Why Cruising Is Better Today Than In The “Good Old Days”?
Written by: Kuki
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?
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!
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.
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.
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!
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Posted: April 20th, 2010 under Kuki.