by Kevin Griffin
Thirty years ago, in 1982, the modern cruise business was just coming into its second generation. Two years earlier, Norwegian Cruise Line had acquired the fabulous Transatlantic liner s.s. France and converted her into the largest cruise ship in the world, the s.s. Norway, to, operate 7-night cruises from Miami.
As an indication of how successful the industry was becoming, as recently as the 1970s, people had been predicting that cruise ships would never exceed 20,000 tons. But by the early 1980s, cruise lines were starting to build ships such as Royal Caribbean’s 37,584-ton Song of America, Carnival Cruise Lines’ 36,674-ton Tropicale and Home Lines’ 33,800-ton Atlantic. To-day, there are more than sixty ships above 100,000 tons, two of which are above 200,000 tons!
So this week, for something different, here is what was on offer from Florida ports and San Juan in the third weekend of 1982, compared to what is now on offer for the same weekend in 2012:
The ports are those that were most popular thirty years ago for the Caribbean, where modern-day cruising got its start – Miami, Port Everglades (the port for nearby Fort Lauderdale) and San Juan, an early fly/cruise port. Port Canaveral was a 3- and 4-day port in 1982 but has now joined the ranks of 7-day ports. Tampa is not included as it is in the Gulf of Mexico, where Galveston and New Orleans have also become more important today.
The most obvious difference is the size of the ships. Thirty years ago, they were on average about 20,000 to 25,000 tons but to-day they are over 100,000 tons at all four ports examined above. In 1982, the average passenger load was below 1,000. Now it is 3,000 or more. Ship size and passenger have both increased to four or five times what they were. To-day, one has to search for a ship that takes only 1,000 passengers, but on the other hand this economy of scale is what has held cruise fares down to 1980s levels, allowing the market to expand.
There were also more longer cruises available in 1982. Royal Caribbean had a 14-day cruise ship in Nordic Prince and Holland America and Sitmar, a predecessor of Silversea, each offered 11- and 12-night itineraries. To-day, there are more 5- and 8-night itinerary but not as many long cruises from the same ports.
Oceania Marina in Miami
In 1982, there were half a dozen Saturday departures from San Juan. To-day there are only two, with two additional sailings on Sunday, which at least means a better use of the port facilities.
In terms of destinations, several ships now call in the new ports of the Dominican Republic, but even thirty years ago Carnivale was calling at Samana. The biggest change however has been the introduction of many new ports such as Grand Turk, Falmouth in Jamaica, Cozumel, Roatan and Mahogany Bay that have come on stream in recent years.
Sources: ABC Shipping Guide (1982), Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships and Official Steamship Guide (2012). The number of berths given is lower berths, i.e. two passengers per cabin