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Hurricanes Above Normal Again

Today is the official start of Hurricane Season and the worst thing about that is for many parts of the continent it’s still Tornado Season. Mother Nature can sometimes be restless, can’t she?

Every year at this time, people who like to go on cruises wonder if they should. Every year, people who write about going on cruises remind the people who wonder that the chances of being affected by a hurricane are slim.

A brief history is appropriate.

Last year, experts predicted between five and eight potentially major hurricanes…higher than normal. In the end, there were 19 named storms, the third-most in history. A dozen were hurricanes, and five were Category 3 or 4, which would be major.

This year, it’s an above-normal prognosis again. Six to 10 hurricanes. Three to six hurricanes of Category 3 or higher.

Last year, winds steered these violent storms away from making landfall. That would seem to cause concern at sea, except that storms are closely monitored on cruise ships and almost always out-run, if necessary.

However, everybody knows not to mess with Mother Nature. Ships generally travel at speeds just over 20 knots. In 1987, Hurricane Emily raced across the Atlantic at speeds as high as 59 knots (68 miles an hour).

And when can everybody relax, on shore or on water?

In six months…November 30.

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Inaccurate Criticism of Cruise Ships

This is an excerpt of a reader’s comment about cruising, a comment we stumbled across on the Internet:

“Cruisers are not aware of the acute environmental damage that they are doing to water and air sheds. Cruise ships are small mobile cities that dump their sewage into oceans and spew toxic emissions into the air.”

We are not apologists for cruise companies. What we are — or try to be — are custodians of the truth. The comment above is not true.

There was undoubtedly a time when cruise ships pumped sewage into the sea. All the cruise ships we have been on the last few years have environmental processes for dealing with sewage. By the time it becomes one with seawater, it has been reduced to “gray water.”

Now we haven’t actually witnessed the path the sewage takes — if somebody’s got to do it, somebody is not going to be us — but we have seen the equipment used to treat sewage. It’s an environmental responsibility the cruise industry has had to take seriously, and going on a tour of a cruise ship will give you some idea how seriously.

As for the spewing of toxic emissions, it would be incorrect to say there are none. What would be correct is to say that there are fewer toxic emissions all the time. Many ships are now powered electrically while in ports, enabling them to be moored without having to keep engines running for on-board power, and thus reduce emissions from the funnels.

It would also be correct to say that when anybody drives to the beach this summer, even the author of that comment, there are likely to be toxic emissions coming from the vehicle. In many of the things we do, we can’t avoid leaving a carbon footprint. The responsible thing to do is make the footprint as small as possible.

Also, not to believe everything that’s posted on the web.

What on Earth…an Eclipse?

Here’s an oxymoron for you — today we’re celebrating Earth Day in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. There are only two places where actual “earth” can be seen on the Celebrity Eclipse, as it zeroes in on the Azores, the first terra firma anybody on this ship will have seen in six days.

One is on Deck 15, where real grass is being grown. The other is in an upscale restaurant called Qsine, where chocolate-covered strawberries are served on sticks embedded in wheat grass, presumably from Deck 15, because then they can be called “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Note to chef: “Strawberry” and “Forever” last only until the first bite.

If you haven’t heard of Earth Day, or don’t know that it’s always on April 22, where have you been for the last 41 years? There are now 175 countries using it to inspire awareness and appreciation for the earth’s natural environment. As more countries embraced it, so did more cruise ships.

Two-thirds of the planet is water. In Celebrity’s small corner of that, there are no ships that are more environmentally friendly than the three in the Solstice Class, and Eclipse is one. On these three ships, and certainly on the two that are coming, 216 upgradable solar panels help power the ships, which are promoted as “efficient mega-ships and laboratories at sea.”

More visible for Eclipse passengers is an area called Team Earth. It’s a place to go and relax, not unlike a library, and some chairs built entirely of recycled plastic are more comfortable than and not nearly as fragile as they look. There are screens playing Conservation International videos on being a good earth-ling and on how environmental teamwork can make a difference.

However, Team Earth is so under-utilized and under-appreciated by the patrons — yesterday we saw seven people there playing dominoes — that it wouldn’t surprise us if it’s recycled into something else when the next Solstice-class ship, the Silhouette, is unveiled this summer. This despite Celebrity’s desire to promote responsible travel by trying to increase our environmental awareness.

Cruise ships have long been whipping boys for friends of the environment, even though none of them seems to pay attention to all the steps cruise lines in general have taken to be responsible.

They recycle everything that can be recycled on land. They don’t dump raw sewage into the ocean, a common misconception…in fact, most have “zero” solid waste discharge, and Celebrity says its waste-to-landfill ratio is 1.5 pounds per-person, per-day, or one-third of the typical American’s ratio on land. They don’t allow golf balls to be hit off the deck, unless it’s into a net. They reduce air pollution, another flashpoint. The hulls are painted with silicone (non-toxic) to reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency.

They also depressurize aerosol cans for recycling, they use non-toxic cleaning supplies, low-flow shower heads, low-energy lights…and they don’t change the bedsheets every day.

No wonder they’re celebrating Earth Day at sea!

Costa Joins Earth Hour Cast

When you feel like you’re a dinosaur, one of the phenomenons you don’t always appreciate is the significance of something like Earth Hour. Many of us didn’t grow up hearing about climate concerns and global warming and other environmental issues, so when they became popular rallying cries, we didn’t always…well, understand.

You only have to see what’s happening in Japan right now to realize that you don’t mess with Mother Nature, and raping Mother Earth qualifies.

This year, more than ever, Earth Hour is everywhere, including cruise ships. The count of cruise lines isn’t in yet, but all of Costa Cruises’ ships are on board, so to speak. Eleven days from now, at 8:30 p.m. wherever Costa’s 14 ships are, the lights will go out (in compliance with safety procedures) for an hour, during which time Costa’s passengers will be served dinner by candlelight.

The lights will also be turned off at Palazzo Costa in Genoa, the company headquarters, for that hour.

Earth Hour. The last Saturday of March, every year, at 8:30 p.m. local time. It’s a symbolic gesture to draw attention to taking more energy than earth has to give, and it has grown like no stock any of us has ever bought.

In 2007, the movement began in Sydney, Australia. An estimated 2.2 million homes and businesses turned out the lights for 60 minutes. In 2008, 50 million people in 35 countries. In 2009, hundreds of millions in 4,000 cities and 88 countries. In 2010, more than 1.3 billion people in 128 countries on every continent.

Now that’s a “Return On Investment.”

It’s an opportunity to raise environmental awareness. It’s endorsed by Bishop Desmond Tutu, among others. By the Eiffel Tower. By the Coca-Cola sign at Times Square. It’s Earth’s Hour…an hour of rest, a chance to make world leaders see the light in the dark.

That goes for dinosaurs, too.

Changes in Cruising's Henhouse

Okay, so what came first…the chicken or the cage?

In a changing trend on cruise ships, eggs from chickens are good. Eggs from cages are not — that is, from chickens in cages.

It’s all part of what has become a phrase that’s becoming familiar: cage-free eggs. The two biggest cruise companies in the world, Carnival and Royal Caribbean, have joined the national…er, movement, by cleansing their cupboards of cagey eggs.

The news was announced the other day by the Humane Society of the United States, to the relief of crowded chickens everywhere. It’s the latest step in eradicating big chickens in small houses, and if you don’t think this is a mushrooming trend, listen to this:

Burger King now uses only cage-free eggs. Also Hardee’s, Denny’s, Carl’s Jr., Subway and Wendy’s. Also Wal-Mart and Costco. In Michigan and California, it’s the law. By 2015, every egg in California must come from more-comfortable chickens.

The cruise lines are acting accordingly. Royal Caribbean plans to switch 3.2 million eggs to cage-free, although we’re not quite sure “switching” is the right word, and next year that number jumps to 6.8 million. Carnival is “converting” two million eggs…again, an unusual verb to use. Estimates are it will spare 30,000 hens from living in an egg ghetto.

But when cruise lines No. 1 and 2 change the policy, what do you think it means? That the pressure’s on No. 3 (Norwegian) to do the same thing?

Eggsactly.

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