Modern Cruise Liners: Fun, Food and Relaxation
By Stephen Gomez
Americans love cruises. What began as a European adventure has become a custom in the States. According to the latest industry data, American embarkations account for over two-thirds of all cruises. Those numbers are expected to hold steady as vacationers search for more affordable travel options in the wake of the economic recession. Let us take a moment to review the history of this growing industry.
One of the earliest ocean-going vessels to offer comfortable accommodations to paying passengers was the Black Ball Line out of New York City. In 1818, the company made room for passengers on their shipping runs between the U.S. and England. The popularity of these trips proved that tourists would travel by sea if the crew paid more attention to them than they did the cargo.
The first steamships were introduced in the early 1830s and an industry was born. These new vessels dominated the market by offering passengers luxury and first class service on modern mail transport ships. Ships from Britain and North America led the way and offered an unheard of fortnight (fourteen-day) transatlantic crossing. Legendary ships like the Britannia and the Lusitania were the very first luxury liners.
As the industry continued to grow over the next few decades, the liners that offered larger rooms and better service rose to the top. It soon became clear to industry insiders that transporting passengers was far more profitable than delivering the mail. By the 1860s, most ships catered solely to paying customers and did not carry cargo. Modern amenities like electric lights were added at about this time along with more deck space and popular forms of entertainment. This was the fons et origo of the modern cruise industry. The idea or concept that the experience aboard the ship was more important than simply getting from A to B was revolutionary.
By the early twentieth century, the first superliners were developed in Germany. These enormous cruise ships were essentially floating hotels. Their opulence and commitment to the comfort of their guest has never been surpassed. Legendary ships like the Lusitania and the Mauritania created an image of adventure and romance. Speed and design were no longer deciding factors as guests preferred larger, more luxurious ships to smaller ones.
The old-time romance and adventure of the transatlantic crossing came to an end when the first non-stop flights to Europe were schedules in 1958. Within a matter of months, the transatlantic business completely dried up and many ocean liners and passenger ships went out of business. Those that did not go down to Davy Jones's locker would go on to create the modern cruise ship.
The American cruise industry was struggling mightily at the start of the 1960s. Losing Europe as a destination meant that ships no longer had any popular, romantic ports of call. But then geopolitics stepped in. You see, dozens of Caribbean islands that were still colonies began to ask for and were granted their independence from European powers. Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Barbados, and the Bahamas all became independent island nations between 1962 and 1973. And since these new nations were in desperate need of reliable sources of revenue, they all made deals with the remaining cruise lines.
All modern ships are charged port taxes and fees. This simple agreement has made tourism one of the most consistent forms of income for islands in the Caribbean. The cruise lines typically pass these fees along to passengers, which means that the more ports a ship stops at, the higher the price of the average trip. As a result, many of the larger cruise lines offer budget packages where the ships don't any stops. They simply ply the waters near the coast, turnaround, and come home.
Where's the fun in that? The truth is that most cruise lines these day focus on casual travel and entertainment. They target middle-class passengers who never would've been able to afford a room on one of the luxury liners of the past. Rather than the romance of the sea, the new image of the modern cruise ship is that of a "fun ship" for families. There is truly something for everyone on these floating carnivals.
Unlike the ocean liners of old, most contemporary ships are designed to offer passengers non-stop entertainment regardless of destination. In fact, many passengers prefer non-stop trips, because they have a better time on board than they do ashore. The average modern cruise ship will offer several restaurants, nightclubs, private staterooms, and a casino.
And when it comes to activities, families will never run out of fun and exciting things to do. There are pools, basketball courts, weight rooms, tennis courts, running tracks, spas, nightclubs, and bars. Ships also hire onboard entertainers like comedians, magicians, and singers to perform nightly shows. With so much to do, it's no wonder that the average cruise ship weighs three times as much as the Titanic did.
Stephen Gomez is a freelance writer who writes about several topics including discount cruises.
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Views expressed in the article are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of CaribbeanChoice, its staff or members.