Cruise Holidays Through the Decades

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Cruising has changed a lot since it rose to prominence in the mid-1800s. Find out about the history of cruising, and how each decade has added something special to the cruise experience.

The history of cruising

Before the advent of cruise liners, boats and ships were used almost entirely for trade and military purposes. The idea that travelling by ship could be a pleasurable and luxurious experience was first thought up in 1835 by Arthur Anderson – a sailor from the Shetland Isles. He had the vision to provide passenger service from Scotland to Iceland during the summer, and from Scotland to Spain and Portugal during winter. Two years later, he co-founded the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company – P&O.

Soon after, other shipping lines that were used to carry mail across the Atlantic began to offer service to passengers. Slowly, the quality and comfort of rooms, dining and services improved on board cruise liners. By the early 1900s, cruising had become the most refined and elegant way to travel. The opulence and elegance of cruise liners of this era can be epitomised by the infamous Titanic.

However, the two World Wars halted the cruise liner industry as all efforts went into building war ships. Many existing cruise ships were put to use transporting troops during this time. After the Second World War was over and countries began to recover economically, cruising took off once again.

cruise ship 1930

Cruising in the 1950s – riding the waves

The post-war economic boom saw a resurgence in the popularity of cruising. The competition to engineer the fastest ocean liner was fierce. The Queen Mary had held the Blue Riband for 14 years, and America was determined to overtake her. Their ‘Ship of State’ was designed to rival the Queen Mary, and it was famously made using almost no wood whatsoever. The only two wooden fittings on board were the grand piano and the butcher’s block.

The ship’s speed was a huge success. It had the greatest power-to-weight ratio ever achieved by a commercial liner and was capable of steaming at 35-knots. On her maiden voyage, the ship beat the record speed for an eastward sea crossing – winning the Blue Riband by a massive 10 hours.

Cruising in the 1960s – changing currents

cruise ship 1960 UK Australia

As aviation took off in the 1960s, the cruise liner industry struggled to compete with the new, fast and exciting mode of transport. The dwindling popularity of sea travel meant that the cruise industry was forced to reassess its service.

Cruise liners began to offer entertainment as an additional attraction to the cruise experience. Cunard Line was the first to hire celebrities to perform on board, and began to advertise the cruise as a holiday in itself, rather than simply a means of getting from one destination to another – the birth of the ‘floating resort’.

Another big change in 1960s cruising was the class arrangement. The 1960s saw a growth of the middle class, meaning that more people had money to spend on holidays. Tourist Class was introduced on some cruise liners, which offered much more comfort and luxury for regular passengers, while others ditched the three-tier class system altogether and offered all passengers the same quality and luxury.

Cruising in the 1970s – leisure cruising

cruise ship 1970

Transatlantic cruising took a backseat as leisure cruises rose in popularity in the 1970s. The TV series ‘The Love Boat’ which aired in 1977 showcased cruising to the mass market. It introduced the holiday cruise as a desirable adventure and caused cruising to soar in popularity. P&O Lines stated years later that the Love Boat had probably generated over a billion dollars in revenues for cruise companies.

Cruising in the 1980s – bigger is better

cruise ship 1980 bali

The 1980s marked the start of the ‘cruise to nowhere’ – where the ship itself was the destination, and everything you could possibly want was already on board. The SS Norway sailed in the 80s, stretching over 1000 feet, with 12 decks, 2,000 passengers, and maxing 70,000 gross tonnage. It boasted a casino, TV sets in every room, and all the latest mod-cons. This was the era of the mega ship.

Cruising in the 1990s and 2000s – innovation and variety

Cruise ship in 1990

With modern innovation and technology came on board malls, swimming pools, golf courses, cinema complexes and spas in the 1990s and 2000s. Entertainment, luxury, and variety meant that cruises rose in popularity with families, as they increasingly catered for young children as well as adults, with kids clubs and theme-park style amenities alongside fine dining, sophistication and relaxation.

Cruising now

Harmony of the Seas Royal Caribbean cruise

Today there is a cruise for everyone – whether you’d prefer a more intimate voyage to lesser-known ports, or the endless entertainment options on board a mega ship. These days most cruise liners seamlessly combine luxury and privacy with a vast variety of activities to keep everyone entertained for the whole journey. Book your perfect cruise today at Cruise1st.

Find the best cruise deals in Cruise1st UK and become the living history of the cruise industry!

Images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credits: Paul Townsend, Fernando de Sousa, Archmage01, Eddie, Royal Caribbean

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Cruise Holidays Through the Decades
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Cruise Holidays Through the Decades
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Find out about the history of cruising, and how each decade has added something special to the cruise experience.
Cruise1st UK
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About Author

Claire Wilde

Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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