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The Changing Winds of Cruising

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Not many things in life stay the same. Sometimes the changes delight us, and sometimes we regret the changes. The world of cruising has certainly changed quite dramatically. Should we be delighted or discouraged?
The industry was set in it’s current direction when it first moved from being ocean liner transport to a mode of vacation. The days when the only scheduled day-time activity was shuffleboard are long gone. The days when even the most expensive cabin on the ship had porthole windows is history. There are few that even remember when every meal was taken in the ship’s lone dining room. And the days when only the wealthy could afford to cruise are a distant memory.

As the revolution in cruising began there were only a few simple labels to recognize the types of ships you could choose from; budget, mass market, and luxury lines were the terms used to define and categorize ships.

In today’s cruise world there are more recognized cruise levels or categories than even devout industry watchers can keep up. There’s “budget”, “mass market”, “premium”, “premium plus”, “up market /luxury”, and “ultra luxe”. Now there’s also river cruising, barge cruising, adventure and explorer cruising… and probably more that I’m missing.

There was a period, when with the exception of luxury cruise lines, I felt all the other lines had much more in common in the cruise experience they offered than they were different. Today, it seems the industry is almost devoted to making themselves stand out in their differences from one cruise line to another.

No question there are some areas where they are following the trends set by their competitors, but much more so than in the past, they seem to be adapting from competitors innovations, and attempting to adapt them, and push the envelopes farther, to distinguish themselves.

I recall the furor on the Internet when the first few ships introduced alternate restaurants onboard. Cruise passengers were almost up in arms, insisting they wouldn’t pay for food onboard when food had traditionally been included in the fare. Today, it seems most passengers are disappointed when they sail on a ship where at least a couple of alternate (with surcharge) restaurants aren’t available to them. Now the newest NCL ships have 10 or more alternate restaurants, and on the new Disney Dream, Disney had opened Remy, the most expensive alternate restaurant, with a surcharge of $75 per person; $174 per person if guests choose to partake of the wine pairings menu.

Even when the cruise industry took steps to offer live entertainment on ships, they generally offered an in house cast for a couple of “Las Vegas style” production shows, magic acts, jugglers and comedians. When some lines moved towards featuring a “headliner” or two, they were often “name acts” who had passed their prime of celebrity.

Showroom acts onboard ships have now evolved to purpose built theaters for such well known acts as Blue Man Group on NCL’s Epic as well as Cirque Dreams & Dinner, to licensed Broadway musicals on RCI. And just last week RCI had current and still ultra popular, country artist Taylor Swift appearing on it’s newest ship, The Allure of the Seas. It does seem that the entertainment arena is the newest battle front for cruise line competition.

With very limited space available on the decks of ships, quite massive water parks are becoming common place, along with rock climbing, and rappelling walls, zip-lines, reverse bungee jumps, and the latest Aqua-duck water coaster from Disney.

Even the ultra luxe lines, where quiet conversation and some shuffleboard or ping pong was the standard for entertainment, are now rapidly expanding enrichment programs onboard, featuring lecturers world renowned on the topics they are presenting.

To many cruisers it’s a very exciting and interesting time. Yet, there are others who lament the more traditional days of cruising; who prefer the languid days of ocean going ships. Those who prefer to see passengers dress in their finery in the evening, rather than Tommy Bahama shirts and shorts, and where dinner itself was the most significant event of the day.

While I do have a soft spot in my heart for the more traditional way of cruising, I do think I’m personally also drawn to the excitement the cruise lines are creating on their ships these days. The limits of what may yet happen in the cruise industry seem only limited by the wildest imaginations of the designers, engineers, and executives within the industry.

Like the oceans the ships travel upon, the cruise industry is in a constant state of motion, broken up by occassionally still waters.

– A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising –




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Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time January 26, 2011 at 5:39 am

Well said, the above. A lot rings clear and true, however, one need only go back to the 1970’s to see that what is old is new again, and vice versa.

I was fortunate to take my first cruise in 1969 on the QE2, as a teen, without my parents. In those days, the cruise experience was benign, however, one cruised for the ship, ports being the diversion. I coveted ships from Paquet Cruises, Norwegian America Line, Holland America, Cunard Line, and Home Lines, and French Line, as well as Costa _ believe it or not, Costa WAS once good! – and the these lines offered the classic cruise. Later, Royal Viking Line fit right in.

Where I feel the cruise industry made the big SHIFT to keeping up with the Joneses and trying to outdo one another, came with the rivalry between NCL and then known as RCCL, now RCI. While these two built and out did one another, with the prize NORWAY being the megaship in her day, RCCL had to top it, and thus, the Song of America was built, the rest is cruise history, outdoing, and questing for the biggest, best and more unique ships were built, and has not stopped even now.

Where did Carnival fit in? Big ships, yes, newer and nicer, but they are not rediculously huge, nor do they offer less than the traditional cruise. One need look back to Carnivals very humble beginings to see how they took OLD liners, touched them up some, and offered what few offered, a fun cruise, and the very use of the word FUN at sea is owned by Carnival alone.

Carnival also owns a wide variety of cruise line products, from the iconic Cunard, to the chi chi Seabourn with mid range lines in between. Perporting to one-upmanship between RCI and NCL also means, we gotta top Carnival.

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