Once upon a time there was no such thing as setting sail for pleasure. Ships carried crowds of passengers from one destination to the other until the 1960s, when the wind blew in the industry’s sails and modern cruising as we know it today took form.
In the 1850s and ‘60s, passengers boarded ships for the purpose of getting across the Atlantic, with amenities like electricity and occasional on-board entertainment. Luxury became more of a factor in the early 20th century with the development of ships such as the White Star line’s Olympic, but these fancy vessels were reserved exclusively for the elite classes.
After the building and sailing of cruise ships was interrupted by World War I and World War II, the turning point for the industry came in the 1960s and ‘70s, according to a cruise industry paper published by Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue of Hofstra University. Major cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean International, launched with the goal of making the cruise accessible to more than just the rich and famous. Bigger ships were able to accommodate more customers and support onboard sources of revenue. By the 1980s, cruise ships could carry more than 2,000 passengers.
The other incentive was to make the cruise ship itself the destination rather than just the vehicle; complete with the types of restaurants, theaters, casinos, swimming pools and comfortable lodging travelers would seek at a typical vacation spot. Off-board excursions to explore ports of call rounded out the cruising experience.
Royal Caribbean went a step farther in 1999 by introducing onboard activites such as a rock climbing wall and ice-skating rink on their Voyager-class ships. Then, in 2006, they launched Freedom of the Seas, which, in addition to those amenities features a surf simulator, cantilevered whirlpools and a Presidential family suite sleeping up to 14. In 2009, Royal Caribbean changed the face of the cruise industry once again when they unveiled Oasis of the Seas, which along with sister ship, Allure of the Seas, currently holds the title as the world’s largest cruise ship. The two ships feature a zip line, a living park and a hand-carved carousel.
Quantum of the Seas is the next step in Royal Caribbean’s legacy of innovation. The ship will sail in fall 2014 with Family-Connected staterooms, designed for multi-generational groups, the revolutionary skydiving simulator Ripcord by iFly, which allows people to experience the rush of flying and the North Star, a glass-enclosed pod that takes guests more than 300 feet above sea level.
History has shaped the evolution of ships and at-sea experiences, but what the future of cruising holds remains far on the horizon.