Dave Matthews + Cruising = A Not-So Guilty Pleasure?
The Mindful Tourist is excited to publish this guest post by our friend, Leslie Toussaint. Enjoy and read more about Leslie after the post!
As a sailor I relish the combination of intellect, courage and agility that enable me to harness the wind, and travel soundlessly across the waves. The belief that sailing is a superior mode of transport is deeply ingrained in my psyche, and cruise ships, to me, represent the “powerboat” mentality run amok. I picture a huge, resource-hogging boat full of lazy slobs stuffing their faces and flushing waste into the ocean.
This perception was reinforced by first-hand accounts from friends who worked as professional dive masters in St. Thomas. They complained endlessly about the crowds and pollution brought by the cruise industry, and insisted that the average cruise passenger is completely lacking in awareness of the world around them.
Yet when a friend sent me a link to the “Dave Matthews & Friends Caribbean Getaway” back in 2006, I felt my anti-cruise resolve softening. After working non-stop for five months at a new job, where the probationary period for new employees prevented me from taking time off even for the holidays, I was ripe for a vacation. A three-day jaunt down to the Bahamas, on what promised to be a floating music festival, sounded positively divine.
We booked our cabin on Royal Caribbean’s “Majesty of the Seas,” and proceeded to have a terrific time. Seeing Dave Matthews, Trey Anastasio and Bob Weir play together in an intimate, last-minute concert, while cruising off the coast of south Florida was an unforgettable experience. Equally pleasing was having a rum-filled pineapple handed to me as I emerged from our cabin, after sleeping off the late-night jam session.
True, the crowd was mostly hard-drinking college kids on an early Spring break. Also true was the fact that our main port-of-call was none other than Atlantis, a Vegas-style resort on Bahamas’ Paradise Island. The one saving grace on the itinerary was a stop at a “private” reef for various outdoor activities and water sports. Unfortunately, inclement weather forced the captain to cancel this leg of the trip at the last minute.
All aside, my first cruise was far better than I expected. The service was excellent, the food and drinks were plentiful (and quite good) and the entertainment was unmatched. So when my cruise buddy sent me the link to Jam Cruise, I was game.
Much to my delight, the website for the event showed a commitment to environmental and social consciousness far beyond what the Dave & Friends planners did. While Royal Caribbean pledged to cut back on energy and water consumption by asking passengers to kindly re-use their towels (an abhorrent practice that has taken root across the hotel industry), Jam Cruise devoted an entire section of their site to promoting their “greening” efforts. By partnering with ZeroHero Jam Cruise was able to leverage their expertise in sustainable product sourcing, education and zero waste management. Best of all, the concert promoter was taking the initiative, rather than pushing the responsibility off to the cruise operator, MSC Crociere.
Zero waste management translated to recycling stations set up around the ship, and training for the MSC Crociere staff on how to manage the solid waste stream. Sustainable product sourcing provided biodegradable PLA cups donated by Starr Hill Brewery, and nifty kits in each cabin containing personal hygiene products from environmentally friendly companies like Nature’s Gate. Finally, education resulted in volunteer opportunities for passengers to participate in social justice programs, beach clean-ups and donations of school supplies, musical instruments, computer equipment and other necessities to local schools and orphanages in our ports-of-call.
On top of all these efforts, ZeroHero worked to source alternative fuels and mitigate the carbon footprint of the cruise. A partnership with Trees, Water & People allowed passengers to purchase carbon credits to offset their personal travel to and from Fort Lauderdale. While there was nothing to be done about the diesel fuel powering the ship, ZeroHero was able to work with Tree Power & Sound to power the bands’ sound equipment with solar energy.
All of this sounds pretty cool, right? It was impressive, and the consciousness of the Jam Cruise crowd was evident. People were kind to each other, and the event had a much different atmosphere than the Dave & Friends cruise. However, there is still much work to be done before I can declare an event like this anything short of a gluttonous, First World resource indulgence.
ZeroHero reported that, despite the recycling and biodegradable containers, we still managed to create more than five times the amount of beverage-related waste than an average cruise. Compounding this problem, cruisers received conflicting messages about reusable containers. The greening people encouraged passengers to bring their own water bottles, yet the ship posted signs advising against them for sanitation reasons. And for all the outreach efforts to needy communities in Belize and Mexico, the MSC staff operated under sweatshop conditions, working long hours for low pay (which was readily reflected in their bad attitudes and exhausted faces).
On board the food service was notably lacking in vegetarian and organic foods, and once we got the requisite number of miles offshore, there was a distinctive odor of human waste on deck when the wind blew the wrong way. Housekeeping was reluctant to provide towel change-outs, but they were busy polishing the bar stools and were quick to whisk away your dishes, forcing me to go through more plates, cups and silverware than normal.
Personally, I think the towel policy is ridiculous. When I am at home I go a full week (sometimes longer) between towel changes, but when I’m on a trip and I’m dirty, sandy and salty and sharing a room, I could really use a clean towel. I would prefer for hotels to switch to high-efficiency washers and dryers and biodegradable laundry detergent and keep the clean towels coming, or at least offer a discount for guests who reuse their towels.
Would I go on Jam Cruise again? Absolutely! Do I think it’s an environmentally friendly event? Probably more so than the average cruise (at least they are working on it), but any concert, particularly ones that are held outdoors, generate a significant amount of trash and use a lot more resources than other activities. And I definitely think the cruise industry has a long way to go before they can come anywhere close to claiming sustainability.
About the Author:
Leslie Toussaint is a Columbia, MD-based freelance writer. She travels frequently, and enjoys reporting on her adventures. Her commitment to sustainability is tempered by her pragmatic nature, and she believes that compromise between business, government and private citizens is the cornerstone to securing the future health of our planet. You can follow her ramblings on life at her blog, Cranky in Columbia.