On a history cruise, you learn a lot about the past—and recent dramas tooby Greg Neale / March 23, 2011 / Leave a comment
Dubrovnik, Croatia: passengers on cruises are drawn both to ancient history and recent conflict
At the end of Roger and Me, Michael Moore’s documentary about the decline of his home town of Flint, Michigan, a woman who has been working in tourism says “I’m going to move to Israel and maybe I’ll become the ministress of tourism.” The film then cuts to the intifada, the Palestinian uprising, and a horde of young men in the streets throwing stones. The operators of cruises—particularly those who specialise in the Middle East—might feel the same dismay about the recent revolutions and unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Jordan, countries which have been some of their most popular destinations.
Yet they shouldn’t. After years of helping to organise lectures on such cruises, I can vouch that while it is history that draws people, their interest embraces events so recent they barely count as the past. I first led a party on a cruise to north Africa ten years ago, and realised that visitors to Libya were as fascinated by a glimpse of life under Colonel Gaddafi’s regime as they were by the archaeological sites of Leptis Magna or Cyrene. Visitors to Cairo may soon add Tahrir Square to their must-see lists after the treasures of Tutankhamun.
Cruises to the Baltic ports of Poland now offer a visit to the old Lenin shipyard, birthplace of the Solidarity movement that helped break down the iron curtain, on the way to the traditional Baroque attractions of the Hanseatic town centre of Gdansk. Four decades after the Vietnam war, old Vietcong supply tunnels offer a vivid reminder of that conflict, attracting the same visitors as Buddhist temples do.
I’ve watched young Turks, Australians and New Zealanders walking thoughtfully through the memorial grounds of Gallipoli and later met them in the ruins of Troy. I’ve accompanied visitors to St Petersburg who were dazzled by the city’s tsarist past, but told me that their most powerful memory was the lecture on the horrors of the siege of Leningrad. I’ve listened to passengers joining in readings of Norse sagas in Iceland, or arguing over the Cuban revolution.
Cruise tourism is a huge business worth around $26bn in revenue worldwide, estimates Oivind Mathisen, editor of the New York-based Cruise Industry News. More than 1m Britons took a cruise in 2010—this year it’s predicted that the global number of passengers will be nearly…