Here are just five of what we consider to be major turning points in modern cruise history.
The former Royal Princess, shown departing Southampton
in July 2009 as P&O Artemis.
Photo © Kim Plumridge
1984 - Balconies - Royal Princess
Though it would take the next sixteen years to fully catch on, Princess Cruises 1984-built Royal Princess (now sailing as Artemis for P&O) was one of the first cruise ships to feature balconies - and not just the token dozen or so that worked their way onto many cruise ships built in the 1980's. Although deck after deck of balcony cabins wouldn't be available to the masses on many ships for another decade, Royal Princess proved that private verandas were not possible, but lucrative as well.
Sovereign of the Seas sister ship Monarch of the Seas
is shown here in this press photo.
Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean
1988 - Mega Ships - Sovereign of the Seas
Cruise lines had been cautiously building their own newbuild ships since the mid-1970's, but it was Royal Caribbean's 1988 Sovereign of the Seas that kicked off the modern "megaship" building frenzy that continues to this day. Designed for Royal Caribbean from the ground up, Sovereign of the Seas boasted a number of firsts: a striking, multi-story atrium. Glass elevators. Multiple show lounges. Balcony staterooms. The result was the largest ship launched since the France in 1960, and both passengers and cruise lines took note.
Not content to let Royal Caribbean get a leg up on them, Carnival immediately entered the fray with their extremely-popular Fantasy-class ships in 1990, and together, both lines revolutionized cruising.
While Sovereign of the Seas was sold to Pullmantur a few years ago, sister-ships Monarch and Majesty of the Seas continue to sail for Royal Caribbean.
Consolidating multiple brands under a single corporate
umbrella allowed many lines to remain financially viable
during the 1990's.
Photo © Aaron Saunders
1990's - Consolidation
Love it or hate it, consolidation paved the way for the cruise lines we know and love today. The late 1980's and early 1990's were a veritable feeding frenzy for companies like Carnival Corporation PLC, who recognized the financial and operational benefits of having multiple "brands" under one corporate umbrella. They would go on to acquire Costa Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn, and even the venerable Cunard Line, rejuvenating its fleet and allowing it to continue to remain competitive in the modern cruise market.
In 1997, Royal Caribbean also got into the game by acquiring Celebrity Cruises from the Chandris family, a deal worth some $230 million in cash and $270 million in stock. At the time, Celebrity only had four ships in its fleet, and was struggling to compete on its own. It carried an $800 million debt load, which Royal Caribbean also assumed responsibility for.
While it's difficult to say what would have become of Celebrity had the Chandris family continued to stick it out on their own, chances are it would not be the ever-expanding line it is today, with a fleet of ten modern ships.
Onboard Internet Centres, like this one on Celebrity Summit,
were first introduced in 1999 aboard Norwegian Sky.
Photo © 2010 Aaron Saunders
1999 - The Internet - Norwegian Sky
Although struggling to re-invent itself at the time, Norwegian Cruise Line turned the cruising world on its head in 1999 by introducing the first-ever Internet Cafe aboard the then-new Norwegian Sky. In the next decade, the line would introduce other concepts, like flexible dress codes and dining times that would quickly catch on with other lines. So too did their internet concept. Today, Internet centres are featured aboard every major cruise ship - an idea that was unthinkable a mere fifteen years ago.
Oasis of the Seas, seen here arriving in Ft. Lauderdale
for the first time.
Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean
2009 - Oasis of the Seas - Royal Caribbean
It's definitely not for everyone, but there's no denying that the launch of Oasis of the Seas had as much of an impact on the cruise industry as the launch of Sovereign of the Seas did twenty-one years earlier. Her sheer size and features were followed closely by the cruise industry and international media. As impressive as they were, the more impressive thing was that yet again, Royal Caribbean had pulled off the seemingly impossible.
Interestingly, Oasis of the Seas hasn't inspired the same sort of newbuild race Sovereign of the Seas did. While lines were quick to match Sovereign's size and amenities in 1988, lines like Carnival have publicly stated they have no plans to build anything nearly as large as Oasis.
Instead, Oasis of the Seas may have made its greatest contribution to the cruise industry in an unlikely way. While it failed to spark a race for 'bigger and better', it did succeed in capturing the imaginations of travelers who would not have typically considered a cruise vacation before.
And that's good news for the entire industry.