Here we go again. There we were, in the snug bar of The Bloated Goat, and that hoary old chestnut reared its ugly visage once more. “But why go on a cruise and get stuck on a boat with hundreds of people you don’t know – and probably don’t like – and have no way to escape?”
It’s the question we hear time and time again, probably from our fellow regulars who just like to rankle our rigging, but it is one that’s worth tackling each time to dispel the out-dated notions of what a cruise isn’t, and to inform the non-cognoscenti of what it actually is.
The simple response, of course would be just to scoff back at the complainer-in-chief and insist, “Why go and stay at a hotel with hundreds of people you don’t know – and probably don’t like – and have only one restaurant to choose from and daily arguments about who gets the best sun-loungers by the pool? Oh, and by the way, darling, a hotel doesn’t even go anywhere.”
But that would be too simple (albeit, it would probably be more satisfying). Instead, we thought we’d do something a bit different with our choice words for The Cruise Line this week and look at ‘The Cruise Difference’ past and present. Bearing in mind that our sea-going experiences date back to the 1960s, here is a Then and Now view, with the ‘now’ really covering the past 20 years or so, and the ‘then’ being the distinctly vintage version.
Then: Going back a few years, no, decades, a half-century, sailaway on a classic liner was An Event, a proper celebration of transport at its finest. There were bands, streamers and a general sense of occasion that only came with the undertaking of a great journey, especially as many line voyages back then could last three weeks or more. It wasn’t so much a holiday as an adventure.
Now: That traditional sense of embarkation romance may have been diluted, but it is still there. Even though ships have evolved to the extent of looking like monstrous maritime carbuncles from the outside, internally they are still quite glamorous and glitzy, and there remains an air of something special when you set foot aboard a modern vessel. There is a feeling of grand arrival, and no other holiday has this ‘X’ Factor (plus Y and Z, if we’re honest).
Then: Those who are fortunate enough to have The Ritz as their regular hotel of choice will certainly understand how the cruise experience of yesteryear made you feel once on board, with a distinguished, white-glove service that came from the very top drawer. Back in the 1960s, cruise ships realised they had to offer a true alternative to those beastly jet planes.
Now: Realistically, unless you are sailing with one of the handful of genuine, deluxe lines (and regular readers will know how much we abhor the ‘luxury’ tag being applied to mainstream lines when they are absolutely no such thing) this is where cruising differs enormously. When you’re catering for upwards of 3,000 passengers, it simply isn’t possible to maintain that air of exclusivity.
Travelling First Class
Then: Go back just as far as the early 70s, and you’ll find most ships still operated a ‘class’ system, and First Class was truly something special. Cunard – bless them – have largely maintained this idea, although they now call it the Grill Suites for that superior level of attentive service.
Now: Cunard apart, the idea of onboard class differentiation has positively roared back to life in recent times, only it is now called The Haven, or The Yacht Club, or Club Class or just Concierge Suites. What it means is that there are ‘private’ areas of the ship, plus exclusive services and dining, reserved specifically for guests in the ‘right’ category of accommodation. The lines in question? How about Norwegian, MSC Cruises, Princess – and Disney Cruise Line. Yes, really. The House of Mouse created their Concierge Lounge hideaway, with other services, with the advent of Disney Dream as far back as 2011, and it has the real smack of old-fashioned First Class. And there is abso-bally-lutely nothing wrong with that.
Then: Fixed seating, two-sitting dining has been the original way of the cruise world ever since a handful of Vikings carved out a few hollow trees and set sail for parts unknown. Only, grog and bread was ALWAYS at 6pm, sharp, and don’t give us any axe-throwing tantrums if you’re late. Yes, ships, even in first class, insisted you dine at their convenience, not the other way round.
Now: We have to give modern cruising credit here (especially Norwegian, with the advent of their ‘Freestyle’ idea back in May 2000). The idea of dining when you are ready for dinner, and not at some pre-determined notion of First or Second sitting (6.30 or 8.30pm), makes far more sense in this day and age. Turning up at the requisite time may have been good enough for our parents, but it’s not going to fly with the majority these days!
Then: OK, call us old-fashioned, or just terminally unimaginative, but we genuinely loved the idea of low-key entertainment like bridge tournaments, deck quoits, shuffleboard and tea dances. Learning to rumba or foxtrot was plenty of excitement for one afternoon, then watching the ship’s professional dancers showing us how it should really be done in the main lounge in the evening was equally entertaining.
Now: If your ship doesn’t have some kind of high-tech staging, with high-diving walruses, aerial acrobats, choreographed mannequins and daredevil circus acts, then it simply isn’t trying. Thanks, but we’ll stick to our slow-paced, fuddy-duddy activities. And probably a good book. Don’t want to risk the blood pressure at this stage of life, what?
In The Final Analysis
Then: We all know life was slower-paced and more genteel in the Golden Age of cruising, but it also came with a greater sense of style and romance.
Now: There are some amazing experiences on modern ships, but continually trying to add more just doesn’t appeal to us. There are fabulous new vessels, to be sure, and the luxury end of the market still knows what true ‘luxury’ is. But you know what? Sometimes less IS more.
Treadwell & Tenny
So, are we right or are we right? Give us your thoughts in the Comments section below.