Are cruises cheaper than resorts? Where do I find the cheapest cruises? Where can I find big discounts? What is the secret to finding the best price?
If you try to decide whether or not to take a cruise by asking if it is more expensive than other vacation options or only if you can find "the best price," you have begun with the wrong question. Likewise, do not begin with "if" you should cruise. Start by simply asking “what type of a cruise would I want to take?” All of the other questions will answer themselves along the way.
The New to Cruising Guide is presented as a way to tap the brains of those contributing to it from across industries and experience. There is no single correct path, book or travel guru that can give all answers to every person.
The philosophy of The New to Cruising Guide is that you will enjoy yourself more going on a cruise with informed and accurate expectations than to feel disappointed because you built up unrealistic ones. The approach here is to figure out the questions that matter to you and provide the insight needed to make decisions.
This is also a living guide. Not only will it grow over time but the digital community around it will be there to answer questions and build on what you read.
What Cruising Is.
Cruising is an event, an activity, even a lifestyle, not simply a vacation. From the moment you step onboard a ship until you disembark you are "doing" something and that is cruising. What you will experience is an activity rooted in myth, history and cold hard business. The legacy of the romance of travel by sea are built into the increasingly sleek modern business models that drive the industry today. You will experience all of these things, sometimes without realizing it.
What Is The Cruise Industry.
Do know what it is that forged the experience you are having on a cruise you need to understand where the industry we have today came from. It is surprising to some who are new to cruising when they learn how short a history modern cruising has, as well as how small a world the industry is.
Prior to the rise of jet airliners in the 1950s and 1960s most travel between countries was by sea. Dedicated passenger lines and parts of major shipping companies operated fleets of ocean liners (ships built specifically for deep sea passenger travel.) These ships typically had three classes of accommodations and passengers as famously portrayed in movies. The cheaper, lower classes were often filled by immigrants traveling to other countries. Excursion or "pleasure" cruises existed long prior to this point, however they were usually rare or used to fill time in schedules.
As jetliners bled the passenger trade to death after World War II, ocean liners were scrapped and mothballed. By the late 1960s cruise travel was a hodge podge of converted ocean liners, freighters and assorted ferries largely centered in the Caribbean. Indeed there wasn't a cruise "industry" as we know it today. It was out of the ashes of the old passenger trade and among the motley fleet of ships on pleasure cruises that ideas and opportunities took shape and gave rise to the modern cruise industry. The most notable place this took root was in city of Miami, Florida.
Entrepreneurs in Miami had begun working to build the city into a hub for cruise ships since the 1950s but it was during the next decade they began to enjoy success. That success began to overwhelm the original downtown docks and in 1960 the city began work on what became modern Dodge Island, known simply as the Port of Miami. In 1966 Norwegian Caribbean Line was founded, followed in 1968 by Royal Caribbean. On the west coast Princess Cruises began running excursion cruises using a chartered Alaskan ferry in 1965, later buying a incomplete cruise ship out of bankruptcy 1967. These were the first true "cruise lines" founded expressly to operate at large for pleasure cruises. Royal Caribbean went a step further, not only forming as a cruise only company but also featuring ships built explicitly for the line and cruise travel. The modern cruise industry had developed its roots.
By the late 1970s the legacy passenger lines had completed their transformation into cruise lines and several other new companies had been formed. The cruise industry, now firmly established liberally promoted the romance of sea travel, the trappings of classic ocean liner traditions and the perception of adventure to "exotic" locations. Air travel, which had destroyed the passenger travel trade a decade earlier was now the engine that drove largely American and European travelers to the bustling ports in Miami and Los Angeles.
Into this myth laden industry entered The Love Boat in 1977. The show was campy and unrealistic but brought cruising into the popular culture. The Love Boat’s hour long cruises inspired millions to try cruising. The Love Boat theme song remains popular across fans of all lines to this day. In 1984 Kathy Lee Gifford intoned the Carnival Cruise Lines jingle "If you could see me now!" and the industry had another instantly recognizable anthem.
As the cruise industry deepened its foothold in popular culture the hard business of the industry also took root during the late `970s into the late 1980s. As the industry matured so too did the nature of the ships and first glimpses into the future could be seen and the roots of a still bitter rivalry sprouted.
The 1980s saw the industry consolidate as shipping companies divested themselves of passenger subsidiaries, smaller lines failed to keep pace with the emerging fleet of new, purpose built cruise ships, and the hard economics of pure cruise travel shook out weaker brands. Two men can be rightly considered the drivers of much of this change, Richard Fain of Royal Caribbean and Mickey Arison of Carnival Cruise Lines. Each cut their teeth in the industry during the 70s and 80s and rose to power within their parts of it during that time.
Mickey Arison literally grew-up in Carnival Cruise Lines which was founded by his father, Ted whom he took over for in the mid-80s. Carnival had begun on a shoe-string budget and was notorious for second-hand ships. Never-the-less the line leveraged shrewd business acumen to become the industry's marketing standard bearer for almost 20 years. Royal Caribbean International begun as a three-part partnership of Norwegian shipping magnates, one of which Richard Fain had begun his career with. Royal Caribbean began on the path of innovation early, first by stretching a pair of its original ships. Next the line built Song of America, twice the size of the industry standard of the time. By the late 1980s Royal Caribbean had entrenched itself as the leader in ship design and innovation. Fain rose to power within the complex structure of the company in those years. As these lines grew and matured so did the careers of both Fain and Arison. Their rivalry began as one sought to take-over the other.
In what is known among Royal Caribbean fans as “The 40 days,” Carnival waged a contentious and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to take over Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines in 1986. Fain played a leading role in successfully coordinating the counter effort to Carnival buy-out of a majority of the partnerships. Both companies would restructure and become publicly traded corporations. Likewise, both began to acquire smaller lines and build new ships at a furious pace. Both men continue to drive their companies and the industry nearly thirty years later.
The 1990s saw Royal Caribbean and Carnival surge in size and leadership within the industry. Carnival became known as "Carnivore" as it systematically took over more than ten other cruise brands. In addition to absorbing Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean continued to dominate in design with the historic with the addition of the huge Sovereign and Vision classes of ships. The ancient theme of size became a hot topic as Princess launched the first of the Grand class and broke the 100,000 gross register tonnes (GRT) barrier. The Sovereign and Vision classes were quintuple the industry average of ten years before. Royal Caribbean would trump both Princess and it’s own records with the introduction of the revolutionary Voyager class which was over 132,000 GRT.
Royal Caribbean began to use of punk rocker Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" as the theme for it's "Get Out There" and "Like No Vacation on Earth” marketing campaigns. The debut of new ships became a legitimate news and pop-culture event as the public was wowed by the stunning new vessels. Cable TV began the now common practice of airing documentaries detailing how these new mega ships were built. As The Love Boat and Kathy Lee Gifford had done in the previous decades, the news, music and cable TV had continued to provide the window through which the public could see the evolution of cruising.
In the shadow of Royal Caribbean's imagination capturing ships and Carnivals vast corporate expansion, NCL and Princess cruise lines spent years seeking their own center. NCL had painfully floundered under the control of Star Cruises, an Asian cruise company. Princess had electrified the industry briefly with the advent of the Grand class, only to be quickly overwhelmed by the publicity surrounding the Voyager class. Princess would become part of Carnival after being swept out of the hands of Royal Caribbean as a merger was nearly completed with it. This proved the concluding book-end to the infamous battle between the industry leaders in '86. NCL would be partially and then wholly bought-out by the private equity firm Apollo Management who surprised many observers by holding onto the the line after long after most such firms would have sold to collect a profit. Under Apollo a new generation of leadership NCL has rose to become a strong third-place player in the industry.
The past ten years have seen the size of ships continue to increase. The largest predictably is a Royal Caribbean class, the Oasis of the Seas at over 225,282 GRT, nearly 15 times the average in 1970. The the largest lines are building ships exceeding 130,000 regularly. The issues of disabled ships, the environment and security are waters the industry is learning to navigate. Historic shifts in leadership are on the horizon as leadership nears retirement and succession plans being to take shape. As the modern cruise industry reaches the middle of its fifth decade there are new ships and challenges ahead.
There were many other people, lines, market segments, events and topics which bore influence on what the cruise industry is today. For all its size, the cruise industry is a small world. People know each other. There is history and nuisance to much of what you will experience, most of which you might never be aware of if you weren't reading about it now. The experience has changed but the heart of the appeal of cruising remains the same.
Now that you know something of where the cruise industry came from, you can begin to understand and explore the modern cruise experience.