A dozen years or so ago, North Americans fell in love with cruise travel, fueling the biggest surge in cruise line growth ever. What was once a travel option for “the newly wed or nearly dead”, became the vacation of choice for millions. More, bigger ships were built to satisfy the healthy demand. Initially selling us on the idea of sailing in general, cruise lines diversified and defined their individual offerings as unique, as they continue to do today. Over time, much has changed with what we experience on cruise vacations, like it or not.
Put That In Your Pipe And Smoke It, Elsewhere
Might as well get this one out of the way right up front. Reflecting the view of our society on this topic and others, cruise lines have all but banned smoking on board. Smokers have been confined to much smaller areas to kill themselves in as opposed to an entire side of the ship on open decks, multiple interior spaces, staterooms and balconies. As a former smoker, this was a tough one to adjust to as I associated cruising with smoking.
Buffets Are Out, Dining Experiences Are In
The standard offering of Early or Late seating in cruise line dining rooms of yesteryear has been expanded on almost all cruise lines to include an open seating option, at the very least. Multiple alternative dining venues grace the decks of many ships, often for an additional fee. Royal Caribbean’s new Quantum-class ships will not have a main dining room at all, reflecting a desire for choice on the part of cruise passengers.
Staying Connected Easier, More Efficient
Not all that long ago, one of the best parts of sailing (for some) was turning on a cell phone while cruising and seeing “NO SIGNAL” as the ship sailed away. This was a time of Internet Cafes used to check email because wireless systems at sea did not exist yet. It was a time when cruise lines offered a $99 per week unlimited use package but not all that many passengers were interested. Today we are on the verge of enjoying high-speed land-like access on ships that boast a snappy wireless system that includes free ship-sponsored content.
Travel Agents Are Back And Better Than Ever
Initially only something a savvy traveler would book through a travel agent, the Internet brought the ability to do that for ourselves. Many cruise travelers embraced that ability and never looked back. Others tried booking on their own, were wise enough to know they could not do it as well as a professional in the business and came back to travel agents; those that were left in business. What they found were travel professionals specializing in different niches of travel, rather than a one size fits booking option.
Not Your Mother’s Entertainment
Considered one of the foundation qualities of a cruise vacations, entertainment too has changes dramatically over the years. The 70’s Vegas-style review was replaced with unique and engaging entertainment options. Improved technology allowed more capability at sea, bringing Broadway musicals, audience-participation shows, concerts at sea, branded entertainment venues and more. If you swore off entertainment at sea years ago as boring, take another look: entertainment options at sea are worthy of your time.
Oh And Guess What: The Ship Is Not The Destination
A decade ago, think “cruise” and thoughts of a lovely Caribbean sailing came to mind. Then, we did not care all that much where the ship sailed, just that it did. The ship itself was a very big part of the travel experience and cruise lines designed itineraries to maximize that fact. ‘Days at sea’ while seen as necessary evils by some, heaven by others, were clearly in favor of the cruise line. Keeping us on board generated more revenue and cruise lines liked that. Bigger ships were built with more onboard features to seal the deal. Then we got bored. Today, cruise lines are focusing on off-ship elements of the experience as never before, capitalizing on the amazing places they visit.
At the end of the day, cruise lines are listening to passengers, a variety of ways. The paper survey we were asked to turn in at the end of the voyage is being replaced by random electronic surveys sent via email. But even that effort has been updated with cruise lines looking to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other online social platforms to find out what we like, don’t like and dream about for the future. Want to have a say in what we experience at sea? Engage a cruise line socially and tell them what you want. They’ll listen; like it or not.