10-Year Anniversary of CruiseMates
Written by: Paul Motter
August 25 is the 10-year Anniversary of CruiseMates.com. We started in 1999 as the first ad-supported online cruise guide on the Internet. We have seen a lot of changes over the years, some good and some not, but we are still here and I can’t imagine ever going away.
Many of you know that Cruisemates was started by Anne Campbell and Paul Motter in 1999. In 1999 the advertising revenue model of the Internet was still new. Most cruise lines didn’t even have Web sites yet (most of them finally got online in 2000). Some of them started out with famously bad sites that had to be reinvented from scratch. We reinvented ourselves a few times.
10 years is an eternity in Internet time. Most people did not even know what the Internet was before 1995 – when Amazon was introduced. In that context CruiseMates is practically a reptile of Internet history.
History…. we started with a nightly cruise chat, basic message boards, cruise reviews, cruise news and bargains listings, a newsletter and virtual cruises. Our first article, a feature by Kuki with an original picture by Paul Motter, showed our humorous side and won a lot of converts to our site immediately. Here it is in its original form: Middle Aged and Sexy.
We also had the support of several excellent cruise and travel writers who are still around; Fran Golden, Sam and Arline Bleecker and Mary Ann Hemphill. Honestly, we wouldn’t have made it without these fine folks and so I extend a warm and special thank you.
We innovated some ideas for travel content on the Internet. We were among the first cruise sites to use video inside of a cruise feature article, as early as 2000 for the introduction of Costa Atlantica in Venice. We started a service we called “cruise bazaar” where people could tell us what kind of cruise they were looking for and travel agents could bid on the price – there was no money made there, just a free service. That was before most cruise lines implemented flat pricing policies which has changed this concept into something different today.
We were accepting user-submitted cruise reviews long before most major hotel and destination sellers were doing so (although I cannot say we invented that idea, it was not so common). We also had one of the first complete sets of cruise line and ship reviews online.
How has the industry changed in the last 10 years?
In 1999 the biggest story was the introduction of Voyager of the Seas. At the time the ship was doing what Oasis is about to do, take cruise ships to an entirely new dimension. We heard, “it’s too big, you’ll never get me on that thing.”
Now towards the end of 2009 we are close to the launch of Oasis of the Seas, the newest “World’s Largest Cruise Ship.” Perhaps what is most amazing is that during the intervening 10 years there have not been that many ships built that exceed the size of Voyager from ten years ago. Only four larger have been built so far, three Freedom-class from Royal Caribbean and Queen Mary from Cunard. Norwegian Epic will be bigger when she is introduced next May. Oasis and her sister ship Allure will also be bigger. That is only seven actual vessels bigger than the biggest cruise ship built ten years ago, and only two not from Royal Caribbean. That says something about Royal Caribbean.
Since the Freedom-class is largely based upon the Voyager-class, what we have really seen is a ten-year cycle for the next generation of ships to emerge converging with the lifetime of CruiseMates so far. Soon, with Oasis of the Seas and Norwegian Epic, we are about to embark on a new cycle in the cruise industry.
Between September 11 and the current economic meltdown it has been a challenging decade. What were some of the major changes in the last ten years?
There was the acquisition of NCL by Star Cruises of Malaysia (and now Apollo Management as an equal partner). There was the brutal battle for Princess Cruises – originally announced as a merger with Royal Caribbean to create the biggest cruise company in the world. Then Carnival upped the ante and won the shareholders only to have the deal face a year of scrutiny by the Trade Commissions here and in Europe before approval.
There was the demise of Renaissance Cruises only to spawn two brand new highly regarded cruise lines; Oceania Cruises and Azamara.
There was end of the marriage of two ships, Independence and Patriot of the United States Lines (formerly America Hawaii Lines), which also merged with Delta Queen Steamboats to become American Classic Voyages. Unfortunately, all of those ships have now gone away and the state of U.S.-flagged cruise lines is at its worst ever.
There was the highly laudable effort by NCL to create a fully U.S.-flagged cruise line in Hawaii with NCL-America. They committed years of struggle to create a three-ship American-flagged and crewed cruise line sailing in U.S. waters, only to see it struggle financially due to union costs and the inability to compete with other cruise markets. NCL also lost its flagship, the Norway, to a devastating explosion, and acquired the SS United States only to find it an unprofitable prospect. If you ever had to give a company credit for trying it would be NCL, and now the company is finally reporting that it is doing better than ever. NCL-America is down to one U.S.-flagged ship.
As for CruiseMates, we were acquired by Internet Brands in 2006 and that has been a beneficial alliance with a solid company that has kept us growing through good times and now through tougher economic times.
And what about the Internet, how has that changed? I was a Seatrade conference in 1999 where somebody said “in ten years there will not a single cruise sale that does not have at least one Internet component.” I believe it he was exactly right. Whether the original cruiser does his research online and books directly over the Internet, or the travel agent books it online for the cruiser, or if the cruise documents are printed from the Internet, at some point every almost cruise sold today has some kind of Internet component (with rare exceptions, of course).
CruiseMates is so proud to have played a part in the early days of the Internet cruise world. 10 years online makes us an institution in the abbreviated world of Internet time. And so this year I have a list of people to thank for contributing to the success of Cruisemates:
First of all, I have to single out Kuki who has been with CruiseMates since day one and is still here today. I was just watching his video as a stand up comic on the last John Heald Blogger’s Cruise. I honestly don’t know what we would have done without him.
He has coordinated all of the CruiseMates Cruises and will be hosting the upcoming culinary cruise we have scheduled on Norwegian Epic with Matt Sigel from Hell’s Kitchen. Over the years we have had dozens of successful Cruisemates cruises and we will continue to host these as long as we can.
I also want to thank the following people for letting us be in their world:
Mary Ann Hemphill
Sam and Arline Bleecker
Mary Lou Scanlon
Todd de Haven
Lou Ann Kane
Todd de Haven
Jen de la Cruz
Press Coverage by:
ABC World News
Of course all of our advertisers who have supported us for many years: Cruise agencies and cruise lines. Frank del Rio of Oceania for being one of our first advertisers (Renaissance at the time) and Ron Russo of Best Price Cruises, Pat Neidhart of Cruises-N-More, Nancy Bogert, Brad Anderson of America’s Vacation Center, Alan Fox of Vacations to Go. iCruise, CruiseBrothers, CruiseCompete and all the rest. Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, NCL, Holland America, Oceania Cruises, Avalon, Red October.
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