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Skeet shooting in the Inside Passage aboard Norwegian Wind, 1998 (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Skeet shooting in the Inside Passage aboard Norwegian Wind, 1998 (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

5 Things You’ll Never See Again on a Cruise Ship

Skeet shooting in the Inside Passage aboard Norwegian Wind, 1998 (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Skeet shooting in the Inside Passage aboard Norwegian Wind, 1998 (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Senior Editor, News and Features
Aaron Saunders

Last updated
Nov 28, 2023

Read time
5 min read

Cruising, like travel in general, has changed over the intervening decades. Ships have gotten bigger, amenities have become more elaborate and inclusive, and cruising has become accessible to everyone whereas the early days of ocean liner travel were not.

But while new and exciting features come to the seas and rivers of the world, some traditions quietly slip beneath the waves. And, if you’ve been cruising long enough, you likely remember some of them.

Here are five things that you’re not likely to see again on your next cruise:

On This Page

Skeet-Shooting with a Bridge Officer

Skeet, or trap, shooting off the stern of the Norwegian Wind in July 1998 (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Skeet, or trap, shooting off the stern of the Norwegian Wind in July 1998 (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

After being patted down by security upon embarkation and having all carryon items put through the typical X-Ray machine, my first cruise in 1998 featured an intriguing activity the first day onboard: Skeet Shooting with a Bridge Officer.

Held at the stern of the ship, passengers would enter into a competition to fire a gun into the air to destroy a small clay disc – while we transited the pristine Inside Passage, no less. It seems archaic to think about it now, but skeet, or trap shooting, was a common activity on cruise ships for many years.

It was also fun to watch: concurrent competitions were held on sea days, and I vividly recall the battle between a man in an inside cabin duke it out for supremacy with the guy who was in the ship’s Owner’s Suite for skeet shooting supremacy. Inside Cabin eventually went on to victory, and everyone shook hands at the end.

Environmental regulations and world events like 9/11 put a stop to the idea of firing a gun off the ship’s stern, so don’t expect this one to make a comeback any time soon.

Assigned Dining Times for Lunch

Enjoying a lunch of mussels and gnocchi on the Sun Deck of a Viking Longship
Lunch on the Sun Deck (Image: Viking)

Back in the days of traditional dining, passengers were assigned a dining time for dinner: early seating, or late seating. But did you know some ships extended this formality to lunch, as well?

My very first cruise in 1998 aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s then-recently-stretched Norwegian Wind featured open seating for breakfast and assigned dining times for lunch and dinner. Since we had late seating dinner at 8 p.m., our assigned lunch time was 1:30 p.m. each day. Norwegian Wind, though large for the time, lacked a traditional buffet, and I remember grabbing hot dogs from the small pool deck grill to stave off hunger.

While dinner was at a set table and time in one of the ship’s three main dining rooms, lunch was an open-seating affair, meaning we were invited to try dining at the other two main dining rooms.

With the advent of bigger ships offering more dining options, the more formal dining times for lunch (and even dinner) have almost all but disappeared. While we love our set dining times, we’re not sad to see set times for lunch go the way of the dinosaur.

Open Tours of the Cruise Ship’s Navigation Bridge

The captain of National Geographic Resolution watches the landscape from the bridge. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)
The captain of National Geographic Resolution watches the landscape from the bridge. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

Touring the ship’s navigation bridge used to be an event that was listed in the daily program, but 9/11 largely put a stop to the practice.

Ship buffs hoping to get a look at where the nautical action takes place, however, aren’t entirely out of luck: this is one event that still exists, though it takes a little more pre-planning to figure it out.

Most small ship expedition lines will offer an “open bridge” policy that allows passengers to view the ship’s navigation, so long as critical maneuvers aren’t taking place. What’s more, some big, mainstream ships include a tour of the ship’s navigation bridge as part of an extra-cost “Behind the Scenes” tour package that typically includes the ship’s laundry, crew corridors and, on some tours, even a peek at the Engine Control Room.

One area that’s off-limits on practically every ship: the ship’s engine room. A tour of this sensitive region is probably not in the cards, and access is even restricted to certain crew members only.

Midnight Chocolate Buffet Extravaganzas

The Midnight Chocolate Buffet in the Four Seasons Dining Room aboard Norwegian Wind in July 1998 (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
The Midnight Chocolate Buffet in the Four Seasons Dining Room aboard Norwegian Wind in July 1998 (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

After all that formal dining, cruise passengers used to retire to an evening of drinking and shows before, once per voyage, the real event started.

The midnight chocolate buffet was an extravaganza of epic proportions. Chocolate creations of all shapes and sizes were usually set up in a large dining room or on the enclosed pool deck if ships were so equipped. Ice sculptures, chocolate fountains, colored lighting and special drinks and cocktails to match were on offer – and there was no cheating – you really did have to wait until Midnight for the festivities to begin.

The last full-blown midnight chocolate extravaganza I remember was onboard Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam in the summer of 2012 in Alaska. Rising costs and concerns about food waste have largely put an end to the midnight chocolate extravaganza, though modern cruise ships still generally have late-night bites available for those who are peckish.

Black Tie Formal Nights Are Fading into the Sunset

Dining in AmaMagna's main restaurant (Photo/AmaWaterways)
Dining in AmaMagna's main restaurant (Photo/AmaWaterways)

Hear us out: this one hasn’t actually ended yet, but our own experience here at Cruise Critic suggests that the age of the ultra-formal formal night is going away faster than even we expected.

While some lines, like Cunard, still employ a dress code, even that isn’t as rigorous as it used to be: a summer cruise aboard Queen Mary 2 had us in more informal garb than I would have expected, and I haven’t had to touch my tie rack in months.

Dressing up never goes out of style, but these days, formal nights on cruise ships are a lot more flexible than they use to be in terms of dress codes. Tuxedoes and formal suits are out, “dress to impress” – as Carnival Cruise Line calls it – is definitely in.

You might not be able to wear your bathrobe to breakfast, but dress codes aboard cruise ships are definitely trending towards the casual. Of course, for those who still wish to don their finest, there’s no better place to do it than at sea.


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