Cruise ships reveal the societal divide caused by inequality

In literature and cinema, when survivors of a sinking ship or a plane crash huddle in a rubber raft in the ocean surrounded by sharks, a common theme is the interdependence of people who were once strangers. But misfortune is not a prerequisite for solidarity. Indeed, the great reward of foreign travel has long been encounters with strangers not like ourselves who may become lifelong friends.

But travel is changing. For Norwegian Cruise Line’s the Haven, the goal is to identify top-of-the-line customers and, for as much as $10,000 a week, to pamper them with special amenities like a full-time butler and house them in a posh “city within a city,” a suite with two-story views of sunsets over the waves, a private swimming pool and the guaranteed company of 275 elite “people like themselves.” No danger of rubbing shoulders with the 4,000 people in $1,000-a-week cabins down below. Enter the auditorium and a red ribbon ropes off the best seats for the elite guests.

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The top 1 percent of American households now control 42 percent of the nation’s wealth, while the middle class has struggled to catch up since the end of the Great Recession. But the travel industry has marketed exclusivity: For a price, your group descends the gangway first when you arrive in port. Americans were once proud that “created equal” meant equal treatment and equal opportunity. Today we have slipped back a century to the social stratification that separated the classes on the Titanic—and we know what happened to them.

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reginald barras
1 year 7 months ago
we need the rich,,,! in capitalism,the rich provide many jobs,if not all. we need these people to create new jobs and invest in future business. all of our salaries come from rich people. the government never makes any money,they only spend. i am 74 yrs old and worked hard for over 50yrs. i live off of social security,that me and my wife paid into all our lives. so we are ,by no means rich. the cell phone company's and computer company's,employ millions of people through out the world. let these rich people rub elbows and make new business partners.
Vincent Gaitley
1 year 7 months ago
So? That exclusivity (or comfort) may be a one-time enjoyment, a wedding anniversary, a birthday, or just a long held desire to travel in luxury. I reject any moral (or pseudo-moral) scold for people spending their hard earned, over taxed earnings on some recreation. What would you have instead? Convicts in the hold pulling oars? Or no ocean cruising? The seafaring/tourist business is quite old and employs millions of people worldwide. Travelers disembark on small islands and shop and dine and spend among folks who would otherwise be quite isolated--and that's just one benefit. Also, the high prices for luxury create a higher profit per passenger making possible the lower tier of passengers. Rather like the progressive taxes liberals love. The rich pay for the less rich.
Joseph J Dunn
1 year 7 months ago
Editors decry the cruise industry’s segmentation of customers into different accommodations with vastly different prices as a departure from the American spirit of equal opportunity, and a regression to the era of the Titanic, which they deem less noble. But a lunchtime walk around Manhattan reveals a world of customer segmentation: gyro stands outside neighborhood delis around the corner from Le Bernardin. So it is with housing choices, transportation options, varieties of newspapers and magazines. What does all this bring to our country? Every month, almost 100,000 people enjoy 7-day adventures on ships of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. That’s almost one million people every year, on just one cruise line, and not counting the more common 4- and 5-day cruises. That’s an awful lot of people enjoying fresh air, a reprieve from work, celebrating an anniversary or retirement or just getting the family away from all the electronic distractions. That market segmentation was already well-known in 1882, when it allowed my great grandfather, Patrick Dunn, to board the Lord Clive out of Liverpool, bound for Philadelphia. His wife and three children followed a year later, when he had found work even in the midst of a deep recession. He did not travel first-class. He needed to leave behind his native Ireland where “there was no future.” And yes, we know how the Titanic ended up, in that era of social stratification. In an hour of decision-making, in an era when the rich were richer than they are today, men named Guggenheim, and Straus, and Astor stood aside so that others could enter the lifeboats. Greater love than this hath no man… We need to take an honest look at history, and take a walk on a sunny day, or we miss the joy of life.
Nicholas Clifford
1 year 7 months ago
Here's another idea. Take a mere $500 out of that $10,000, buy an economy class ticket on an American airline from, say, New York to Athens (or better yet Los Angeles to Shanghai) and insist that the purchaser use it before being allowed to board the huge cruise liner. Think how much more luxurious the "city within a city," complete with private butler and so forth, will seem after you've endured hours and hours of waiting in airports, standing in lines, fighting to find a place for your carry-on even before you can enjoy a seat built for an anorexic midget, cardboard food and stale air high above the Atlantic or Pacific. Just so you can see how the other half (or 99%) live. It would be a good spiritual exercise.
Robyn Saunders
1 year 6 months ago
Your editorial "Ship for The Rich" certainly paints all sea-going travelers with a broad brush. I have traveled on Norwegian Cruise Line on two occasions, both in The Haven. My family is not part of the one percent, not by far. We do, however, save our pennies to go on trips that offer a modicum of comfort and class. Why do we do this? Because the populace in today's world is lacking in class, manners, and a sense of quality. On the ships we traveled we noticed people walking through the passageways stuffing plates of food in their mouth, most of it dropping on the floor for staff to clean up, passengers spitting from upper decks to see who could reach the passengers on the decks below, and endless crowds and pounding music to entertain the over 4,000 people on board. Panem et circences anyone? Having a sense of taste doesn't go far these days, and it costs more to find it. (By the way, a family of four traveling together for week's vacation will certainly spend a great deal of money) So if my family and I are to be condemned for seeking out a vacation that will offer the better amenities, so be it. We all work hard, we put money aside, and we enjoy our time together. The Jesuits certainly wouldn't be traveling in steerage!
Sandi Sinor
1 year 6 months ago
The point of this little editorial isn't reallyclear. Class envy? There has never been a time in history or a place anywhere in the world that has not had social stratification. Some people live in large, comfortable suburban homes with good suburban public schools and others live in cramped, substandard housing in areas with poor schools. Some look down on the suburbs, and then live in grand urban penthouses with a concierge and a view or even in city row houses -(but they are expensive too). Some suburbanites and urbanites send their kids to public schools and some send them to extremely pricey private schools, such as Jesuit schools. The tuition at the Jesuit school a few miles from my house is about $33,000/year plus fees. For those of us who travel fairly often, "social stratification" in transportation, accomodations, and restaurant choices is a given, starting with the purgatory of airline travel described by Mr. Clifford. I would say that social stratification in education is a far bigger issue than is social stratification on a cruise line.
J Cosgrove
1 year 6 months ago
This is one of the most inane articles this site has published. Any thing to take a hit at people who have money. Cruise ships are a mass vacation opportunity for the middle class. There are definitely cruisers with lots of money but they eat the same food at the same tables as the rest on nearly every ship. The only cruise line I have been on that offered an upper class was Cunard and we never met anyone who was doing it. Their dining rooms seemed empty. The real class system on cruise lines is the cruise lines themselves. Some are 2-3 times more expensive for the same itinerary. They are usually smaller ships with much more service. Never been on one but some who have, told us of the differences. Did not seem like much for the cost differential. So we like Princess, Holland American (nearly always has a priest on board) and Royal Caribbean and the typical passenger is a retired school teacher and spouse. If it is out of New York, it could be a fireman and family on vacation. If you are careful, it is possible to get a fare for less than $100 a day. If you go on an itinerary that leaves from a foreign country there will be a much higher percentage of non Americans which makes for interesting conversations. Take a ship out of New York, Houston or San Francisco and it will be loaded with a typical person from those cities. We took a cruise from San Francisco once and we were the only people on board from the East coast. Nearly everyone was from the Bay area. Some friends took a small ship out of a port in South America and they were with some fairly rich people, mostly non Americans. So I think the editors should try to dig up a better example of where the middle class is getting screwed. Because a lot of them are on cruise ships.
Chris Miller
1 year 6 months ago
Then there is a very different way to travel: Many of the American flagged cargo lines offer the opportunity to sail aboard one of their merchant ships. You pay a daily fee; eat with the crew and enjoy the experience of being at sea. You get to visit ports that are not on the cruise ship itinerary. The cargo ship's schedule controls; you get to go ashore for whatever time the ship is in port, offloading and onloading. There will be less than (probably) 5-10 other passengers. If you have ever wanted to know what life is really like for the merchant marine, there's a way. PR Chris
Chris Miller
1 year 6 months ago
My first "cruise" was 1954. I was six, and we were traveling from NYC to Naples, Italy, where my dad was reporting for duty with the 6th fleet HQ, which was in port in Naples. The SS Constitution...quite a desirable cruise ship at the time. Two years later, we returned aboard the SS Independence...the sister ship of the Constitution. Skip ahead a few years; my next cruise was aboard the QE II, the Cunard Line flagship, in 1989. I sailed out of Cherbourg, France, with my car and cat, returning from my two year assignment in Germany. Knowing I had to have formal wear, I took my US Navy Dinner Dress uniform. On the 3rd night out, we had our Captain's reception. I met the Capt., in my dress uniform, and we spoke a few words. He asked if I would like a tour of the bridge. Absolutely! I was given information on how to request a tour. The day before we were due in NYC, I showed up at 1400 for my bridge tour. After 15 minutes, the fog closed in again, and we were asked to clear the bridge. So, I headed down the ladder, past the Capt's cabin on my way out. He was surprised (the tours are about an hour or more, normally)...and I told him there was heavy fog, and we were asked to clear the bridge, so the crew could hear fog signals. He said, well, you are Navy. Would you like to be on the bridge tomorrow? Would I !!!!!! He told me where to go, and that I was welcome any time. When the ship slowed for the port pilot at 0630, I went to the bridge. The deck officer was expecting me, and we came in to the beautiful cityscape of NYC, lit up by bright sunlight. The pilot, who was aboard for safety and legal reasons (the crew was extremely familiar with the Port of NYC), served as my guide all the way in. I remained on the bridge all the way to the pier. Out of all the passengers, including those who paid 10 xx what I did, I was the ONLY passenger on the bridge! When I told my dad the story...he said, gee, when we came home from Italy, I never got a chance to be on the bridge...I told him...well, you didn't have your Dinner Dress uniform, did you? What a memory! Pr Chris

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