Cruise Holidays Through the Decades


Cruising has changed a lot since it rose to prominence in the mid-1800s. Find out about the history of cruising, and how each decade has added something special to the cruise experience.

The history of cruising

  1. The first trasatlantic cruise ship
  2. Cruising in the 1950s – riding the waves
  3. Cruising in the 1960s – changing currents
  4. Cruising in the 1970s – leisure cruising
  5. Cruising in the 1980s – bigger is better
  6. Cruising in the 1990s and 2000s – innovation and variety
  7. Cruising now

Before the advent of cruise liners; boats and ships were used almost exclusively for trade and military purposes. Travelling by ship as a pleasurable and luxurious experience was first thought up in 1835 by Arthur Anderson – a sailor from the Shetland Isles. He had the vision to provide passenger service from Scotland to Iceland during the summer, and from Scotland to Spain and Portugal during winter. Two years later, he co-founded the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company –  better known to cruisers as the world-travelled, globally-known P&O.

Soon after, other shipping lines that were used to carry mail across the Atlantic began to offer service to passengers. Slowly, the quality and comfort of rooms, dining and services improved on board cruise liners. By the early 1900s, cruising had become the most refined and elegant way to travel; the opulence and elegance of cruise liners of this era can be epitomised by ships such as the Titanic.

However, two World Wars halted the cruise liner industry as all efforts went into building war ships. Many existing cruise ships were put to use transporting troops during this time. After WWII was over and countries began to recover economically, cruising took off once again.

The first trasatlantic cruise ship

In 1847, the Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft company, HAPAG for short, was created with the goal of showcasing a faster, more reliable liner service between Hamburg and North America. Headed up by Albert Ballin in 1886, the company lays claim to the title of the first vessel exclusively built for luxury cruising. Built in 1900, their ship Prinzessin Victoria Luise of Germany made remarkable inroads into establishing transatlantic crossings as a viable holiday to the public.

prinzessin victoria luise

Cruising in the 1950s – riding the waves

The post-war economic boom saw a resurgence in the popularity of cruising. The competition to engineer the fastest ocean liner was fierce. The Queen Mary had held the Blue Riband for 14 years, and America was determined to overtake her. Their ‘Ship of State’ was designed to rival the Queen Mary, and it was famously made using almost no wood whatsoever. The only two wooden fittings on board were the grand piano and the butcher’s block.

cruise ship 1930

The ship’s speed was a huge success. It had the greatest power-to-weight ratio ever achieved by a commercial liner and was capable of steaming at 35-knots. On her maiden voyage, the ship beat the record speed for an eastward sea crossing – winning the Blue Riband by a massive 10 hours.

Cruising in the 1960s – changing currents

cruise ship 1960 UK Australia

As aviation took off in the 1960s, the cruise liner industry struggled to compete with the new, fast and exciting mode of transport. The dwindling popularity of sea travel meant that the cruise industry was forced to reassess its service.

Cruise liners began to offer entertainment as an additional attraction to the cruise experience. Cunard Line was the first to hire celebrities to perform on board, and began to advertise the cruise as a holiday in itself, rather than simply a means of getting from one destination to another – the birth of the ‘floating resort’.

Another big change in 1960s cruising was the class arrangement. The 1960s saw a growth of the middle class, meaning that more people had money to spend on holidays. Tourist Class was introduced on some cruise liners, which offered much more comfort and luxury for regular passengers, while others ditched the three-tier class system altogether and offered all passengers the same quality and luxury.

Cruising in the 1970s – leisure cruising

Transatlantic cruising took a backseat as leisure cruises rose in popularity in the 1970s. The TV series ‘The Love Boat’ which aired in 1977 showcased cruising to the mass market. It introduced the holiday cruise as a desirable adventure and caused cruising to soar in popularity. P&O Lines stated years later that the Love Boat had probably generated over a billion dollars in revenues for cruise companies.

Cruising in the 1980s – bigger is better

The 1980s marked the start of the ‘cruise to nowhere’ – where the ship itself was the destination, and everything you could possibly want was already on board. The SS Norway sailed in the 80s, stretching over 1000 feet, with 12 decks, 2,000 passengers, and maxing 70,000 gross tonnage. It boasted a casino, TV sets in every room, and all the latest mod-cons. This was the era of the mega ship.

Cruising in the 1990s and 2000s – innovation and variety

Cruise ship in 1990

With modern innovation and technology came on board malls, swimming pools, golf courses, cinema complexes and spas in the 1990s and 2000s. Entertainment, luxury, and variety meant that cruises rose in popularity with families, as they increasingly catered for young children as well as adults, with kids clubs and theme-park style amenities alongside fine dining, sophistication and relaxation.

Cruising now

Harmony of the Seas Royal Caribbean cruise

Today there is a cruise for everyone – whether you’d prefer a more intimate voyage to lesser-known ports, or the endless entertainment options on board a mega ship. These days most cruise liners seamlessly combine luxury and privacy with a vast variety of activities to keep everyone entertained for the whole journey. Book your perfect cruise today at Cruise1st.

Find the best cruise deals in Cruise1st UK and become the living history of the cruise industry! 

Please contact our friendly team on 0808 2746 777 if you have any questions.

Images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credits: Paul Townsend, Fernando de Sousa, Archmage01, Eddie, Royal Caribbean

Note: This post was updated in November 2017 for accuracy and timeliness.

Cruise Holidays Through the Decades
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Cruise Holidays Through the Decades
Find out about the history of cruising, and how each decade has added something special to the cruise experience.

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Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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