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Why Cruising Is Better Today Than In The “Good Old Days”?

Written by: Kuki

People often the lament about what’s gone missing from the “good old days” of cruising. But do many of us even have an idea of what the “good old days” of cruising means, or when it was?
In the “really” “good old days” cruise ships had little to do with cruising as we know it today. The ships weren’t really cruise ships. They were ocean liners, and ocean liners were transportation. A past definition of cruising might have read: Cruising… living on a ship for several days with the purpose of moving from place to place. Today’s definition might read the same, with the small addition of … for pleasure. IE – Cruising : living on a ship for several days with the purpose of moving from place to place for pleasure.
Today, not many of us  have many personal experiences of those days before cruising moved closer to what we know of it today; an experience on a ship most often used as a traveling vacation. With many variations during its growth, cruising can certainly also add much to your vacation in terms of adventure and education.
When people now speak of the “good old days of cruising” they are most often referring the more recent history of the industry  rather than when ships were solely transportation. In fact, I think most would be talking about only the past several decades. My personal experiences only go back the mid-nineties, but in the past 16 years I’ve certainly seen changes…..

COSTS

I think most of us can remember the days when even considering a cruise as a vacation was thought of as a possible “once in a lifetime experience” because of the extravagant cost to book a cruise. In the 1970s, 80s and early 90s, if we knew someone who had been on a cruise, we knew they were wealthy.

In Dec. 1994, we took our first cruise, and paid more for a tiny inside cabin on a 5 day cruise to the Mexican Riviera, than we would if we booked a cabin, complete with private balcony, on the same Mexican Riviera itinerary today.

Can anyone think of anything that costs less today, in actual dollars, than it did 16 years ago, not even considering what inflation has done to that dollar’s value?

ACCOMMODATION

While there’s many who can argue some things about cruising used to be better, realistically I don’t think anyone could make a valid argument about the improvement in cruise ship accommodation.

It wasn’t that long ago that cabins in the 125 sq ft. range were the norm on cruise ships. Truly it’s hard to imagine how people thought it was luxurious to have a cabin that size, and on some ships even smaller. On any ship built in the past decade, the average size of a cabin is nearly half again as large as that. And where a ship used to offer perhaps a dozen suites with private balconies, today’s cruise ships often have 80% or more of their available accommodations offering private verandas.

Perhaps the biggest improvements in ship’s accommodattion has been in the quality of the beds, bedding, and towels. It used to be common for the beds in your cabins to feel more like military cots, than beds. Over the past few years every major cruise line has upgraded the quality of their beds. In some cases so much so that people like them so much they are able to, and do, order them for their homes. You’re now more likely to find high thread count bedding, lovely duvets, and thick fluffy towels these days, which are as good as that used in any four star hotels. A vast improvement!

COMMUNICATION

The changes which have come about in regard to communications will be viewed to some as a boom, and to others a bust. To communicate from a ship used to be either nearly impossible, or incredibly expensive. When I wrote my first “Virtual Cruise Report” for CruiseMates (more than 10 years ago) , I had to put the text on a floppy disc and then take that to engineering, where they would load and send it. In the ‘90s a quick phone call home from the ship, if you could get connected, could easily cost $150.

Though phone calls from your in-cabin telephone or, as is now possible - using your own cell phone can still be quite expensive, it’s not prohibitively so (depending on your cell phone carrier’s roaming charges). Most modern cruise ships now have bow to stern Internet access available for guests, or at the very least connect ability via the ship’s Internet Café, and selected Wi-Fi hot spots. There’s certainly many people who could care less, but instant communication has become such a normal part of our lives on land, it can be problematic for many, in terms of both their personal and professional lives, if they are unreachable.

Undoubtedly there are many people who are able to cruise now because of the improved communications, who otherwise would have had to choose a different type of vacation.

On Oasis of the Seas passengers are now renting phones which allow them to keep in touch with their travel mates on the ship. Personally, I’m not enthused with this, but I can certainly understand its usefulness to families with younger children or teens.

Unfortunately we are already seeing instances where phones are ringing during shows in the theater, dining rooms, on pool decks, where they are just as annoying as they are on land… when used inappropriately!

I could certainly do without the passenger phones, but there’s no question having Internet availability has made it much easier for me… understandably for my writing for CruiseMates, but also to handle issues that may develop at home. It allows me, and I’m sure many others, to relax and enjoy ourselves more than before it was available.

These days the staff and crew onboard almost all have telephones (usually limited to onboard conectivity) allowing instant communications from supervisors and officers. Though some crew may find their accessibility less than ideal, in the case of urgent or emergency situations this communication will save time, and could save lives.

ENTERTAINMENT

We’ve come a very long way from the days when the primary entertainment on ships was shuffleboard, and perhaps a guest lecturer. It had become typical on a seven day cruise to have two “Las Vegas style” productions shows (Vegas style maybe, but Vegas quality was rare), then a comedian or two, or perhaps a juggler, or ventriloquist. There was a time where some of the lines moved to “Headline” entertainers; mostly entertainers with some name recommendation, that were on their way down (no longer able to command the big bucks of Vegas), or lesser known talents, making their way up.

This model, though still somewhat the standard, is crumbling. The new entertainment standard is being set with new ships like Oasis of the Seas carrying a licensed version of Hairspray, ice skating shows, Flow-riders, and the new Aqua-theater, etc. All new ships coming out the shipyards follow with more and more intricate water parks to entertain guests during the day as well. Rather than a comedian appearing once, Carnival Cruise Line has now introduced Comedy Clubs on several of their ships, where there are 5 comedy shows nightly.

And now in July, with the debut of Norwegian Cruise Line’s new Epic, Las Vegas really is coming to the sea, with purpose built venues to host the Blue Man Group and Legends in Concert (both Las Vegas mainstays), Second City Comedy Troupe, as well as the Cirque Dreams & Dinner concept we’ve recently wrote so much about here at CruiseMates.

These innovations are going to force action by the competition, and no doubt change cruise ship entertainment completely. Even NCL is going to be forced to compete with the quality of entertainment on Epic on their other ships.

In fact, the changes to the entertainment on cruise ships may be the most interesting thing to watch in the industry for the next decade.

DINING

One might think that I have to be “out to lunch” to think the food and dining experience on mass market ships is better today than it was even a decade ago. And to some extent they would be absolutely correct. Dinner onboard a cruise ship was an nightly EVENT; to some the highlight of the day, where you’d be seated at your assigned spot in the dining room, at the assigned time, and be served by white-gloved professional “European trained” service staff. It wasn’t unusual to sit down and be presented with a broad menu featuring an appetizer course, a salad course, perhaps a pasta course, a wide variety of entrees, and ending with a dessert course. While those courses are all available on today’s ships, they’ve managed to list everything together now, other than the appetizers, in hopes that guests will limit themselves to one from list A , an entree, and a dessert.

I’m not about to try and convince anyone that the quality of food in the dining room has improved from what used to be served.

However, now most cruise lines have moved away from that single dining room model (and those which haven’t certainly are going to be). The biggest impact, and in my view ,improvement, has come with the addition of all variety of dining choices for cruise ship passengers.

Initially the advent of restaurants outside of the dining room, that initially all came with an extra charge if you chose to dine there, was met with extreme scepticism, and even indignation… that one would have to pay for food on a cruise ship. However, when Norwegian Cruise Line, who’d had a rather dismal reputation regarding their culinary departments, introduced “Free Style Cruising”, where you could eat in a variety of different venues, when you wanted, and with whom you wanted, it would, in a short time, begin a movement to  entirely new dining experiences throughout the cruise industry. While some lines have resisted the change, to some extent each has begun to fall in line with the trend. In July when NCL Epic, Norwegian’s newest ship debuts, with 21 different dining options, it will no doubt push the envelope (and the competition) further.

It’s my view, that while there will be those who continue to lament the loss of “traditional” dining on ships, the wide acceptance and even demand, for the “Freestyle” model of more choices and more flexibility will become the norm, and will ultimately be considered a vast improvement.

No doubt there are avid cruisers, and cruise ship historians, who still long for what was, and in regard to some things I’ll stand on their side as well. But, overall I think the innovations in the world of cruising are going to keep us interested, and continue to advance and yes “improve”, while further proving that a cruise is still the very best value for people’s vacation dollars!

- A View From the Kuki Side of Cruising -

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

Comment from Lisa
Time April 21, 2010 at 6:22 am

I remember the ship of Canada Steamship Line cruising up and down the St-Lawrence River with honeymooners onboard,we use to call those ship “Wedding Cakes “. Nice article Kuki

Comment from Rob H
Time April 21, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Good in depth article,
You will have to tell us what you think of the 5,000 – 6,000 passengers ones and their ports and logistics.

My first Cruise (travel one) was to Halifax on a Banana boat for WWII War Brides and their children.
We had friends who worked on the Empress of Canada , Empress of France during the Atlantic summer crossings before the advent of the Jet allowing people to travel at an affordable rate.

I was a child then but only recently got into cruising as you say for a vacation.
Course paying $100,000 plus each for a World Cruise of 105 days is the new not as attainable for most of us.

Comment from peggy smith
Time April 26, 2010 at 12:40 pm

it is a good thing your article was “better today” than vice-versa——-i have been cruising a lot longer than you have –since the late 70′s—-and, i can tell you IT IS DEFINITELY NOT BETTER TODAY—first, let me say, that it is probably a matter of simple exposure to when this first started and a matter of personal opinion (and everbody has one)—ncl was the one who started the carib cruising from miami–most people think it was carnival—ncl had a wonderful little ship called the sunward II–i absolutely loved that ship–it held about 800 passengers–was on it 2 or 3 times—–i think, most people think carnival started this, but, they are wrong—i could write a book about the old days of cruising the carib for a vacation—or, at least a very long letter, a carefully composed letter to the presidents of all the cruise lines–just to let them know and be aware of lots of stuff—–which i have tried to talk myself into many times, but, i do not have the patience nor the time for that–however, i do wish that someone like yourself who writes about cruising professionally would schedule a visit to me for a very long interview who could give some eye openings to the current cruise lines and the people who are in authorative positions to make changes and positions which would be most appetizing to long time cruisers like myself—i have been on 50 some odd cruises—i am in all probability addicted—but, let me tell you, i do remember when——the entire industry has gone down in great depths since the late 70′s——-it all started with two major changes—1, was the alternate dining venues—which i am not against—and, 2, the extorting money from passengers to pay the employees salary, which, i am totally against——the service on a ship has suffered tremendously since that—first of all, the room stewards and dining room staff made much more money when people handed them tips than they make now—and don’t try to tell me differently, i talk to too many of them to know better—-but, that is the biggest change and the area that has changed the most—-those people don’t have to work for their money any more–they get paid the same, not matter how slack they are–they might not last as long working on a ship–but, they get paid the same—i could, as i said, write a book on this, but, i will leave it to the professionals like yourself, i just wish that someone, somewhere, someday, would write it as it truly was, and, is now———and, as far as the ships themselves go, i much prefer the old REAL SHIPS compared to the neon, plastic, and glass things today that they call ships——the NORWAY–which was, by far, my favorite ship–was in a class all by herself–i was on it many times, and would jump on it once a month now if she was still around–i cried when they had to scrap her——the old nordam was the last of the real ships, and was on her many times also—-there are no real ships left today, unfortunately—————–one of the biggest things that really irk me today, is the fact that the ships do not enforce their own rules, like being on time for the dining room at dinner and the dress codes for dinner——-there are people who show up 30-45-even 60 minutes late—-and shorts, flip flops, etc. even though the daily programs tell them not to do that—how i long for the days when dinner was at 6 pm or 8 pm and fifteen minutes later the dining room doors were closed—and people were dressed properly——in the olden days your only other option was room service—–now, there many other alternatives for eating,dressed any which way, and, they still let people in late, dressed anywhich way——-it causes many problems in the dining room, i cannot understand why they let passengers get away with that
as i said i could go on and on—but, at least i got to vent a little
get in touch with me anytime for a talk
peggy smith

Comment from Cruise Reviews
Time May 20, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Girt your definition of Cruising explain all the difference between old age cruising and today cruising, people used to cruise in old time just for transportation but now they are cruising for pleasure also because they have many other sources of transportation and cruising only be done by cruise lovers. Off course now there are bundle of facilities in cruises which were not in old time, Cruise are sailing city contains all facilities of life.

Comment from Thomas
Time October 17, 2010 at 5:38 am

The flaw in your article is simply the changes you cite as being “good,” aren’t.

Give me back the Carnival and NCL of the mid-80′s.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time November 13, 2010 at 6:41 am

I have pondered over a response to cruising today versus the good old days for some time now, and have finally responded.

My first cruise was in 1969 on the brand new Queen Elizabeth 2, I was a teen then. I must admit that nothing has changed on Cunard line since those past years, EXCEPT, Cunard has only gotten better with age, sort of the Meryl Streep of the sea.

I have sailed on what were considered THE BEST passenger lines of their day: Home LInes, Royal Viking Line, Sun Line, Norwegian America Line, Paquet French Cruises, Exploration Cruise Line, French Line, as well as others. If anyone has found this old post, how many of you remember these cruise lines. What happened to them? They did not conform to the needs of the public in general, most had ships of state, subsidized by their countrys government, and thus, they failed. Some of the ships those lines owned are still sailing with new owners today, thankfully, other, regretably, have been scrappped. Todays cruise lines are major -big time corporate money making machines, no profit, they too would fail. Whatever one may think about the food, towel animals, prices for photos, paying for additional things on board, well, thats the way it is. I for one do not like to be nickel and dimed, BUT – that is reality on most ships today.

Years back, one generally boarded their cruise ship around noon and had NOTHING to eat until the main dinner, in the MDR, first seating around 7pm, give or take an hour. The first dinner was usually lousy, hopefully, the dinners got better as the cruise proceeded. Room service, even on the best of them, was very limited. No bottled water, free or otherwise, no soda cards, no wine programs, no wine tastings NO buffets by the pool, no such thing as a Lido buffet, no pizza, Food amounts were sparse, and there was a reason for the midnight buffet, passengers were starved by then.
However, most cruise lines served caviar on the fancy nights, as well as melon with parma, pates and lobster, the “better” lines even made special things per your request with advance notice.

Linens? thin sheets, lumpy pillows, yes, bad mattresses, no such thing as a king or queen bed configuration, many ships, even on QE2 had upper/lower berths. No Fridge .Towels, small, skimpy, rough. TV’s en suite – not. Bathtubs – only in the suites. Balconies/verandas please – brand new ships were built well into the 1990′s without them.

Speaking of new ships, two lovely ships that I really loved, the Cunard Countess and Cunard Princess, cost a mere $17 million when they were built, Compare that to the $500 million plus todays ships cost.

This great perk has passed on to some extent, FLY/Cruise, free air to Florida for a Caribbean cruise for example. Some lines support a fly system to a degree, but, it is not as prevalent as it was. In the old days the ships sailed from NYC, or Boston, in the dead of winter, usually with two days down and two back, from the Caribbean, in freezing cold, snowy, weather, often with seas that were outrageously rough. As you sailed north, your tan vanished. I recall having the ice cut in the Hudson river to alow the Oceanic and QE2 to exit the pier.

Toilets, oh, those new ones irritate me so, the very noise alone =- well, let me say, in the old days, the toilets were like ones found in a house, a real flusher, and real water, water supplied by the sea the ship sailed in. The waste flushed out to sea.Well, pollution laws put an end to that.

Casinos were a joke. Often one gaming table and a dozen slots. The QE2 always had a large casino, the Norway was fitted with one.

Lavish shows? No way. Ceilings were low and the main show lounges generally did not have tiered seating, and the lighting was very low tech. Lip syncing was popular.

With all of these short comings, why do I still cruise? It is by far the best vacation, for me and my family, ever. Sure, I stay in hotels and resorts, I go to Disney, I travel a lot, BUT there is nothing like a cruise,. I will not, and never NEVER put down any cruise line that I personally do not care for, because, for my self imposed dislike, there are thousands that do in fact like that cruise line. I share this comment only to enlighten.

What did cruises cost then? Look at these prices, and look at what you pay for today, and what you get for those hard earned bucks.

Home Lines, 10 day Caribean, NY/NY no air, inside cabin – 1979

$899.00 per person

QE2, 14 days inside cabin, two lower beds NY/NY no air 1971

$1,299.00 per person

Royal Viking Line, 14 days, outside standard cabin Sydney/Papaetee no air, 1982

$6,500.00 per peson

Chandris Fantasy cruises 10 day, on The Victoria, San Juan/San Juan no air, outside deluxe suite

$799.00 per person 1988

These are prices from cruises that I took. Port charges, by the way, wer usually in the $150.00 range per person, and were additional. The actual port of embarkation were cruddy, not at all modern. Baggage claim was woefull.

I recall cocktails, called “highballs” way back, cost $1.50. There were no specials of the day, no frozen drinks, no mojitos
So, look at what a cruise costs today, and what you get for the money. Basically, what you are charged extra for was not offered years ago to begin with.

So, what did a passenger pay for those cruises? Here is an example, from my own experiences.

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