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I was talking to a veteran cruiser recently about how the industry, and cruise ships, have changed – the good, the bad, and the ugly. One of her many comments was that it was a shame so many of the traditions of cruising are dying out across cruise lines…..invitations to dine with the captain, fixed seating dining, formal nights and so on. While some might share her view, however, there’s no doubt that dropping some of these formalities has opened up cruising to a whole new market.

Take families for one. Many couples with children don’t want to be fussed with dressing themselves and kids formally twice a week on holiday, and they certainly don’t want to be tied down to a specific time to have dinner every night. There are also couples who are seeking together time, and don’t particularly want to socialise every night with new people, and people who enjoy variety, where a different dining venue every night is something to look forward to not dread.

Then there’s the ships themselves. At a huge cruising expo in the US recently, NCL revealed some details about two new ships it is building. The vessels, which will carry 4,000 guests and have over 1,000 balcony accommodations, are said to be a meeting of boutique hotels and the high seas. And cruising pioneer, Royal Caribbean, is also working on a new class of ship which aims to reflect the company’s eye for design and innovation.

Last year I had the pleasure of cruising on Seabourn’s Odyssey, the first of three ships in a new class for the luxury line (the third, Quest, just launched in Europe). Step onto this ship and you have the feeling you’re in a Four Seasons resort or a W Hotel, rather than a cruise ship. For me personally, that’s not a bad thing; from the contemporary design to the choice of restaurants, it’s more like a land-based vacation which happens to move around.

I overheard a conversation among some seasoned Seabourn guests, however, who were clearly not impressed. It wasn’t the quality of food, the service or even the accommodations which had these nice people perplexed, but the lack of tradition. “No one dresses for dinner anymore,” lamented one. “The captain doesn’t have a special table or host dinner parties,” grumbled another.

Whichever side of the fence you fall on, the fact is that the world of cruising is continually evolving, and even though some of the age-old traditions are waning, the stats clearly show that it doesn’t appear to be bothering Australians too much. Last year, during the continuing GFC, the market grew by 27 per cent.

Many of these new and very modern ships are more like resorts at sea, which is attracting a legion of new fans. There’s a lot more choice for families, younger cruisers and couples, which is a good thing. And after all, some lines still uphold the traditions of formal nights and fixed seating dining….and if this is your thing, there are plenty of ships to choose from where your needs can be met. The interesting question, perhaps, is how long this will last. Happy cruising!