Thursday, October 27, 2011

George Mindling Column 12-07-2004

How The Cruise Ship Industry Has Changed


"Take it or leave it, that's what it's coming to," the assistant Maitre D' said with a smile. We were discussing the changes in attitudes and policies in the cruise ship industry during the last several years. My wife and I were enjoying our weeklong 40th Anniversary cruise and had booked on the Princess Line's Star Princess.

According to recent newspaper articles, cruising is now at it's all time high in popularity, rebounding from the horrible slump of the late 90's and early "zeros". The industry saw many total failures even before the 9/11 attacks that really put a devastating, almost crippling blow on the industry.

The industry had gone through a metamorphosis several years earlier, with the atrophy of what were called "port of call" cruisers, such as the old Viking Lines out of San Francisco that sailed from Honolulu to Hong Kong, Lima, Peru, and other world ports. Port of call cruising was slowly replaced by "Basin" cruising, such as the Caribbean where the 3 day to 7 day cruises became the prime market for the cruise lines.

The chief engineer of the Norwegian Cruise Lines "Norway" had told me the first thing they did when they acquired the ship as the "France" was to pull out two of the four engines. As the renamed "Norway", North Atlantic crossing speeds were no longer an issue. Cruising at a leisurely pace around the Caribbean was the new mission of the first of the large basin cruisers.

The first person to fully grasp the concept of the new market was Ted Arison.

Ted Arison, founder of Carnival, was famous for introducing "hotdogs and T-shirts" to the cruise industry when he renamed the "Empress of Canada" as the "Mardi Gras" and started competing with his old business partner Knut Kloster out of the old Port of Miami. Kloster had the original "Sunward", a ship my mother had taught housekeeping classes to the crew on when she was the Executive Housekeeper at Lindsey Hopkins Vocational School in Miami.

Fifteen percent gratuity is automatically added to each tab to allow for the "oversight" of cruisers who tend to be forgetful when tipping. The staff averages only $33 a month in wages (yes, $1.10 a day!) They make the remainder of their wages on tips. Even apple juice at breakfast instead of orange juice is a two-dollar charge. Want a cup of hot chocolate for the kids? That's a bar item now and will cost accordingly. What used to be unlimited dining is now a charge for a second course on Carnival, but not yet at Princess. Twenty-four hour informal dining is becoming popular, but even the best attended serving line is still at times only a warm buffet.

The change of policy from "Carte Blanche" to "A La Carte" makes cruising affordable to many who would not have gone before. In my book, it is still the best vacation for the buck anywhere.


George Mindling © 2004

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