Cruise worlds

Being on our first cruise has been an eye opening experience. A cruise ship is a floating city – but with a population that changes every week to 10 days. Our ship is staffed by a crew of 800 people. Most of whom we will not see nor meet, will not get to know or interact with beyond the mandatory smile and friendly greeting they are taught to give as we pass them in the hallway or on deck. They are from a variety of nations, with, I am sure, fascinating stories, and reasons for taking on this vagabond life far away from friends, country and family. I was about to write that there are two worlds on a cruise ship the world of the passenger and the world of a member of the crew. But as I think about it there are more worlds than that.     We looked over the activities available today as we are cruising between Seward and Juneau stopping after lunch at the Hubbard Glacier to see icebergs calving from the glacier. There is 24 hour gambling available in the casino, a cooking demonstration (whose main purpose is to sell a particular kind of native originated knife – available, of course, in one of several shops on the 5th deck); a lecture on glaciers scheduled much too early in the day as it was when breakfast was being served; and a course on shopping in our ports of call. (We are not in a foreign country why would we need a course on shopping of all things?)  On our way back from breakfast we passed through the many shops offering all manner of Alaska memorabilia, clothing, jewelry, booze, souvenirs and all manner of kitch. And there is designer coffee, a flower shop and tuxedo rental. And we can only imagine the volume of food that goes to waste daily in this floating metropolis with its promise of overabundance.  Going out on deck Nancy commented to me that she likes the world out there pointing to the passing scenery “better than the world in there…” pointing to the ship’s interior.  The world we have come to be part of is the natural world and its wonders of mountains, glaciers and wildlife. But to do that we have to interact with these other worlds of crew and fellow passengers. But that is not all; I also realize that we will be interacting with the worlds created in these ports of call specifically for the entertainment of these summer visitors. It is a commercially created world using the natural resources around them to in one way or another separate the tourist from his money. We are encouraged to take a helicopter ride to the glacier, and ride an atv on the glacier – and eat a reindeer burger while doing it. Or you can pan for gold.  (We managed to get a whopping $16 worth of gold (which sells for $1100 an ounce.) Back in town one sign told us “See the sights then buy the shirt. This world provides employment in areas with an average unemployment of 20% in summer and 50% in winter.  And all of these worlds are set in a natural world with an ecological timebomb ticking away.  While ours is ecologically more friemdly many older cruise ships burn bunker oil, the worst kind of petroleum and the cruises are constantly polluting the air with hydrocarbons that increase global warming that are melting the glaciers, threatening the natural wonders and the very animal populations that people pay money to come to see.  It has been a beautiful and wonderful time seeing this beauty. But also expereicne guilt that we are a part of the problem just in being here.


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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