Then and Now: Cruise Ship Travel Through the Years
The cruising industry has gone through some incredible changes over the past 100 years — and the tides continue to turn on cruising as a form of leisure travel.
Cruising has never been more accessible and, as such, continues to draw more curious travelers into the arms of the ocean. And while we may not be cruising as much right now, learning about cruising history can help get us through until the seas are open for good again.
From the ill-fated Titanic to modern cruising conundrums, here are some of the most fascinating aspects of cruise ship travel history.
The First American 'Cruise' Crossed the Atlantic in 1819
The first "cruise" vessel to cross the Atlantic from a U.S. port was the S.S. Savannah in 1819.
The cruise liner took 29 days to reach England and is considered to be the cause of a new era of marine travel by proving that ships powered by steam could actually pick up enough speed to be convenient.
It’s Believed That Cruising Originated In Germany
Cruising can be traced back to Albert Ballin, a German shipping magnate who is believed to be the inventor of the modern-day cruise liner.
The Augusta Victoria departed Cuxhaven, Germany, in January 1891 with a total of 241 brave passengers. The two-month-long cruise stopped at over a dozen ports that would later become hot spots all throughout the Mediterranean.
Cruise Liners Were Originally Used Strictly for Transportation
Transport ocean liners were originally used as just that — transport.
The large vessels were exclusively used as a means to get from point A to point B without ever hopping from port to port for leisure.
Mark Twain Helped Boost the Early Cruising Industry
Mark Twain published "The Innocents Abroad" in 1869, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the cruising industry.
The story follows Twain’s five-month trip from Europe to Jerusalem on the Quaker City and is credited for sparking interest in cruising for pleasure rather than just to get from point A to point B.
The First Leisure Cruise Line Was Built in 1900
While cruise liners were used exclusively for transportation up until the early 1900s, it wasn’t until Albert Ballin completed the Prinzessin Victoria Luise of Germany that the tides started to turn.
The luxury cruising vessel was completed in 1900 and was designed to transport passengers in style and comfort. The ship was in service until 1906 when it was accidentally grounded off the coast of Jamaica.
There Were Very Few Bathrooms on Early Cruise Ships
Cruise ships were much smaller in the early 1900s than they are today, and as such, there were much fewer bathrooms.
All passengers — including first-class guests — would have to share public bathrooms on board.
There Were Very Few Routes and Ports to Choose From
Prior to the 1980s, there were very few ports and routes for passengers to take.
The most popular route was between London, England, and New York, New York. Passengers looking to explore inward into the U.S. or Europe would opt for air travel.
The Titanic Would Be Considered a Small Vessel by Modern Standards
The Titanic may have been touted as the "Queen of the Ocean" — but the unlucky vessel would have been considered quite small by today’s standards.
The cruise liner set sail in 1912 with 2,229 guests, while today's average Princess Cruise Line vessel can accommodate upward of 4,000 guests.
The Titanic Was One of Three Luxury Ocean Liners Built by the White Star Line
We’re all very familiar with the tragic story of the Titanic — but the White Star line actually built three luxury cruise liners for transatlantic trips.
Alongside the Titanic, there was the Olympic and the Britannic. The Britannic was used as a British government ship, but the Olympic set the stage for luxury cruise ship amenities like on-board swimming pools.
The Addition of Safety Equipment Once Caused a Ship to Sink
The ill-fated journey of the Titanic sparked the cruise industry to reconsider what it means to have enough safety equipment on board — but unfortunately, for the SS Eastland, taking extra precautions was its downfall.
The cruise ship set sail through the Great Lakes in 1915, but the additional weight of all the lifeboats and rafts caused the ship to capsize and resulted in the deaths of 844 passengers.
Cruises Were Reserved for VIP Passengers Until the 1960s
The cruising industry was not nearly as accessible in the early 1900s as it is today — and, as such, most guests would be royal, famous or very well off.
The Titanic, for example, cost about $2,500 for a ticket, which would be closer to $61,000 in today’s economy.
Most Crew Members Talk in Code
While it is true that most ships have their own jargon, most crew members share a single unique code for all words, places, things and even events that happen on board the ship.
Not only does this give crew members their own personal "space" and privacy that living on a ship usually strips them of, but it also allows crew to chat among themselves without worrying about guests overhearing.
Cruise Ships Have Been Used as Places of Refuge After Natural Disasters
It might not seem like a haven during a tropical storm, but cruise ships have served as a place of refuge following natural disasters in the United States.
The Ecstasy and the Sensation from Carnival Cruise Ships, for example, provided shelter and meals to thousands of city workers in New Orleans, Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina hit.
Cruise Line Vessels Also Frequently Double as Rescue Boats
You might not expect a luxury vessel packed with discerning clients to double as a rescue boat, but many cruise liners have taken it upon themselves to rescue fishermen and other marine workers in need.
The Carnival Sensation recently rescued 24 people from a sinking boat off the coast of Florida. And it happens much more frequently than you might believe.
Ironically, sometimes it's dumb cruise ship passengers who need rescuing after pulling unconscientious stunts like jumping out of balconies.
There Are Clothing-Optional Cruise Lines
Clothes-free and clothing-optional cruises are a popular and growing vacation choice, according to the American Association for Nude Recreation.
"We’ve talked to and worked with many of the larger cruise lines: Costa, Dolphin, Carnival, Holland America’s Windstar and Majesty," says Nancy, who runs Bare Necessities Cruises with her ex-husband Tom. "When a company like ours can deliver a full ship, that’s a bonus for any cruise line."
Many Cruise Ships Have On-Board Morgues
According to the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office at Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades, nearly 100 people have died on cruise ships that arrived in Fort Lauderdale between 2014 and 2017.
Bodies can be stored in shipboard morgues for up to a week, and most cruise ships have room for three to six bodies.
The Crew Members Typically Sleep on the Lowest Level
Let’s just say the crew’s accommodations are not quite as glamorous as the guests in the top deck.
Most crew members sleep on the "B deck," which is below the waterline of the ship. They usually share dorm-style rooms and will typically have their own bathrooms.
There Are Hidden Crew-Only Bars and Pools
More crew and staff facilities are typically located on the "A deck" — including the crew store and the crew bar (where no passengers are allowed).
Certain modern-day liners also include an employees-only swimming pool and sunbathing areas.
Most Cruise Ships Have Well-Known 'Godmothers'
Cruise liners and many other ships follow a longstanding tradition of naming a well-known "godmother" who is selected by the cruise line and acts as good luck for the ship.
Celebrity godmothers have ranged from Helen Mirren and Reba McEntire to Oprah and Queen Elizabeth.
More Cruises Depart from Florida than Anywhere Else in the U.S.
Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale is the most popular cruise port in the United States with over 3 million passengers passing through its ports in a given year.
That’s about 145,866 passengers boarding vessels every single day.
State Rooms Are Typically Built Separate from the Rest of the Ship
Staterooms are typically built off-site by a completely different company to ensure ample space and time to complete the project.
The finished staterooms are then transported to the shipyard and lifted onto the exterior of the ship later in the project.
Some Cruise Ships Are Designed for Permanent Residents
Hoping to make your next home a cruise ship? It’s not exactly that wild of a dream. Avid cruisers who wish to move into their state room can now do so thanks to luxury liner The World.
The 165-guest ship takes its permanent residents all across the globe and back again — and then does it all over.
Many Cruise Liners Have an On-Board Jail
No, you’re not going to be put in cruise ship jail for overdoing it at the buffet or sneaking a glass of wine to your room from the bar.
The on-board jail — known as the brig — is rarely used and is typically reserved for passengers who commit serious crimes, like drug trafficking.
Princess Cruises Made its Debut by Way of a Television Series
"The Love Boat" television series ran from 1977 to 1986 and, as such, made Princess Cruises and its Pacific Princess ship recognizable in all corners of the world.
The spin-off series "Love Boat: The Next Wave" featured Sun Princess and increased its name recognition even more.
River Cruises Only Gained Popularity in the 1990s
River cruising has become a great option for anyone looking for a quick trip. But it wasn’t always the case. The Rhine-Main-Danube canal opened in 1992 and set off a new way to explore Europe from the water.
Viking River Cruises made its debut in 1997 and has since become the largest river cruise fleet.
The Cruise Industry Is Only Growing
Although this method of travel has been topical for over a hundred years at this point, it shows no sign of slowing down.
The cruise industry has reportedly grown year-over-year at a rate of 7 percent since 1980 (if you don’t count the pause in sailing due to the pandemic).
Many Cruise Ships Don’t Keep Bananas on Board
Many superstitious captains and cruise liners believe that bananas can bring bad luck to the ship. This superstition dates all the way back to the 1700s and is believed to have sprung from a myth that poisonous spiders would hide in banana crates and poison the crew.
Another theory is that bananas seen floating on the top of the water were often the first signs of a nearby shipwreck.
Pirate Attacks Can and Do Happen — Even Today
Pirate attacks sound like the punchline to a Peter Pan sequel. But they can and do happen to ships and cruise liners.
Thankfully, there are less than 200 pirate attacks annually and, according to Cruise Critic, there have only been six reported incidents of pirate attacks to cruise ships in the past decade.
The World’s Longest Cruise Was 357 Days
The longest consecutive cruise in history took place in 2016 when Mundy Cruises offered a "World of Travel" itinerary.
The 357-day cruise sailed to all seven continents and took place aboard seven different vessels.
The Largest Cruise Liner on Record Is Twice the Length of the Washington Monument
The largest cruise liner — Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas — was reportedly more than twice the length of the Washington Monument when it first hit the seas in 2018.
The massive ship features 2,759 staterooms, more than 20 restaurants and even an on-board zipline.