You Know Who Does Classic Cruising? Disney Does Classic Cruising
We’ve been called snobs, bores, oddballs and the ‘holier-than-thou’ couple. It’s the cross we bear for being cruise regulars in an era of mass-market sailing. People who have just ‘discovered’ cruise ships think they have somehow ‘invented’ cruising, and we take great delight in pointing out that, actually, the history of sea-going holidays pre-dates all of us.
(Well, there is a school of thought that says Tenny’s wallet is older than any cruise ship, but that’s just by the by)
So, it really puts a bug in our mainbrace when we hear things like, “Oh, Royal Caribbean are the only line for us. They do everything right.” And “Well, we only cruise with Norwegian. They know just what we want.”
Well, they probably do, if you want a two-dimensional experience that is exactly the same from ship to ship and is delivered with all the panache of yesterday’s leftover dinner. It’s called mass-market cruising for a reason so they can get as many people through each week with the minimum of fuss and variety.
And, for many people, it works very nicely, thank you. Like those who go to the Costa del Sol every year, complain about the ‘foreign’ food, the people who only speak Spanish and the fact that traditional places close for the siesta.
OK, we’re probably being a bit harsh, but it definitely rankles our rigging that so many of these Johnny-Come-Latelys think they know all about cruising because they’ve had half a dozen trips with the same line. There are currently almost 300 cruise ships to choose from worldwide, and 50 or more companies offering variations on the theme. So please don’t tell us that whoever it is you’ve cruised with is the only line you’ll think of.
Do you only ever eat at Pret A Manger? Or Bella Italia? Or the Beefeater Bloody Grill? Of course not, so why would you limit yourself to one particular cruise line in a business that has infinitely more variety?
At the same time, we often hear people say such-and-such ship has this particular feature, or Cruise Line X has the very latest whatevers, as if you could only possibly sail on a vessel that has more gimmicks than Belgium has chocolate shops. Ye gods. Cruising wasn’t invented yesterday. It has tradition, classicism and a sense of heritage. Or, at least, it does with those who genuinely understand why people cruise.
Yes, the average age of vessels these days is less than 20 years (a huge difference from just 20 years ago), but the best ocean-going experiences are still those that maintain their connection to the sea and keep people in touch with that maritime ambience.
P&O, Cunard, Holland America, Fred. Olsen, Saga and even the more modest style of Thomson Cruises all have that in-built sense of nautical history, while the luxury lines like Crystal, Silversea, SeaDream and Seabourn all understand that travelling in style was what cruising was originally all about, and that is what they need to replicate without too many bells and whistles.
And you know who also does classic cruising? Disney Cruise Line, that’s who.
Now, before you fall off your sun-lounger and wonder if T&T have finally gone off their collective high seas heads, just indulge us for a minute.
The Walt Disney Company is mainly known for theme parks, animated films and Mickey Mouse. And more than that, they are known as a family holiday experience par excellence. More simply put, they appeal to children first and foremost, and adult sensibilities have to take second place to all the innate kid-ness.
So, when then-CEO Michael Eisner announced the company was going into the cruise business in 1996, many traditional cruisers made a mental note to avoid the good ship SS Mickey like the proverbial plague. After all, who wanted to be on board with 2,000 screaming ankle biters?
Only, something different happened on the way to the Italian shipyard that produced Disney’s first ship. The whip-smart Eisner challenged his designers to “out-tradition tradition,” and produce two vessels that had all the hallmarks of a classic ship, while still having all the necessary modern creature comforts.
And, lo and behold, Disney Cruise Line became a bastion of maritime heritage, with ships that actually still looked like ships and that even had a class system (kind of). They were the first line (in 1998, no less) to have areas specifically for their adult passengers, meaning that however many kids were on board, you could still find a space that was suitably grown-up and unencumbered by pint-sized cruisers of any kind.
We were hooked. We sat around the adults-only pool; had coffee in the adults-only lounge; enjoyed dinner in the adults-only restaurant; retired for drinks in the adults-only piano bar; and thrilled to the entertainment in the adults-only nightclub. If we wanted to, we could still sample the main restaurants, pool areas, theatre and cinema (and it was a really good cinema), but the parts of the ship that were ‘ours’ felt like a throwback to the days of first-class travel, even down to the classic promenade deck with proper wooden steamer chairs. Even better, that was no bally casino to drive us mad with its incessant ringing one-arm bandits and pink neon décor.
Then, with their next two ships, Disney added a Concierge level, with separate cabins and lounge, built in such gorgeously elegant style we had to pinch ourselves to make sure we hadn’t drifted into a 1930s time-warp where Greta Garbo, Fred Astaire and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor still wandered the promenade.
We were reminded of this recent trip down memory lane when Disney made a surprise announcement last weekend about a third new ship for their latest new-build series to go with their existing four, and currently about to get under way at Meyer Werft in Germany. They are due for delivery in 2021, ’22 and ’23.
We still don’t know too many details about the forthcoming trio, but we can be sure they will continue in the vein of the existing quartet, with a sense of maritime tradition – and none of those blasted go-karts, ziplines and other gimmicks that really rattle our rowlocks. A cruise experience for grown-ups? Now that’s the Disney difference!