Celebrating 20 Years of Cruising: What Has Changed Versus What Has Stayed the Same

by Janis on February 4, 2014

20 years ago today, I boarded the Costa Allegra for my first cruise.

I was living, at the time, in the suburbs between Philadelphia and New York City, and it had already been a long, cold, snowy winter.  The project that I had worked on day and night for months was complete. A vacation to a warm, sunny destination was in order, pronto!

Photo of the Costa Allegro by Yerpo.

While reading the Sunday travel section of the Philadelphia Inquirer, I saw an article about Caribbean cruising and decided that was the perfect getaway.  It wasn’t too difficult to convince Theresa, an ad-agency friend living in Iowa that we needed to go. (We both had a stash of frequent flier miles to get us to Florida.)

When I called a cruise travel agency I found advertised in the paper, they had to check inventory and call me back. There was one cabin on a cruise departing in two weeks from Miami for 7 days to the western Caribbean.

We booked it.

Then we tried to get airfare using frequent flier miles, which we were able to do by arriving into Miami a day early and staying in Miami one extra day afterwards.

Once on board the Costa Allegra, (I remember standing in a long, hot line on the sidewalk outside the pier), we got in our cabin with its two round portholes and unpacked.

Then we ventured out of our cabin and proceeded to have an amazing week as we sailed to Jamaica, Mexico and Grand Cayman.

I don’t recall much to do on the Costa Allegra: we went to daily exercise classes in the lounges or public rooms; we lounged by the swimming pools soaking up lots of skin-bronzing sun while having the occasional fruity cocktail.

We ate breakfast in the lido and dined each evening at an assigned table with three couples who were at least 25 years older than us.  We went to shows in a one-level showroom with poles blocking views of the stage from many of the seats.

In Ocho Rios, we snorkeled and climbed Dunn’s River Falls.  In Grand Cayman, we toured around the island, went to Hell (and mailing postcards to our friends from there), picked up giant turtles at the turtle farm, and waded in the azure water on 7-mile beach.

El Castillo at Chichen Itza Maya archaeological site in Mexico. Photo by Daniel Schwen.

In Cozumel, our tour included a scary flight (after one aborted takeoff) to a gravel landing strip by Chichen Itza. Once at the Maya archaeological site, our tour guide showed us all of the sites and then invited us to climb the 91 steep steps up El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulkan.  The climb up was steep, but the view from the top was amazing. Then, we had to get back down, which was accomplished via a scary crawl while hanging onto a chain rope. (Today visitors can no longer climb on the structures at Chichen Itza.)  Once back in Cozumel, we followed the crew to Carlos’n Charlie’s where we relaxed with a yard of margaritas.

By the end of a few days, I had fallen completely in love with cruising.  I loved unpacking once and being transported to all of these different places. I loved being at sea and soaking up the sun. I loved the interesting people that we met on the ship.

Now, 20 years later, it’s fun to reflect  back on that first cruise and think about what has changed (and what has stayed the same) in the world of cruising.

What Has Stayed the Same in 20 Years of Cruising? 

1.  A Cruise is a Terrific Way to See the World While Unpacking Only Once. We love to get on a ship, unpack once, and be transported effortlessly to some of the world’s most remote and beautiful spots, from tiny islands in the Caribbean like Jost Van Dyke to the Polar Ice Cap.

2. A Cruise Allows You to Meet Interesting Other Travelers. Whether participating in team trivia, having appetizers during happy hour, or comparing notes during the return ride from a tour, being on a cruise allows you to meet interesting, like-minded travelers from all over the world.

3.  A Cruise Allows You to Travel With Family or Friends Who Like Different Things. What I learned on my first cruise with Theresa is still true today: if we didn’t want to do the same activity, we didn’t have to.  A cruise is a comfortable environment to travel by yourself or to travel with many.  If you do travel with family or friends, you don’t have to do the same thing all of the time. One friend can go to the Butterfly Farm while the other goes Scuba Diving. Family members can each do their own thing during the day, and get together for dinner each night.  Kids can have fun with other kids in the Children’s Club, while the adults have fun without them.

4.  Buying Your Cruise from A Travel Agent Who Specializes in Cruises is Still a Good Idea.  While a quick internet search will bring up thousands of cruises that you can buy online, it is still a good idea to use a travel agent that specializes in cruises. A good travel agent will help you select the right cruise line, cruise ship and cruise itinerary to best meet your needs, which is important to ensuring that you have a great cruise. Both a 4-day Bahamas cruise on Disney and 6-day transatlantic cruise on Cunard are fantastic experiences, but, they are very different experiences and may not appeal to the same person.  For experienced cruisers, a good travel agent almost always provides a better value than buying your cruise directly from the cruise line or from an internet call center. The experienced agent will get you shipboard credits or other “value-added” items in addition to providing first-hand knowledge of the cruise line, the ship and the destinations on the itinerary.

What Has Changed During the Last 20 Years of Cruising? 

1. The Price of Cruising Has Decreased Dramatically.  20 years ago, we paid nearly $1,000 per person for a last minute 7-day Western Caribbean Cruise, not including taxes.  It was a guarantee, meaning that we could have gotten any cabin including the lowest on the ship. (We got a cabin with two small round portholes.) Today, one can buy a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise departing on February 16th from Miami for $339 per person, not including taxes on the Carnival Glory.  7 Days on the Norwegian Epic is available from $399 per person. And, if you can sail on February 15th, a verandah stateroom is available on the Oasis of the Seas from only $749 for a 7-day cruise on one of the largest ships at sea with everything from ice skating to zip lining to a high-diving water show.

2. The Number of Cruise Ships Has Increased Dramatically In 2014, 21.7 million passengers will sail on 410 different cruise ships that accommodate 467,629 guests each day, according to CLIA, the Cruise Lines International Association. This compares to 10.5 million passengers in 2004 and less than half that many in 1994. Corresponding with the increase in ships and the number of guests sailing on them, the average age of the passenger has decreased from 65 in 1995 to 45 in 2006.

3.  There is No Shortage of Things To Do On Cruise Ships. There is very little similarity between the cruise ships today and the Costa Allegra that I sailed on 20 years ago. The Costa Allegra was built in 1969 as a container ship, and was “stretched” and converted to a cruise ship in the early 1990s. Today’s ships are built with the latest enhancements to lure a wider range of travelers on board a cruise vacations. Serenity adults-only retreat,  expansive facilities for kids and teens, water slides that drop over three decks, zip lines, bowling alleys, rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks, Broadway shows, planetariums, culinary lessons, state-of-the-art fitness centers and mammoth spas at sea are just a few of the attractions found on today’s cruise ships.

4. Dining Choices Abound Beyond the Lido Buffet and the Fixed Seating Dinner. Today, most ships have multiple dining options in addition to the main dining room and the Lido buffet. From a sushi bar to name-brand burger joints such as Johnny Rockets to upscale dining simulating dinner at New York’s Le Cirque, cruise ships have a plethora of dining options. Yes, you can still have fixed dining in the main dining room each night, or you can order room complimentary room service 24 hours a day.  Today, there is a dining option for every palate when sailing on the high seas.

How long have you been cruising? What’s the biggest change that you’ve noticed since you started cruising? Please share in comments below. 

Check out these other posts on cruising….


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