The Caribbean Cruise Ship Business and the Emergence of a Transnational Capitalist Class


  • Jeb Sprague-Silgado UCSB



Caribbean, Tourism, Cruise Ships, Global Capitalism, Transnational Capitalist Class


This paper will provide an overview of the fundamental changes that the cruise ship business has undergone with the emergence of capitalist globalization and in the context of the Caribbean region. Rising profits and investments in tourism during the later decades of the 20th century and into the 21st century have been an important part of the globalizing economy. This has been a consequence of both the major technological and organizational developments of global capitalism, but also, and most importantly, of the global system’s changing social and class relations. The shifting social relations and productive activities that undergird the cruise ship business have meant gains for some involved, most especially, transnational capitalists, and exploitative and contradictory dynamics for many others. Annually millions of tourists from high consuming sectors worldwide partake in brief holiday escapes aboard cruise ship vessels. At the same time, the cruise ship business has become an oligopoly, controlled by a handful of large companies, that has driven many competitors out of business or acquiried them. Labor in the business has become more flexibilized, with low-wage workers (from a variety of nationalities) whose activities are increasingly standardized, monitored and micro-managed. While moving away from indicative development planning (with an eye to national goals), state policymakers in the Caribbean, for their own social reproduction, increasingly promote the interests of transnational capital such as with the cruise ship business. Importantly, labor and environmental protections have been stymied as the cruise ship companies, adept at public relations and skirting regulations, remain largely unaccountable.

Author Biography

Jeb Sprague-Silgado, UCSB

Jeb Sprague is a adjunct professor of Sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. You can view his academic website at:



Accessdr. (2012a). New Dominican president will encourage more investment in Tourism industry. Retrieved from

Accessdr. (2012b). 430,000 cruise ship tourists visit the Dominican Republic.

Retrieved from

Booth, R. (2010). Cruise ships still find a Haitian berth. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Boyce, H. (2003). Cruise liners seeking to divide and rule the

Caribbean. Nassau Guardian, 23 October.

Britell, A. (2013). Interview with Micky Arison, Chairman of Carnival Corporation. Caribbean Journal. Retrieved from

Castillo-Mussot, M. del, Sprague, J., & and Lama García, A. de la. 2013. Global capitalism and “north-south” unevenness: In light of ranking, statistical correlations, and profits of Forbes world list of top 2000 firms. Perspectives on Global Development and Technology, 12: 219-245.

Chase, G. (2002). The economic impact of cruise ships in the 1990s: Some evidence from the Caribbean. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Kent, OH, USA: Kent State University Graduate School of Management.

Cruise Compete. 2013a. “Jacmel.” Retrieved March 19, 2014 (

Cruise Compete. 2013b. “SeaDream I.” Retrieved March 19, 2014 (

Daye, M. (2011). New perspectives in Caribbean tourism. Oxford, UK: Routledge.

Dicken, Peter. (2007). Global Shift: Mapping the Changing Contours of the World

Economy. The Guilford Press.

Dowling, R. K. (2006). Cruise ship tourism. Boston, MA: CABI.

Farmer, Paul. 2006. AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography

of Blame. Berkeley, CA, USA: University of California Press.

Forbes. (2009). The 400 richest Americans: #56 Micky Arison. Retrieved from

Forbes. (2013). Micky Arison net worth $5.9 B as of September 2013. Retrieved from

Friends of the Earth. (2014) 2014 Cruise Ship Report Card. Retrieved from

Garin, K. A. (2006). Devils in the blue sea: The dreams, schemes and showdowns that built America’s cruise-ship empires. NY, New York: Penguin Group.

Gmelch, G. (2003). Behind the Smile: The working lives of Caribbean Tourism. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Haiti News. 2013. “The cruise ship ‘Adriana’ will no more dock for the carnival.”

Haiti News 509. Retrieved March 20, 2014 (

Harris, J. (2008). The dialectics of globalization: Economic and political conflict in a transnational world. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Heilman, W. (2012). Carnival moving Springs call center workers to homes. The Gazette. Retrieved from

Hogue, John S. 2013. Cruise Ship Diplomacy: Making U.S. leisure and power in the

Anglophone Caribbean, 1900-1973. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest LLC.

Hoogvelt, A. (2001). Globalization and the postcolonial world: The new political economy of development. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.

Inspiration Cruises. 2012. “Cruise with a cause.” Retrieved March 24, 2014

( 2014).

ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation). (2006). What are flags of convenience? Retrieved from

Klein, R. (2001/2002) “High seas, low pay: working on cruise ships,” Our Times: Canada’s Independent Labour Magazine. Available online at:

Klein, R. (2005). Cruise ship squeeze: The new pirates of the seven seas. Gabriola, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers.

Klein, R. (2009). Environmental impacts of cruise tourism. Prows edge cruise magazine and guide to cruising. Retrieved from

Kuehmayer, J.R. (2013). Cruise ship owners/operators and passenger ship financing & management companies. Austrian Marine Equipment Manufacturers. Retrieved from

Liechty, M. (2003). Suitably modern: Making middle-class culture in a new consumer society. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Liodakis, G. (2013). Totalitarian capitalism and beyond. London, UK: Ashgate.

Lumsdon, L. M., & Page, S. J. (Eds.). (2003). Tourism and transport: Advances in tourism research. NY, NY: Routledge.

Luxner, L. (2013). Dominican Republic leads Caribbean in tourist arrivals.

Retrieved from leads-caribbean-in-tourist-arrivals/

Mason, P. (2010). Live working or die fighting: How the working class went global.

Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.

Marx, K. (1992). Capital: Volume I: A critique of political economy. London,

UK: Penguin Books.

McNeil, L. (2013). Royal Caribbean to move its call centre to Guatemala. TravelMole. Retrieved from

Molyneaux, D. G. (2012). Cruise lines: Developing destinations. Miami Herald. Retrieved from

Mowforth, M. & Munt, I. (2008). Tourism and sustainability: Development, globalisation and new tourism in the Third World. London, UK: Routledge.

Murray, Georgina and John Scott, Eds. (2012) Financial Elite and Transnational

Business: Who Rules the World? Edward Elgar Publishers.

Oyogoa, Francisca (2016) “Cruise Ships: A Triumph of Global Capitalism and

Exemplar of Racialized Servility” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Chicago, Illinois, Aug 20.

Pattullo, Poly (2005), Last Resorts: The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean (New York,

USA: Monthly Review Press)

Rohde, D. (2012). The swelling middle. Reuters. Retrieved from

Robinson, W. I. (2003). Transnational conflicts: Central America, social change, and globalization. London, UK: Verso.

Robinson, W. I. (2004). A theory of global capitalism: Production, class, and state in a transnational world. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.

Robinson, W. I. (2014). Global capitalism and the crisis of humanity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Rodrigue, J.-P. (2013). The geography of transport systems. NY, New York: Routledge.

Royal Caribbean. (2009). Oasis of the Seas. Retrieved from

Royal Caribbean. (2013). Royal Caribbean to base Explorer of the Seas out of Port Canaveral. Retrieved from

Sheller, Mimi. (2003) Consuming the Caribbean: From Arawaks to Zombies. London,

UK: Routledge.

Sklair, L. (2001). Globalization: Capitalism and its alternatives. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Sklair, L. (2012). “Culture-Ideology of consumerism.” In George Ritzer (ed.), The

Wilely-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Globalization. Malden, MA, USA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd).

Sprague, J. (2012). Transnational state. In G. Ritzer (Ed.), The Wilely-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Globalization (pp. 2031-2037). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Sprague, J. (2015). Globalization and Transnational Capitalism in Asia and Oceania. London, UK: Routledge.

Struna, J. (2009). Toward a theory of global proletarian fractions. Perspectives on

Global Development and Technology, 8: 230-260.

Theobald, W. F. (2004). Global tourism. NY, New York: Routledge

Tortello, R. (2006). Somewhere beyond the sea: Jamaica’s role in the history of the cruise line industry. Jamaica Gleaner. Retrieved from

Trade Winds. (2014) Carnival synergies hunt could extend to newbuildings. Retreved from

Travel Weekly. (2003). Carnival, P&O Princess tackle synergies. Retrieved from

Uebersax, M. B. (1996). Indecent proposal: Cruise ship pollution in the Caribbean., Retrieved from

UNWTO. (2011). Tourism towards 2030 global overview. United Nations world tourism organization. Retrieved from

UNWTO. (2012). International tourism hits one billion. United Nations World Tourism Organization. Retrieved from

Walker, Jim. (2010). Reason No. 9 Not To Cruise: Bunker Fuel-Nasty Tar Sludge! Retrieved from

Wallerstein, I. (2004) World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction. Duke University Press.

War on Want and ITF. (2002). Sweatships. Retrieved from

Watson, Hilbourne (2015) Globalization, Sovereignty and Citizenship in the Caribbean.

Mona, Jamaica: The University of the West Indies Press.

Weaver, D. (2001). Mass tourism and alternative tourism in the Caribbean. In David Harrison (Ed.), Wallingford, UK: Tourism and the less developed world. CABI.

Wonders, N.A. & Michalowski, R. (2001). Bodies, borders, and sex tourism in a globalized world: a tale of two cities-Amesterdam and Havana. Social Problems, 48: 4, pp. 545-571.

World Travel & Tourism Council. (2013). Economic impact 2012. Retrieved downloads/world2012.pdf




How to Cite

Sprague-Silgado, J. (2017). The Caribbean Cruise Ship Business and the Emergence of a Transnational Capitalist Class. Journal of World-Systems Research, 23(1), 93–125.



Research Articles