Cruise Ships and Liners

A cruise ship or cruise liner is a passenger ship where the accent is on the voyage and the amenities rather than a final destination. Most cruise ships return the passengers to their port of embarkation after calling at different destinations along the way, usually in a specified area of the world, although some "nowhere cruises" do a round trip without any stops. Many are luxurious and their evolution has resulted in the cabins being located in the superstructure rather than inside the hull, with windows and balconies. The addition of numerous amenities and activities along with shops, theatres and concert halls has turned them into floating cities. Cruising has become a major part of the tourist industry.

On the other hand, ocean liners transport passengers from one port to another. Transoceanic liners will normally be built to a higher standard than a cruise ship, with stronger plating and higher freeboard to withstand the adverse conditions which might be encountered in the open ocean. They usually carry more food, fuel and other stores for consumption on their long ocean voyages. Typically, although some are luxurious, they do have features which make them unsuitable for cruising. They are often prevented from entering shallow ports because of their deep draught, they have high fuel consumption and the enclosed decks, suitable for foul weather are not appropriate for tropical cruising. They may have a high proportion of smaller windowless cabins to maximize passenger numbers rather than cabins designed with comfort in mind.

Although the differences in design sets cruise ships and liners apart, the lines between them have become somewhat blurred. Some of the larger cruise ships have made long transoceanic trips, which may last many months, before returning to their home port. On the other hand some liners also operate as luxurious cruise ships, such as Cunard's Queen Mary 2, which highlights its extra strength and power to withstand the North Atlantic weather.

Some History

Cruising developed out of the tradition of transatlantic crossings, with vessels competing for passengers by adding luxuries like fine dining and well appointed cabins.

The first ever cruise is thought to have been made by the Augusta Victoria, between January and March 1891. Albert Ballin, director of the Hamburg-America Line, had the inspiration to send passengers on long southern cruises to escape the winter weather. The ship carried 241 passengers and toured the Mediterranean and the Near East. Ballin realised, however, that only a vessel designed specifically for cruising would be appropriate for all year round cruising and offer the comfort and space that passengers needed. He commissioned a new vessel to be built and in 1900 the Prinzessin Victoria Luise was launched. She looked more like a private yacht than the other commercial liners of her day, with 120 luxuriously appointed first class cabins and powered by quadruple expansion steam engines. She had a limited cargo and mail capacity but was used almost exclusively for cruising. In 1901, however, disaster struck when she hit the rocks at Plumb Point near Kingston. The passengers were all rescued but the captain, realising that he would be found guilty of negligence, went to his cabin and shot himself. The vessel had endured major structural damage and she was declared a total loss after only one year of service.

One of the most famous of the early, luxury ocean liners must be the doomed Titanic which sank on her maiden voyage in 1912 after colliding with an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Operated by the White Star Line, she was the largest ship afloat at the time and was the last word in comfort and luxury, with swimming pool, gymnasium, libraries, high quality restaurants and sumptuous cabins. What she lacked, however, was sufficient lifeboats for her 2,224 passengers and crew. She carried only enough for 1,178 people and as a result only around 705 people were saved.

By the 1960s, travellers journeying between continents preferred the speed of the new jet aircraft to get them to their destinations faster than a long sea trip, so the popularity of ocean liners declined. In contrast, the attraction of cruising rose and the size of the vessels increased. The Caribbean's first "super-ship" was originally an ocean liner, the SS France which was converted, very successfully, to a cruise ship and renamed SS Norway. By the late 1980s, purpose built cruise ships were larger and stronger. The Sovereign Class were the first series to be built with a multi-story atrium, glass elevator and a deck devoted entirely to cabins with balconies. Other cruise lines soon followed suit, such as the Fantasy Class and Crown Princess. In those days the few hundred passengers had to be content amenities such as deck chairs, umbrellas, drinks and shuffleboard.

While there has been only one new ocean liner completed in recent years, Cunard's Queen Mary 2 in 2004, there have been new cruise ships built every year since 2001. Queen Mary 2 is now the only liner operating the transatlantic routes, following the retirement of QE 2 in 2008. She was the largest passenger ship until 2006 when the Royal Caribbean International launched their Freedom Class cruise liners. They were then overtaken in 2009 and 2010 by RCI's Oasis Class.

The modern cruise liner

RCI's Oasis Class carrying over 5,400 passengers, are the world's largest passenger vessels and have the greatest capacity. Oasis of the Seas was built in 2009 at a cost of € 900 million, while Allure of the Seas was launched in 2010. They weigh approximately 100,000 metric tons and although only about 30 feet of the vessel's hull is below water level, stability is achieved by their extra width. They are powered by six marine diesel engines which, at full power, consume around 6,260 litres of fuel oil per engine per hour. They carry 18 lifeboats with a total capacity for 6,660 passengers as well as inflatable life-rafts. In addition to the sophisticated restaurants and shops, the Oasis also has themed areas called "neighbourhoods", which include "Central Park", with lush tropical gardens and crystal domes which provide sunlight; pool and sports zone; spa and fitness centre; youth zone with science lab and computer gaming; and "Boardwalk", with climbing walls and Aqua-theatre. The Allure boasts a two-deck dance hall, a theatre with over 1000 seats and an ice skating rink. In December 2012 Royal Carribean ordered a third Oasis Class cruise ship which should be finished in 2016. It is planned to cost less per berth than its older sisters and be more energy efficient.

A risky business

The cruise ship business is unpredictable and risky. The vessels themselves are huge capital investments with massive operating costs. Any sudden decrease in the number of bookings can place their very existence in jeopardy. They operate practically 24 hours a day, every day and any vessel which is out of service for maintenance is necessarily losing a great deal of money. Yet they have to be maintained, repaired, refurbished and updated to keep them safe and the passengers happy and most cruise ships seem to need a facelift or update every four or five years. They cannot afford any unscheduled maintenance, which would result in thousands of disgruntled customers, but even with today's technology accidents do happen. The first time the Oasis of the Seas was floated out of her dock, the tug boats lost control of her and she collided with the dock, damaging her hull. Luckily this did not alter her delivery date.

Some of the cruise lines now exist as "brands" within bigger corporations. This can provide different levels of service and quality for passengers loyal to a particular corporation. For example, the Carnival Corporation owns the Carnival Cruise Line appealing to the younger, party-loving travellers, and the Holland America Line promoting classical sophistication. Other cruise lines that have tailored their character to suit particular types of passengers are Saga Cruises who specialise in the over 50s, Windstar Cruises who only operate tall ships, Regent Seven Seas Cruises who have smaller vessels designed with a high proportion of balconied suites, and speciality lines who focus on expedition cruising. Currently the five largest cruise line operators are Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Star Cruises, MSC Cruises and Louis Cruise Lines.

And finally

It is hard to imagine what the future will hold. Maybe there will be actual floating cities where people live permanently, with their own laws and parliaments. Some may scoff at this idea, but how many inventors and builders of the past were laughed at before their dreams of engines, bridges, roads, aeroplanes etc became realities. One can only wait and see.

Author – Dee White

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