This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver focuses on the subject of onboard entertainment
In the early days of ocean travel by liner, formalized onboard entertainment was virtually non-existent. The ship's library, the writing room or a game of cards served as the main attractions. Gradually, music and dancing increased in popularity, but throughout the first 70-years of the last century there were certainly no show lounges offering Broadway productions.
Today's big cruise ships are fast becoming 'floating resorts' offering every activity that people have become accustomed to expect at a large shore-based resort. Show lounges have evolved into 1,000 plus seat theatres, with raked seating, offering multi-media spectacular live shows. Other types of passenger facilities have increased dramatically, too. It seems as if almost every cruise ship today offers kids clubs, arcade-games, pools, water parks, hot tubs, cinemas, planetariums, beauty therapy centers and casino's
Then we have the sports facilities. Old favorites still remain such as shuffle-board and deck quoits, but we now have the ever expanding gymnasiums, jogging tracks, basketball and paddle-ball courts, golf driving ranges, putting, trampolining, rock climbing, in-line skating and even ice skating.
Royal Caribbean's 'Radiance' class vessels have computer controlled self-leveling pool tables. RCI's new 'Freedom of the Seas' will offer the innovative 'Flow Rider', a surf simulator on deck, with real water. The 'Genesis' project will have a full sized boxing ring (...go figure).
Norwegian Cruise Lines new 'Norwegian Pearl' will even have a ten-pin bowling alley. Princess Cruises offers 'movies under the stars', an outdoor movie screen above the pool. And finally let's not forget the humble multi-channeled cabin TV; ships have not always had these.
Carnival Cruises has taken entertainment to a whole new level. Marine architect Joe Farcus calls his over-the-top décor, found on all Carnival ships, 'Entertainment Architecture'. The many bars found on today's big ships are often decorated with themes such as an 'English Pub' or a 'Colonial Club'. These bars often feature live musical entertainment including pop bands, piano, harp, string quartets and jazz bands.
Food itself has become part of the entertainment. There is a multitude of choices and styles of dining venues on most big ships including: American, British, Japanese, Italian and Asian food. The midnight buffets, especially NCL's 'Chocoholic Buffet' is well worth a few photographs before it's eaten. Some ships have purpose built cookery demonstration areas. Royal Caribbean even offers 'Johnny Rockets' burger diners at sea.
This multitude of facilities is of course appealing to younger, more active passengers. Perhaps the only facility that is hard to find on the mega ships is a quite spot where a passenger can sit and relax in peace and just watch the ocean roll by, without the sound of piped music or a nearby 'belly-flop' competition.