Meet Nate, my cruising epiphany!
Here are Lucky,Nate and their entrepreneurial friends from Sitka, Alaska - who have changed my thoughts about cruising!!
We found them encamped at the Sitka port shuttle terminus in town, where they had set up their picnic table stalls full of home baked cookies, decorated shells, homemade magnets and jewellery - some stalls were decorated with driftwood, bunting and even an otter pelt! They were all really pleased to see us, proud of their wares and eloquent about their town and its history.
We were very taken with these kids... it turned out that they had all paid $10 at the start of the season and that purchasing a pitch meant they were committing to being there every day there was a ship in port. Each stall had a little sign explaining who the kids were, with a little bit about their families and their hopes and dreams for the future. Nate told me that is was the best way to save up money for college and that he’d been up since 05.00 cooking his various cookies and brownies - I asked if Mum had helped but no, “she’s at work”. I asked if they were missing out on the summer but all told me that they were happy to have the chance to be there, and as they could go once they had sold out, they got most afternoons free. They were all proud to have been selected to have a stand and the quality of their cookies was excellent...we had to sample a few to be sure!
And it got me thinking....
Why don’t more ports do this? Isn’t an engraved abalone shell -picked up on a beach a few metres away and carefully etched 2019- a bettersouvenir than a plastic grudge magnet that we all know are made in bulk in China and imported? Why don’t more ports and cities let their young people have direct access to visiting cruisers and the opportunity to sell their own homemade crafts and baked goods? If more of the “cruise dollar” found its way into individuals pockets rather than into the coffers of large multinationals would we be avoiding the backlash we are seeing in Barcelona, Tortola Venice, Dubrovnik, St Martin, Amsterdam....
Its understandable in a way that we've made ourselves so unpopular in these places - we spend very little in comparison to visitors that stay in town overnight. What we do spend is quite often booked through the cruise line who have driven a hard bargain with local and national suppliers thus reducing the amount of money that reaches the pockets of the locals still further. In Alaska we were shocked to hear that cruise companies actually owned the jewellery shops that were on the list of "recommended stores", further that all the privately owned shops that were listed would have paid handsomely to be featured.
Yet there were many quirky and lovely shops to be found in town, most with individual, local made products, such as these amazing wooden guitars, rather than mass produced 'touristy ' items that we saw in every port (and in the shops on board!) - the Artists Cove in Sitka and Parnassus Books in Ketchikan being two examples. It time to search for a locally owned coffee bar rather than use Starbucks just because it is familiar (Seattle excepted!!).
So this is my new mission statement
I will be a better tourist -a Conscious Cruiser!
I will actively try and spend my money where it directly benefits local people.
I will look for locally made products when ashore and buy from locally owned businesses.
I will enjoy local colour and sights where I actually am and avoid rushing off to a tourist site miles from port where possible.
Lets see how we get on! I wonder if this could be the beginning of a new movement, a little like the 'Slow Food' movement - maybe we should start a Conscious Cruising movement and start to turn the tide of public opinion back towards a port being happy that a ship is arriving - lets bring back the excitement of a berthing that Lucky, Nate and friends all admitted to feeling! I let you know how we get on, maybe you might even want to join me and become a Conscious Cruiser - you might even come up with a better name!!!
I'd love to know what you think, please leave me a comment below!