Eco-Vegan Travel Dilemma: To Cruise or Not, by Louise Cohen-Silver, Ph.D., VLCE

posted August 29, 2023

Photo credit: Louise Cohen-Silver

It’s an exciting time for Vegans! Vegan restaurants are popping up all over and Vegan travel is much more accessible. Facebook abounds with Vegan travel groups, sharing useful tips and Vegan-exclusive experiences. Enticing trips are available on both land and sea.

In 2012, I was thrilled to discover Holistic Holiday at Sea, which provides a wonderful experience for like-minded Vegans. The cruise offered Whole Food, Plant-Based meals, including a Salt-, Oil-, and Sugar-Free (SOS-Free) option. Since then, more cruise lines have expanded their offerings to accommodate the growing demand from our community (see Windstar Cruises Announces New Whole-Food, Plant-Based Menu in Partnership with the National Health Association).

Photo credit: Andrea Izutti

I became fully plant-based, SOS-free in 2019, and shortly after, became a Main Street Vegan Academy Coach and Educator and reconnected with my Vegan values. This inspired more research into the products that I purchase, wanting my hard-earned dollars going to ethical companies. When deciding on travel, I knew the massive size of cruise ships, much like floating cities, and wondered about their impact on the oceans and life under the sea. I imagined how disorienting and threatening ship propeller sounds must be to the dolphins, whales, and manatees that I love. It didn’t take me long to discover data on cruise lines regarding the destruction of our oceans.

Photo credit: NABU/Wattenrat/E. Voss

Friends of the Earth releases an annual Cruise Ship Report Card, organized by cruise line, scoring specific detrimental effects of the cruise industry. The emissions from cruise ships include nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides (SOx), carbon dioxide (CO2), and diesel particulate matter (microscopic soot damaging to human health). According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an average cruise ship emits more SOx than 13 million cars and more soot than 1 million cars each day while at sea. If that wasn’t enough, they emit four times the amount of CO2, per passenger, than commercial aircraft. As of July 2023, the European Federation for Transport and Environment noted that in one month, 63 cruise ships owned by the Carnival Corporation emitted 43% more SOx than Europe’s 291 million cars did in 2022.

Cruise ships generate large volumes of gray (waste) water from showers, sinks, and laundry facilities, containing pollutants that harm marine life. They also generate solid waste materials.

Carnival Corporation, the largest cruise company in the world, has admitted and paid fines for its subsidiary, Princess Cruises, for illegally dumping plastic waste materials overboard near the Bahamas. They have a long history of illegally dumping single-use plastics and oils into the oceans. In 2017, Princess Cruise dumped oil and intentionally tried to cover it up; they paid a $40 million fine for this act, just 0.2% of the $17.51 billion Carnival Corp made that year. One year later they were again fined for illegal plastic dumping, to the tune of $20 million, just 0.1% of their gross $18.88 billion.

Countries are restricting cruise ships due to these issues. Amsterdam has banned cruise ships from their city center. French Polynesia bans ships carrying more than 3,500 passengers and Tahiti bans those over 2,500 passengers. Venice, Barcelona, and Santorini are also taking steps to limit or stop these mammoth vessels from entering their ports.

Photo credit: Len Meyer

I realized that as appealing as a cruise is, this form of travel for leisure does not align with my Vegan values. A friend suggested that when I feel like being out on the water with good food, I could simply pack a delicious lunch and go out in a canoe or kayak and enjoy the sea without harming the environment. However, for those still wanting to go further than their arms can row and embark on a cruise, there are some smaller vessels taking action to improve the negative impact large cruise ships have on our planet. Here are two resources to research before choosing a cruise for your next vacation:

Whatever route you take in your next excursion, may all your Vegan journeys be filled with joy, adventure, and love, without sacrificing your values.


Photo credit: Michael Kushner Photography

Louise Cohen-Silver, Ph.D. is a full-time teacher/mentor at The Fusion Academy in Brooklyn. She is a native Brooklynite, living her best life in Fort Greene with her senior pup, Rizzo, and two senior felines, Lil Red and Gracie. She is certified in Plant-based nutrition, a licensed Food for Life Instructor, and an incredibly proud Main Street Vegan Academy Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator. You can reach her at Plant-Based Louise,  on Instagram @plantbasedlouise or by e-mail.

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