This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver examines the importance of a ships' external appearance.
Do looks matter?
Here's an interesting question: "Does the external appearance of a cruise ship matter"? I'm sure many of you are thinking: NO, there are many other factors such as interiors, facilities, food and service, ports of call and price which are important to a successful vacation, not the 'look' of a ship. After all you do not see the exterior of a ship when you are on board do you?
It would also appear that the cruise lines do not think 'looks' are important either, judging by the number of new 'boxy' shaped cruise ships. Their vast walls of balconies make their ships resemble office blocks rather than nautical vessels. I assume that this is simply because a box type superstructure provides the maximum space for cabins and public rooms, which in turn generate income.
We regularly debate the attractiveness of ships on CruiseTalk. Now I appreciate that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, but most of the members agree that ships like 'Normandie', France' and 'Queen Elizabeth 2' for example, are infinitely more attractive than all ships built in the past few decades. There is of course the odd exception, 'Queen Mary 2', is considered to be more attractive than most other modern ships. Her impressive bow and step-down fantail cleverly detracts from the now obligatory balcony cabins in between.
Most new ships have sterns that look like the back of a bus when compared to the sterns of the great ocean liners. A fantail and a slender superstructure just do not maximize profit.
Funnels are no longer things of beauty either. In the past, they used to represent power and speed. For shipping companies, the more funnels the better. "Titanic' for example had four funnels, three were real and one was a fake. Just look at the 'SS United States', her two funnels were on steroids. On today's ships the single funnel is often just a geometric collection of exhaust pipes and vents. Royal Caribbean's even have climbing walls up the side of them.
Now maybe I'm a bit odd, but for me looks do matter. I could not book a cruise on an ugly ship. In the same way I could not buy a car which I though was ugly or in a colour that I disliked. Now I admit that I have sailed a few ships which were 'the girl next door' in terms of looks, rather than 'sexy', but never ugly.
Each year more old tonnage is sent to the breakers yard and more newbuilds arrive so you might think that I am in danger of running out of 'beautiful' ships to cruise on.
Fortunately the definition of 'beautiful' can change over time. For example P&O's 'Oriana' (1995) and 'Aurora' (2000) both looked a bit 'too modern' or even 'unsightly', when they entered service, compared to the classics 'Victoria' and 'Canberra'. However with the passage of time they both now look like 'classics' in their own right, when compared to the new and forthcoming additions to the P&O fleet.
A 'classic' only becomes a 'classic' when time has passed. Many of today's newbuilds, by definition, will be tomorrow's 'classics'. Inevitably, a few years from now we will again be complaining that the new ships are not as attractive as the ones that came before.