Just imagine an early twentieth century cruise experience, most likely crossing the ocean – do your thoughts turn to white coated servants at your beck and call, cavernous staterooms with luxurious fixtures and fittings, plated dinner service with monogrammed bone china?
Well for starters, I’d suggest that you’ve been watching Titanic far too much. Only a few well-heeled and fortunate travellers got to cross the Atlantic in such style – but still we can all dream of living the life of luxury.
This was the era of nation and image, when the need for the fastest, the largest, the most spectacular ocean liner was in part a representation of a nation’s power and status. The mundane truth is that the majority of ocean liners of the time were more down-to-earth and served a much more useful purpose of actual transportation, either moving people around the dominions and empires, or setting sail with a manifest of emigrants heading, full of hope, to a better life in the new world.
These aspirational ocean voyages laid the foundation for the early cruise industry, albeit in a vastly different shape and form than today’s mega-businesses. A few of the traditions and customs still linger, for instance formal nights with their associated dress codes can still be found on some lines; things are constantly changing and evolving, often to the dismay of a core of diehard cruising fans who protest these moves. Dress codes however, will always remain a hot-button topic – so argue with the wider cruise community at your peril!
The early and middle part of the twentieth century was not kind to the cruise and liner business. Two world wars required a good part of the tonnage be diverted away for military purposes, a major financial crash and subsequent depression hurt everyone, and then the advent of air travel changed the travelling public’s perception of sea travel. Who would want to spend several days getting from London to New York when you could fly in a matter of hours?
From the early days of small scale cruise operations way back in the late 1800’s it has been possible to enjoy a cruise experience, or to take a leisurely ocean crossing. Fast forward to the 1960’s, and by then just a few well known passenger lines were still in existence, some struggling to keep afloat – just keeping a market, never mind market share was a challenge.
All this was about to change as a collection of entrepeneurs were about to crash the party. Not only would the concept of cruising be redefined, but the whole industry would be shaken up and reimagined.