This year, more than nine million Americans will choose a cruise for a vacation. It's not a new idea. In the 1920s, a vessel was built to cater to the rich; its name was Stella Polaris. This was much like a private club, holding some 170 passengers in luxury. It sailed through Scandinavia, the Mediterranean, around Africa and even the world. The idea caught on and a vacation at sea began to grow. In fact, several steamship companies sent their trans-Atlantic liners cruising during the winter months.
In the 1930s, more companies started sending their trans-Atlantic ships on cruise itineraries, mostly in the winter months, to the Caribbean, South America, Africa and around the world. Even during the Great Depression, the very rich continued to cruise. Canadian Pacific Steamship Lines built the magnificent Empress of Britain, which came to life in 1931. It was a large vessel for its time at 42.348 gross registered tons, holding more than 1,100 passengers. It, too, was sent on long cruises during the winter months, including around the world. Often, when ships of this era were doing cruises, only the first-class sections were sold. Steamship companies saw the profit in cruises with their trans-Atlantic liners so others began to get a piece of the action, such as the French Line, and Italian Line, to name only two.
The rich found their favorite ship and usually returned each year to visit new destinations and to be with friends they had met on previous cruises who also returned each year. These were very special social traveling events.
After World War II, the Cunard Line commissioned the building of its first purpose-built Atlantic liner and cruise ship, the famous Caronia. It was more than 34,000 gross tons and carried some 1,000 passengers. Almost at the beginning of its service, the ship was principally doing medium and long cruises and it became the premier luxury world cruise liner of its time. It was painted in several shades of green and became known as the "green goddess." Cunard only sold the first-class cabins on these voyages, which held 561 guests with a crew of 600. Talk about class, the Caronia was known for its accommodations, service, food and its snob appeal. It was the first ship to have private facilities in every first-class cabin and featured a permanent swimming pool.
The cruises would spend several days in some of the more interesting ports to allow inland visits to import sights. It was on the Caronia that a few people opted to live aboard the ship for 11 months of each year and only leave when it went into its yearly dry dock maintenance period.
During the 1950s, more and more ships were sent on cruises, usually during the winter when the Atlantic was cold and rough. The Norwegian and Swedish Lines also catered to a select cruise clientele with famous club-like ships of this era.
In the 1960s, both summer and year-round cruising became popular and soon more and more ships were sailing out of New York and Miami. Norwegian Cruise Line was one of the first to build ships for service to the Caribbean. Soon came Commodore Cruise Lines, then Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and many more companies wanted to get into this profitable business.
In the 1970s, an upscale cruise line came into being, and it was known as the Royal Viking Line. It owned three luxury sister ships and sent their vessels on fascinating itineraries all over the world. Meals were enjoyed in one leisurely dining room sitting and the service was beyond reproach.
Royal Cruise Line with their 10,000-ton Golden Odyssey began the fly-cruise operation, which included the air travel and cruise. The ship was built to carry exactly the same number of passengers as their chartered World Airways 747. It was marketed principally in the West and most flight departures were from Los Angeles and return.
The ship cruised the Mediterranean in the summer and Mexico and trans-Canal during the winter.
Popular cruising came to the West Coast with Princess Cruises. They departed from Los Angeles and San Francisco with cruises to Mexico, Alaska and trans-Canal.
Princess also offered cruises to the South and North Pacific with their Island and Pacific Princess ships. These ships were given a tremendous boost when they were cast as the "Love Boat" and they were identical and both were used in the popular TV series, which ran for 11 years on network television.
The entire cruise industry gained great rewards from this TV show, as viewers saw what cruise ships were like and they wanted to enjoy the same fun and glamour as was depicted on the show.
The company that most changed the cruise business was Carnival Cruise Line. They began with older trans-Atlantic liners, slightly changing them for warm weather cruising and catering to an "everyman market." Entertainment was geared to the younger and middle-aged set and since the ships were not luxurious, they dubbed them the "fun ships." They offered many onboard activities including conga lines moving through passageways and public rooms. The Line made much extra profit with the bars, casinos and shore excursions.
Today, Carnival Cruises owns about 78 percent of all the ships departing North America. They own the Cunard Line, Costa Cruises, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises to name some. Their success is letting each of their cruise line companies keep their individuality. Their companies embark thousands upon thousands of cruise passengers every week.
Cruising is popular because the fare includes not only the transportation, but also all onboard meals. You check into your stateroom, unpack once and let the ship take you to exotic destinations. At sea, you have Las Vegas style entertainment, which is also included, plus numerous sports activities and the pleasure of finding a quiet deck chair to cozy up with a new book in the wonderful sea air. I still find pleasure in vacationing at sea with interesting ports of call. Personally, I prefer the smaller ships holding 600 to 900 passengers. These are still like a private club with interesting passengers you get to know and socialize with.
Whatever your choice is for a ship, be it small, medium or large, you'll enjoy being spoiled, dining well and relaxation like no other vacation. Oh yes, when you go, you can pack me in your suitcase!