DISASTER TIMELINE: How Carnival Went From 'Fun Ship' To 'Poop Cruise'

Over its 41 years, Carnival Cruise Line has had a checkered past. In its heyday, Carnival was the cruise brand known for innovation, but more recently it has become known as the brand with PR disasters to deal with.

Click here for the disaster timeline >

Last week, Carnival's 'Triumph' ship was towed into Mobile, Alabama after almost a week stuck at sea due to an engine fire.

The testimonies from the passengers are truly disgusting : Hallways were flooded with human waste, there was no A/C or running water, and passengers were left to survive on limited food and water. The Triumph was given the nickname "poop cruise" because passengers were forced to use the bathroom in bags.

But do these PR crises have a lasting effect? According to Jaunted , trips aboard 'Triumph' can already be booked for as early as April of this year. That's only two months after passengers said that the floors were "flooded with sewer water."

This type of disaster is not new for Carnival. It experienced very similar situations in 1998, 1999, and 2010. And let's not forget about the Costa Concordia disaster in Italy last year in which the ship capsized, killing 32 passengers . (Carnival owns Costa Concordia).

It has also had to deal with circumstances of passengers jumping overboard to their deaths. 

But with every PR disaster in Carnival's history, it has also experienced record-breaking good moments.

Carnival was the original brand to pioneer the concept of shorter, less expensive cruises. It built the first ship to weigh more than 100,000 tons, as well as the world's first non-smoking ship.

The cruise company's on-board service has won numerous awards , including three Cruise Critic Editor's Picks —best new ship, best bar, and best value in 2012.

Carnival Cruise Lines was founded by Ted Arison in 1972.

cruise ship poop in bags

Ted Arison, the son of a multi-millionaire shipping magnate, was born in Israel in 1924. He immigrated to the U.S. in the early 50s and co-founded Norwegian Cruise Lines in 1966.

He then went on to found his own cruise company, Carnival Cruise Lines, six years later.

Carnival was originally a subsidiary of American International Travel Service (AITS), but in 1974, Arison bought Carnival for $1 , along with $5 million in assumed AITS debt.

By the late 1980s, Arison was reportedly one of the world's richest men , with a personal fortune estimated to be between $6 and $10 billion.

His family still  owns the Miami Heat . He was the man responsible for bringing the team to South Florida.

Carnival's first-ever voyage got off to a bad a start.

cruise ship poop in bags

According to Carnival's website , in 1972 " the company’s first cruise ship, the TSS Mardi Gras, runs aground on a sandbar during its inaugural voyage."

But by the early 80's, things started improving.

In 1984, Carnival became the first cruise line to advertise on network television. Kathie Lee Gifford, then Kathie Lee Johnson, was the company's first spokesperson.

cruise ship poop in bags

The 1980s was a great time for Carnival.

In 1982, the 'Tropicale' ship debuted, representing the first new ship the industry had seen in years.

Two years later, Carnival launched the first network-wide advertising campaign in the industry.

This video  is one of the original commercials Carnival ran. It features Kathie Lee Johnson, aka Kathie Lee Gifford.

In the late 80s, Carnival was carrying more passengers than any other cruise line, making it "The World's Most Popular Cruise Line." The brand still uses this phrase as its tagline.

In 1987, Carnival completed an initial public offering of 20 percent of its common stock.

cruise ship poop in bags

The cruise line was able to generate around $400 million from its IPO . 

This money would help it buy new ships, as well as acquire other brands.

In 1989, it made its first acquisition — the Holland America Line.

In the 90s, Carnival began launching newer, bigger ships, including the world's first non-smoking vessel.

cruise ship poop in bags

In 1997, Carnival launched 'Destiny,' the first cruise ship in the world to weigh more than 100,000 tons. 

One year later, Carnival launched 'Paradise,' the first non-smoking cruise ship in the world.

But with these breakthroughs also came the company's first major PR nightmares. 

In 1998, there was a fire onboard the Carnival 'Ecstasy.'

cruise ship poop in bags

In July 1998, soon after 'Ecstasy' departed from Miami, a fire started in the main laundry room .

As the ship was attempting to re-dock at the Miami port, it lost propulsion power and began drifting off course. Sound familiar?

It took six tugboats to fight the fire and pull the ship to shore. Eight passengers and 14 crew members were injured. It cost $17 million to repair the ship .

Then there was another fire on another ship in 1999.

cruise ship poop in bags

A little over a year later, the Tropicale's engine room caught fire, leaving the ship in the path of Tropical Storm Harvey.

The ship's captain, Vito Riccio, told the St. Petersburg Times that he didn't relay information about the fire to the passengers for fear that they would then panic and jump overboard.

In 2005, the company was both praised and criticized for its Katrina-related efforts.

cruise ship poop in bags

While the early 2000s were relatively uneventful for the brand, things changed after Hurricane Katrina when the U.S. government signed a six-month contract with Carnival . Under the agreement, Carnival received $236 million in exchange for three ships to be used as temporary housing for Katrina victims. 

The ships were docked along the Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas coastlines.

Despite Carnival's honorable intentions, the contract was highly criticized because Carnival was earning more money than it normally would have had the ships been used as vacation spots. Many of the ships were also mostly empty.

Between 2006 and 2007, two separate passenger deaths caused another PR dilemma for the brand.

cruise ship poop in bags

In May 2006, a Philadelphia man jumped off his balcony on Carnival's 'Legend' after an argument with his wife. The tragedy happened off the coast of Bermuda. 

A little over a year later, an 18-year-old from Houston also jumped to his death from a Carnival ship. According to the Houston Chronicle , his jump may have been premeditated.

The economic downfall of 2008 did not bode well for Carnival or the rest of the cruise ship industry.

cruise ship poop in bags

In April 2008, Micky Arison, the chairman of Carnival Corp. & plc, announced that the brand would not be ordering any new U.S. ships until the American economy improved.

In 2009, Carnival's largest "Fun Ship" was retired.

cruise ship poop in bags

'Dream,' the largest of the "Fun Ship" line, was retired in 2009. It was also the largest ship ever built by the Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri.

In November 2010, another Carnival cruise ship had a fire on board.

cruise ship poop in bags

The generator room on Carnival's 'Splendor' caught fire, causing the ship to lose power.

According to CBS News , 4,500 passengers were trapped at sea for over 24 hours with very little food and no A/C or hot water.  The ship was towed to San Diego.

Once again, sound familiar? 

For the next couple of years, Carnival avoided major PR disasters.

cruise ship poop in bags

In October 2012, 'Spirit' launched, becoming the company's first ship to sail through Australian waters, as well as the largest ship to cruise to Australia year-round.

'Spirit' is too large to fit under the bridge to Carnival's cruise terminal , so it is docked separately.

The brand also signed an agreement with Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri for both a 99,000-ton ship for its Holland America Line and a 135,000-ton ship for its Carnival Cruise Line. 

According to Breaking Travel News , Giuseppe Bono, chief executive of Fincantieri, said, “These additional orders bring the total number of ships we have built for Carnival Corporation to 61 and confirm Fincantieri’s world leadership in the cruise ship sector even at a time of slowing demand.”

In January 2012, a Costa Concordia ship owned by Carnival struck a rock off the coast of an Italian island.

cruise ship poop in bags

Thirty passengers aboard the Costa Concordia lost their lives, and as of December 2012, two were still missing.

Because the ship wreckage is in a nationally protected marine park and coral reef, removing the wreckage has proven difficult and costly . 

According to 60 Minutes, the cleanup will cost $400 million.

Hundreds of passengers and up to 1,000 businesses on the Italian island have sued or are in the process of suing Carnival . 

Carnival's most recent PR fiasco may be the last straw for many of Carnival's loyal customers.

cruise ship poop in bags

After almost a week of being stranded with no running water or air conditioning, passengers who suffered aboard the 'Triumph' ship are already starting to sue Carnival over the conditions they endured.

Making things even worse, one of the buses carrying rescued passengers from Mobile to New Orleans broke down.

Carnival has already offered passengers a refund, cruise credit, and $500, but this disaster may prove too big to be solved with money. 

The engine fire that caused the horrible conditions is still under investigation, and it may take months to find the cause.

Despite Carnival's recent problems, the brand is still used by almost 50 percent of worldwide cruise passengers.

cruise ship poop in bags

According to Cruise Market Watch, the worldwide cruise industry is an estimated $36.2 billion business.

Current data shows a 4.5 percent increase in revenue from 2012 figures.  

There has also been a 3.3 percent increase in yearly passengers since 2012.

This chart shows the revenues of the worldwide cruise industry. Each color represents a different parent company. Subsidiaries of Carnival  Corp. & plc (CCL) are the red dots. Subsidiaries of CCL's major competitor, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCL), are shown in dark blue. All other brands, including MSC Cruises and Norwegian, are shown in light blue.

CCL serves 48.4 percent of total worldwide cruise passengers. RCL serves 23.3 percent, and all other brands combine to serve 28.3 percent of cruisers.

You've seen how Carnival has operated over the years...

cruise ship poop in bags

Now see the augmented reality campaigns brands are using today  →

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Article Lead Image

A firsthand account from inside the Poop Cruise

Leave it to Reddit to find someone who experienced all the poop firsthand.

Photo of Kevin Collier

Kevin Collier

Internet Culture

Posted on Feb 15, 2013   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 12:32 am CDT

cruise ship poop in bags

The Carnival cruise ship whose engine burned out and was left stranded at sea—lovingly nicknamed the “poop cruise” by major media outlets because of the lack of working toilets—finally docked late Thursday night.

Thankfully, a redditor was on board. As he sat in an Alabama port, he was happy to cut the hype and explain what happened to his fellow users in an Ask Me Anything session conducted on his phone. 

In short, he said, it was “just like camping. Except crowded and unhygienic.” And it wasn’t gross enough from keeping him from using a free voucher to go on another cruise next year.

Will you ever go on another cruise again? (teh_bacon_bandit)

Yes, definitely! It really isnt nearly as bad as they’re talking about. I actually had a good time. 

So, ah, did you just do it off of the side of the boat, or what? ( SharpHawkeye )

what about poo? ( missyo02 )

cruise ship poop in bags

On CNN they would have one person crying about how awful everything else was, and then another person that sad it wasn’t too bad ( barnosaur )

That’s how a lot of it was. I saw a few people crying but honestly, without the dirtiness, it wouldn’t be too bad. It was like camping on a cruise ship.

So… how much is Carnival paying for you to do this AMA? (jonny_nutsack)

Haha no we’re getting into a class action against them. I’m just making sure reddit is in “the know”

Is anyone taking advantage of the situation? If so, how? (deviant143)

Yes, a woman fake falling and crying in pain. Also people are suing. On a few of the working outlets a couple of laptops have been stolen, there and in the pitch black rooms.

Did they have to ration out the food? What was there and what was that like? ( arevan )

Not really. They had a worse buffet, but a buffet none the less. Toward the end they started giving you the good themselves to ensure that we weren’t stockpiling it. There was a lot of random sandwiches. Sometimes tomato and lettuce, zucchini mayo, onion lettuce, cheese bacon mayo, etc. they weren’t particularly good, but you made do. There was also a lot of fruit and cheap deserts.

Are they really making you go to the bathroom in bags? How hard is it when you have to take a dump? ( Mynameisinuse )

Yea they were handing out bags for us to poop in, I didn’t since our toilet worked for the most part. But there were red bags all I’ve the hall way and whilst sleeping outside someone through there bag over and it got caught next to our area and smelled it up until we finally knocked it over the edge with a rope and pole.

cruise ship poop in bags

Did anybody go crazy or totally loose their cool? ( Membery )

A few people were crying, a few fights over food and the long lines, and a few fights over the outlet/ charging station situation.

I’m sure there was some kind of waiver that you had to sign before boarding – would that prevent you from filing any sort of lawsuit in the future? ( Para_Para )

Yes, definitely! No waiver, but on the check that they will send us it’s like signing a settlement. We are for sure holding off on cashing those in and we are going to participate in a class action. Nothing will stop since the unsanitary environment and how my mom is sick because of it.

Why are the people getting sick? I also read there were serious food shortages, is this true? ( desertdreamer )

Thanks and yeah, people are getting sick because sewage everyone; urine on the floors, waste in bags, and undercooked food. Strong fecal and urine stench near the cabins and just a poor environment. The workers rushed a lot of the processes. My mom is actually sick. No food shortages, we’ve had 3 other carnival ships come by and one of the three again and they used a helicopter to drop a generator and just recently (today) we got a delivery of sterno. People are throwing food away so we have enough.

Are you taking one of the chartered flights back to Houston tomorrow? ( 305broooo )

Yeah, first a bus ride to New Orleans and stay in a hotel and fly out Tomorrow or Sarurday.

What was your initial reaction [to the ship’s engine room catching fire]? Did you think you were sinking? ( supermav27 )

My initial reaction was just weariness. I slept on a bunk type bed that pulled out from the ceiling and smelled smoke and heard yelling. I was pretty pissed to wake up that damn early on my birthday but we then walked outside and Jen (cruise director) told us about the engine fire. I didn’t know what to think but I wasn’t very scared.

happy late birthday ( ekaceerf )

Thanks, it’s going to be hard to top next year.

Photo via CarnivalTriumphAMA/ Imgur

A former senior politics reporter for the Daily Dot, Kevin Collier focuses on privacy, cybersecurity, and issues of importance to the open internet. Since leaving the Daily Dot in March 2016, he has served as a reporter for Vocativ and a cybersecurity correspondent for BuzzFeed.

Kevin Collier

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Carnival Poop Cruise Lawsuit Dumped by 11th Circuit Court

An August 30, report on Law360.com states that the 11th Circ. Dumps Carnival Passengers’ Suit Over ‘Poop Cruise’.

According to the report : “ The Eleventh Circuit on Thursday tossed a suit brought by more than 100 former passengers of the Carnival Triumph who were stranded at sea for five days in a 2013 incident known as the “Poop Cruise,” saying the passengers’ ticket contract required notice of a personal injury claim within 185 days. “

The Carnival Poop Cruise made national headlines in 2013 as Carnival Triumph passengers were stranded at seas after a fire knocked out the ship’s power.

As the Business Insider reported in How Carnival Went from Fun Ship to Poop Cruise : “The testimonies from the passengers are truly disgusting: Hallways were flooded with human waste, there was no A/C or running water, and passengers were left to survive on limited food and water. The Triumph was given the nickname “poop cruise” because passengers were forced to use the bathroom in bags.”

Not all injury claims or lawsuits against the cruise lines are successful, even when real injuries can be articulated to the cruise line claims departments, defending attorneys or the Federal Court in Miami.

Questions about an incident on a Carnival Cruise Ship ? Contact our firm today.

For more information, read our pages Can I Sue a Cruise Line and Personal Injury on a Cruise – What is That?

clock This article was published more than  11 years ago

Carnival Triumph disaster: A drama of discomfort

cruise ship poop in bags

On Friday morning we finally saw them, those wretched refugees of the Carnival Triumph, after five days stranded at sea. They disembarked the floating Port-a-John on which they had been imprisoned, some wearing white cruise line bathrobes to protect themselves against the unexpected chill, kneeling to kiss the ground as they came ashore.

“United States,” a woman in a floppy hat breathed ecstatically to a television reporter. “Ain’t nothing better.”

A cruise represents not only a vacation, but a very specific kind of vacation. One books it when one does not want to have to decide, or plan, or worry, or change money, or get tetanus shots. The people who would take a cruise have considered hiking through Nepal, cycling through Norway, staying at quaint little flophouses in Eastern Europe — it's not like they don't know those travel options exist — and thought, "No." They do not believe that getting your wallet stolen in Mexico City is "a good story."

I have cruised, and I loved it, and so I say fondly: A cruise ship’s passenger log is comprised entirely of the exact demographic that is least prepared for a cruise to go to pot. A cruise is a giant boat full of your mother-in-law. Your mother-in-law does not belong in the wild.

What happened: Midway through a four-day Mexican cruise, the Triumph's engine room caught fire, the ship lost power, and then suddenly it was just drifting, somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico. A four-day trip became an eight-day one. A 102,000-ton boat , the length of three football fields and containing 4,000 passengers, was reduced to Huck Finn's raft. It took three days for some gallant little tugboats to tow it into port in Mobile, Ala. There was nothing for watchers at home to do but imagine the hellscape aboard the doomed vessel.

But now the survivors are back, ready to share what really happened. On the "Today" show, Matt Lauer encouraged two female passengers to tell him everything . But everything, edited. "Not too graphic," he warned them. This was, after all, a morning show. The women appeared briefly flummoxed, trying to figure out how to tell a G-rated version of the story.

“It was, like, post-natural disaster,” Julie Billings said finally. “But stuck on a boat.”

Excuse us, Matt Lauer, but how could the story not be graphic? The filth, the waste, the rapid decline, is precisely what made the saga so horrifying for viewers and readers at home. We hung onto every bleated-out text message of despair, every description of what they were eating, and where they were sleeping, and where their waste went. (In red plastic bags. Marked with hazardous-waste symbols. Left outside state rooms. In ice buckets. We saw pictures.)

It was a drama, but not of danger. It was a drama of discomfort.

The smell. Just think of the smell. Skip this paragraph if you don't want to think of the smell. The unrefrigerated food and the unrefreshed bodies, the uncirculated dankness of the cabins, so filthy that passengers began sleeping on deck chairs instead, lugging their pillows to some high-thread-count open-air slumber party.

“I’m just happy to be alive,” a woman told “Good Morning America.”

Hell is other people. Hell is other people on a boat. What will it take before we accept this? After David Foster Wallace writes about it in an erudite essay ? After a Concordia captain abandons his sinking ship? After a New York Times reporter mentions that his journey on the classy Cunard was delayed for several hours so workers could scrub the ship down after a norovirus outbreak?

It’s over now, all over.

Carnival put the passengers on buses, heading either to New Orleans or to their origin point of Galveston, Tex. The company had promised to cover all travel expenses home. And to give each passenger $500 in compensation.

As well as a credit. A credit for another cruise.

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The Two-Way

The Two-Way

'cruise from hell' was a mix of 'survivor' and 'lord of the flies'.

Mark Memmott

As they finally came off the Carnival cruise ship Triumph late Thursday and early Friday in Mobile, Ala., passengers from the ill-fated cruise told stories that call to mind TV's Survivor and literature's classic Lord of the Flies , the Los Angeles Times writes .

According to the Times , "Debbie Moyes, 32, of Phoenix said she was awakened Sunday by a fellow passenger banging on her door, warning people to escape." An engine fire had left the ship stranded off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula.

"Soon after, she said some passengers panicked. 'People were hoarding food — boxes and boxes of cereal, grabbing cake with both hands,' she said. "Toilets stopped working and the 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew had to urinate in sinks, she said, and eventually red plastic bags. She saw sewage dripping down walls. Sometimes people slipped on it, she said. Soon, the ship began to smell. " 'It was like a hot port-o-potty,' Moyes said, and when the ship tilted, 'it would spill.' "

CNN writes that "the frustration that many felt was typified by Janie Esparza, one of the first passengers to get back on land. 'It was horrible. Horrible,' Esparza told a scrum of reporters. 'The bathroom facilities were horrible and we could not flush toilets. No electricity and our rooms were in total darkness. Honestly, I think that this ship should have [never] sailed out.' "

The Associated Press says that passenger Deborah Knight of Houston, "had no interest in boarding one of about 100 buses assembled to carry passengers to hotels in New Orleans or Texas. Her husband Seth drove in from Houston and they checked into a downtown Mobile hotel. 'I want a hot shower and a daggum Whataburger,' said Knight, who was wearing a bathrobe over her clothes as her bags were unloaded from her husband's pickup truck. She said she was afraid to eat the food on board and had gotten sick while on the ship."

cruise ship poop in bags

After finally getting off the Carnival cruise ship Triumph, this passenger waited for a ride early Friday in Mobile, Ala. Mark Wallheiser /EPA /LANDOV hide caption

After finally getting off the Carnival cruise ship Triumph, this passenger waited for a ride early Friday in Mobile, Ala.

The wire service adds that another passenger, Maria Hernandez of Angleton, Texas, had "tears welling in her eyes as she talked about waking up to smoke in her lower-level room Sunday and the days of heat and stench to follow. She was on a 'girls trip' with friends."

" 'It was horrible, just horrible' said Hernandez. ... She said the group hauled mattresses to upper-level decks to escape the heat. As she pulled her luggage into the hotel, a flashlight around her neck, she managed a smile and even a giggle when asked to show her red 'poo-poo bag' — distributed by the cruise line for collecting human waste."

NBC News says that "passenger Janie Baker told MSNBC's Ed Schultz that people managed the situation well and that the crew was 'fantastic,' but on the final night, 'people's tempers started flying.' She described one incident where another passenger tried to disrupt a movie, and was taken away by the crew. 'If we had gone any longer, it could have been much, much worse,' she said."

On Morning Edition , NPR's Greg Allen reported about the $80 million the debacle is expected to cost Carnival and the blow suffered to the cruise industry's image. As for the passengers, he said, they're now getting "a full refund, credit for a future cruise plus $500 in cash."

Reuters add that "for all the passengers' grievances, they will likely find it difficult to sue the cruise operator for any damages, legal analysts said. Over the years, the cruise industry has put in place a legal structure that shields operators from big-money lawsuits."

Update at 9:45 a.m. ET. And On The Ride To New Orleans, At Least One Bus Broke Down:

CBS News reports that among the "caravan of buses" that Carnival chartered to take passengers to New Orleans, "at least one ... became stranded on the way."

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DISASTER TIMELINE: How Carnival Went From 'Fun Ship' To 'Poop Cruise'

The Associated Press

Carnival's 'Triumph'

Click here for the disaster timeline >

Last week, Carnival's 'Triumph' ship was towed into Mobile, Alabama after almost a week stuck at sea due to an engine fire.

The testimonies from the passengers are truly disgusting : Hallways were flooded with human waste, there was no A/C or running water, and passengers were left to survive on limited food and water. The Triumph was given the nickname "poop cruise" because passengers were forced to use the bathroom in bags.

But do these PR crises have a lasting effect? According to Jaunted , trips aboard 'Triumph' can already be booked for as early as April of this year. That's only two months after passengers said that the floors were "flooded with sewer water."

This type of disaster is not new for Carnival. It experienced very similar situations in 1998, 1999, and 2010. And let's not forget about the Costa Concordia disaster in Italy last year in which the ship capsized, killing 32 passengers . (Carnival owns Costa Concordia).

It has also had to deal with circumstances of passengers jumping overboard to their deaths.

But with every PR disaster in Carnival's history, it has also experienced record-breaking good moments.

Carnival was the original brand to pioneer the concept of shorter, less expensive cruises. It built the first ship to weigh more than 100,000 tons, as well as the world's first non-smoking ship.

The cruise company's on-board service has won numerous awards , including three Cruise Critic Editor's Picks —best new ship, best bar, and best value in 2012.

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Feces, water reported on floor of disabled Carnival cruise ship in Gulf of Mexico

Food, supplies transferred to stranded cruise ship

Food, supplies transferred to stranded cruise ship

Coast Guard on mission to get disabled boat back to U.S.

Conditions appear to be worsening on the Carnival cruise that has been floating aimlessly about 150 miles off the Yucatan Peninsula after a fire erupted in the aft engine room Sunday, knocking out the ship’s propulsion system.

"There's water and feces all over the floor," said Brent Nutt, who was told about the conditions by his wife who is a passenger on board. "It's not the best conditions. You would think Carnival would have something in place to get these people off the ship."

Passengers also are getting sick and throwing up, he said, adding that his wife told him: "The whole boat stinks extremely bad."

To be sure, passengers aboard a cruise vessel stranded in the Gulf of Mexico have limited access to bathrooms, food and hot coffee, and were just given a new destination: Mobile, Ala.

Carnival Cruise Lines President and CEO Gerry Cahill said in a statement Monday that the Carnival Triumph had drifted so far north of its original position that it will be towed to the southern U.S. port, instead of the original plan to take it to Progreso, Mexico.

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Jimmy Mowlam told The Associated Press on Tuesday that his son Rob and new daughter-in-law got married onboard the Carnival Triumph on Saturday and are among the roughly 3,100 stranded passengers.

He says his son told him by phone Monday night that many passengers are sleeping on deck because the lack of ventilation made it too hot to sleep inside.

He says his son says passengers were mostly "taking it in stride."

Cahill said strong Gulf currents caused the Triumph to drift about 90 miles north of its original position off the Yucatan Peninsula.

Cahill's statement said the ship should arrive in Mobile on Thursday and that the change will allow for less complicated re-entry for passengers without passports.

The ship left Texas last Thursday on a scheduled four-day cruise with 3,143 passengers and a crew of 1,086.

Two tugboats arrived on the scene of the stranded vessel Tuesday to tow it to Mobile. Besides the two tugs, at least two other Carnival cruise ships have been diverted to the Triumph to leave supplies, and a Coast Guard cutter reportedly was at the scene. The Coast Guard has informed Mexican authorities of the situation in their waters, a spokesman said.

Melinda Ramos, meanwhile, said her father was laughing when she briefly spoke to him Sunday.

"He might be completely joking, but he said they're sleeping in tents outside," the 19-year-old daughter of Mary and Matt Ramos told The Houston Chronicle.

A similar situation occurred on a Carnival cruise ship in November 2010. That vessel was also stranded for three days with 4,500 people aboard after a fire in the engine room. When the passengers disembarked in San Diego they described a nightmarish three days in the Pacific with limited food, power and bathroom access.

Carnival said in a statement that it had cancelled the Triumph's next two voyages scheduled to depart Monday and Saturday. Passengers aboard the stranded ship will also receive a full refund, the statement said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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cruise ship poop in bags


What Happened to the Poop Cruise Ship?

By Anna Duncan

It was a cruise ship with a difference. From the outside, the Carnival Splendor looked like any other luxury liner.

But inside, it was a floating sewage disaster that left thousands of passengers stranded and in terrible conditions. In November 2010, the cruise ship ran into some serious trouble when an engine room fire cut its power and left it adrift in the Pacific Ocean.

In the days before its engine was fixed, the Carnival Splendor had no running water or air-conditioning. Toilets stopped working, which meant that human waste began to pile up throughout the ship.

Passengers were forced to take cold showers in their cabins and sleep on deck with no blankets or pillows for comfort. Food supplies were also limited as many of them had been cooked before the power went out.

The U.S Coast Guard eventually came to the rescue of the stranded passengers and crew members by towing them back to port in San Diego after four days at sea. The incident made headlines around the world and exposed serious flaws in Carnival Cruise Lines’ safety protocols. The company was heavily fined by federal regulators for safety violations related to this incident.

The Carnival Splendor has since been refurbished and is still sailing around the world today. The cruise line has made some major changes to its safety protocols since then, including more frequent maintenance checks and better training for crew members on how to handle emergency situations.


The Carnival Splendor’s journey from disaster back to luxury liner is a testament to human resilience in difficult times. Although there were serious safety concerns uncovered as a result of this incident, today it is once again taking passengers on safe and enjoyable voyages around the world.

What happened to the poop cruise ship? It survived its ordeal and is now safely sailing around the world after being refurbished and having new safety protocols put in place.

9 Related Question Answers Found

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Cruise Ship Traveller

How do Cruise Ships Get Rid of Human Waste (the Poop)

Have you ever wondered what happens to human waste on a cruise ship?

Or perhaps been asked by a youngster, “where does poop go on a ship”?

Whatever your age, it’s a question many people wonder about.

Is it just dumped in the ocean, and would that be bad for the environment?

Or is it treated and disposed of responsibly?  

With more and more cruise ships being built and seemingly getting ever larger it is certainly a question worth looking into because the amount of raw sewage produced equates to thousands of tonnes a year.

What happens to human waste on a cruise ship

Some of the modern-day mega-cruise ships, including the largest Royal Caribbean cruise ships, can carry well over 6000 passengers and have over 2000 crew members on board.  The Royal Caribbean Icon class cruise ships will be even larger.

Do Cruise Ship Toilets Drain Into The Ocean?

To prevent pollution of our marine environments, an IMO convention known as Marpol prohibits cruise ships from dumping or draining toilet water into the oceans.

Marpol Annex IV states:

“ the discharge of sewage into the sea is prohibited, except when the ship has in operation an approved sewage treatment plant or when the ship is discharging comminuted and disinfected sewage using an approved system at a distance of more than three nautical miles from the nearest land; sewage which is not comminuted or disinfected has to be discharged at a distance of more than 12 nautical miles from the nearest land. “ Source: imo.org

Where Does Waste Water On A Cruise Ship Go?

Wastewater on cruise ships is separated into two categories on a cruise ship gray water and black water.   Toilet water is classed as black water and is treated onboard the ship.  Only when the water is deemed safe is it released into the oceans according to specific guidelines. 

On a cruise ship, these types of wastewater can be collected and stored in ballast tanks before both being treated separately onboard the ship, as we have outlined below.

Gray water is wastewater from

Although gray water doesn’t contain the harmful bacteria that black water does, it does contain a broader range of chemicals.  Think of the laundry detergents, shower gels, shampoos, and sun lotions that people wash off their bodies. 

This is one reason it is not mixed in with the black water because all these different chemicals could negatively affect the early treatment processes using live bacteria, which could be destroyed by unknown contaminants.

Gray water is filtered and discharged in permitted areas away from coastlines.

Sometimes the gray water is added to the final treatment stage of the blackwater when it is chlorinated. 

However, it should be borne in mind that gray water is known to contain large amounts of microplastics, originating in particular from large of amounts of laundry, all the bedding, for instance.

Water treatment and boiler room

What Do Cruise Ships Do With Sewage?

Cruise ships treat raw sewage, otherwise known as black water, within a sewage plant in the engine rooms. It goes through a process of filtration, aeration, settlement, and sterilization before being safely released back in permitted sea areas.

Black Water

Black water is raw sewage discharge that contains or may have come into contact with some forms of solids (including poop).  It’s mostly water from toilets .

This includes:

  • Feces (poop)
  • Toilet paper

Black water is dangerous because it contains harmful bacteria and viruses.  It is also toxic due to the chemicals added to toilets and any holding tanks it is stored in.

If just released or dumped into the sea it will be environmentally harmful to marine life and also humans if it washes up upon coastlines.

What Do Cruise Ships Do With Black Water?

Both types of wastewater can be stored separately in ballast tanks in the bottom of the cruise ship’s hull.  

Ballast tanks are used to help support a cruise ship and lower its center of gravity as well as being used for wastewater, they can be used to keep a ship upright in rough seas and are one means to prevent a cruise ship tipping over too far to one side.

Cruise ships have their own sewage works systems down in the engine room areas.

This is where all the collected black water is sent to be filtered and treated so it’s safe and could in theory, be reused.   Much the same as sewage plants work on the land.

It is a 4 step process:

  • Screen filtered into a sedimentation chamber (to remove any extra-large objects)
  • Aeration – where it’s broken down by aerobic bacteria
  • Settlement chamber – where sewage and water separates
  • Sterilization – Water is chlorinated and sterilized 

You can see an illustration of the process in the video below:

Although the raw sewage is fully treated onboard and results in clean potable water (drinkable), the water itself is not reused onboard.  It is stored and later discharged in permitted locations.

Any leftover residues will eventually be safely disposed of ashore.  

There are adequate suppliers of fresh water on a cruise ship when it disembarks to last the entire journey and more.  

Carnival Cruise Ship

Carnival “Poop Cruise”

In 2013, a fire broke out in the engine room of Carnival Triumph (renamed Carnival Sunrise).  Although the fire was extinguished, the events that unfolded led to the event being dubbed the now infamous “ Poop Cruise .”

The fire was quickly extinguished by automatic fire prevention systems in place.  However, the event caused a loss of power, and the ship lost propulsion, so the ship was not moving.

Initially, passengers were relieved to be told the fire had been extinguished, and the crew was working in the engine room.

However, passengers soon realized the toilets were not flushing, which is a huge problem on a ship with about 4000+ people onboard.

The solution was to give passengers red plastic bags in which to poop and then leave in the corridors.  

People who needed to urinate were told to pee in the showers.  However, with the cruise ship’s stabilizers not working due to lack of power, the ship rocks from side to side.   This resulted in the sewage overflowing from the showers onto the deck floors.

The whole event lasted five days and was subject to 24/7 news coverage.

Subsequently, this led to Carnival installing backup generator systems on all cruise ships in the fleet in an effort to prevent a disaster like this from ever occurring again on a cruise ship.

Further Reading:

  • Why Is a Poop Deck Called a Poop Deck? (True Meaning)
  • What do Cruise Ships do with Food Waste? (Is it dumped in the ocean?)
  • Do Cruise Ships Dump Trash in the Ocean? (What do they do with the garbage waste?)

Frequently Asked Questions

Do cruise ships dump poop in the ocean.

Cruise ships are prohibited from dumping untreated sewage or “poop” into the ocean. Cruise ships are equipped with advanced sewage treatment systems that process black wastewater before it is discharged.

Is The Filtered Water On A Cruise Ship Recycled From Toilet Water?

Filtered water on a cruise ship is not recycled toilet water, or any other water from the ship.  Toilet water is filtered and processed as black water.  Once treated, it is released into the ocean in permitted locations only.

Where Does Toilet Water go on a Cruise?

Toilet water is treated as black water on a cruise ship.  It is initially stored in a ballast tank before being treated via an onboard sewage plant in the ship’s engine room.  Once the water is deemed safe, it is released into permitted ocean areas.

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How Many Doors on a Cruise Ship? (Yes, I Counted)

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Passengers Describe Conditions On Cruise Ship "We Had To Poop In Bags"

Deuces: passengers aboard sh***y ship where they had to poop in bags say it was “like katrina in the dome… except afloat”.

Guessing that Carnival will not be making #1 or #2 on the list of luxury cruise ships anytime soon after this fiasco.

Via NYPost reports :

A broken towline halted the disabled Carnival Triumph this afternoon, as it inched toward shore near Mobile, Ala. Frantic crew members on the lead tug boat replaced the broken line in about about an hour — before currents could push the ship back to sea. A voice over the ship’s public address system urged passengers to go back in their rooms. But most travelers outside on the decks, craving fresh air over the stink inside, didn’t budge. The cruise had been going 1 mph and set to dock tonight — in hopes to a mercifully ending this nightmarish journey for 4,000 people trapped on the floating bio-hazard. The line snap has pushed the ship’s scheduled arrival to no earlier than 10:30 p.m. CST. Once Triumph docks, passengers will still be far from home free. With just one elevator on board working, it’ll take more than four hours for all passengers to get off the boat, said Carnival senior VP Terry Thornton. The cruise line has assembled a small army of 200 employees help passengers get off the boat in Mobile. The company also plans in place in case another tow line snaps in the next several hours. “[But] were not anticipating any additional difficulties,” Thornton said. The cruise — which began a week ago today in Galveston — went horribly wrong on Sunday when flames erupted in the engine room. That blaze killed power and knocked out almost all the ship’s plumbing. “Pipes are busting, I know the sewer is backing up, and water is in the cabins, and it’s just a nightmare,” passenger Jamie Baker told NBC’s “Today” show this morning in a telephone interview from aboard the ship. “It’s just a nightmare.” She and other passengers described hours-long lines for food — meals that were often no more than slices of tomato or onion on bread — and putrid sanitary conditions. With so few toilets on board flushing, many passengers were forced to relieve themselves into plastic bags. Some travelers didn’t even bother using bags. “There’s poop and urine all along the floor,” said passenger and Houston resident Renee Shanar. “The floor is flooded with sewer water … and we had to poop in bags.” Passenger Julie Morgan described the smell on board: “It’s a mixture of sewage and rotting food.” “Let’s just say I have a pair of slippers I will not be bringing home with me,” Morgan told CNN. Baker compared her trip to a post-hurricane experience. “Like Katrina in the Dome, except it’s afloat,” Baker said. The passengers’ stay in Alabama will be short. They have the option of boarding buses directly to Galveston or Houston, or to New Orleans where they can rest in a hotel before taking a charter flight to Houston. Carnival is picking up all these travel costs. Carnival Cruise Lines yesterday canceled a dozen more planned voyages aboard the Triumph and acknowledged that the crippled ship had been plagued by other mechanical problems in the weeks before the engine-room blaze. The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation into the cause. “We know it has been a longer journey back than we anticipated at the beginning of the week under very challenging circumstances,” Carnival President and CEO Gary Cahill said. “We are very sorry for what our guests have had to endure.” Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen acknowledged the Triumph’s recent mechanical woes, explaining that there was an electrical problem with the ship’s alternator on the previous voyage. Repairs were completed Feb. 2. Testing of the repaired part was successful and “there is no evidence at this time of any relationship between this previous issue and the fire that occurred on Feb. 10.” Communication with passengers on the Triumph has been limited to brief windows when other cruise ships with working cellular towers have rendezvoused to deliver supplies, but some relatives have reported being told of uncomfortable and unsanitary conditions. Robert Giordano, of the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, said he last spoke to his wife, Shannon, on Monday. She told him she waited in line for three hours to get a hot dog and that conditions on the ship were terrible. “They’re having to urinate in the shower. They’ve passed out plastic bags to go to the bathroom,” Giordano said. “There was fecal matter all over the floor.” Passengers are supposed to get a full refund and discounts on future cruises, and Carnival announced they would also each get an additional $500 in compensation.

Sounds disgusting. Is $500 and a refund enough for being delayed all them days with no food or place to drop a deuce? Don’t know about y’all but we don’t even like to take a #2 in a strange place — much less a plastic bag!

Shutterstock /Instagram.com/janetshamlian


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cruise ship poop in bags

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Where Does The Poop Go On A Cruise Ship

Published: December 21, 2023

Modified: December 28, 2023

by Lil Pulliam

  • Sustainability



Cruises are a popular choice for vacationers seeking a unique and luxurious travel experience. Whether you’re sailing the Caribbean, exploring the Mediterranean, or venturing to remote corners of the world, a cruise ship offers a multitude of amenities and activities to keep you entertained throughout your journey. But have you ever wondered, where does all the waste, particularly the poop, go on a cruise ship?

The answer lies in the advanced onboard sewage system that cruise ships have in place. These systems are designed to collect, treat, and dispose of both black water (sewage) and grey water (wastewater from sinks, showers, and laundry) in an environmentally responsible manner.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the fascinating world of cruise ship waste management. We’ll explore the intricacies of the onboard sewage system, the treatment processes involved, and the regulations that govern cruise ship waste disposal.

So, buckle up as we embark on a journey through the hidden world of cruise ship waste management. Prepare to be enlightened and perhaps surprised by the level of sophistication and environmental consciousness that goes into handling this aspect of cruising.

The Onboard Sewage System

Managing and treating sewage on a cruise ship is no small feat. With thousands of passengers and crew members on board, it’s crucial to have a robust and efficient sewage system in place. This system ensures that waste is properly collected, treated, and ultimately discharged in a manner that meets strict environmental regulations.

The onboard sewage system consists of a network of pipes, tanks, and treatment processes that work together to handle the different types of waste generated on the ship. These include both black water and grey water, each requiring specific treatment methods.

Let’s take a closer look at how the system handles these two types of waste:

  • Black Water: Black water refers to the waste collected from toilets. It contains human waste and is usually mixed with small amounts of water. To process black water, cruise ships use a combination of physical and biological treatment methods. The waste is typically stored in large tanks and treated with special bacteria that break down the organic matter. This helps to reduce the odor and solid content of the waste.
  • Grey Water: Grey water is the wastewater generated from sinks, showers, and laundry facilities. It doesn’t contain human waste but can still contain soap, detergents, and other substances. Grey water treatment focuses on removing solid particles and reducing the concentration of chemicals and contaminants. Cruise ships often employ filtration systems and advanced technologies to treat grey water before it is discharged.

The treated black water and grey water are usually stored separately, with the grey water being easier to treat and usually discharged first. The final treated wastewater is subject to stringent regulations before it can be safely released into the ocean.

The onboard sewage system is designed to be self-contained and minimize any impact on the marine environment. Cruise ships are equipped with advanced monitoring systems to ensure compliance with local and international regulations regarding waste management and disposal.

With a sophisticated onboard sewage system in place, cruise ship passengers can rest assured that their waste is being handled responsibly and in an environmentally conscious manner. Now that we understand the basics of how waste is collected and processed, let’s delve deeper into the treatment processes for both black water and grey water.

Initial Collection: Toilets and Drains

When it comes to the onboard sewage system, the process begins with the initial collection of waste from toilets and drains on the cruise ship. Let’s take a closer look at how this initial collection takes place and how it ensures the efficient management of sewage.

Toilets: Cruise ship toilets are equipped with vacuum or gravity-assisted systems. These systems use minimal water while effectively removing waste from the toilets. Vacuum toilets use a vacuum suction system to transport waste through a network of pipes, while gravity-assisted toilets rely on gravity to flush waste into a collection tank.

Once the waste is flushed, it enters the ship’s black water collection system. The black water is then stored in dedicated holding tanks located in the lower decks of the ship. These tanks are specifically designed to store the waste safely and prevent any leakage or contamination.

Drains: In addition to toilets, drains on the ship also contribute to the waste collection process. Drains from sinks, showers, and laundry facilities are connected to the ship’s grey water system. These drains collect the wastewater, which is then channeled to separate grey water holding tanks.

It’s important to note that before entering the holding tanks, the waste from both the toilets and drains may pass through grinders and screens to remove any large solid objects or debris. This helps prevent blockages in the pipes and protects the onboard sewage system from potential damage.

By efficiently collecting both black water and grey water, cruise ships ensure the proper management and segregation of waste. The next step in the process involves treating and processing the collected waste to meet environmental standards. Let’s explore the treatment processes for black water and grey water in more detail.

Black Water Treatment

Black water, which consists of human waste collected from toilets on the cruise ship, undergoes a thorough treatment process to ensure its safe and environmentally responsible disposal. Let’s delve into the steps involved in the treatment of black water.

1. Storage in Holding Tanks: The first stage of black water treatment involves storing the waste in dedicated holding tanks. These tanks are specially designed to retain the waste securely and prevent any leakage or contamination.

2. Maceration: Before further treatment, the black water may go through a maceration process. Macerators grind the waste into smaller particles, making it easier to handle during subsequent treatment stages.

3. Biological Treatment: The primary method of treating black water is through the use of specialized bacteria. These bacteria, known as anaerobic bacteria, thrive in an oxygen-free environment and have the ability to break down organic matter in the waste.

The black water is mixed with an added culture of anaerobic bacteria, which starts the biodegradation process. This process breaks down the solids in the waste, reducing its organic content and unpleasant odor.

4. Clarification: After the biological treatment, the black water undergoes a clarification process to remove any remaining solids. This is typically done by passing the treated water through settling tanks or other separation mechanisms. These tanks allow the solids to settle at the bottom while the clarified water is extracted from the top.

5. Disinfection: Once the clarification stage is complete, the treated black water may undergo disinfection. This typically involves the use of chemicals, such as chlorine or other disinfectants, to eliminate any remaining bacteria or pathogens before discharge.

6. Monitoring: Throughout the treatment process, the cruise ship’s onboard sewage system is equipped with advanced monitoring systems to ensure the effectiveness of the treatment and compliance with environmental regulations. These systems constantly monitor and analyze the quality of the treated black water to ensure it meets the required standards.

By following these comprehensive treatment processes, cruise ships can effectively manage and treat black water, transforming it from raw sewage into a more environmentally safe form before its final disposal. Now, let’s move on to the treatment of grey water.

Grey Water Treatment

Grey water, which includes water from sinks, showers, and laundry facilities on the cruise ship, goes through a treatment process to ensure its safe and responsible disposal. Let’s explore the steps involved in the treatment of grey water.

1. Collection in Holding Tanks: Grey water is collected from various drains on the ship and channeled into dedicated holding tanks. These tanks store the grey water until it undergoes further treatment.

2. Preliminary Filtration: Before undergoing more advanced treatment, grey water may go through preliminary filtration processes. This helps remove larger particles such as hair, lint, and other debris that may be present in the wastewater.

3. Physical Treatment: Grey water treatment often involves physical processes to remove additional solids and impurities. Common methods include settling tanks, grease traps, and filtration systems. These processes help to separate solid particles and oily substances from the water, improving its quality for further treatment.

4. Biological Treatment: After the initial physical treatment, grey water may undergo biological treatment to break down organic matter and reduce the concentration of chemicals and contaminants. Biological treatment methods can include the use of aerobic bacteria or other microorganisms that feed on the organic compounds in the water.

5. Advanced Treatment Technologies: Cruise ships may employ advanced treatment technologies, such as membrane filtration systems or reverse osmosis, to further purify the grey water. These systems use filtration membranes to remove even smaller particles, bacteria, and contaminants, resulting in a higher quality of treated water.

6. Disinfection: Similar to the treatment of black water, grey water may also undergo disinfection before being discharged. Common disinfection methods include the use of ultraviolet (UV) light or chemical disinfectants to eliminate any remaining bacteria or pathogens.

7. Final Monitoring: As with the treatment of black water, the onboard sewage system constantly monitors and analyzes the quality of the treated grey water. This ensures compliance with environmental standards and the production of clean water suitable for safe disposal.

By implementing these treatment processes, cruise ships can effectively manage and treat grey water, ultimately reducing its environmental impact and ensuring responsible wastewater disposal. Next, let’s explore the advanced water treatment systems used on cruise ships.

Advanced Water Treatment Systems

Cruise ships are continuously striving to implement advanced technologies and systems to enhance their onboard sewage treatment processes. These advanced water treatment systems help to further improve the quality of the treated wastewater and ensure its safe disposal. Let’s dive into some of these technologies:

1. Advanced Filtration Systems: Cruise ships employ advanced filtration systems, such as membrane filtration, to remove finer particles and contaminants from the treated wastewater. Membrane filtration uses semi-permeable membranes that effectively separate impurities, including bacteria, viruses, and dissolved solids, resulting in purified water.

2. Reverse Osmosis: Reverse osmosis is a process that utilizes high-pressure to force water through a semi-permeable membrane, removing dissolved solids, salts, and other impurities. This technology is commonly used to produce potable water from treated wastewater, ensuring a safe and sustainable supply of fresh water on board.

3. UV Disinfection: Ultraviolet (UV) disinfection is an effective method to eliminate bacteria, viruses, and parasites from the treated wastewater. UV light disrupts the DNA of microorganisms, rendering them unable to multiply or cause harm. This process provides an additional layer of disinfection before the water is discharged.

4. Chemical Treatment: Chemicals, such as chlorine or ozone, can be used to further disinfect and treat the wastewater. These chemicals help neutralize any remaining pathogens or contaminants, ensuring the quality of the discharged water meets strict environmental regulations.

5. Water Reclamation and Reuse: Some cruise ships have implemented water reclamation and reuse systems. Treated wastewater, especially grey water, can be further purified and utilized for onboard applications that don’t require potable water, such as irrigation or toilet flushing. This promotes sustainability and reduces freshwater consumption.

By integrating these advanced water treatment systems, cruise ships can significantly reduce their environmental impact and promote responsible waste management. These technologies ensure that the treated wastewater meets or exceeds the required quality standards before it is discharged into the ocean.

Now that we’ve explored the treatment processes and advanced technologies used in onboard sewage systems, let’s delve into the regulations and environmental concerns related to cruise ship waste disposal.

Discharge Regulations and Environmental Concerns

When it comes to wastewater disposal from cruise ships, stringent regulations are in place to protect the marine environment and ensure the responsible management of waste. These regulations are designed to minimize the impact of discharged wastewater on coastal ecosystems and marine life. Let’s explore some of the key regulations and environmental concerns related to cruise ship waste disposal.

1. International Maritime Organization (IMO) Regulations: The IMO sets global standards for the shipping industry, including regulations for wastewater discharge. The IMO’s MARPOL Annex IV regulates the prevention of pollution by sewage from ships, requiring cruise ships to treat and dispose of their wastewater in accordance with specific standards.

2. Distance from Shore: Many countries have established regulations that require cruise ships to discharge their wastewater a certain distance from the shore. This helps to minimize the impact on coastal areas and sensitive marine ecosystems.

3. Special Areas: Certain regions, designated as Special Areas by the IMO, have even stricter regulations regarding wastewater discharge. These areas include environmentally sensitive places such as the Baltic Sea or the Great Barrier Reef. Cruise ships must adhere to these regulations and employ advanced wastewater treatment systems when sailing through these designated regions.

4. Ballast Water Treatment: In addition to wastewater, cruise ships also have to comply with regulations for ballast water treatment. Ballast water, used to stabilize the ship’s balance, can contain invasive species that can be harmful to marine ecosystems. Ships are required to treat their ballast water to remove or neutralize these organisms before discharge.

5. Environmental Concerns: Environmental organizations and advocacy groups are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of cruise ship waste. Issues such as nutrient enrichment, which can lead to harmful algal blooms, and the discharge of microplastics and chemical pollutants into the ocean are of particular concern.

To address these concerns, cruise lines are investing in advanced wastewater treatment technologies that go above and beyond regulatory requirements. They are also exploring innovative solutions, such as shore-based waste reception facilities, to minimize wastewater discharge and enhance environmental sustainability.

Overall, the cruise industry acknowledges the importance of responsible waste management and is actively working to minimize its environmental footprint. By adhering to regulations, investing in advanced treatment systems, and promoting sustainable practices, cruise ships are striving to ensure that the impact of their wastewater discharge on the marine environment is minimized.

Now, let’s conclude our exploration of cruise ship waste management.

Managing and treating waste, including black water and grey water, on cruise ships is a complex and crucial process. With the increasing environmental concerns and regulations surrounding wastewater discharge, cruise lines are dedicated to implementing advanced technologies and practices to minimize their environmental impact.

The onboard sewage systems on cruise ships are designed to collect, treat, and dispose of waste in an efficient and responsible manner. Through processes such as storage in holding tanks, biological treatment, advanced filtration, and disinfection, cruise ships are able to transform raw sewage into treated wastewater that meets or exceeds the required quality standards.

These advanced water treatment systems, such as membrane filtration, reverse osmosis, and UV disinfection, ensure that the discharged wastewater is safe for the marine environment. Cruise ships also adhere to international regulations set by the IMO, including specific guidelines for wastewater discharge distances and special areas that require even stricter compliance.

Environmental concerns and advocacy groups play an important role in raising awareness about the impact of cruise ship waste on the marine ecosystem. Cruise lines are responding by investing in sustainable practices and technologies to reduce their environmental footprint, such as water reclamation and reuse systems.

Overall, the cruise industry is committed to responsible waste management and continuously strives to improve its onboard sewage systems, treatment processes, and environmental practices. By prioritizing the protection of the marine environment, cruise ships aim to provide passengers with unforgettable travel experiences while minimizing their impact on the ecosystems they visit.

So, next time you embark on a cruise adventure, you can rest assured that the poop and other waste generated on the ship are being handled with care and treated to protect our oceans and the beautiful destinations we explore.


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cruise ship poop in bags

7 cruise ship packing mistakes you want to avoid at all costs

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Packing for a cruise can be more complicated than packing for other vacations, leaving extra room for packing mistakes. Rigid dress codes, changeable weather and minimal storage space can turn routine packing into what can feel like some sort of torturous hazing ritual. Get it wrong, and you’ll pay the price – figuratively by not getting full value from your cruise vacation or, literally, because you’ll need to buy necessities on your trip.

Here are seven cruise ship packing mistakes to avoid on your next vacation.

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In This Post

Packing first-day necessities in your checked luggage.

Most cruise travelers hand their larger bags to porters at the pier so they don’t have to drag their luggage up the gangway and around the ship until their cabins are ready. Since the crew won’t deliver your bags to your room until later that day, you’ll spend a big chunk of time with only your carry-on bag .

One of the biggest mistakes cruisers make is forgetting to place all medication, documents (including passports), chargers and a change of clothes in their carry-ons. You’ll likely need these items in order to board or sometime during that first afternoon.

Cautionary tale: On the first day of Caribbean cruises, you’ll always see some passengers staring longingly at the pool area while they sweat it out in their travel clothes. They clearly forgot to stash their bathing suits, T-shirts and shorts in their carry-ons and are missing out on those first few hours of cruise ship fun.

Related: 10 unexpected items I won’t cruise without — including a roll of duct tape

Ignoring the dress code

Some cruise lines, such as Norwegian Cruise Line , don’t really care what you wear to dinner. Others, such as Silversea Cruises , Cunard Line and Crystal Cruises , still have black-tie optional formal nights. Ignore the written dress code, and you might find yourself kicked out of dinner for wearing shorts, jeans, flip-flops or even a business-casual outfit without a jacket. Read the fine print before you start packing so you don’t leave key eveningwear at home.

Cautionary tale: On one of the first cruises I ever took, I skipped this step and found myself eating multiple “formal night” dinners in my cabin to avoid the fashion police. Sure, having fine dining room service in bed with a movie is its own treat, but it would have been nice to have the option of sharing the evening with other passengers.

Related: Cruise packing list: The ultimate guide to what to pack for a cruise

Not checking the weather forecast

Depending on when you’re cruising, weather can vary widely in some cruise-friendly destinations, and global warming has had a real impact on some areas, as well. In Alaska, for example, the beginning and end of the season are usually cooler than a mid-summer cruise – but not always.

And, yes, it does rain and become chilly even in beautiful Caribbean destinations. If you don’t look at the weather forecast before you pack, you’re bound to waste shore time and money buying more weather-appropriate clothing or hunting down umbrellas and ponchos.

Cautionary tale: Who knew that destinations in northern Scotland reached frigid temperatures in August? I didn’t and found myself wasting precious port time searching for wool hats, gloves, scarves and sweaters to fight off the damp, wintry chill I hadn’t accounted for on a late-summer sailing.

Related: How to keep rainy weather from ruining your trip

Packing all your belongings in checked bags

Let’s face it: Delayed and lost luggage situations eventually happen to everyone who checks a bag. But they’re more serious when you’re flying into a destination in the morning and your ship is sailing out later that day. A rookie cruise packing mistake is to pack all of your clothing and toiletries in your checked bags, putting you at risk of losing everything should your luggage go missing.

Instead, stash a couple of outfits and key toiletries in your carry-on. I also suggest packing some of your clothing in your travel companion’s suitcase — and vice versa — so if only one of the suitcases arrives at your destination, you both will have something clean to wear.

Cautionary tale: On a Scandinavian cruise out of Belfast, I arrived on time, but my bag didn’t. The airline tried to get it to me before the ship sailed but to no avail.

Related: How to (almost) never lose your luggage again

Not protecting your liquids

If you’re checking bags, you’re not limited to travel sizes of liquid toiletries . You also have room to bring your favorite bottle of wine on your cruise vacation or bring home souvenir bottles of wine or liquor from destinations like California, France, Italy or New Zealand. However, it only takes one leaky or broken bottle to literally dampen the mood. One of the worst cruise packing mistakes you can make is not protecting your liquids with bubble wrap or zip-top plastic bags.

Cautionary tale: I’ve heard stories of other passengers who threw full-size bottles in their luggage … only to spend the first night on board in the cruise ship laundry room washing mouthwash out of all of their clothes.

Related: Everything you need to know about traveling safely with wine

Packing too many pairs of shoes

Nothing eats up luggage space like shoes — especially sneakers and dress shoes. Don’t make the mistake of packing more sneakers, flats, heels and sandals than you actually need, or you’ll be forced to check a bag (or, worse, check two). You also don’t want to bring too many shoes at the expense of more important items — like clothing layers — you might need.

Do your best to design a cruise week wardrobe that works with just a couple pairs of footwear. My advice: Stick to one pair of flip-flops and one pair of sandals in a sunny destination, rather than bringing a wide variety of options.

Cautionary tale: I packed workout sneakers on a few sailings and watched them sit idly in my cabin as the week progressed because I never made it to the ship’s gym. That space in the suitcase would have accommodated some larger souvenirs that had to be shipped home instead.

Related: What are the best travel shoes?

Not packing properly at the end of your cruise

Don’t think your packing woes end when you and your bags board your cruise ship. You’ve still got plenty of room for mistakes when packing for your trip home at the end of your vacation.

Just as you set aside your tech toys, your in-flight reading material and your medications for the first day of your trip, you want to carefully pack your carry-on and checked bag for the return trip home so you don’t have to do any reshuffling in your bags at the airport. Don’t mix your clean clothes with your dirty ones, or you’ll have more apres-cruise laundry to do. Cushion any breakable souvenirs with your softest shirts or sweaters.

Most importantly, if you place your bags outside your cabin on the last night of the cruise so crew members will carry them off the ship for you, set aside a change of clothes, travel shoes and toiletries for the next morning. The biggest packing mistake rookie cruisers make is forgetting to leave out clothes and disembarking in their pajamas.

Cautionary tale: I once watched a fellow cruiser tear apart their bags in the airport check-in line, desperately looking through souvenirs and underwear alike for the headphones they carelessly tossed into a bag they were planning to check.

Related: Mistakes cruise passengers make on disembarkation day

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7 cruise ship packing mistakes you want to avoid at all costs

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By StormySeas , September 1, 2017 in Ask a Cruise Question

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Cool Cruiser

this may be a dumb question but I just realized that I might not want to bring my poo-pourri with me on our next cruise. the toilets on a cruise ship do not have standing water like the ones at home. :o Has anyone had any experience with this? should I skip packing this? or is it ok to use?:confused:

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What ship's toilets don't have standing water in the bowl? While it is certainly less than a land toilet, there will always be about 1 liter of water in the bowl. If your toilet didn't have any water in it, that would indicate a leaking discharge valve on the toilet, would lead to a constant sucking noise from the toilet, and cause many toilets in the area not to work. They are not like airplane toilets. As for using poo-pouri, it is fine to use on a ship.



I used it on fathom Adonia over Christmas and it worked pretty well.

One bit of advice... TRIPLE ZIPLOCK BAG that puppy!! I had it in my luggage for my Disney Magic cruise in February and when I got to my hotel in Miami Beach, I discovered that it had leaked pretty badly while in the airplane. Fortunately I was able to salvage most everything - only lost one t-shirt that was not salvageable due to the amount AND color that had bled from another item of clothing. I had put it in one ziplock bag and wrapped that in a grocery store bag, but apparently the ziplock didn't seal all the way. :(

thanks for the quick responses! as for triple bagging, I am driving to the port so I won't need to worry about it this time but it is good information for the next time we fly!!
they make a travel size one :)

That's what I had - and it still leaked. :(

90,000+ Club

That is the stupidest product I've ever, EVER seen. Do your business...flush...it's gone. Lord have mercy!

10,000+ Club

Thank you. Someone had to say it.


Lol. My wife loves this. Won't travel without it.

Sent from my SM-G955U using Forums mobile app



Lol. My wife loves this. Won't travel without it.   Sent from my SM-G955U using Forums mobile app
As do most people who don't enjoy the smell of someone else's excrement..... +1 for the PP Team!

I thought the same until my DIL introduced it in her house. It does a far superior job to aerosol sprays for removing the lingering odors.



Do your business... flush...it's gone. Lord have mercy!

Just flush and it's gone? Not really, not all the time. Odors can linger for quite a while.



Says the person who probably gets to the bathroom first in the morning.

Worn out mailman

Worn out mailman

No, sometimes the smell comes from the system itself. If you don't spray something in the water, the smell can be powerful (and it's other people's waste you're smelling).

Thanks for the triple bag idea.

Sent from my LG-H631 using Forums mobile app



My experience is that Poo-Pourri does NOT work in cruise ship toilets. Thankfully, I also had a small bottle of Febreze Air Effects with me the last time. Just my experience. :)
No, sometimes the smell comes from the system itself. If you don't spray something in the water, the smell can be powerful (and it's other people's waste you're smelling). Thanks for the triple bag idea.   Sent from my LG-H631 using Forums mobile app

Not sure what you're going with here. For a land toilet, the water in the bowl makes the trap to stop the odors coming back up the pipe. For a vacuum toilet system, there is a physical valve that separates the bowl from the drain piping. Either case, there is a stop for the odors, and the water entering the bowl is fresh water. Again, if you think your cabin bathroom smells, the most likely culprit (other than the person who just dropped a big one in the toilet), is the floor drain whose trap has dried out from lack of water, but which has nothing to do with the toilet system, and nothing to do with the water in your toilet bowl. A glass of water daily down the floor drain (not the shower drain, but a drain on the floor under the toilet or a gutter drain at the bathroom door) will stop bathroom odors when no one has used the facilities.

Poo-pouri does require that the offending material be deposited in the water in the bowl, as the poo-pouri acts as a vapor barrier on top of the water. Because vacuum toilets use less water, there is a smaller aim point, and the effectiveness does drop off.


That or just do the courtesy flush and your going to be ok

I used it on fathom Adonia over Christmas and it worked pretty well.       One bit of advice... TRIPLE ZIPLOCK BAG that puppy!! I had it in my luggage for my Disney Magic cruise in February and when I got to my hotel in Miami Beach, I discovered that it had leaked pretty badly while in the airplane. Fortunately I was able to salvage most everything - only lost one t-shirt that was not salvageable due to the amount AND color that had bled from another item of clothing. I had put it in one ziplock bag and wrapped that in a grocery store bag, but apparently the ziplock didn't seal all the way. :(

The air pressure on a plane can force leaks. I arrived in Spain with a suitcase full of wet clothes from a Ziplocked emergency can of Coke. The can was empty, the top was sealed, and the can was full of tiny pinholes. A red silk top bled all over several pieces of clothing and ruined them.

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Never have used poo-pourri (can't find it?) However, I always carry Lysol travel-size spray. It works! As the commercials say "kills the germs that cause the odors."

I buy it at Wal-Mart, in the travel-size section. Where do you buy poo-pourri?

Amazon, Bed Bath Beyond



Never have used poo-pourri (can't find it?) However, I always carry Lysol travel-size spray. It works! As the commercials say "kills the germs that cause the odors."       I buy it at Wal-Mart, in the travel-size section. Where do you buy poo-pourri?

I've found it at the grocery store, on the toilet paper aisle.

As for triple zip locking liquids, another (cheaper) option is to use Saran wrap around your bottles.


This thread is cracking me up, who know there would be so many opinions on this product. I use it at home and travel with it as well. It's a great product.

Where's the like button when you need it?

You have such a way with words!

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photo of Icon of the Seas, taken on a long railed path approaching the stern of the ship, with people walking along dock

Crying Myself to Sleep on the Biggest Cruise Ship Ever

Seven agonizing nights aboard the Icon of the Seas

photo of Icon of the Seas, taken on a long railed path approaching the stern of the ship, with people walking along dock

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Updated at 2:44 p.m. ET on April 6, 2024.

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MY FIRST GLIMPSE of Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, from the window of an approaching Miami cab, brings on a feeling of vertigo, nausea, amazement, and distress. I shut my eyes in defense, as my brain tells my optic nerve to try again.

The ship makes no sense, vertically or horizontally. It makes no sense on sea, or on land, or in outer space. It looks like a hodgepodge of domes and minarets, tubes and canopies, like Istanbul had it been designed by idiots. Vibrant, oversignifying colors are stacked upon other such colors, decks perched over still more decks; the only comfort is a row of lifeboats ringing its perimeter. There is no imposed order, no cogent thought, and, for those who do not harbor a totalitarian sense of gigantomania, no visual mercy. This is the biggest cruise ship ever built, and I have been tasked with witnessing its inaugural voyage.

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“Author embarks on their first cruise-ship voyage” has been a staple of American essay writing for almost three decades, beginning with David Foster Wallace’s “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” which was first published in 1996 under the title “Shipping Out.” Since then, many admirable writers have widened and diversified the genre. Usually the essayist commissioned to take to the sea is in their first or second flush of youth and is ready to sharpen their wit against the hull of the offending vessel. I am 51, old and tired, having seen much of the world as a former travel journalist, and mostly what I do in both life and prose is shrug while muttering to my imaginary dachshund, “This too shall pass.” But the Icon of the Seas will not countenance a shrug. The Icon of the Seas is the Linda Loman of cruise ships, exclaiming that attention must be paid. And here I am in late January with my one piece of luggage and useless gray winter jacket and passport, zipping through the Port of Miami en route to the gangway that will separate me from the bulk of North America for more than seven days, ready to pay it in full.

The aforementioned gangway opens up directly onto a thriving mall (I will soon learn it is imperiously called the “Royal Promenade”), presently filled with yapping passengers beneath a ceiling studded with balloons ready to drop. Crew members from every part of the global South, as well as a few Balkans, are shepherding us along while pressing flutes of champagne into our hands. By a humming Starbucks, I drink as many of these as I can and prepare to find my cabin. I show my blue Suite Sky SeaPass Card (more on this later, much more) to a smiling woman from the Philippines, and she tells me to go “aft.” Which is where, now? As someone who has rarely sailed on a vessel grander than the Staten Island Ferry, I am confused. It turns out that the aft is the stern of the ship, or, for those of us who don’t know what a stern or an aft are, its ass. The nose of the ship, responsible for separating the waves before it, is also called a bow, and is marked for passengers as the FWD , or forward. The part of the contemporary sailing vessel where the malls are clustered is called the midship. I trust that you have enjoyed this nautical lesson.

I ascend via elevator to my suite on Deck 11. This is where I encounter my first terrible surprise. My suite windows and balcony do not face the ocean. Instead, they look out onto another shopping mall. This mall is the one that’s called Central Park, perhaps in homage to the Olmsted-designed bit of greenery in the middle of my hometown. Although on land I would be delighted to own a suite with Central Park views, here I am deeply depressed. To sail on a ship and not wake up to a vast blue carpet of ocean? Unthinkable.

Allow me a brief preamble here. The story you are reading was commissioned at a moment when most staterooms on the Icon were sold out. In fact, so enthralled by the prospect of this voyage were hard-core mariners that the ship’s entire inventory of guest rooms (the Icon can accommodate up to 7,600 passengers, but its inaugural journey was reduced to 5,000 or so for a less crowded experience) was almost immediately sold out. Hence, this publication was faced with the shocking prospect of paying nearly $19,000 to procure for this solitary passenger an entire suite—not including drinking expenses—all for the privilege of bringing you this article. But the suite in question doesn’t even have a view of the ocean! I sit down hard on my soft bed. Nineteen thousand dollars for this .

selfie photo of man with glasses, in background is swim-up bar with two women facing away

The viewless suite does have its pluses. In addition to all the Malin+Goetz products in my dual bathrooms, I am granted use of a dedicated Suite Deck lounge; access to Coastal Kitchen, a superior restaurant for Suites passengers; complimentary VOOM SM Surf & Stream (“the fastest Internet at Sea”) “for one device per person for the whole cruise duration”; a pair of bathrobes (one of which comes prestained with what looks like a large expectoration by the greenest lizard on Earth); and use of the Grove Suite Sun, an area on Decks 18 and 19 with food and deck chairs reserved exclusively for Suite passengers. I also get reserved seating for a performance of The Wizard of Oz , an ice-skating tribute to the periodic table, and similar provocations. The very color of my Suite Sky SeaPass Card, an oceanic blue as opposed to the cloying royal purple of the standard non-Suite passenger, will soon provoke envy and admiration. But as high as my status may be, there are those on board who have much higher status still, and I will soon learn to bow before them.

In preparation for sailing, I have “priced in,” as they say on Wall Street, the possibility that I may come from a somewhat different monde than many of the other cruisers. Without falling into stereotypes or preconceptions, I prepare myself for a friendly outspokenness on the part of my fellow seafarers that may not comply with modern DEI standards. I believe in meeting people halfway, and so the day before flying down to Miami, I visited what remains of Little Italy to purchase a popular T-shirt that reads DADDY’S LITTLE MEATBALL across the breast in the colors of the Italian flag. My wife recommended that I bring one of my many T-shirts featuring Snoopy and the Peanuts gang, as all Americans love the beagle and his friends. But I naively thought that my meatball T-shirt would be more suitable for conversation-starting. “Oh, and who is your ‘daddy’?” some might ask upon seeing it. “And how long have you been his ‘little meatball’?” And so on.

I put on my meatball T-shirt and head for one of the dining rooms to get a late lunch. In the elevator, I stick out my chest for all to read the funny legend upon it, but soon I realize that despite its burnished tricolor letters, no one takes note. More to the point, no one takes note of me. Despite my attempts at bridge building, the very sight of me (small, ethnic, without a cap bearing the name of a football team) elicits no reaction from other passengers. Most often, they will small-talk over me as if I don’t exist. This brings to mind the travails of David Foster Wallace , who felt so ostracized by his fellow passengers that he retreated to his cabin for much of his voyage. And Wallace was raised primarily in the Midwest and was a much larger, more American-looking meatball than I am. If he couldn’t talk to these people, how will I? What if I leave this ship without making any friends at all, despite my T-shirt? I am a social creature, and the prospect of seven days alone and apart is saddening. Wallace’s stateroom, at least, had a view of the ocean, a kind of cheap eternity.

Worse awaits me in the dining room. This is a large, multichandeliered room where I attended my safety training (I was shown how to put on a flotation vest; it is a very simple procedure). But the maître d’ politely refuses me entry in an English that seems to verge on another language. “I’m sorry, this is only for pendejos ,” he seems to be saying. I push back politely and he repeats himself. Pendejos ? Piranhas? There’s some kind of P-word to which I am not attuned. Meanwhile elderly passengers stream right past, powered by their limbs, walkers, and electric wheelchairs. “It is only pendejo dining today, sir.” “But I have a suite!” I say, already starting to catch on to the ship’s class system. He examines my card again. “But you are not a pendejo ,” he confirms. I am wearing a DADDY’S LITTLE MEATBALL T-shirt, I want to say to him. I am the essence of pendejo .

Eventually, I give up and head to the plebeian buffet on Deck 15, which has an aquatic-styled name I have now forgotten. Before gaining entry to this endless cornucopia of reheated food, one passes a washing station of many sinks and soap dispensers, and perhaps the most intriguing character on the entire ship. He is Mr. Washy Washy—or, according to his name tag, Nielbert of the Philippines—and he is dressed as a taco (on other occasions, I’ll see him dressed as a burger). Mr. Washy Washy performs an eponymous song in spirited, indeed flamboyant English: “Washy, washy, wash your hands, WASHY WASHY!” The dangers of norovirus and COVID on a cruise ship this size (a giant fellow ship was stricken with the former right after my voyage) makes Mr. Washy Washy an essential member of the crew. The problem lies with the food at the end of Washy’s rainbow. The buffet is groaning with what sounds like sophisticated dishes—marinated octopus, boiled egg with anchovy, chorizo, lobster claws—but every animal tastes tragically the same, as if there was only one creature available at the market, a “cruisipus” bred specifically for Royal Caribbean dining. The “vegetables” are no better. I pick up a tomato slice and look right through it. It tastes like cellophane. I sit alone, apart from the couples and parents with gaggles of children, as “We Are Family” echoes across the buffet space.

I may have failed to mention that all this time, the Icon of the Seas has not left port. As the fiery mango of the subtropical setting sun makes Miami’s condo skyline even more apocalyptic, the ship shoves off beneath a perfunctory display of fireworks. After the sun sets, in the far, dark distance, another circus-lit cruise ship ruptures the waves before us. We glance at it with pity, because it is by definition a smaller ship than our own. I am on Deck 15, outside the buffet and overlooking a bunch of pools (the Icon has seven of them), drinking a frilly drink that I got from one of the bars (the Icon has 15 of them), still too shy to speak to anyone, despite Sister Sledge’s assertion that all on the ship are somehow related.

Kim Brooks: On failing the family vacation

The ship’s passage away from Ron DeSantis’s Florida provides no frisson, no sense of developing “sea legs,” as the ship is too large to register the presence of waves unless a mighty wind adds significant chop. It is time for me to register the presence of the 5,000 passengers around me, even if they refuse to register mine. My fellow travelers have prepared for this trip with personally decorated T-shirts celebrating the importance of this voyage. The simplest ones say ICON INAUGURAL ’24 on the back and the family name on the front. Others attest to an over-the-top love of cruise ships: WARNING! MAY START TALKING ABOUT CRUISING . Still others are artisanally designed and celebrate lifetimes spent married while cruising (on ships, of course). A couple possibly in their 90s are wearing shirts whose backs feature a drawing of a cruise liner, two flamingos with ostensibly male and female characteristics, and the legend “ HUSBAND AND WIFE Cruising Partners FOR LIFE WE MAY NOT HAVE IT All Together BUT TOGETHER WE HAVE IT ALL .” (The words not in all caps have been written in cursive.) A real journalist or a more intrepid conversationalist would have gone up to the couple and asked them to explain the longevity of their marriage vis-à-vis their love of cruising. But instead I head to my mall suite, take off my meatball T-shirt, and allow the first tears of the cruise to roll down my cheeks slowly enough that I briefly fall asleep amid the moisture and salt.

photo of elaborate twisting multicolored waterslides with long stairwell to platform

I WAKE UP with a hangover. Oh God. Right. I cannot believe all of that happened last night. A name floats into my cobwebbed, nauseated brain: “Ayn Rand.” Jesus Christ.

I breakfast alone at the Coastal Kitchen. The coffee tastes fine and the eggs came out of a bird. The ship rolls slightly this morning; I can feel it in my thighs and my schlong, the parts of me that are most receptive to danger.

I had a dangerous conversation last night. After the sun set and we were at least 50 miles from shore (most modern cruise ships sail at about 23 miles an hour), I lay in bed softly hiccupping, my arms stretched out exactly like Jesus on the cross, the sound of the distant waves missing from my mall-facing suite, replaced by the hum of air-conditioning and children shouting in Spanish through the vents of my two bathrooms. I decided this passivity was unacceptable. As an immigrant, I feel duty-bound to complete the tasks I am paid for, which means reaching out and trying to understand my fellow cruisers. So I put on a normal James Perse T-shirt and headed for one of the bars on the Royal Promenade—the Schooner Bar, it was called, if memory serves correctly.

I sat at the bar for a martini and two Negronis. An old man with thick, hairy forearms drank next to me, very silent and Hemingwaylike, while a dreadlocked piano player tinkled out a series of excellent Elton John covers. To my right, a young white couple—he in floral shorts, she in a light, summery miniskirt with a fearsome diamond ring, neither of them in football regalia—chatted with an elderly couple. Do it , I commanded myself. Open your mouth. Speak! Speak without being spoken to. Initiate. A sentence fragment caught my ear from the young woman, “Cherry Hill.” This is a suburb of Philadelphia in New Jersey, and I had once been there for a reading at a synagogue. “Excuse me,” I said gently to her. “Did you just mention Cherry Hill? It’s a lovely place.”

As it turned out, the couple now lived in Fort Lauderdale (the number of Floridians on the cruise surprised me, given that Southern Florida is itself a kind of cruise ship, albeit one slowly sinking), but soon they were talking with me exclusively—the man potbellied, with a chin like a hard-boiled egg; the woman as svelte as if she were one of the many Ukrainian members of the crew—the elderly couple next to them forgotten. This felt as groundbreaking as the first time I dared to address an American in his native tongue, as a child on a bus in Queens (“On my foot you are standing, Mister”).

“I don’t want to talk politics,” the man said. “But they’re going to eighty-six Biden and put Michelle in.”

I considered the contradictions of his opening conversational gambit, but decided to play along. “People like Michelle,” I said, testing the waters. The husband sneered, but the wife charitably put forward that the former first lady was “more personable” than Joe Biden. “They’re gonna eighty-six Biden,” the husband repeated. “He can’t put a sentence together.”

After I mentioned that I was a writer—though I presented myself as a writer of teleplays instead of novels and articles such as this one—the husband told me his favorite writer was Ayn Rand. “Ayn Rand, she came here with nothing,” the husband said. “I work with a lot of Cubans, so …” I wondered if I should mention what I usually do to ingratiate myself with Republicans or libertarians: the fact that my finances improved after pass-through corporations were taxed differently under Donald Trump. Instead, I ordered another drink and the couple did the same, and I told him that Rand and I were born in the same city, St. Petersburg/Leningrad, and that my family also came here with nothing. Now the bonding and drinking began in earnest, and several more rounds appeared. Until it all fell apart.

Read: Gary Shteyngart on watching Russian television for five days straight

My new friend, whom I will refer to as Ayn, called out to a buddy of his across the bar, and suddenly a young couple, both covered in tattoos, appeared next to us. “He fucking punked me,” Ayn’s frat-boy-like friend called out as he put his arm around Ayn, while his sizable partner sizzled up to Mrs. Rand. Both of them had a look I have never seen on land—their eyes projecting absence and enmity in equal measure. In the ’90s, I drank with Russian soldiers fresh from Chechnya and wandered the streets of wartime Zagreb, but I have never seen such undisguised hostility toward both me and perhaps the universe at large. I was briefly introduced to this psychopathic pair, but neither of them wanted to have anything to do with me, and the tattooed woman would not even reveal her Christian name to me (she pretended to have the same first name as Mrs. Rand). To impress his tattooed friends, Ayn made fun of the fact that as a television writer, I’d worked on the series Succession (which, it would turn out, practically nobody on the ship had watched), instead of the far more palatable, in his eyes, zombie drama of last year. And then my new friends drifted away from me into an angry private conversation—“He punked me!”—as I ordered another drink for myself, scared of the dead-eyed arrivals whose gaze never registered in the dim wattage of the Schooner Bar, whose terrifying voices and hollow laughs grated like unoiled gears against the crooning of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

But today is a new day for me and my hangover. After breakfast, I explore the ship’s so-called neighborhoods . There’s the AquaDome, where one can find a food hall and an acrobatic sound-and-light aquatic show. Central Park has a premium steak house, a sushi joint, and a used Rolex that can be bought for $8,000 on land here proudly offered at $17,000. There’s the aforementioned Royal Promenade, where I had drunk with the Rands, and where a pair of dueling pianos duel well into the night. There’s Surfside, a kids’ neighborhood full of sugary garbage, which looks out onto the frothy trail that the behemoth leaves behind itself. Thrill Island refers to the collection of tubes that clutter the ass of the ship and offer passengers six waterslides and a surfing simulation. There’s the Hideaway, an adult zone that plays music from a vomit-slathered, Brit-filled Alicante nightclub circa 1996 and proves a big favorite with groups of young Latin American customers. And, most hurtfully, there’s the Suite Neighborhood.

2 photos: a ship's foamy white wake stretches to the horizon; a man at reailing with water and two large ships docked behind

I say hurtfully because as a Suite passenger I should be here, though my particular suite is far from the others. Whereas I am stuck amid the riffraff of Deck 11, this section is on the highborn Decks 16 and 17, and in passing, I peek into the spacious, tall-ceilinged staterooms from the hallway, dazzled by the glint of the waves and sun. For $75,000, one multifloor suite even comes with its own slide between floors, so that a family may enjoy this particular terror in private. There is a quiet splendor to the Suite Neighborhood. I see fewer stickers and signs and drawings than in my own neighborhood—for example, MIKE AND DIANA PROUDLY SERVED U.S. MARINE CORPS RETIRED . No one here needs to announce their branch of service or rank; they are simply Suites, and this is where they belong. Once again, despite my hard work and perseverance, I have been disallowed from the true American elite. Once again, I am “Not our class, dear.” I am reminded of watching The Love Boat on my grandmother’s Zenith, which either was given to her or we found in the trash (I get our many malfunctioning Zeniths confused) and whose tube got so hot, I would put little chunks of government cheese on a thin tissue atop it to give our welfare treat a pleasant, Reagan-era gooeyness. I could not understand English well enough then to catch the nuances of that seafaring program, but I knew that there were differences in the status of the passengers, and that sometimes those differences made them sad. Still, this ship, this plenty—every few steps, there are complimentary nachos or milkshakes or gyros on offer—was the fatty fuel of my childhood dreams. If only I had remained a child.

I walk around the outdoor decks looking for company. There is a middle-aged African American couple who always seem to be asleep in each other’s arms, probably exhausted from the late capitalism they regularly encounter on land. There is far more diversity on this ship than I expected. Many couples are a testament to Loving v. Virginia , and there is a large group of folks whose T-shirts read MELANIN AT SEA / IT’S THE MELANIN FOR ME . I smile when I see them, but then some young kids from the group makes Mr. Washy Washy do a cruel, caricatured “Burger Dance” (today he is in his burger getup), and I think, Well, so much for intersectionality .

At the infinity pool on Deck 17, I spot some elderly women who could be ethnic and from my part of the world, and so I jump in. I am proved correct! Many of them seem to be originally from Queens (“Corona was still great when it was all Italian”), though they are now spread across the tristate area. We bond over the way “Ron-kon-koma” sounds when announced in Penn Station.

“Everyone is here for a different reason,” one of them tells me. She and her ex-husband last sailed together four years ago to prove to themselves that their marriage was truly over. Her 15-year-old son lost his virginity to “an Irish young lady” while their ship was moored in Ravenna, Italy. The gaggle of old-timers competes to tell me their favorite cruising stories and tips. “A guy proposed in Central Park a couple of years ago”—many Royal Caribbean ships apparently have this ridiculous communal area—“and she ran away screaming!” “If you’re diamond-class, you get four drinks for free.” “A different kind of passenger sails out of Bayonne.” (This, perhaps, is racially coded.) “Sometimes, if you tip the bartender $5, your next drink will be free.”

“Everyone’s here for a different reason,” the woman whose marriage ended on a cruise tells me again. “Some people are here for bad reasons—the drinkers and the gamblers. Some people are here for medical reasons.” I have seen more than a few oxygen tanks and at least one woman clearly undergoing very serious chemo. Some T-shirts celebrate good news about a cancer diagnosis. This might be someone’s last cruise or week on Earth. For these women, who have spent months, if not years, at sea, cruising is a ritual as well as a life cycle: first love, last love, marriage, divorce, death.

Read: The last place on Earth any tourist should go

I have talked with these women for so long, tonight I promise myself that after a sad solitary dinner I will not try to seek out company at the bars in the mall or the adult-themed Hideaway. I have enough material to fulfill my duties to this publication. As I approach my orphaned suite, I run into the aggro young people who stole Mr. and Mrs. Rand away from me the night before. The tattooed apparitions pass me without a glance. She is singing something violent about “Stuttering Stanley” (a character in a popular horror movie, as I discover with my complimentary VOOM SM Surf & Stream Internet at Sea) and he’s loudly shouting about “all the money I’ve lost,” presumably at the casino in the bowels of the ship.

So these bent psychos out of a Cormac McCarthy novel are angrily inhabiting my deck. As I mewl myself to sleep, I envision a limited series for HBO or some other streamer, a kind of low-rent White Lotus , where several aggressive couples conspire to throw a shy intellectual interloper overboard. I type the scenario into my phone. As I fall asleep, I think of what the woman who recently divorced her husband and whose son became a man through the good offices of the Irish Republic told me while I was hoisting myself out of the infinity pool. “I’m here because I’m an explorer. I’m here because I’m trying something new.” What if I allowed myself to believe in her fantasy?

2 photos: 2 slices of pizza on plate; man in "Daddy's Little Meatball" shirt and shorts standing in outdoor dining area with ship's exhaust stacks in background

“YOU REALLY STARTED AT THE TOP,” they tell me. I’m at the Coastal Kitchen for my eggs and corned-beef hash, and the maître d’ has slotted me in between two couples. Fueled by coffee or perhaps intrigued by my relative youth, they strike up a conversation with me. As always, people are shocked that this is my first cruise. They contrast the Icon favorably with all the preceding liners in the Royal Caribbean fleet, usually commenting on the efficiency of the elevators that hurl us from deck to deck (as in many large corporate buildings, the elevators ask you to choose a floor and then direct you to one of many lifts). The couple to my right, from Palo Alto—he refers to his “porn mustache” and calls his wife “my cougar” because she is two years older—tell me they are “Pandemic Pinnacles.”

This is the day that my eyes will be opened. Pinnacles , it is explained to me over translucent cantaloupe, have sailed with Royal Caribbean for 700 ungodly nights. Pandemic Pinnacles took advantage of the two-for-one accrual rate of Pinnacle points during the pandemic, when sailing on a cruise ship was even more ill-advised, to catapult themselves into Pinnacle status.

Because of the importance of the inaugural voyage of the world’s largest cruise liner, more than 200 Pinnacles are on this ship, a startling number, it seems. Mrs. Palo Alto takes out a golden badge that I have seen affixed over many a breast, which reads CROWN AND ANCHOR SOCIETY along with her name. This is the coveted badge of the Pinnacle. “You should hear all the whining in Guest Services,” her husband tells me. Apparently, the Pinnacles who are not also Suites like us are all trying to use their status to get into Coastal Kitchen, our elite restaurant. Even a Pinnacle needs to be a Suite to access this level of corned-beef hash.

“We’re just baby Pinnacles,” Mrs. Palo Alto tells me, describing a kind of internal class struggle among the Pinnacle elite for ever higher status.

And now I understand what the maître d’ was saying to me on the first day of my cruise. He wasn’t saying “ pendejo .” He was saying “Pinnacle.” The dining room was for Pinnacles only, all those older people rolling in like the tide on their motorized scooters.

And now I understand something else: This whole thing is a cult. And like most cults, it can’t help but mirror the endless American fight for status. Like Keith Raniere’s NXIVM, where different-colored sashes were given out to connote rank among Raniere’s branded acolytes, this is an endless competition among Pinnacles, Suites, Diamond-Plusers, and facing-the-mall, no-balcony purple SeaPass Card peasants, not to mention the many distinctions within each category. The more you cruise, the higher your status. No wonder a section of the Royal Promenade is devoted to getting passengers to book their next cruise during the one they should be enjoying now. No wonder desperate Royal Caribbean offers (“FINAL HOURS”) crowded my email account weeks before I set sail. No wonder the ship’s jewelry store, the Royal Bling, is selling a $100,000 golden chalice that will entitle its owner to drink free on Royal Caribbean cruises for life. (One passenger was already gaming out whether her 28-year-old son was young enough to “just about earn out” on the chalice or if that ship had sailed.) No wonder this ship was sold out months before departure , and we had to pay $19,000 for a horrid suite away from the Suite Neighborhood. No wonder the most mythical hero of Royal Caribbean lore is someone named Super Mario, who has cruised so often, he now has his own working desk on many ships. This whole experience is part cult, part nautical pyramid scheme.

From the June 2014 issue: Ship of wonks

“The toilets are amazing,” the Palo Altos are telling me. “One flush and you’re done.” “They don’t understand how energy-efficient these ships are,” the husband of the other couple is telling me. “They got the LNG”—liquefied natural gas, which is supposed to make the Icon a boon to the environment (a concept widely disputed and sometimes ridiculed by environmentalists).

But I’m thinking along a different line of attack as I spear my last pallid slice of melon. For my streaming limited series, a Pinnacle would have to get killed by either an outright peasant or a Suite without an ocean view. I tell my breakfast companions my idea.

“Oh, for sure a Pinnacle would have to be killed,” Mr. Palo Alto, the Pandemic Pinnacle, says, touching his porn mustache thoughtfully as his wife nods.

“THAT’S RIGHT, IT’S your time, buddy!” Hubert, my fun-loving Panamanian cabin attendant, shouts as I step out of my suite in a robe. “Take it easy, buddy!”

I have come up with a new dressing strategy. Instead of trying to impress with my choice of T-shirts, I have decided to start wearing a robe, as one does at a resort property on land, with a proper spa and hammam. The response among my fellow cruisers has been ecstatic. “Look at you in the robe!” Mr. Rand cries out as we pass each other by the Thrill Island aqua park. “You’re living the cruise life! You know, you really drank me under the table that night.” I laugh as we part ways, but my soul cries out, Please spend more time with me, Mr. and Mrs. Rand; I so need the company .

In my white robe, I am a stately presence, a refugee from a better limited series, a one-man crossover episode. (Only Suites are granted these robes to begin with.) Today, I will try many of the activities these ships have on offer to provide their clientele with a sense of never-ceasing motion. Because I am already at Thrill Island, I decide to climb the staircase to what looks like a mast on an old-fashioned ship (terrified, because I am afraid of heights) to try a ride called “Storm Chasers,” which is part of the “Category 6” water park, named in honor of one of the storms that may someday do away with the Port of Miami entirely. Storm Chasers consists of falling from the “mast” down a long, twisting neon tube filled with water, like being the camera inside your own colonoscopy, as you hold on to the handles of a mat, hoping not to die. The tube then flops you down headfirst into a trough of water, a Royal Caribbean baptism. It both knocks my breath out and makes me sad.

In keeping with the aquatic theme, I attend a show at the AquaDome. To the sound of “Live and Let Die,” a man in a harness gyrates to and fro in the sultry air. I saw something very similar in the back rooms of the famed Berghain club in early-aughts Berlin. Soon another harnessed man is gyrating next to the first. Ja , I think to myself, I know how this ends. Now will come the fisting , natürlich . But the show soon devolves into the usual Marvel-film-grade nonsense, with too much light and sound signifying nichts . If any fisting is happening, it is probably in the Suite Neighborhood, inside a cabin marked with an upside-down pineapple, which I understand means a couple are ready to swing, and I will see none of it.

I go to the ice show, which is a kind of homage—if that’s possible—to the periodic table, done with the style and pomp and masterful precision that would please the likes of Kim Jong Un, if only he could afford Royal Caribbean talent. At one point, the dancers skate to the theme song of Succession . “See that!” I want to say to my fellow Suites—at “cultural” events, we have a special section reserved for us away from the commoners—“ Succession ! It’s even better than the zombie show! Open your minds!”

Finally, I visit a comedy revue in an enormous and too brightly lit version of an “intimate,” per Royal Caribbean literature, “Manhattan comedy club.” Many of the jokes are about the cruising life. “I’ve lived on ships for 20 years,” one of the middle-aged comedians says. “I can only see so many Filipino homosexuals dressed as a taco.” He pauses while the audience laughs. “I am so fired tonight,” he says. He segues into a Trump impression and then Biden falling asleep at the microphone, which gets the most laughs. “Anyone here from Fort Leonard Wood?” another comedian asks. Half the crowd seems to cheer. As I fall asleep that night, I realize another connection I have failed to make, and one that may explain some of the diversity on this vessel—many of its passengers have served in the military.

As a coddled passenger with a suite, I feel like I am starting to understand what it means to have a rank and be constantly reminded of it. There are many espresso makers , I think as I look across the expanse of my officer-grade quarters before closing my eyes, but this one is mine .

photo of sheltered sandy beach with palms, umbrellas, and chairs with two large docked cruise ships in background

A shocking sight greets me beyond the pools of Deck 17 as I saunter over to the Coastal Kitchen for my morning intake of slightly sour Americanos. A tiny city beneath a series of perfectly pressed green mountains. Land! We have docked for a brief respite in Basseterre, the capital of St. Kitts and Nevis. I wolf down my egg scramble to be one of the first passengers off the ship. Once past the gangway, I barely refrain from kissing the ground. I rush into the sights and sounds of this scruffy island city, sampling incredible conch curry and buckets of non-Starbucks coffee. How wonderful it is to be where God intended humans to be: on land. After all, I am neither a fish nor a mall rat. This is my natural environment. Basseterre may not be Havana, but there are signs of human ingenuity and desire everywhere you look. The Black Table Grill Has been Relocated to Soho Village, Market Street, Directly Behind of, Gary’s Fruits and Flower Shop. Signed. THE PORK MAN reads a sign stuck to a wall. Now, that is how you write a sign. A real sign, not the come-ons for overpriced Rolexes that blink across the screens of the Royal Promenade.

“Hey, tie your shoestring!” a pair of laughing ladies shout to me across the street.

“Thank you!” I shout back. Shoestring! “Thank you very much.”

A man in Independence Square Park comes by and asks if I want to play with his monkey. I haven’t heard that pickup line since the Penn Station of the 1980s. But then he pulls a real monkey out of a bag. The monkey is wearing a diaper and looks insane. Wonderful , I think, just wonderful! There is so much life here. I email my editor asking if I can remain on St. Kitts and allow the Icon to sail off into the horizon without me. I have even priced a flight home at less than $300, and I have enough material from the first four days on the cruise to write the entire story. “It would be funny …” my editor replies. “Now get on the boat.”

As I slink back to the ship after my brief jailbreak, the locals stand under umbrellas to gaze at and photograph the boat that towers over their small capital city. The limousines of the prime minister and his lackeys are parked beside the gangway. St. Kitts, I’ve been told, is one of the few islands that would allow a ship of this size to dock.

“We hear about all the waterslides,” a sweet young server in one of the cafés told me. “We wish we could go on the ship, but we have to work.”

“I want to stay on your island,” I replied. “I love it here.”

But she didn’t understand how I could possibly mean that.

“WASHY, WASHY, so you don’t get stinky, stinky!” kids are singing outside the AquaDome, while their adult minders look on in disapproval, perhaps worried that Mr. Washy Washy is grooming them into a life of gayness. I heard a southern couple skip the buffet entirely out of fear of Mr. Washy Washy.

Meanwhile, I have found a new watering hole for myself, the Swim & Tonic, the biggest swim-up bar on any cruise ship in the world. Drinking next to full-size, nearly naked Americans takes away one’s own self-consciousness. The men have curvaceous mom bodies. The women are equally un-shy about their sprawling physiques.

Today I’ve befriended a bald man with many children who tells me that all of the little trinkets that Royal Caribbean has left us in our staterooms and suites are worth a fortune on eBay. “Eighty dollars for the water bottle, 60 for the lanyard,” the man says. “This is a cult.”

“Tell me about it,” I say. There is, however, a clientele for whom this cruise makes perfect sense. For a large middle-class family (he works in “supply chains”), seven days in a lower-tier cabin—which starts at $1,800 a person—allow the parents to drop off their children in Surfside, where I imagine many young Filipina crew members will take care of them, while the parents are free to get drunk at a swim-up bar and maybe even get intimate in their cabin. Cruise ships have become, for a certain kind of hardworking family, a form of subsidized child care.

There is another man I would like to befriend at the Swim & Tonic, a tall, bald fellow who is perpetually inebriated and who wears a necklace studded with little rubber duckies in sunglasses, which, I am told, is a sort of secret handshake for cruise aficionados. Tomorrow, I will spend more time with him, but first the ship docks at St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Charlotte Amalie, the capital, is more charming in name than in presence, but I still all but jump off the ship to score a juicy oxtail and plantains at the well-known Petite Pump Room, overlooking the harbor. From one of the highest points in the small city, the Icon of the Seas appears bigger than the surrounding hills.

I usually tan very evenly, but something about the discombobulation of life at sea makes me forget the regular application of sunscreen. As I walk down the streets of Charlotte Amalie in my fluorescent Icon of the Seas cap, an old Rastafarian stares me down. “Redneck,” he hisses.

“No,” I want to tell him, as I bring a hand up to my red neck, “that’s not who I am at all. On my island, Mannahatta, as Whitman would have it, I am an interesting person living within an engaging artistic milieu. I do not wish to use the Caribbean as a dumping ground for the cruise-ship industry. I love the work of Derek Walcott. You don’t understand. I am not a redneck. And if I am, they did this to me.” They meaning Royal Caribbean? Its passengers? The Rands?

“They did this to me!”

Back on the Icon, some older matrons are muttering about a run-in with passengers from the Celebrity cruise ship docked next to us, the Celebrity Apex. Although Celebrity Cruises is also owned by Royal Caribbean, I am made to understand that there is a deep fratricidal beef between passengers of the two lines. “We met a woman from the Apex,” one matron says, “and she says it was a small ship and there was nothing to do. Her face was as tight as a 19-year-old’s, she had so much surgery.” With those words, and beneath a cloudy sky, humidity shrouding our weathered faces and red necks, we set sail once again, hopefully in the direction of home.

photo from inside of spacious geodesic-style glass dome facing ocean, with stairwells and seating areas

THERE ARE BARELY 48 HOURS LEFT to the cruise, and the Icon of the Seas’ passengers are salty. They know how to work the elevators. They know the Washy Washy song by heart. They understand that the chicken gyro at “Feta Mediterranean,” in the AquaDome Market, is the least problematic form of chicken on the ship.

The passengers have shed their INAUGURAL CRUISE T-shirts and are now starting to evince political opinions. There are caps pledging to make America great again and T-shirts that celebrate words sometimes attributed to Patrick Henry: “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.” With their preponderance of FAMILY FLAG FAITH FRIENDS FIREARMS T-shirts, the tables by the crepe station sometimes resemble the Capitol Rotunda on January 6. The Real Anthony Fauci , by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., appears to be a popular form of literature, especially among young men with very complicated versions of the American flag on their T-shirts. Other opinions blend the personal and the political. “Someone needs to kill Washy guy, right?” a well-dressed man in the elevator tells me, his gray eyes radiating nothing. “Just beat him to death. Am I right?” I overhear the male member of a young couple whisper, “There goes that freak” as I saunter by in my white spa robe, and I decide to retire it for the rest of the cruise.

I visit the Royal Bling to see up close the $100,000 golden chalice that entitles you to free drinks on Royal Caribbean forever. The pleasant Serbian saleslady explains that the chalice is actually gold-plated and covered in white zirconia instead of diamonds, as it would otherwise cost $1 million. “If you already have everything,” she explains, “this is one more thing you can get.”

I believe that anyone who works for Royal Caribbean should be entitled to immediate American citizenship. They already speak English better than most of the passengers and, per the Serbian lady’s sales pitch above, better understand what America is as well. Crew members like my Panamanian cabin attendant seem to work 24 hours a day. A waiter from New Delhi tells me that his contract is six months and three weeks long. After a cruise ends, he says, “in a few hours, we start again for the next cruise.” At the end of the half a year at sea, he is allowed a two-to-three-month stay at home with his family. As of 2019, the median income for crew members was somewhere in the vicinity of $20,000, according to a major business publication. Royal Caribbean would not share the current median salary for its crew members, but I am certain that it amounts to a fraction of the cost of a Royal Bling gold-plated, zirconia-studded chalice.

And because most of the Icon’s hyper-sanitized spaces are just a frittata away from being a Delta lounge, one forgets that there are actual sailors on this ship, charged with the herculean task of docking it in port. “Having driven 100,000-ton aircraft carriers throughout my career,” retired Admiral James G. Stavridis, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, writes to me, “I’m not sure I would even know where to begin with trying to control a sea monster like this one nearly three times the size.” (I first met Stavridis while touring Army bases in Germany more than a decade ago.)

Today, I decide to head to the hot tub near Swim & Tonic, where some of the ship’s drunkest reprobates seem to gather (the other tubs are filled with families and couples). The talk here, like everywhere else on the ship, concerns football, a sport about which I know nothing. It is apparent that four teams have recently competed in some kind of finals for the year, and that two of them will now face off in the championship. Often when people on the Icon speak, I will try to repeat the last thing they said with a laugh or a nod of disbelief. “Yes, 20-yard line! Ha!” “Oh my God, of course, scrimmage.”

Soon we are joined in the hot tub by the late-middle-age drunk guy with the duck necklace. He is wearing a bucket hat with the legend HAWKEYES , which, I soon gather, is yet another football team. “All right, who turned me in?” Duck Necklace says as he plops into the tub beside us. “I get a call in the morning,” he says. “It’s security. Can you come down to the dining room by 10 a.m.? You need to stay away from the members of this religious family.” Apparently, the gregarious Duck Necklace had photobombed the wrong people. There are several families who present as evangelical Christians or practicing Muslims on the ship. One man, evidently, was not happy that Duck Necklace had made contact with his relatives. “It’s because of religious stuff; he was offended. I put my arm around 20 people a day.”

Everyone laughs. “They asked me three times if I needed medication,” he says of the security people who apparently interrogated him in full view of others having breakfast.

Another hot-tub denizen suggests that he should have asked for fentanyl. After a few more drinks, Duck Necklace begins to muse about what it would be like to fall off the ship. “I’m 62 and I’m ready to go,” he says. “I just don’t want a shark to eat me. I’m a huge God guy. I’m a Bible guy. There’s some Mayan theory squaring science stuff with religion. There is so much more to life on Earth.” We all nod into our Red Stripes.

“I never get off the ship when we dock,” he says. He tells us he lost $6,000 in the casino the other day. Later, I look him up, and it appears that on land, he’s a financial adviser in a crisp gray suit, probably a pillar of his North Chicago community.

photo of author smiling and holding soft-serve ice-cream cone with outdoor seating area in background

THE OCEAN IS TEEMING with fascinating life, but on the surface it has little to teach us. The waves come and go. The horizon remains ever far away.

I am constantly told by my fellow passengers that “everybody here has a story.” Yes, I want to reply, but everybody everywhere has a story. You, the reader of this essay, have a story, and yet you’re not inclined to jump on a cruise ship and, like Duck Necklace, tell your story to others at great pitch and volume. Maybe what they’re saying is that everybody on this ship wants to have a bigger, more coherent, more interesting story than the one they’ve been given. Maybe that’s why there’s so much signage on the doors around me attesting to marriages spent on the sea. Maybe that’s why the Royal Caribbean newsletter slipped under my door tells me that “this isn’t a vacation day spent—it’s bragging rights earned.” Maybe that’s why I’m so lonely.

Today is a big day for Icon passengers. Today the ship docks at Royal Caribbean’s own Bahamian island, the Perfect Day at CocoCay. (This appears to be the actual name of the island.) A comedian at the nightclub opined on what his perfect day at CocoCay would look like—receiving oral sex while learning that his ex-wife had been killed in a car crash (big laughter). But the reality of the island is far less humorous than that.

One of the ethnic tristate ladies in the infinity pool told me that she loved CocoCay because it had exactly the same things that could be found on the ship itself. This proves to be correct. It is like the Icon, but with sand. The same tired burgers, the same colorful tubes conveying children and water from Point A to B. The same swim-up bar at its Hideaway ($140 for admittance, no children allowed; Royal Caribbean must be printing money off its clientele). “There was almost a fight at The Wizard of Oz ,” I overhear an elderly woman tell her companion on a chaise lounge. Apparently one of the passengers began recording Royal Caribbean’s intellectual property and “three guys came after him.”

I walk down a pathway to the center of the island, where a sign reads DO NOT ENTER: YOU HAVE REACHED THE BOUNDARY OF ADVENTURE . I hear an animal scampering in the bushes. A Royal Caribbean worker in an enormous golf cart soon chases me down and takes me back to the Hideaway, where I run into Mrs. Rand in a bikini. She becomes livid telling me about an altercation she had the other day with a woman over a towel and a deck chair. We Suites have special towel privileges; we do not have to hand over our SeaPass Card to score a towel. But the Rands are not Suites. “People are so entitled here,” Mrs. Rand says. “It’s like the airport with all its classes.” “You see,” I want to say, “this is where your husband’s love of Ayn Rand runs into the cruelties and arbitrary indignities of unbridled capitalism.” Instead we make plans to meet for a final drink in the Schooner Bar tonight (the Rands will stand me up).

Back on the ship, I try to do laps, but the pool (the largest on any cruise ship, naturally) is fully trashed with the detritus of American life: candy wrappers, a slowly dissolving tortilla chip, napkins. I take an extra-long shower in my suite, then walk around the perimeter of the ship on a kind of exercise track, past all the alluring lifeboats in their yellow-and-white livery. Maybe there is a dystopian angle to the HBO series that I will surely end up pitching, one with shades of WALL-E or Snowpiercer . In a collapsed world, a Royal Caribbean–like cruise liner sails from port to port, collecting new shipmates and supplies in exchange for the precious energy it has on board. (The actual Icon features a new technology that converts passengers’ poop into enough energy to power the waterslides . In the series, this shitty technology would be greatly expanded.) A very young woman (18? 19?), smart and lonely, who has only known life on the ship, walks along the same track as I do now, contemplating jumping off into the surf left by its wake. I picture reusing Duck Necklace’s words in the opening shot of the pilot. The girl is walking around the track, her eyes on the horizon; maybe she’s highborn—a Suite—and we hear the voice-over: “I’m 19 and I’m ready to go. I just don’t want a shark to eat me.”

Before the cruise is finished, I talk to Mr. Washy Washy, or Nielbert of the Philippines. He is a sweet, gentle man, and I thank him for the earworm of a song he has given me and for keeping us safe from the dreaded norovirus. “This is very important to me, getting people to wash their hands,” he tells me in his burger getup. He has dreams, as an artist and a performer, but they are limited in scope. One day he wants to dress up as a piece of bacon for the morning shift.

THE MAIDEN VOYAGE OF THE TITANIC (the Icon of the Seas is five times as large as that doomed vessel) at least offered its passengers an exciting ending to their cruise, but when I wake up on the eighth day, all I see are the gray ghosts that populate Miami’s condo skyline. Throughout my voyage, my writer friends wrote in to commiserate with me. Sloane Crosley, who once covered a three-day spa mini-cruise for Vogue , tells me she felt “so very alone … I found it very untethering.” Gideon Lewis-Kraus writes in an Instagram comment: “When Gary is done I think it’s time this genre was taken out back and shot.” And he is right. To badly paraphrase Adorno: After this, no more cruise stories. It is unfair to put a thinking person on a cruise ship. Writers typically have difficult childhoods, and it is cruel to remind them of the inherent loneliness that drove them to writing in the first place. It is also unseemly to write about the kind of people who go on cruises. Our country does not provide the education and upbringing that allow its citizens an interior life. For the creative class to point fingers at the large, breasty gentlemen adrift in tortilla-chip-laden pools of water is to gather a sour harvest of low-hanging fruit.

A day or two before I got off the ship, I decided to make use of my balcony, which I had avoided because I thought the view would only depress me further. What I found shocked me. My suite did not look out on Central Park after all. This entire time, I had been living in the ship’s Disneyland, Surfside, the neighborhood full of screaming toddlers consuming milkshakes and candy. And as I leaned out over my balcony, I beheld a slight vista of the sea and surf that I thought I had been missing. It had been there all along. The sea was frothy and infinite and blue-green beneath the span of a seagull’s wing. And though it had been trod hard by the world’s largest cruise ship, it remained.

This article appears in the May 2024 print edition with the headline “A Meatball at Sea.” When you buy a book using a link on this page, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.


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