Quantfury Daily Gazette
Cities that float, grow and enchant
It was 2017 when I boarded a cruise ship for the first time for tourist purposes. It was an unpublished experience for me; I had always heard comments about these real moles with bow and stern, but it was a different thing to live it in the flesh. I remember it perfectly as if it were today: it was Royal Caribbean Cruises (NYSE: RCL) Enchantment of the Seas, and the moment I set my first foot on board, I understood that none of the talks was exaggerated. More than 110 years had passed since the tragedy of the Titanic, that ambitious and truncated project of an unsinkable ship that was to change the concept of opulence on the sea forever. Its sinking meant a hard blow for the industry then; however, the wheel never stopped, and cruises became an unavoidable option, crossing ages, cultures and social classes.
Today’s cruise holidays are no longer the preserve of the rich and famous. In fact, according to statistics, nearly 20 million people a year embark on one of them, and that number is expected to increase by at least 10% in the next decade. Nobody told me about it; I lived for four days with 6,000 people from all over the world, of all races, religions and socioeconomic statuses. Squares, restaurants, stores of all kinds, museums, casinos, theatres and gyms. It was like being in a new city, nomadic and, above all, surrounded by water and even more water.
But how did they become so popular and massive? What has changed over time? In the beginning, cruises were a way to make money. Before ocean liners existed, the first ships cruised the coast of England, Ireland, France and Spain during the 18th century. They were used to transport goods, sometimes carrying a certain number of passengers. They were rather ordinary vessels with no attractions or relaxation areas, and they only travelled short distances because wealthy people had to carry all their belongings on board. However, that did not stop people from booking passage on these ships; it even encouraged many people to look for cheap transportation across oceans.
Over the years, larger vessels were built, with room for more passengers and their belongings, and more ports were also needed so that they could disembark after arriving at their destination safe, sound and eventually happy. By the early 20th century, while there were many more cruise ships available, they were still considered a luxury, inaccessible to the general public, given the difficulty involved in the voyages.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that cruises began to target tourists. Costs became cheaper, and they became more popular with families, seniors and groups of friends. In that decade, several Norwegian companies took the risk, bet on a vision for the future and merged to give rise to fleets such as Royal Caribbean Cruises (NYSE: RCL) and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd (NYSE: NCLH).
Bit by bit and at the cost of patient work, investment and good marketing, they positioned themselves at the forefront of what would later become an ecosystem in its own right. They became an acceptable form of vacation for many people who would otherwise have chosen to go elsewhere. Not to mention the number of destinations and ports, ranging from Alaska, the Caribbean, South America, Argentine Patagonia and the exotic islands of Polynesia.
History took its course, and with the force of the seas, the transformation became unstoppable. There is practically nothing a cruise ship can’t offer anymore. Royal Caribbean Cruises (NYSE: RCL) has athletic tracks on board and even its Perfect Day at Coco Cay, a private theme park in the middle of the Bahamas; Norwegian Cruise Line (NYSE: NCLH) added a karting circuit that has nothing to envy to the big racetracks, while Carnival Corp (NYSE: CCL) added roller coasters, surfing pools and ice skating areas to its attractions. And yes, as I learned about these new features, I knew with a certain melancholy that that mind-blowing trip six years ago had become obsolete.
And just as I feel it’s time to upgrade and embark on a new adventure in one of these anchor cities, I must admit that today’s cruises are a perfect fit for my personality and my little daily quirks. They allow me to relax and enjoy the environment while travelling through different countries without worrying about the logistics and stress of transportation or getting lost in foreign lands with complicated languages. In addition, it is a way to generate new friendships and bonds with people from all over the world, whether they are employees or guests, living together and learning about their customs, beliefs, tastes and motivations in one place and at a reasonable price. Thank God (or, for that matter, Poseidon) for making it happen.
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