Things have certainly changed since the first cruise set sail in the 1800s, and as you can probably guess, they’ve changed for the better.
According to Cruise Passenger, the first leisure cruise was in 1844. A company called P&O Cruises took several passengers from Southampton to the Mediterranean for no purpose other than enjoying themselves. It didn't take long for the idea to catch on.
Cruise ships in the 1850s and 1860s certainly weren’t up to today’s standards of luxury, though. Steerage passengers were required to bring their own food and details such as electric lights and entertainment weren’t a given. They were slowly added, however. (The first cruise ship to have electric lights was the SS Valetta in 1889.)
Trips for the Stars
According to Cruise Bulletin, the earliest cruise ships had tiny staterooms and very few public rooms, and cruises were primarily for the rich and famous (people like Walt Disney and Queen Elizabeth set sail in the 1950s). Cruise ships couldn’t go to exotic locations due to shallow water — most cruises ran from London to New York, and that was about it. Cruises were also a lot more formal than they are now. In one dining room on “informal” nights, the maitre d’ kept a stash of ties on hand for any guy who’d forgotten to wear one.
In the mid-20th century, the cruise ship industry took a hit. First came the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. It was the biggest boat in the world at the time, and ship officials realized they needed to focus more on safety. Next, many cruise ships were commandeered and made into troop ships during World War I (some ships did not survive the war). When the war ended, the Great Depression hit, and no one had money for pleasure travel.
Finally, World War II again took many cruise ships for the war effort — and as if that wasn’t enough, the first commercial nonstop trans-Atlantic flight went to Europe soon after, meaning many didn't see the point in cruises.
The Love Boat
In the 1970s, though, ABC released a TV series called The Love Boat that ran from 1977 to 1986. It skyrocketed ticket sales for vacation cruises. Around this time, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. chairman Richard Fain explained to Travel Weekly, that the way cruise ships were built began to change. Instead of being built like a ship, cruise ships were being built to resemble hotels. Ships didn’t look like yachts anymore; they looked like the Hyatt you might stay in on land, with lots of public areas where people could congregate.
The current most common cruise ship design, said Fain, is that of the city. Today’s cruise ships are filled with everything you could ever need — restaurants, libraries, gyms, etc. The long list of amenities and activities resembles a list of things you would find in an average city. Instead of just being a yacht, cruise ships now look like Royal Caribbean’s enormous and majestic Allure of the Seas, and they’re fully outfitted with anything you could dream of and some things you couldn’t.
Today, we have planes and jets and we can easily cross the ocean to get anywhere we need to go. But still, we choose to set sail on a cruise ship that’s going nowhere in particular, just to enjoy the ride.