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Copyright © 2004-Jeffrey R. Stern

All Rights Reserved

The best part of all of my cruise memories is the fact that I create new ones with each new cruise! Something that happens on a cruise, which has only a little meaning to me, when it happens, may become a wonderful memory, years from now. The “upgrade†story that recently occurred on the Century, may, or may not, qualify, somewhere down the road (or is it somewhere down the gangplank?). If it makes it, I’ll tell it to you, some day…

What things that are commonplace, now, will disappear from cruising, and become only fond memories? The Midnight Buffet is disappearing as quickly as the magician’s bunny. What next? Will we lose ice carving, or napkin folding, demonstrations? Oh, horrors! Will we have to face a night of starvation, because there is no longer a piece of chocolate on our pillow? Heaven forbid! And, what of pool games? Have you noticed a decline in that riotous bit of frivolity, lately? Will our bathing suits finally lose the little dimples they developed from the 87 ping-pong balls we stuffed into them? Hmmmmm…

People ask if cruising was better, ten years ago, or if the new, bigger, ships are superior.

Another question to which I cannot supply an answer… (You’d think that, after all of my cruises, these would be easy questions. Well, I’m blond, ½ Polish and a man…)

I can say, without question, that it is, most definitely, very different! The changes have

been radical, and sudden, and have made a huge impact on the cruise experience, in


The major change has been the increased size of the ships, and all that goes along with it. As the ships got larger, they could offer more varied public areas, atriums, and additional amenities.

Let’s begin by pointing out that the increase in the size of ships was not the result of the cruise lines wanting to give the passengers more of anything! The driving force behind the mega-liners was profit.

The single largest expense of any cruise is fuel consumption. A 100,000 grt ship does not use twice the fuel of a 50,000 grt ship. It uses only a little bit more. Therefore, the “per passenger†cost of fuel is reduced.

Likewise, a production show that cost a set amount to produce, costs the same whether watched by 500 passengers, per sitting, or 1,000. Cost reduced by 50%.

The same goes for many other items, such as food cost. More volume means lower cost. On, and on, and….well, you get the picture.

It is only a coincidental bonus that we get more variety, in many areas, and other things that many consider a plus.

Is it better now? Wasn’t it “real†cruising then? Don’t you miss…. Aren’t you glad….

The answer is yes, and no, to all of these questions.

When the nineteen-eighty’s turned into the nineteen-nineties, cruising hadn’t changed much since its inception, thirty years before. The ships were small, compared to todays.

You have to keep in mind that the Titanic was about the same gross tonnage as the Holiday, which was a behemoth among cruise ships!

The early ships I sailed on were, almost, all under thirty-thousand gross registered tons, and held fewer than a thousand passengers. These included the Britanis (18,000grt/935 passengers); Dolphin (13,000/600); Mardi Gras (27,000/900); Caribe I (23,000/875); among others.

Cruising on these small ships, during the 1960’s, was a unique experience. There were a number of areas where the cruises, then, differ markedly from today’s product.

“Traditional†cruises were specifically geared toward offering an artificial environment, insulated from the real world; the “grown-ups†answer to Disneyland. A place that existed for, only, a short time, but was never to be forgotten. Reality disappeared as the ship pulled away from the dock.

Most ships did not have television in the cabins. Those that did, could only offer “in-house†programming. This was pre-satellite broadcasting, and while cable was available, 2,000 miles of wire would be unwieldy, and very expensive. So, we were stuck with whatever programming was brought aboard, plus the tapes taken during the cruise. We were lucky enough to be able to watch (over, and, over, and, over…) the Port And Shopping Lectures, the Shore Excursion Talks and, my particular favorite, the Disembarkation Speech…

There was no daily Times Fax, and finding a newspaper, even in port, was an almost impossible feat. Occasionally, but seldom, you would be in a town where you could find a three-day-old copy of U.S.A. Today.

The telephones in the cabins got you about as far as the Purser’s Desk, and Room Service. If you needed to make a ship-to-shore call, you had to go to the Radio Room, during, limited, specified hours.

You were totally immersed in the cruise experience, both while onboard and in port.

Much of the staff came from the islands. With their brightly-colored Caribbean shirts, they brought a bit of the sense of the Caribbean aboard. Steel pan, or calypso played, constantly, and you were totally immersed in the cruise experience, both while onboard and in port.

The real world melted away, and became, Irie…

When you traveled on these smaller ships, with far less people aboard, everything seemed to take on a pleasant atmosphere, friendly and affable. After only a few days aboard ship, most of your fellow-passengers appear familiar; you have spoken to many of them, either a passing, “hello,†or a short conversation while standing on a buffet line.

The crew, in particular the Cruise Director, Assistant Cruise Director and the C.D. Staff, often spent a considerable amount of time mingling, and interacting, with the passengers.

If you passed one of them on deck, or in a passageway, they always stopped to chat, for a moment. Other than Shannon McKee, whom I’ve discussed earlier, and who had a special gift for remembering names, almost all of the other Cruise Directors made an attempt to learn as many of the passenger’s names as they could.

Another “special†person was an Assistant Cruise Director, Joyce Gleeson, of the Britanis, who more than made up for the presence of the “most annoying†C.D. I’ve come across, Tommy Van.

There would be times when you might be in a port, looking over something you were tempted to splurge on, for yourself, when one of the crew members from the ship walked in. You’d be holding the item, and the crewmember would give a little smirk, and, unobtrusively shake their head yes, or, no.

Lunch and dinner were served at the assigned times, Main Seating and Late Seating. Most ships served a Lunch Buffet, also, but it usually attracted less than half of the passengers. Dinner was served in the Dining Room…. No buffet, no alternative restaurants,

You shared your dinner hour with the same waiter and bus boy, and your table with the same fellow-passengers, for the duration of the cruise. The waiter and bus boy got to know your likes, dislikes and wishes after only a few meals. If you ordered ice tea, the first evening, the bus boy, usually, brought it, again, every evening, without you asking. Sometimes, it took twice. You learned all about your tablemates, and, by proxy, their families. Friendships may not have been long-lasting, but they were formed quickly, and added to the enjoyment of the cruise.

I have found that many of the people I have met have been interesting and friendly. They may not have been the type of people with whom I would have socialized with, normally, but it was very different on the ship.

On those rare occasions when you were seated with someone who made you, for whatever reason, feel “uncomfortable,†you could always have the maitre d’ change your table. However, I have done this only twice, which represents 3% of my cruises. I think 97% nice tablemates is a pretty good average.

Activities on the, now, historic ships were, also, distinctive to cruising. While it was

Carnival that had the “Animal House†reputation, all of the lines promised you loads, and loads, of “fun.†Unfortunately, Carnival had copyrighted the word, “fun,†for their “fun ships,†and “fun cruises,†so the other lines couldn’t tell you about all of the fun you would have; therefore, Commodore became the “Happy Ships,†etc;

Now, what was that fun all about?

All of the lines presented a daily array of raucous fun, such as the ever-popular Pool Games, during which the passengers would make absolute fools of themselves. Of course, after a few Pina Coladas, this is really riotous fun!

Each day, also, brought a full array of waiters showing you how to turn an ordinary napkin into a fan, or candle; a chef showing you that a turnip, a carrot, and a cantaloupe can be cared into a beautiful dolphin; a Cabin Attendant folding a towel into an octopus; and many more useful bits of information, which you will forget before dinner… I can’t think of any other situation where I would find myself watching someone carve produce into flora and fauna, except on a cruise…

Likewise, to the best of my recollection, I don’t remember playing Bingo, since I was very young, and played it with friends. Yet, Jacki and I will play Bingo, on the ship, at least once during the cruise. Not only playing, but actually enjoying folding down those stupid little number tabs. Just once, though, we’d like to have the opportunity of yelling out, “Bingo!â€Â

When was the last time you saw a group of people standing around watching someone chip away at a block of ice until it was an eagle?

One of my favorite activities was the Skeet Shooting, off the stern of the ship. Unfortunately, the cruise lines, for the most part, have discontinued this particular variety of fun, under pressure from the U.S.P.C.S. (United Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Skeets….).

My real, number one, favorite was poolside Horse Races!!!! The brighty-colored, wooden, horses would gallop down the boxes painted on their canvass track, in accordance with the numbers shown on the three little dice, trapped in their steel cage.

After a few rolls of the dice, everything would stop….and the Cruise Staff members running the game would begin the rhythmic clapping….soon, everyone would join in…clap, clap, clap, clap…faster and faster…until, finally, the M.C. would shout the odds into the microphone, in tempo with the beat, “One pays 4; 2 pays 6; 3 pays 7…â€Â

At the end, cheers! The race continues, and the excitement builds. Then, one of the stallions crosses the finish line, and the passengers go wild! Clutching the winning

tickets in their hands, the victors push forward to collect their three, or, four, dollar winnings. What could be more fun?

It was fun, and interesting, to watch even the, so-called, “sophisticated passengers,†and “older†passengers, not only participating in, but, actually enjoying, in all of this foolishness.

I guess people acknowledged the fact that they were with a group of people that they would, probably, never see again in their lives. So what if you let you hair down, and made a fool of yourself? After all, think of all the fun you can have stuffing fruit down your bathing suit!

Add in the Trivia Contests, lectures, shuffleboard, and a host of other activities, and you have a really full day.

Or, you could it all, and just relax by the pool, with a good book.

The evenings brought good, but simple, entertainment. The show rooms, and so their stages, were much smaller, and could not accommodate large, lavish Broadway and Las Vegas reviews. The shows were more of the “cabaret†style. Many, however, were excellent, and the performers each, individually, exceptional. There were often a number of “novelty†acts. These shows were often more entertaining than the big productions of today.

Most of the ships, after the early seventies, had a disco. They usually had one, or two, intimate clubs/piano bars, and, somewhere, always, Karaoke! Such amusement watching some fool, who can’t carry a tune, sing out as if he was the “fourth tenor….â€Â

It was a very different kind of cruise experience. It was friendlier, warmer and much simpler. No complications; no major choices; total isolation from the world…

You distanced yourself from telephones (computers weren’t popular, yet), newspapers, television, and everything else that might bring negative news. Nothing will spoil this vacation! You found amusement in simple things, and stuff that you would not, ordinarily, do. The hardest choice you faced was which appetizer to order; and, even then, if you didn’t want to make the decision, you could order both.

That was then……

With today’s mega-liners, things are very different. Alternative dining, “Personal Choice,†“Freestyle Cruising,†giant dinner buffets, multiple restaurants, you need never see the same waiter, or bus boy, twice, or sit with the same fellow passengers more than once.

After dinner, choose from a dozen clubs! Disco? Rock? Big Band? Yup, we got it! It’s busy, bright and noisy… It’s a whirlwind…

We’ve also got Art Auctions, Ice Skating, Rock-wall Climbing, golf…busy, busy busy.

Yes, today’ cruises are great! We love them. The variety of food they offer can be mind-boggling! More people, more choices. You may loose some of the quality, as the numerical demands increase, but the variety and quantity makes up the difference.

Two exceptions we have found are Celebrity, and Princess, which have kept the quality at their usual high levels.

While cruising has undergone a huge transformation in the past decade, it has retained many of the basics which make it the vacation value it has always been. An average cruise, today, costs about the same as it did when we began to cruise. The fares have not increased much, if at all. And, you get more for your dollar than a decade ago.

I’m just not sure that, in this case, more is really better.

After completing the above, I had the opportunity to tracel through a time tunnel, ans (sort of) return to the days of cruising past....

The old "Caribe I," originally the "Olympia," is still sailing, today, as the "Regal Empress." She does a two night cruise from Miami to Nassau, and back. Very little has changed, other than her name, since I sailed her almost a decade-and-a-half ago. What has changed is my perception of the question of "old versus new."

It may be related to the way we view nostalgia, and, in retrospect, the slant we place on past experiences.

What I did find was that I, now, lean towards the new cruise experience a bit more, as opposed to "classic cruising."

I did have a very positive cruuise on the Empress, and I would, in fact probably will, cruise on her again. However, the gilt is gone from the lily.

The ship is still fantastic! Highly lacquered wood and highly polished brass surround you, as does the very nautical feel all around. The ship still has that warm, small-ship, friendliness, and not the lost-in-a-crowd feeling.

The dinners are still served "old-style..."

But, the cabaret-style shows have gotten "worn" and tacky; the lack of multiple activities at night is a negative; and, in general, I think the balance between the old-style and modern cruising has tipped in favor of the new.






(If you missed any of the preceding chapters, and wish to “catch up,†you can click on the links below….)

Part 1 – Introduction;


Part 2 – Onto The Ship; Out To Sea


Part 3 – First, there’s The Food


Part 4 – Shooting The Dice


Part 5 – Places To Visit; People To See


Part 6 – Catching Cruise Fever


Part 7 – A Love Affair at Sea


Part 8 – Apollo Wasn’t Just A Greek God


Part 9 – Bon Voyage To A Real Lady


Part 10 – Olympus, To Caribe I, To rgale Empress


Part 11 – Dirty Dancing At Sea


Part 12 – Dirty Dancing At Sea


Part 13 – This ‘n That Stuff


Part 14 – Attitude, Attitude, Attitude


Parts 15 & 16 – People With No Names/Does The Cruise Director

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Thanks again, Jeff, for this interesting entry.

I'm inclined to agree with you. One of my goals was to sail on some of the older ships to experience that old cruise liner feel. However, even though I enjoyed myself on the Regal Empress, I am now inclined to lean toward the newer ships with larger staterooms and more variety in food.

I've changed my cruising goal to attempt to sail to ports I haven't been before on slightly newer ships.

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Thanks again, Jeff, for this interesting entry.

I'm inclined to agree with you. One of my goals was to sail on some of the older ships to experience that old cruise liner feel. However, even though I enjoyed myself on the Regal Empress, I am now inclined to lean toward the newer ships with larger staterooms and more variety in food.

I've changed my cruising goal to attempt to sail to ports I haven't been before on slightly newer ships.

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