Just like Oldsmobile's shiny new cars in the '80s, some things are just meant for the next generation. Today's cruise ships are not your father's -- and most especially not your grandfather's -- cruise ships. They are no longer the rigidly formal vessels of the Titanic era or the campy party palaces from Kathie Lee's days; nor are they a place you'll feel trapped and bored because there's nothing to do.
If anything, cruising is way cooler than it ever used to be.
Here are just a few ways vacations at sea have transformed into the hottest way to spend a week or more away.
Gone are the days when your only option for cooling off on a hot day was the single pool on the Lido Deck. Today's big cruise ships have multiple pools, one or more water slides and kid's wading and splash areas. Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas, for instance, has three outdoor pools, three water slides collectively dubbed the "Perfect Storm" and a kiddy water area called Splashaway Bay; the line's smaller Liberty of the Seas also has the Perfect Storm trio of water slides, Splashaway Bay and two pools. You'll find similar offerings on big cruise ships from Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line.
When cruising first took off in the '70s and '80s, travelers cruised in order to get away from it all, hang around by the pool, sip cocktails and read a book. There's still plenty of relaxation to be had, but many of today's cruisers are also looking for fun -- and cruise ships have it in spades. Ziplines, simulated surfing, vertical tunnel skydiving, ropes courses and rock walls all offer enough adrenaline pumping action to keep most thrill seekers entertained.
No more the days of sitting through a badly sung and danced Las Vegas-style revue with cheesy outfits and no special effects. Today's cruise shows run the gamut from high-tech extravaganzas (on Carnival Cruise Line) and stage partnerships with entities like B.B. King, Lincoln Center and Billboard (on Holland America Line ships) to full-length Broadway or Broadway-inspired shows. Norwegian Cruise Line, for instance, has ships with productions of "Priscilla Queen of the Desert," "Rock of Ages," "Million Dollar Quartet" and "After Midnight," while select Royal Caribbean ships feature "CATS," "Mamma Mia!", "We Will Rock You" and "Grease."
In the early days of cruising, all passengers ate in one large dining room at assigned tables during either an early time slot or a later one. As cruising progressed, the lines added buffets and specialty restaurants to give cruisers a more casual option outside of the main dining room. Today, main dining rooms are only a small part of the dining equation on any cruise ship. Most ships have multiple dining venues --some included in the cruise price and some for an extra fee, with flexible schedules that allow passengers to pick what time they want to eat, rather than have to show up at a set time. (Traditional set seating is still available on most cruise lines, as well, for those who prefer the traditional set up.)
Not only was the dining system formalized on cruises back in the day, but so was the dress code. Cruisers were required to change for dinner every night and formal night wasn't just a suggestion. Today, cruise passengers can choose to dress up if they like or remain casual (even on formal night!), with some lines even OK with shorts and T-shirts in most onboard eateries. Whatever you feel most comfortable in is pretty much OK with most mainstream cruise lines nowadays.
With just one restaurant (two if a ship had a buffet), cruise ship chefs tended to keep meals simple and straightforward with tried-and-true American, Italian, British and French dishes on the menu. But as the lines expanded their culinary offerings to include more dining venues, the options to provide a variety of cuisines increased as well. Today's ships might offer Brazilian, Indian, Mexican, pan-Asian or sushi restaurants, to name just a few.
Once upon a time, cruise balconies were only for the elite, with most cruise ships having just a handful of suites offering the alfresco amenity. Today's cruise ships (at least those that are over 10 years old) offer way more rooms with balconies than without. Some ships, particularly in the luxury segment don't even have ships without balconies. All of Viking Ocean Cruises' ships, for instance, are all-balcony, as are most Regent Seven Seas ships.
Sure you can still get a frozen margarita or Long Island Ice Tea (though good luck finding a Pink Lady or Harvey Wallbanger), but today's menu of libations is vastly expanded from what bartenders back in the day were handing out. From trained mixologists whipping up unique cocktails to match your mood to bars that specialize in just one beverage (whisky, beer, rum, tequila) there's something to suit the tastes of every cruise drinker. Oh, and one bar -- the Bionic Bar on select Royal Caribbean ships -- doesn't even have a bartender; instead drinks are served by robotic arms backlit by neon lights, which stop to dance along to the beat-heavy music every now and then.
Like airplanes, getting on a cruise ship used to mean going without contact with your friends and family back home for the length of your trip. That's no longer even remotely the case, with just about every big ship having front-to-back Wi-Fi and packages that are reasonably priced. As examples, Royal Caribbean's super fast Voom Wi-Fi starts at $12.99 per day, per device, for everything but streaming, while on Carnival Cruise Line, cruisers can purchase social packages for $5 a day that provide access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social sites. More robust packages cost $16 or $25 per day, with the latter including the ability to stream. So instead of having to send a postcard from Puerto Vallarta, today you just 'Gram your selfie from wherever you are -- even on the ship.
Updated January 08, 2020