What’s Been The Biggest Change in the Cruise Industry This Century?
Written by: Kuki
Size of ships is probably the most obvious change. Over a decade ago when I began writing for CruiseMates one of the first articles I wrote was part of an argument “small ships VS mega ships”. At the time the “mega ships” we were referring to were just over 100,000 Gross Tons.
How times have changed! These days the 90,000 to 110,000 ton ships are often referred to as mid-size ships. In fact, as ships have kept getting larger and larger, it’s changed the entire verbiage when talking about ship size. There is no longer any standard used by travel writers and industry watchers when discussing ship sizes. And, we have cruise ships running the gamut, from under 10,000 tons up to 220,000 tons.
Other than perhaps Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, pretty much every cruise ship had a minimum of 2 formal nights during a seven night cruise, and more on cruises of lengthier duration. Aside from Formal Nights, where tuxedos were recommended dress for men, and many women wore glitz-filled gowns, most cruise lines also had Semi-formal nights, where men were expected (and most did) wear a sports jacket, shirt and tie. Each day, the ship’s onboard “daily” stated the suggested dress code for that day.
Today, evening wear on ships has become decidedly more casual. Many cruise lines now have only one night designated as Formal Night, and seeing men in tuxedos onboard is becoming as rare as seeing whales… they exist, but you have to be in the right place at the right time.
Several cruise lines have eliminated Formal Nights all together, or at least made the dress requirements for those nights optional. Even on the ship’s which maintain designated Formal Nights, it’s very rare to see a passenger turned away from the dining rooms for being under-dressed.
And, in fact, even some of the luxury lines, now have entire cruises designated “Smart Casual”; meaning passengers should simply wear casual cruise-wear, such as a polo shirt and slacks for men (and equivalent for women).
For the past two years Carnival has allowed passengers to wear “dress shorts” (meaning no short-shorts) to the dining room on their designated “casual nights”.
The norm used to be cruise ships would have one or two dining rooms on the ship, and passengers would be assigned a table in a specific dining room and time for dinner, and the only other option for dining in the evening was room service or the nightly midnight buffet.
Ships had casual “Lido Deck restaurants”, for breakfast and lunch, but for a time even those would be closed during dinner, to re-open later for the midnight buffets.
Open seating (dine when you like) options were strictly the domain of the luxury cruise lines.
The option of evening dining in the Lido Deck restaurants has become the norm, led by Princess early on with 24 Hr. dining in their Horizon Court restaurants.
Beginning in the late 90s alternate restaurants became the newest trend to break out in the industry, but most required an additional fee, over and above the cruise fare, to dine there, at least on the mass market lines. Initially most ships only had one such alternative restaurants, but that too soon changed, and today numerous ships feature several choices; with the new Norwegian Epic now offering 20 different restaurant choices onboard.
Speaking of Norwegian Cruise Line, when they introduced their very innovative “Freestyle Dining”, with even their early “Freestyle ships” offering several dining alternatives, where you could dine when you wanted, and with whom you wanted, it set cruise ship dining throughout the industry on a new course.
Today, pretty much every cruise line has some version of choice in the time guests can have dinner. For some, with only one dining room, or a single galley, the transition to allow guests to dine when they choose hasn’t been a fluid one. It’s simply not as easy to adapt their physical plants to handle the system as it is for those ships which are purpose built to handle it.
So today dining choices, in both times, and selection of restaurants is quite broad throughout the industry, and the trend seems quite likely to continue to grow.
Long ago selling shore excursions in ports of call used to be entirely under the control and directives of the Cruise Director. Basically the cruise lines allowed the Cruise Directors to supplement their incomes by selling shore excursions.
Eventually the cruise lines saw the profit potential of shore excursions, and the tour operators in ports of call became much larger and more organized. The cruise lines took over the job of establishing relationships and contracts with the tour operators, and set up their own separate shore excursion departments.
But, even as late as the turn of this century, the cruise lines were limiting themselves to selling their offered shore excursions to guests only once they were onboard the ship.
In fact, several retired Cruise Directors, past cruise line employees, and entrepreneurial individuals, began companies promoting shore tours for cruise passengers that they could pre-book, before they cruised, and normally at a rate lower than the prices the cruise lines were selling them for. (There still are competitive private companies offering shore excursions at a reduced rate from cruise line pricing).
For some time there was a mini-battle between the cruise line shore excursion departments and the private tour suppliers. Some cruise lines were demanding exclusivity contracts from their tour suppliers to combat the competition of the private tour companies, amongst other strategies.
Then the cruise lines woke up to the Internet…. Which I suggest is by far the biggest change to the cruise industry! An immense impact!
When I began writing for CruiseMates, the cruise lines had virtually no Internet presence! As this century began the cruise lines very slowly began developing their own web sites. But for some years most had only the most basic web sites, and were at best simply supplying promotional material.
Considering the financial resources the cruise lines have it was a surprisingly long bit of time before they began to embrace the technology of the Internet. Today, you see the cruise lines changing and updating their web sites often, and adding all types of passenger business functions to their capabilities.
Referring back to the “Shore Excursion” portion above; allowing and encouraging guests to pre-book (and in some cases pre-pay) their excursions, had turned into a huge income generator for the cruise lines. As a result, no doubt they’ve put a huge dent in their competition with the private shore excursion providers.
But the impact of the Internet has been so much more than that alone.
Today, using the Internet, people can book their cruises, complete their documentation process, print those documents, print their luggage tags, and communicate directly with the cruise lines for all variety of purposes. And, of course, all these types of transactions are money savers compared to how they used to be done; when documents were mailed out to travel agents in a package, along with luggage tags.
In turn, the cruise lines can, and do, track their customers and potential customers, and even contact them directly if they choose to.
Until not very long ago, Travel Agents used to have to place a phone call to the cruise lines to request pricing, and had to call back to complete the booking if it came to fruition.
Today, because of the Internet, Travel Agents can simply go online, using industry dedicated software, and gather price quotes, do bookings, make changes, etc. Pretty much anything they need to do to communicate with the cruise line can now efficiently be done online, via the Internet.
On the Travel Agents side of the business, the Internet is not only useful for completing most of their business with the cruise lines. It has allowed all that have the desire to, to expand their business with an Internet presence, or to do business with even their local customers, efficiently, via email.
Aside from the ease of doing business for cruise sellers and cruise lines, the Internet has also created an incredible flow of information regarding the industry. Where a decade or so ago the number of web sites dedicated to cruise information could be counted on one hand, today there are hundreds.
There are cruise web sites, and now hundreds, if not thousands, of bloggers exchanging cruise information and opinions at the speed of light.
If some sort of event occurs on a ship, because of the Internet, it’s rare for that event not to be reported on within minutes. Many people are spending their own money and vacation time to supply “live from” reports. The fact that passengers can now purchase Internet packages, and communicate with their families at home, or continue to do business is also quite an amenity; perhaps allowing people who might not otherwise be able to get away, become paying passengers. As a result the cruise lines have not only broadened their potential customer base, they’ve also found another revenue producer.;
Cruisers are communicating in advance and arranging to meet on board once they cruise. User reviews posted on different web sites are very popular amongst cruise enthusiasts.
The cruise lines haven’t left all of this Internet interest un-noticed either. Many have started their own Internet forums, for their guests to communicate and exchange information. The cruise lines have also moved into the blogosphere, with everyone from Cruise Directors to company Presidents with their own Blogs for those interested, and responding to questions consistently.
I can’t write on this topic only referring to the positives. The down-side to the explosion of this cruise information highway is, of course, the possibility of the passing of misinformation at lightening speed.
The Internet is VAST, and there’s no way to control that flow of misinformation completely. It makes it very important for people to check and double check to attempt to verify facts, and check opinions.
Of course the growth and imagination on the Internet has had dramatic affects on most aspects of lives. But, it’s difficult to argue that of all the amazing, and mind boggling changes we’ve seen in the cruise industry, the Internet has had the largest overall effect in this century.
And, as the saying goes… It’s only just begun!
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Posted: July 27th, 2010 under Paul Motter.