This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the Chicago Tribune in 1992. It’s about a savvy seafarer (moi) who goes in search of utopian cruise ships. In this update I trace and intersperse the 90s with today’s scene.
|Silversea helped redefine luxury cruises in 1994|
|Silver Muse debuted in 2017 raising the bar higher on top of the line cruising|
The article published after Crystal Cruises debuted and before Silversea Cruises began redefining luxury luxury cruises. Many of the ships and cruise lines are long gone. But it is interesting to read about cruises back in the day. So many changes. There are now more balconies now. And lots of perks and freebies such as tips, drinks and more.
Top Ships For Cabins, Food, Fitness And More Cruising way back when
My story in the Chicago Tribune begins. Once upon a time, back in the 1990s, a savvy seafarer set out in search of the best cruise ship. Not an easy task, considering the number of passenger vessels, around 150 at last count, according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). Relentless in his quest for quality, this seafarer (hereafter to be called S.S.) booked voyages on dozens of luxury liners. She scrutinized each ship from stern to bow, top deck to lower, outside cabins and suites to below- waterline closets that pass as berths.
From ship to ship
From ship to ship the S.S. went in search of utopia at sea. Eager to share the knowledge with other potential seafarers, the S.S. performed a white-glove inspection noting important categories (such as food) and matched them with the ships that excel in each.
There were no ships as breathtakingly beautiful as Regent Seven Seas Splendor back then.
The best nautical cuisine (remember we’re talking the 1990’s here)Sure theres always plenty of chow on a cruise. But back in the day only a handful of galleys were able to dish out the quality fare. Exceptions were Crystal Harmony (Crystal Cruises), Sea Goddesses I and II (Cunard), Seabourn Pride and Seabourn Spirit (Seabourn), Wind Star and Wind Song (Windstar Sail Cruises) or Song of Flower (Seven Seas Cruises). We`re talking tasty, creative, beautiful dishes designed for discerning palates, gourmets, gastronomes, foodies who know their way around quail soup, pheasant and foie gras.One of the S.S’s best memories was dining on the since defunct Paquet Cruises. Sailing on this fabulously French ships was like being in France. There was a palpable joie de vivre, fine food and a chic, casual international clientele.The culinary scene bursts with flavor today as chefs create cuisines as good, or better, than shore side restaurants.
In the small-ship division, it didn’t get much better than Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas and Windstar for its amazing four-masted, sailing ship experience. Princess Cruises` Star Princess, Crown Princess and Regal Princess for homemade pasta dishes, Royal Cruise Line`s Golden Odyssey and Crown Odyssey`s Greek salads and entrees and Holland America for its fresh fish and outstanding pastries. Most civilized meal hours (this has completely changed with most lines now offering dine when you like options and/or reserved or open seating alternative dining venues).
Back in the day you were able to dine at one of two seatings (6:30 p.m.) or late (between 8 and 8:45 p.m.). Of course that’s no longer true today. In fact you can have food sent to your stateroom at almost any time of the day now.
The trend setters
Raising the bar began with ships such as Sea Goddesses I and II (now under the SeaDream Yachts moniker), Wind Song, Wind Star, Wind Spirit, Seabourn Pride and Spirit (expanded in several more ships such as Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn EncoreSeabourn Quest, Seabourn Ovation) , Club Med 1 and Seven Seas Cruises` (now Regent Seven Seas) Song of Flower and Crystal Harmony.
|Dawning of a more deluxe era with Seabourn Encore in the 2000’s|
While the late great Crystal Harmony had two seatings in the main dining room, passengers had the option of dining at two other restaurants between 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. Today’s Crystal Cruises swank ships Symphony and Serenity have open seating and alternative dining choices.
Classiest cruise ship
Back then it the classiest ship afloat was the 900- passengers Crystal Harmony which redefined luxury. The ship no longer exists. In her place are the exquisite Crystal Serenity and Symphony. While you paid extra for almost everything back then, today lines like Crystal give you WiFi, drinks, include tips and offer much more bang for the buck.
There was also the now defunct fledgling Song of Flower, (former Explorer Starship until Japanese-owned Seven Seas Cruises bought and renovated it), has garnered rave reviews since its debut a year ago. The 172-passenger luxury liner has a crew of 144 along with outside staterooms that range from 183 to 258 square feet. Ten larger suites (321 square feet) have private verandas and another 10 have 398 square feet.
Tops in entertainment
I wrote back then that this area is in dire need of improvement on most ships. Too often the
“talent“ just didn’t have any. I can’t tell you how many shows we walked out of in the past (1990s). But today’s another story with class acts appearing across the board. Especially on Princess, Crystal Cruises, Cunard especially QM2 crossings, Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas. Even Carnival’s gotten more into the act
Back in the day my exceptions included the SS Norway, a luxury liner that housed the Saga Theater, the best Broadway-style theater at sea and presented a floating jazz festival each fall. That year the 10th Annual Floating Jazz Festival took place Oct. 24-31 featuring 65 performers-among them: Dorothy Donegan Trio, Anita O`Day, Gary Burton and His Quintet and a special trio of Ed Higgins, Keter Betts and Jackie Williams.
The hidden costs of cruising back then
Free-flowing booze and wine was pretty much a dream in the 1990’s. Of course that’s now a reality on Silversea, Seabourn, Crystal, Regent Seven Seas and SeaDream with lines like. Viking Cruises offering complimentary beer and wine with lunch and dinner. Even Champagne is free on Silversea, Seabourn and Crystal.
The then most exciting ship on the horizon was SSC Radisson Diamond, a twin-hulled, 354-passenger catamaran-like, hi-tech, knocked-your-socks-off , Today’s most exciting new launch to look forward to is Celebrity Edge which debuts with a blast in December 2018.
Shopping has now gone overboard on many ships with glitzy boutiques purveying high-priced goods. But not always. The glitziest lobby/shopping arcades were exclusive to Crystal Harmony`s show stopping Crystal Plaza atrium. The jaw-dropping area has a glass sculpture, a waterfall and the 3,000-square-foot Avenue of the Stars shopping arcade. Princess Cruises` Crown and Regal`s three-story atrium lobby with its circle staircase and fountain sculpture is topped by a two-level Galleria shopping arcade. The Star Princess Plaza, another three-story affair, has a vivid kinetic sculpture with a circular staircase leading to shops and restaurants.
Movies at sea
Boffo cinemas in the 1990s for late run movies could be seen at Crystal Harmony`s 270-seat Hollywood Theatre and the Star, Regal, Royal and Crown Princess theater. Today you can watch movies under the stars on Princess. Crystal continues to run new releases, too, in its theaters.
Best casino bets were on Crystal Harmony`s Caesars Palace at Sea which at the time was the most authentic Las Vegas-like casino afloat, with a staff direct from the gambling capital of the world. Now Carnival Cruises is king of the gambling game.
Best pools for swimming in the 1990s
|Crystal Serenity pool 2016 by Richard Pietschmann|
Raising the nautical bar
Today best pools are on Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal Cruises, Seabourn and well almost all new builds.
Oy vey, tipping back then was such a debacle
Tipping was such an ordeal in the old days. You filled envelopes with cash and passed them out to the crew. Of course today many lines including gratuities or charging them to passenger accounts.
What a difference decades have made with these game-changers
There was a time when passengers suffered sticker shock at the end of the cruise when they got their bar bill. Drinking wine, beer and spirits on a cruise is afterall a popular pass time. Then came the game changers. Companies such as Crystal, Seabourn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas and a few others began including libations in the fare.
Believe it or not, there was little or no WiFi in the early 1990s.
Want to read more about cruising in the 1990s? Go here.