Why Are Cruise Ships Better Communities Than Our Neighborhoods?

Our cruise ship's pool has become my son Marco's most fertile social atmosphere in just one week.

My family and I have been on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean for the past week. It’s my first cruise, and I’m amazed at how quickly and effectively community develops. I’ve become cordial with dozens of people. My four-year-old son Marco has gotten to know about a dozen kids with whom he plays every day either at the swimming pool or at the kids’ daycare area, “Kids Club.” Thanks to those relationships, he has matured socially months in the week he’s been here.

When my wife, my two sons (4 and 7 months), and I are not on land exploring the port at which we’re docked, we’re always doing something somewhere on the boat. In other words, other than sleeping, we don’t spend time in our room. That means we’re eating in one of about eight restaurants, strolling around checking things out, hanging at the swimming pool, watching entertainment (piano players, bands, singers, acrobats, etc.), playing games (shuffleboard, golf, etc.), or Marco is playing at Kids’ Club. As soon as we get back to our room from anywhere, we go right out again to do something in the community.

Why is it that we’ve gotten to know more people here in one week than we’ve gotten to know in our neighborhood in a year? Perhaps in the list of reasons below we can find some suggestions to make our neighborhoods into better communities:

  1. We’re trapped into spending time in the immediate community. Our rooms are small, there is no television to watch other than cable news, we have no Internet connections in our rooms, and unless we’re docked at a port, we can’t leave the ship. On the ship at sea, there is no cell phone service.
  2. Everything is within short walking distance. The ship may be big, but it’s still only a couple of city blocks long, and inside there are 2000+ people and lots of publicly available attractions. So, very often when we have nothing in particular to do, we just walk around.
  3. There are few dangers. We have no cars here, which makes walking and hanging out much more carefree. Also, because outsiders can’t get in here and leave at will, we don’t fear that someone will rob us or abduct our children.

I’m convinced that we can make our neighborhoods more like cruise ships for our children. I’ll address each of the points above in turn below:

  1. Time: Living in a small home will force kids to go outside, but most important is limiting or eliminating their consumption of “screen activities” – i.e. television, videogames, and the Internet. As for limiting the distance kids can go, *not* driving them anywhere – i.e. letting them go as far as they can walk or bicycle – works well. And we adults should turn off our cell phones or ignore them when we’re roaming the neighborhood.
  2. Short Walking Distance: Ideally, you should live in a place where everything that interests your children is within a walkable distance. Before middle school, this means friends’ houses, schools, and parks. Ideally, “parks” should include ample natural green space and sports facilities like basketball courts and a swimming pool. When kids get older, they’ll also want to frequent retail stores, so ones children are most interested in – convenience stores, diners, sporting goods stores, etc. – should be a walk or bike ride away.
  3. Few Dangers: As for minimizing dangers from car traffic, new urbanist communities like The Waters are a great model. They force car traffic to slow down or to entirely avoid places where people walk. As for minimizing danger from outsiders, while we can’t seal our neighborhoods off from outsiders, if many adult residents are always outside, engaged in neighborhood activities, malevolent strangers will not be able to roam around anonymously. So, in other words, you and other adults need to spend time outside to make your neighborhood safer.

What do you all think of cruise ship communities as a model for neighborhoods? There are other examples, too – Club Med, places in the aftermath of natural disasters or power outages, etc.

Bookmark the permalink of this post.

4 Responses to Why Are Cruise Ships Better Communities Than Our Neighborhoods?

  1. mwbfirecracker says:

    Mike,

    One other reason for the atmosphere on a cruise ship is that everyone has nothing but time to hang out. It’s a lot more challenging to get out and wander the neighborhood when you’re juggling 2 jobs and trying to make ends meet in Silicon Valley.

    My regular “neighborhood” group is the guys and gals that I see walking around our neighborhood at 6 am. I don’t know them well, but we wave and say good morning every day and chat if our walk takes us the same direction. I wouldn’t see any of these folks almost any other time because I am not home most of the rest of daylight hours.

    We tend to see our neighbors mostly on the week-ends. Kids are another story – I’m working on a devious plan to force my son to be out of the house most of the summer. We’ll see how it works!

    MB

  2. Edgymama says:

    I think the proximity and the limited number of people and options is part of what has given your experience a sense of community. I was on a cruise with my family a couple of years ago but I couldn’t get that sense because I had a hard time overlooking the obvious racial and economic discrepancy between the crew (especially in low status positions) and the passengers. It was also hard for me to see the waste of food and apparent gluttony of many of the passengers which didn’t make me inclined to feel connected with them or able to broach any meaningful discussions with them. In fact I felt very alienated from them. In the end I decided to just “put my blinkers on” for the week and enjoy myself with my extended family.

    I think part of what makes a true community is a sense of shared values, a sense of responsibility and care for its members, and shared rituals.

    We just came back from an unschooling conference and I did experience the sense of community that you expressed. But I think what gave me the impetus to trust and connect with these people was a shared foundation of responsibility to the world, the environment, and to respecting and trusting children’s ability to learn in their own unique way. For me, shared philosophy and outlook to life is key to community.

  3. Mike Lanza says:

    Edgymama – I do agree with your assessment of the economic discrepancy of the crew and passengers and the gluttony of the majority of passengers. These are difficult things to swallow (no pun intended).

    However, part of the idea of community spirit in a neighborhood is overlooking some differences you have with your neighbors to find common ground in the moment because of your current shared experience. I can’t say I always do this, but I’m doing it here. I do think it’s necessary to somewhat relax our fixed ideas of who we are when we’re in a “neighborhood” so that we can search for a communal sense of identity.

    Do I have much in common with most others on this ship, other than sharing *this* experience? I don’t think so. However, we play with our kids and with each other and forge a communal identity for the time we’re here. Thinking back to my neighbors when I was growing up, what we had in common was that we lived close to each other and had common experience. We had different religions and family backgrounds, but these took a back seat to the games we played and the fun we had.

    I also often yearn to connect and spend time with people of “shared philosophy and outlook to life,” but in the 21st century, I believe we search for this too much and don’t spend enough time to try to connect with people right under our noses. This is a very, very deep issue that I don’t feel like delving into anymore right here, but I do believe we should be somewhat less calculating and more spontaneous in our relations with people. I’d better stop here…

  4. Barbara Saunders says:

    My model for community is the Deadheads! Shared rituals and a shared calendar, yet no coercive mechanism. Nomadic, yet rooted in a “place”. A cool thing – mail order tickets were distributed by zip code, which meant your neighbors became your seat mates and the concerts served as introduction to your neighbors. It led to an impression of suddenly meeting new friends who’d been at the coffee shop or local grocery all along.