Cruise myths
and why they're wrong


Steph - Cruise with Amber

In this blog post I seek to address some of the cruise myths and tell you why they’re wrong. There have been some huge misconceptions about the cruise industry recently.

These come up time and time again on online forums and only serve to put good people off great cruise holidays. Let’s start with the great cruise myths which come up again and again. Oh if only I had a pound for every time one of these was uttered …

Cruise Myth 1: Cruise ships cause over-tourism

Cruise passengers represent just 2% of tourist numbers worldwide. “Ah, but what about Venice?” I hear you say. Well, sorry to disappoint you on this one but even in Venice, cruise passengers only make up around 5% of visitors. 

Put another way, 95% of visitors to Venice DID NOT arrive there on a cruise ship. 95% of the tourists in Venice are not cruise passengers. 98% of tourism worldwide is not from cruising.

Cruise Myth 2: Cruise ships are a breeding ground for disease

Ah a favourite of mine – I call this the ‘floating petri dish fallacy’ 

Crew members regularly clean and sanitise the ship’s facilities. The focus on cleanliness includes door handles, scrabble tiles and poker chips. There is a strong record of excellence in sanitation aboard ships. Constant perfect scores in this area are a testament to cruise line efforts to provide passengers with the highest level of service.

Anyone who has actually been on a cruise will tell you about the ubiquitous hand sanitiser on board ships. You’re never far from a bottle or three of Purell – regardless of where you are on ship. Constant hand washing and hand sanitation are second nature for seasoned cruisers. I challenge you to try getting into the main dining room or on-board ship after a day in port without sanitising your hands.  

Cruise Myth 3: Norovirus lives on the ship.

Because illnesses typically originate on land, cruise lines screen passengers and crew members for any health concerns, including norovirus, prior to boarding. In addition to regular deep cleaning throughout each cruise, ship crews clean the ship from top to bottom before each cruise, using designated cleaning supplies and sanitation procedures to help ensure the ship remains a safe and healthy environment.

Cruise ships have often been associated with outbreaks of illness that are much less common than people perceive. The most frequently reported incidents involve Norovirus, a contagious viral infection that causes gastroenteritis. Despite sometimes sensational media reports, outbreaks of norovirus are uncommon and the risks of becoming ill from this virus are in fact greater on land than on a cruise.

What often goes unreported is that Norovirus is far more common on land. Yes. Over 99% of all Norovirus cases occur on land. What’s more strict practices on ships to prevent this being a common occurrence on ships.

Cruise Myth 4: Public health and sanitation practices of cruise ships are unregulated.

Cruise ships receive at least two unannounced health inspections a year from public health regulators, and cruise lines calling on U.S. ports are the only sector of the travel and hospitality industry to work directly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to proactively monitor and report norovirus outbreaks.

Cruise Myth 5: Once they’re in international waters, cruise ships can operate outside the law.

Cruising is one of the most highly regulated industries worldwide. Cruise ships are not only governed by international regulations when they sail, but also national and even local regulations. You just try taking off food from the cruise ship for a little packed lunch on your shore excursion in Norway. 

Cruise ships are always governed by some country’s laws regardless of they are on the ocean waves.
Without getting too technical, once a ship is in international waters (or more than 44 km from the shore) is it covered by the covered by rules of the ship’s flag state. The ship’s flag state is the country where it was registered – it’s like the ship’s nationality.

As an example P&O Cruises Britannia’s flag state is the UK as the ship is registered in Southampton. So when Britannia is in international waters, everyone aboard is governed by UK law.

Cruise Myth 6: Cruise lines are major polluters of the atmosphere

Cruise lines represent just 1% of world shipping. Put another way, 99% of worldwide shipping is transporting cars across the ocean or bringing your produce to your supermarkets or the toys you buy at Christmas. 

Yet, despite cruising representing a tiny 1% of global shipping, the industry leads on environmental advances. Cruise lines have also committed to a 40% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

The reduction will be made possible by innovative technologies in ship design and propulsion. This includes measures such as ships powered by liquid natural gas (LNG) and exhaust gas cleaning systems as well as many other initiatives.

Cruise Myth 7: Cruise ships release untreated sewage into the ocean

Another corker of a myth. Cruise lines never release untreated sewage – anywhere or anytime. 

In fact today’s cruise ships have advanced systems that treat wastewater to a higher standard than methods used in many coastal cities.

The cruise industry has a vested interest in ensuring the world’s marine environment is safeguarded for  future generations and has invested heavily in processes to ensure its impact is minimised.

Cruise Myth 8: Incidents involving cruise ships seem to be increasing.

This myth has its roots in a quirk of our own in-built biases as human beings. It is sometimes known as the frequency bias/illusion or Baader–Meinhof phenomenon. You’ll have probably experienced it when you discover something new, then you notice it everywhere – like when you’re in the process of buying a new car or thinking about getting a particular breed of dog. 

What’s this got to do with cruising myths? We’ll it’s probably made you think that cruise incidents are occurring more often now. In fact they’re not, cruising is one of the safest forms of travel available. Worldwide, the number of operational incidents fell 38% from 2009 – 2017, despite a 48% increase in capacity.

Phew, that was a good barrowful of myths dispelled there. But before you go, did you know that:

FACT: Cruise ships are amongst the most scrutinised vessels at sea.

From their design and construction right through to day to day operations, cruise ships are highly regulated and scrutinised by port authorities, classification societies and the IMO (International Maritime Organisation – which is an agency of the United Nations)

FACT: Cruise ships are one of the safest holiday options in the world

Due to multiple layers of security, allegations of major crimes on cruise ships are rare and exceedingly lower than those on land. Put simply: you’re safer on a cruise ship than you are on a land-based holiday.

To Conclude

From the perspective of someone who has cruised on many ships on various occasions over the last decade and a half, some of these cruise myths are actually quite amusing and entertaining. Seasoned cruises know these are myths and will happily set the record straight. But the sad fact is that these myths end up spreading false and unfounded information about the cruise industry. 

These cruise myths need dispelling. There are a whole load of people out there who have been thinking about booking a cruise or getting excited about a great cruise holiday (and why shouldn’t they?). Then they come across someone in an online forum who takes great delight in raining on their parade with some unfounded, over exaggerated, fear mongering story about the cruise industry. 

Protecting passengers, crew, the oceans and the destinations the ships sail is paramount. Operating sustainably and safely is core to the future of the cruise industry. The cruise industry is one of the most tightly regulated sectors which acts responsibility and works closely with communities worldwide to create a positive impact.