The unsanitized history of the Caribbean pleasure-boat industry, roiled by corporate infighting and ugly labor disputes while above deck the party never stops.
Like most industries that grew up fast in the 20th century and make obscene profits, the cruise-ship business went through its fair share of growing pains, with attendant drama. A history of its ups and downs, therefore, seems a good idea, but somehow it never quite takes wing in journalist Garin’s account, which is a much duller piece of work than it has any right to be. The two biggest cruise companies, Carnival and Royal Caribbean, had profits totaling some $2 billion in 2003—not bad for an industry that didn’t really get started until the 1960s. The early sections here make for enjoyable reading, as Garin sketches the postwar decline of passenger sailing due to modern air travel and profiles men like Ted Arison, scion of an Israeli shipping family who fought the Nazis and smuggled European Jews into Palestine before riding the Zeitgeist and a lot of luck into fabulous wealth. The cruise business received a massive boost in the 1970s with the advent of The Love Boat, the phenomenally popular TV series that seeded pleasure sailing into the American imagination. By the 1980s, cruise lines were making money hand over fist. Garin’s most fascinating pages investigate the shadowy ways in which the industry is allowed to operate and to pay almost no taxes. Nominally headquartered in Florida, the companies sail their ships under flags of convenience from countries like Liberia and Panama and hire labor from the Third World under conditions that sound more like the 18th century than the 21st. Unfortunately, too much of this material is buried underneath the author’s lengthy (and poor) recounting of endless corporate battles between the two giants of the business.
Strangely flat coverage of a subject rife with hot-button issues.