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10 ships that changed the cruising world

Cruise Advice

In the last 50 years, so much has changed in cruise that the images and descriptions of ocean travel and its 'golden age' seem unreal. Actually, in our opinion, we are in the 'golden age' now - and over the last 50 years there have been a few significant ships which have heralded the new era.

Back in 1970 the newly launched QE2 was the epitome of ocean glamour. Over her lifetime, this was a ship that was close to the hearts of the nation: named by a young Queen Elizabeth, requisitioned by the government during the Falklands War, playing a significant role in patriotic celebrations, and standing as a very British symbol of our long marine heritage, she kept travelling by sea front of mind amongst the general public, who thought that to sail on this iconic ship would be the ultimate travel experience.

Princess Patricia, as featured in 'The Love Boat'

Across the ocean, a television series named 'The Love Boat' was aired in the US - a weekly soap opera of fun and romance set on Princess Patricia that firmly established cruising as something everyone would want to do. Carnival's first ship Mardi Gras was arguably the precursor to the modern cruise industry: the first 'fun ship' established exactly what cruising was going to be all about - less glamour and snobbishness, and more party time, full of excitement, novelty and magic.

In the '80s we saw beautiful suites with verandas become a reality, first on Royal Viking Line and then with the creation of Seabourn, when Seabourn Pride was launched in 1988 as the first all suite ship. Meanwhile, the Sea Goddesses set the stage for all-inclusive, followed by Song of Flower in the early '90s, the model for Silversea, and Crystal Harmony pioneered the alternative dining concept in 1990.

Crystal Harmony

All of these luxury features became standard in the mainstream through the '90s as a flurry of ship building turned an industry in its infancy into a mature and vibrant holiday choice. By the turn of the century we had seen ships become huge, vibrant entertainment complexes and malls, with Voyager of the Seas, the first of the Voyager Class vessels from Royal Caribbean, featuring a rock climbing wall, ice skating rink and more. Fast forward 20 years and we have smart ships with virtual balconies, state-of-the-art technology, lavish entertainment, multiple dining options and fun for all the family.

Royal Caribbean - Voyager of the Seas

Luxury stepped up again with Seven Seas Mariner, the first all suite all balcony ship in 2002, and by 2008 we were seeing a whole new generation of larger luxury vessels from Seabourn, Regent and Silversea.

Meanwhile a tiny sector of the industry suddenly shot to the fore, as river cruising became the cruise option 'du jour' with a flurry of new vessels operating on rivers all over Europe, not to mention some great exotic options in South East Asia, China, Africa and more. AmaMagna's arrival in 2019 was a bit of a game changer, with suites, alternative dining and even a marina.

AmaMagna in Bratislava

Latest on the scene is the transformation of the expedition sector: smaller, and in many cases offering all the luxurious components of classic cruising, these vessels are designed to operate off the beaten track and in icy waters, with exploration by zodiac, helicopter, submarine and more. As you would expect, travel in ecologically sensitive waters requires new solutions, and we are seeing a new breed of green ships, with Ponant's hybrid-powered Le Commandant Charcot leading the way to a sustainable future.

Ponant - Le Commandant Charcot icebreaker
Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising. Most recently she's cruised on Windstar and has also sailed with Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, SeaDream, Ponant, AmaWaterways and Aqua Expeditions. Her favourite destination is the Galapagos however she's also enjoyed cruises in the Mediterranean, Danube, Middle East, East Africa & Indian Ocean, Brahmaputra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Mekong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Caribbean and the Arctic. When she’s not travelling she loves reading, food and wine.

More about Edwina

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