Top 6 disruptive innovations of the cruise industry

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Often times we take cruising for granted. We know that they’re there, and it’s only a few clicks on the computer screen and a few calls to a travel agent to get us on a big boat of fun for a week (or two). While most of us have only been cruising for the past few decades, we forget the cruise industry has been around since the early 1900’s, and it has gone through major changes since the first paying passenger traveled by sea. I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight my top 6 disruptive (in a good way) innovations of the cruise industry that have made our hobby so much more enjoyable.

1. The boat

Before there were passenger cruise ships, somebody had to invent the water vehicle (aka the “boat”). Depending on who you speak with, in this case I asked Siri who led to the Wikipedia, boats have been floating on Earth’s waters for over 130,000 years. The boat, in it’s simplest form, is a masterpiece of physics – the average density of the watercraft has to be less dense than the average density of the water its on. While it’s safe to say that the early boaters did not have balcony staterooms or 24 hour room service, they set the stage for the almost $30 billion a year industry that cruising generates.

2. The cruise ship

I know, it’s silly to think that the cruise ship is innovative, but it really is. Boats were used as a method of transportation for the early people on this planet to get from point A to point B where going by land was impossible, difficult or least efficient. It wasn’t until June 29, 1900, that the Prinzessin Victoria Luise was completed with the intent to exclusively move people for the pleasure of travel. It was a small ship compared to today’s mega ships, but innovative nonetheless. The Wikipedia says that the PVL had a “trim hull 52.2 feet wide by 407.5 feet long” with 120 first class cabins and a cruising speed of 15 knots powered by four quadruple expansion steam engines. We’ve come a long way since then, but it’s nice to recognize the beginnings of cruising.

3. The mega cruise ship

While each generation (or decade nowadays) has it’s own version of the mega ship, one stands out as being the one that started it all off – the RMS Titanic. The ship was the largest afloat at the time of it’s maiden and final voyage. Despite the tragic results, the cruise industry did not suffer over the long term. The Titanic kick started the eventual building of mega ships such as the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2, the RMS Queen Mary, Sovereign of the Seas (now the MS Sovereign) and now the Allure of the Seas. What would we do now if ships weren’t this big? I might actually be able to go from stern to bow without being out of air.

4. The Viking Crown Lounge

Being able to get a 360-degree view of the wonderful sea in a comfortable indoor setting while sipping on an umbrella drink would seem so trivial, but it wasn’t until the 1970’s (arguably the 1980’s) that such a feature was available on ships with the Viking Crown Lounge was invented by Royal Caribbean. The first version in the 1970’s wasn’t exactly 360-degrees, since it was built around the stack of the ship and faced towards the stern on Royal Caribbean’s Song of Norway,the Nordic Prince,the Sun Viking. It wasn’t until the early 1980’s that the Song of America incorporated a complete wrap around. Now it’s a standard feature of all Royal Caribbean ships as it sails the seven seas.

5. Anytime dining

The first time I went on a cruise in the early 1990’s I was introduced to the concept of early and late dining.  The cruise line did a good job of placing my family and I with another family that had kids of the same age.  We would sit down every evening and talk about our day.  The only problem that I had with this was being forced to wait for the specific dining time or worst – getting myself up while in mid-nap to eat.  Some days I was completely exhausted after going ashore, but I felt that in order to get my money’s worth I needed to get to the dining room to get my filet mignon or my baked Alaska.  This forced me to choose between getting dressed to dine or taking the nap and having a poorer substitute via room service.

While I can’t find an exact date of the introduction of anytime (or My Time Dining), it was a wonderful addition to the cruise’s service.  While I may not have the same dining partners every evening, I get the opportunity to indulge when I want, in addition to meeting new people.  Now I can take a nap after a long day and not miss my lobster tail.

6. Online cruise booking

I’m going to date myself a little bit, but when I was a wee lad in the 1980’s, my parents would go to the AAA travel center or call up the travel agent down street to book our flights and cruises. It was an exciting day when we received the confirmation, the ticket booklets along with the excursion information and our luggage tags. Since the late 1990’s to today, travelers have become so dependent on the world wide web and mobile apps to help them with their travel research and bookings. With the ever-complicated processes of booking a cruise, we’re starting to see a renaissance of tourists using the travel agent since their service and tender loving care are equally as important as the cruise itself.

For the purposes of full disclosure and for journalistic integrity, I’m Chief Cruiser at Embark – a marketplace that connects cruisers with travel agents. In our humble opinion, we believe that travel agents are important to booking a successful vacation over the use of booking a trip via the Internet. We’ve spent a lot of time speaking with travel advisors to understand their pains points. Often times, travel agents have better prices and more perks in addition to their better service over the online big boys such as Travelocity, Hotwire and Kayak. The big issue for agents is their need for a method of distribution in order to compete with the online Goliath’s. Embark originally toyed with the idea of a reverse auction, and after a lot of feedback, we’re proud to have made a small change to become a more forward facing marketplace. We can now say that Embark is like eBay’s Buy it Now but strictly for cruisers.

I know that this list is not all-inclusive of disruptive and innovative innovations in the cruise industry, This list will eventually become obsolete as time progresses. I purposefully left off technologies such as new engines, better radars and better methods of communication while on board. While they’re great pieces of technology, I wanted to compile a “bigger picture” list. I’d love your feedback.

You can reach Allan on Twitter (@EmbarkAt) or by email (ateruel@embark.at).  Allan is a guest blogger for Mikey’s Cruise Blog.

Photo credit: 6dollarshirts.com

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Mike Faust

Mike Faust is an avid world traveler, often found traversing city streets in Asia and Europe rather than his home city of Boca Raton. Mike has touched down in 39 countries, set sail on 35 cruises, and flown over 400,000 lifetime miles.