Just as it was in the early 20th century, cruise has once again become fashionable. Sam Ballard explains how perceptions were changed
A couple of months ago, the V&A Museum in London held an exhibition that looked into the so-called golden age of the cruise industry. The show, Ocean Liners: Speed and Style, gave us a closer look at ships such as the Queen Mary and the SS United States – floating palaces that made an indelible impact on our cultural landscape. Within them was sumptuous art deco furniture, held in vast ballrooms and sophisticated cocktail bars – the photos and footage look like a scene out of The Great Gatsby. This was how the rich and famous travelled during the roaring ’20s – well-oiled on magnums of champagne and feasting on mountains of caviar. These ships became symbols of the progress of the 20th century.
This all changed when air travel became more accessible. Suddenly, the adventure was to be found in the destination, rather than the weeks it took to get there. It is during this period – from the ’60s through to relatively recently – that the modern cruise industry was born. Lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean were joined by the old heritage companies such as P&O, Cunard and Holland America Line – they had been moving people and freight to the new world for years, but now they were now tour operators.
As the industry changed, so did its image. No longer was it seen as being the exclusive domain of film stars and royals. A cruise was now baked Alaska parades and all-day buffets. The industry developed a reputation and it was not for being exciting or dynamic.
That brings us up to the modern day and an industry that has changed its spots. The question of when the cruise industry started to improve its reputation is an interesting one. For many people, it is around the turn of the century. This is around the time that Royal Caribbean launched its famed Voyager class (with firsts such as rock climbing walls and ice rinks) and Norwegian Cruise Line started freestyle cruising – a concept that did away with set dining times and made the entire experience more akin to a land-based resort.
More innovations followed and not just in resort-style cruising. River has become a mainstream holiday option, with lines even marketing to non-traditional groups such as millennials and families; expedition cruising has opened up remote corners of the world; and luxury cruising has become one of the most indulgent holiday options available anywhere in the world.
We are now attracting guests who previously went on land-based holidays
Chris Austin, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Seabourn, knows more than most about the changing image of the cruise industry. Austin joined Seabourn from Starwood, one of the world’s most renowned hotel brands. He argues that his new company is now challenging his old employer, as well as the likes of Ritz- Carlton and Four Seasons.
“I wanted to join the cruise industry because of the great momentum and vision that the industry has,” he explains. “It’s become dynamic and that pace of change is only growing.
“We are now attracting guests who previously went on land-based holidays. The experience we can offer, both on and off our ocean-based resort, is getting deeper, through the partnerships we have with the likes of Sir Tim Rice and Unesco, but also the luxury of our resort itself.”
Read the Cruise Guide 2018 in full here