What a difference decades make
Patti Pietschmann, Travel Diva
A savvy seafarer looks back
The following article, by me, is an edited reprint from 1992, not long after Crystal Cruises (1990) and before Silversea Cruises (1990) restyled luxury cruises. Some of the ships and cruise lines are long gone. But cruise historians might enjoy seeing how the industry keep evolving. So much has changed.
There are now more balconies, freebies (all or mostly-inclusive fares) such as your tips, drinks, WiFi, better food and amenities. But it was still fun to cruise.
A savvy seafarer’s search for perfection
Once upon a time, back in the a savvy seafarer set out in search of the best cruise ship. Not an easy task, considering the number of passenger vessels, around 150 in the 1990s. Relentless in her pursuit for quality, the SS 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 S.S. searched until she could no longer stand to elbow her way through another midnight buffet, watch one more magician pull a rabbit out of a hat, listen to another off-key singer belt out oldies or endure one more washed-up comic trying to revive his career.
When her mission was accomplished, S.S. concluded that while all cruise ships had something going for them, some did a few things better than others. Eager to share the knowledge with other potential seafarers, S.S. jotted down a few important categories (such as food) and matched them with the ships that excel in each.
Ship board food is a far cry from what it was on most ships
Sure there`s always plenty of chow on a cruise, but only a handful of galleys dished out the quality fare of 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.
Still some of the best food float was offered by the long defunct Paquet Cruises. It just didn’t get better than this. We’re talking salads tossed at your table, freshly-caught fish and the best croissants that side of France. The French flag food-centric company also sponsored yearly classical music festivals at sea where only the top of the mark Champagnes, wines and spirits were poured as part of the fare.
Other contenders for culinary crowns in that decade were 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.
This foodie fueled decade is seeing ships’ restaurants manned by celebrity chef such as Thomas Keller, Guy Fieri, Roy Yamaguchi,Jean-Phillippe Maury, Cutis Stone and Jamie Oliver.
- Guy Fieri – Guy’s Burger Joint and Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse.
- Asian Market Kitchen by Roy Yamaguchi.
- Jean-Philippe Maury – Chocolatier and Pastry Chef. …
- SHARE by Curtis Stone. …
- Norman Love – Chocolate Journeys.
- Thomas Keller – The Grill.
- Jamie Oliver – Jamie’s Italian.
- Jose Garces – Bayamo and Pincho Tapas Bar.
Early or late seating
Once upon a time passengers had to choose whether they wanted to dine at 6:30 or 8:30. Usually at assigned tables with the same waiters. Welcome to more civilized options. Most lines offer the option of open seating and come when you want dining. There are also more dining venues, some with a surcharge.
Classiest cruise ship
Back then it the 900- passengers Crystal Harmony since replaced by Crystal Serenity and Symphony. Most cabins on both boast balconies, free WiFi, spacious sitting areas, twin beds that convert to queen or king, mini-fridges, upscale toiletries, terry robes and round-the-clock room service. Today Seabourn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, Celebrity and others have introduced innovative, knock-down-gorgeous ships.
Silversea redefined its style with the Silver Muse last year and is adding the Silver Moon next year. Seabourn continues to expand its fancy fleet with extravagant vessels. Regent Seven Seas Splendor is designed to knock your socks off when she debuts in a few months. .
Tops in entertainment
I wrote back then that this area is in dire need of improvement on most ships. Too often the talent doesn’t have any. But that’s all changed.
We caught fab shows on Queen Mary 2 recently that included the talentedGregory Porter. 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 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 stage at sea. The floating jazz festival was SRO each fall. 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.
Free-flowing booze and wine was pretty much a dream in the 1990’s. But it’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, Regent Seven Seas, 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.
Shops and casinos
Shopping has now gone overboard on many ships with glitzy, designer boutiques purveying high-priced goods. Sure there was always shops, but nothing like today.
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 and now
Believe it or not many ships sported tiny pools back in the 1990s. Then lines such as Crystal came up with inviting pools that are long enough for lap swimming and wide enough not be squeezed in like sardines.
Carnival`s Ecstasy`s attractive 50- by 16-foot pool, complete with water slide and two Jacuzzis.
The Royal Caribbean Cruise Line`s (RCCL) Monarch of the Seas, Sovereign of the Seas and Majesty feature two 13- by 46-foot pools on deck. Crystal Harmony also has twin pools: the Seahorse, measuring 40 feet long and the 21-foot-long Neptune, an indoor/outdoor arrangement. Princess Cruises` Royal Princess boasts a true lap pool that measures 14 by 33 feet, in addition to its 50 by 16-foot main pool.
The main pool on the Star, Crown and Regal Princess sports two Jacuzzis, a swim up bar and measures 18- by 27-feet. On the Crystal Harmony, there are Jacuzzis at either end of the Seahorse pool while the ship`s indoor/outdoor pool (the Neptune) is about 21 feet long and has a swim up bar.
Today best pools for doing laps are on Carnival, Celebrity, Seabourn, Silversea and Crystal. And on some of the newer mainstream ships.
Spas and fitness
Ship spas and fitness facilities are outside the nautical bar. Once tiny affairs with limited service and equipment, many are the size of land side pamper palaces.
Tipping took a turn for the better
I remember stuffing envelopes with cash the night before disembarkation to dole out. Then came automated tipping added to your shipboard tab. And finally on Crystal, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas and Seabourn no tipping at all, it’s included in the fare.
Believe it or not back in the day there was no WiFi or Internet. Only ship to shore telephone calls which were astronomically pricey. And passengers survived. As you know today every body’s plugged into some device. Why not just sit back and watch the wake.
The late 1990s ushered in the advent of megaships with a war of the waters waged by Carnival and Princess for the biggest ship category. Both lines hit the 100,000 gross tonnage marks.
And then came bigger and it’s a matter of opinion, but better with upwards of 4000 occupancy capacities. These behemoth are like floating hotels with every imaginable amenity and activity. And well, they’re not for me. But lots of folks love them.
A few of the big boys plying the seas are Symphony of the Seas 6,680 pax. Harmony, Oasis, Allure of the Seas at 6,780 capacity. Norwegian Bliss, MSC Meraviglia and Aida Nova. And there are more.