Reflections on returning from a cruise

My wife and I have just come back from a short cruise.

The cruise liner we were on was enormous, almost a thousand feet long, and over a hundred thousand tonnes displacement weight. It carried about three and a half thousand passengers and maybe one and a half thousand crew.

It had swimming pools, theatres, cinemas, restaurants, bars, lounges, and it was of course crammed with the latest communication and navigating technology.

A sister ship to the cruise liner we were on

A vast amount of wealth had been poured into creating it. I’ve very little idea of how much such a ship would cost, but it must be hundreds of millions of dollars. And it’s just one of many equally large cruise liners sailing the seas today.

What a society we live in, that can devote such vast resources to building and operating such ships – and what for? So that we can have nice holidays! When you think that throughout human history most people have been able to wring but a bare subsistence from the land they cultivate through the sweat of their brows – how things have changed! At least, that is, for those of us who are fortunate to live in advanced economies.

One way of looking at all this is to be horrified by the sheer waste of it all, when billions of people still live such hard lives scratching a living.

Another way, though, is to see the whole tourist industry – one of the biggest of all economic sectors – as an efficient way of circulating wealth from the rich to the not-so-rich. The crewmen and crew-women who were looking after us were from all the nations of the world, all working efficiently together as a team. We noted people from the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Vietnam, Peru, Chile, Mexico, Croatia, Ukraine…I could go on. Working on a cruise liner is a lifeline for them and their families, and gives them opportunities that they would never otherwise have had. One young Filipino woman we chatted to said that she had been able to work her way up through the ranks to where she was now (senior catering manager) by taking exams and so on, and she must have been earning many times what she could have earned back in her own country.

Yet another way of looking at things is to see them as a means of opening up experiences of this kind to ordinary people like us, instead of just to aristocrats and plutocrats as in times gone by. We live in an age when liners, hotels and resorts offer the kind of accommodation and service to millions of middle-of-the-range earners who, a hundred years ago, would have been utterly excluded from such a world.

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, which we visited

(By PA – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

So, we live in an odd world. There are good things and bad things in it, and quite often the same thing is both good and bad. I suppose it has been ever thus. But the fact that so many people today can afford to go on wonderful holidays and see so many different parts of the planet, all in comparative luxury, surely makes this a better world than one in which all except the wealthiest live in dire poverty.

By Peter Britton