroom. Royal Caribbean Cruises settled with the feds a few years back for, among other violations, rigging a tube that would completely bypass the pollution control system. You got it: They had a system, and then they developed another system to avoid it. Have your husband take a look at the Oceans Blue Foundation website, which offers a sobering overview of cruise-related issues and links to many governmental, health, and cruise enthusiast websites. (I particularly recommend “cruise junkie.”)

Finally, get David Foster Wallace’s book A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again out of the library and read the title essay aloud to your husband.

Okay, prong two: Find out exactly what’s attractive to Husband about cruises, and rustle up similar, less repulsive options that provide some of the same experiences and amenities. Eco-tourism? A timeshare in Cancun? Even Club Med? Ask a travel agent for some compelling alternatives.

All that said, I do want to encourage compromise and don’t recommend divorce over this particular issue. It may be that despite your best efforts, your husband will still insist on going, and you, having done your best, will choose to accompany him. It won’t be the end of the world. You can certainly choose to be a low-consumption shipboard tourist, and pledge to reduce mainland impacts (driving, solid-waste production, lawn chemicals) to compensate for the big splurge. You can focus on an environmentally sound vacation for the next anniversary, or donate cash to an organization working on ocean health. Whatever you do, don’t spend your whole vacation feeling guilty. Set aside the worries, and sail away into the sunset.

Watery,
Umbra