In defense of the cruise lines part two

Richard Turen

“Ships are the nearest things to dreams that hands have ever made.” — Robert N. Rose

I was, unfortunately, watching Bill Maher on HBO when, at the very end of his show, his normally well-phrased “editorial” turned into an open assault on the cruise industry. 

Maher took the oft-repeated “petri dish” analogy and carried it far beyond where it has been taken before by referring to cruise ships as “slave ships with food courts.” He explained to his audience that “cruise ships are large, which is why they keep crashing into things like docks, rocks, and each other.”

At the end of his extended rant, during which it became apparent to me that what the man needs most is more than a few days at sea, Maher urged his viewers to skip cruise ships and hit beaches instead, “because it’s cheaper, safer and you don’t have to sit through the magician.”

This all came about in the midst of a series of unparalleled attacks on the cruise industry from a wide range of media sources on all sides of the political spectrum. And, like lemmings jumping off the same cliff, they all, more than a quarter of a million times (per Google), attempted to explain to the 80% of the public that has never cruised that these ships are all just “floating petri dishes.”

We all have an obligation to stand up to ignorance when we encounter it, so let’s examine that analogy.

First, definitions from Merriam Webster: A petri dish is a container that collects bacteriology cultures, but also a petri dish is something that fosters development or innovation.

Let’s consider space ratios. Consumers booking cruises can know in advance how much space they will have on the ship they choose to sail.

Why? Because, unlike the “petri dishes” listed below, the cruise industry has a mathematical formula based on gross registered tons and the number of lower beds and public space that yields the per-guest space.

So, while some mass market ships have a space ratio of 35 square feet per guest, the ship I currently rank No. 1 in the world, Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa 2, offers just over 83 square feet of space per guest. Silversea’s Silver Muse offers 78 square feet per guest. This is, of course, far more space per guest than any number of common environments we inhabit from time to time, including those associated with educational purposes.

Was coronavirus produced onboard any cruise ship? No one alleges that. It was brought aboard by passengers. Did the cruise lines involved in major outbreaks handle it as well as they could have? No, I would never say that.

But let’s consider the “petri dish” potential of noncruise environments: 

  • Are movie theaters “petri dishes”? You have to sit next to strangers.
  • Are college dorms “petri dishes,” with students in dorm rooms sleeping in close proximity? Are classrooms, with 20 or more students sitting together?
  • Are summer camps “petri dishes,” putting kids in bunkhouse cabins for up to two months at a time?
  • Are stadium concerts and sports events “petri dishes”? How do the sanitation and restroom facilities at these venues compare to what you would find on an upscale cruise ship?
  • Are churches, temples, synagogues and mosques “petri dishes,” as they bring crowds together in close proximity?
  • Are grocery stores “petri dishes,” as we stand, cart to cart, alongside hundreds of strangers touching everything in sight?

I would submit that, at their core, cruise ships offer more space per guest on average than any of the routine gathering places listed above. It is time to stop the assault on the cruise industry. It is time to fight the stereotyping of the cruise industry as something it is not. 

Read “In defense of the cruise lines, part 1” here.

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