Cruising Then and Now

Monday Mantra

I want to cruise TODAY…I want to cruise TODAY…I want to cruise TODAY…

I’m an old-fashioned kind of girl. There’s not a whole lot in today’s world that I consider superior to what existed 35 years ago. Except for the ATM Machine. And cruising.

Memories of my early sailings are filled with morning sprints to breakfast only to find the curtain drawn across the buffet selections and the dining room closed. Missing breakfast was a maddening byproduct of the inside cabin, the only category that my 20-something bank account could withstand. With no peek of sun nor automated wakeup call, the inside cabin’s cave-like darkness seriously messed with my body clock and made me dream of the day when 24-hour dining might be a reality.

In the 1970s, a gown was de rigueur for ladies on formal nights and you could forget about fitting your 4”-long cabin key (attached to an equally long slab of plastic) into your tiny evening bag. Wearing jeans in the dining room was as forbidden as trying to board a plane with an Uzi and, in fact, was only tolerated in public rooms after dinner on the final night of the cruise.
Vintage BohemeEntertainment back then? Think comedians who often made jokes about delusional passengers looking for the ship’s bowling alley (how things change!), mediocre singers, and, if you were really unfortunate, sing-alongs of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or a 90-minute zither concert.

Years ago, only the truly wealthy could dream of a veranda (if the ship even offered them) and you rented your deck chair for about $5 per week. If toilets flushed successfully, they did so without that thunderous boom that brings such a satisfying finality to the act. You could count on cigarette smoke hovering like a cloud in cabins, corridors, and even restaurants. Onboard expenses were paid for in cash until the revolutionary idea of an onboard account was born, allowing guests to sign for drinks and purchases — and then stand in an endless and chaotic line to settle their bill the morning of disembarkation.
ssMIAMIshipdiagramSometimes I do miss the classic liners, the familiarity of a single dining room with the same waiter and tablemates, elegant evenings on board, bon voyage parties, midnight buffets, and baked Alaska parades. But not too often.

All it takes is a 21st-century sailing where I can dine at a variety of shipboard restaurants, slip into jeans and flip-flops after an exhausting day of touring, take a ride down an exhilarating water slide, or catch a Moody Blues concert in the ship’s theater to convince me: When it comes to the cruise of yesteryear, that ship has certainly sailed.


 — Judi Cuervo


Photos: Excerpts of Peninsular & Occidental Steamship Company brochure, S.S. Miami, Nov. 18, 1966; Commodore Cruise Line brochure, ms Boheme, Oct. 23, 1971.

Judi Cuervo is a New York City native who fell in love with cruising in 1976 during her first sailing aboard Carnival Cruises’ Mardi Gras. Twenty years later, she began her freelance cruise writing gig and, since that time, has covered mass market, ultra-premium, riverboat and expedition ships for regional, national and international publications as well as cruise websites.