The Evolution Of Cruising – The Good, Not So Good & Great

by Ming Tappin

A bygone activity - throwing streamers at sail away parties.

Back in the 90s, elaborate midnight buffets took place every night.

Souvenir photos were inexpensive too - generally less than $10. Not so much today.

Last week I had a conversation with a former colleague who has been in the cruise business for 30+ years. As we discussed the longevity of our careers (22 years for me), the conversation naturally drifted to "the good old days" of cruising, which I thought would be good fodder for this week's column.

There is an old saying that cruising appeals to "the newlyweds and nearly deads". Certainly at the onset of leisure cruise travel, an ocean voyage was expensive and long, only the wealthy and time-rich could afford a ticket to sail. The demographic naturally skewed towards seniors and honeymooners taking a trip of a lifetime to celebrate their nuptials.

But as improved shipbuilding technology increased cruising speed, voyages became shorter. As more cruise lines entered the market, prices started to come down, opening up to the mass travelling market. Today cruising attracts and is priced for all ages and all income levels.

Through the last few decades we sure have seen a number cruise lines come and go. As my friend and I rattled off bygone brands such as Royal Viking Line, Dolphin, Commodore, Renaissance and many others, we also discussed the merits of new ones such as Azamara and Oceania, not to mention the mergers and acquisitions of the big brands and the game of musical chairs played by top executives and local BDMs. And the "what-will-they-think-of-next" innovations on newbuilds ensure there will never be a dull moment going forward.

Technology is no doubt had the most significant impact on cruise trips. It's amazing how we used to book flights by picking them out of the massive OAG, now we can book a flight in a few clicks on our mobile devices while flying in an airplane at 30,000 ft. Cruising has gone the same electronic route with e-docs - which I personally lament. Part of the anticipation of my upcoming cruise was the arrival of the cruise documents, with an actual cruise passage ticket, an information booklet, immigration forms and proper luggage tags all beautifully packaged in a travel wallet. The move to e-docs eliminated administrative logistics and shipping expenses for the cruise lines, but unfortunately it also took away a little excitement from the consumer. 

Technology also has played a role in the onboard experience. With the explosion of social media, cruise lines are in a contest to see who can provide the fastest connection at sea for guests to share, download, stream and brag about where they are 24/7.   

And now everything from online check in, pre-reserving of excursions, activities and dining charged to your keycard and the wristband system provide streamlined operations and convenience to guests.

Along with new hardware and software, the onboard product has also evolved. Dress codes have been relaxed, open seating dining was introduced, interiors are now virtually smoke free. Elaborate midnight buffets are a thing of the past, as are engine room tours, streamers at sailaway and skeet shooting.

Napkin folding has now evolved into towel animals, port charges became NCFs, and automatic tipping replaced envelopes.

Surprisingly, about the only thing that hasn't changed much, is the cruise pricing. 20+ years ago, the Caribbean was selling at $599, today I've seen rates as low as $399, as a result of increased supply. But the reduced fares are being compensated with more aggressive onboard hard sell, with rising prices of drinks, photos and excursions on mass market and premium product. I can remember paying $5 for our embarkation photo, which now costs $20, and "dutyfree" drink prices are also history.

Like everything in life, change is inevitable, and most of the time change is good. Cruising still remains one of the best ways to see the world, with the highest guest satisfaction rate. The cruise industry is certainly moving ahead with a positive outlook and we look forward to all the exciting changes yet to come. Who knows, in another 20 years, on our next trip down memory lane, perhaps we might say: "Remember when ships used to float on water?" 

Ming Tappin is a cruise veteran with over 20 years’ experience in the industry and has sailed on 38 cruises and counting. Based in Vancouver, Ming is Owner of

Napkin folding is passe, towel animals are now all the rage.

Cruise tickets, transfer vouchers and luggage tags - remember those?

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