Greetings from Paradise is a study of the human experience onboard a cruise ship. Observing the interactions, behaviors and social dynamics on a cruise is enough make your brain burst. Much of it, as you might expect is simply entertaining. Watching a bunch of old men dance on polls as a part of the “Sexy Legs Contest” for example is hilarious and innocent enough fun. A cruise represents a certain kind of paradise. Like a dream come true for some and a nightmare for others. In this way, cruises are very polarizing. You are a cruise person or you are not. There are a lot of other way more complex dynamics at play though. Upon arriving at the Falmouth port in Jamaica you are greeted by a frenzied swarm hopeful entrepreneurs offering hair braiding, tours, and red, yellow and green tams (hats) with fake dread locks. Many just yell the words Bob Marley to get attention. I have heard many things referred to as Bob Marley in the port area. Upon arriving in Mexico after Hurricane Wilma, Cozumel was devastated, but they had quickly erected a mini-Mexico equipped with Senor Frogs and all of the accommodations that cruisers expect. The colorful facade of a village was reminiscent of the set of a cheesy play taking place in Mexico immediately surrounded by the rubble of the city. My immediate reaction to the way in which these cruisers are experiencing these cultures is sadness. It is clear that the people of these island cultures understand that the cruiser (in general) is looking for a very simple dumbed down representation of their culture which meets, exactly, their expectations. This strikes me as an unhealthy relationship that perpetuates age old stereotypes. Of course, like everything it’s complicated. The cruise ships offer opportunities to these islands that they could have never had otherwise. It is a lot to expect of the Islanders to resist the opportunity to a make much better living than they would likely be able to without the cruise industry. Regardless, the imperialist nature of the relationship between the cruiser and the islander can be disturbing. Some of the smaller Islands, like Grand Turk, have populations lower than the number of passengers on one cruise ship, and it is not uncommon to see 4-5 ships ported at a time on one Island. So for better or worse, these islands are being flooded with tens of thousands of people (ships range from 2,500 to 6,000 passengers) each day during cruise season.
On the ships there is a distinctive social hierarchy as well. Most of the lower end workers on the ships come from third world countries in Asia (mostly Philippines and Indonesia on the ships I’ve been on). I have become good friends with some of my cabin stuarts and waiters on the ship. I even visited one for dinner in Manila during his off season. He had a nice life there. A good home in a good neighborhood. Again an opportunity afforded to him by the cruise industry that is hard to pass up. While I visited with him though, he spoke of the darker side of his job. He gave horror stories about the way they are treated, the food they are given (butcher scraps for example), and the insane long hours they are expected to work. Most of his year is spent away from his family working under these difficult conditions so that he can have a good life for his family. Leaning about the conditions that my friend was working in made me want to show that much more appreciation for the workers on the ship especially those in the lower level positions.
I’m not saying that people should feel guilty about going on a cruise. I do think it’s important to be aware of what has been sacrificed by a lot of less privileged people in order for us to enjoy this constructed paradise. With that understanding we may be able to make life a little bit easier for the port hustlers and the cruise staff. This series of photos takes you on a journey through the many sides of cruise culture. From the funny, to the ridiculous, to the excessive, to the thought provoking.