Updated: Mar 16
Have you ever wondered what it's like to work on a cruise ship?
I saw two worlds collide at sea when I worked onboard cruise ships as a photography teacher and tour guide,
While teaching photography classes on cruise ships, I witnessed a massive disconnect between cruise ship tourists and the ports that they visited. Like a blind herd of sheep, cruise ship guests would disembark each day at various ports of call, like San Juan in Puerto Rico, Cozumel in Mexico, Falmouth in Jamaica and "Labadee" in Haiti.
Labadee is essentially a spit of land that Royal Caribbean had purchased from Haiti that they had converted into their personal amusement park. A chainlink fence separates the touristic side, ripe with slides, ziplines and golf carts, from the mainland. Locals wait with outstretched hands through breaks in the fence desperate for a piece of food. Hundreds of pounds of food go to waste each day on cruise ships while people die of hunger on the islands they visit.
What I found most disheartening about the experience was the lack of awareness that most tourists had. Many days, they would be yelling over the endless buffet of tuna, crab, and beef salad, "where we landing at?" Guests could sign up for a tour of the Mall of America in Puerto Rico, spend the entirety of the day at Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville or not even leave the ship. As you walked the streets of Jamaica, surrounded by vestiges of British colonialism, the huge monolithic cruise ship hovered over the city. It was very difficult for me to witness two extremes existing within the same space.
An important question that this experience taught me is the role of tourism. Tourism, and cruise ships, should serve as a vessel to increase awareness, support foreign communities, and create meaningful and sustainable impact. Royal Caribbean's business model is designed to keep as much of their customer money returning back to the ship. By selling their own tour packages, building robust ports rife with stores sporting souvenirs, and purchasing Caribbean land, they keep money funneling back to the ship. Let's not forget establishing their businesses in foreign countries to avoid taxes.
The environmental impact cruise ships cause is even further disrupting to the natural balance of our planet. The time has come for us to deeper examine the responsibility we have as travelers and understand the implications of traveling upon locals.
Instead of traveling and wondering "what is this country doing to enrich me",
perhaps we should question "what am I doing to enrich this country?"
This series of images was produced by combining two distinct images into one colliding collage.