In 1634, Charles I of England ordered construction of the largest ship in the world, Sovereign of the Seas. Royal Caribbean International drew on this bit of history in 1989, to christen its own 2500 passenger, 74,000 ton Sovereign of the Seas. This was the largest cruise ship of its time, and the race was on.
The 2758 berth, 102,000 GRT Carnival Victory dwarfs the 900 berth, 21,909 GRT Regal Empress.
Although many travelers say "Oh, I would never sail on one of those floating glass boxes," the overwhelming occupancy success of the new larger ships tells a different story. Sailing on the new megaships, about 60,000 tons or more, can be intoxicating -- Las Vegas with an ocean view, sailing to exotic ports, at bargain rates.
The cruise industry is the fastest growing segment of the travel industry, achieving more than 1000 percent growth since 1970, when an estimated 500,000 people took a cruise. In the year 2000, nearly 6.5 million people cruised. The North American cruise industry's growth is also reflected in the significant increase in passenger capacity. In 1978, Carnival Cruise Lines' visionary founder, the late Ted Arison, shocked the cruise industry with an announcement of plans to build the Tropicale, a brand new cruise ship with over 1000 berths. Soon, the leaders in the cruise industry all had the same idea for future expansion, and a trend began. The word was out: bigger is better.
During the 1980s, forty new ships were built. In the 90s, nearly eighty ships made their debut. During the next five years, the cruise industry will introduce at least fifty-two new luxury liners. Among these will be megaliners that will accommodate more than three thousand passengers.
The intense competition and overbuilding in the market keep the fares well below the true fair value. The present level of cruise fares has remained stable for at least fifteen years. In the same period, hotel rates have increased at least fifty percent. Why? The cruise industry is committed to selling the sea. Their whole point is to lure people from Las Vegas to the joy of cruising.
The focus of the industry is on bigger and better luxurious mega cruise ships, often costing as much as four hundred million dollars each. Lavish showrooms featuring glamorous productions, opulent dining rooms, Las Vegas style gaming, cyberspace centers, full health spas, and multiple recreation choices are standard features. Royal Caribbean International's largest ships, Voyager of the Seas and Explorer of the Seas, even offer rock climbing, ice skating, basketball, roller-blading and miniature golf. Add private verandas to many cabins and you have a very compelling argument for cruising.
To maintain their market share, cruise industry leaders claim they need the bigger ships to offer all the most requested activities and services. Gone are the days of those manageable seven hundred passenger cruise ships of twenty years ago. Although Crystal Cruises has very loyal repeat passengers on their smaller ships, they have not been players in the same capacity as the giants. Their passengers have been very happy to pay premium prices for exclusiveness and superior service. But even they have recently announced plans for a new 68,000-ton luxury cruise ship.
The biggest mama planned in the cruise industry is the Cunard project, the Queen Mary2. This 150,000-ton ship planned for launch in 2003, will be built in France at a cost of approximately $780 million. Seventeen decks in height, it will not only be the longest but also the widest passenger ship in the world.
Twenty years ago cruising was truly a limited, expensive vacation option for most travelers. The industry did nothing to dispel its stodgy reputation as only for the "newly wed or nearly dead." The new megaship's can now provide passengers with the service and activities that become more than just a relaxing mode of transportation -- the ship becomes a destination in itself. A cruise adventure can be a unique and satisfying escape from the everyday world.
The big players are:
Carnival Victory passengers find a spot in the sun.
The cruise industry's commitment to added capacity is based largely on the tremendous growth potential of cruising. With eighty-nine percent of U.S. adults having never cruised, there remains an enormous untapped market for cruises. Following is a list of the ships scheduled to debut.
Photos courtesy of Jack White.
Jack and Toni White of Rancho Mirage, California have, for many years, been freelance travel writers specializing in cruise travel. Their articles have appeared in newspapers throughout the United States and Canada, including the Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and Vancouver Sun. Prestigious Palm Springs Life magazine published their article on filming the movie "Out to Sea" on the Holland America Line Westerdam. They also write regularly for Mature Living and Plus, formerly Senior Life.
Jack graduated from USC as an architect. His background in architecture allows him to review, write, and produce photographs from a unique perspective. Toni attended UCLA after graduating from Hollywood High School where she had been the Feature Editor of the Hollywood High School News, where one of the writers was comedienne Carole Burnett. Toni lived abroad for many years in South America and in the UK and has a familiarity with different cultures that influences her writing. The Whites love to travel and especially want to share their passion for cruising with you.
Toni & Jack White may be reached at: JACNTONI@aol.com.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please