The grand 125 year voyage of cruise ships
Seafaring for pleasure - 150 years ago that would have been absurd. People only crossed oceans when they absolutely had to. But, German ship owner Albert Ballin changed that by inventing sea cruise holidays in 1891.
Cruising for pleasure – a new chapter in seafaring
January 22, 1891 was an unpleasant day in Cuxhaven. The wind had picked up and the sea was rough. On board the "Augusta Victoria," many of the 174 passengers where battling to keep their stomachs calm. Lots of oysters in the dining room remained uneaten. But the following two months changed everything: the "Orient Expedition," the world’s first cruise ship voyage, was a massive success.
Born of necessity - heading to southern climes in winter
Albert Ballin’s idea to send the "Augusta Victoria" on a pleasure cruise to warmer climes was simply brilliant. The 144 meter (472 ft) vessel, in 1889 the world's biggest passenger ship, would otherwise have spent the winter docked in the harbor. During this time there was little demand for the usual transatlantic passage as the Northern Atlantic would have been too dangerous to travel.
The birth of holiday cruises
With his Mediterranean pleasure cruise in 1891, Ballin, then head of the Hapag shipping company, found a great business opportunity; there were customers for sunny destinations like Constantinople or Naples. And the officers on board no longer had to deal with desperate immigrants as passengers, but rather wealthy industrialists. It was a coup, setting Hapag apart from its competitors.
Passage to America was a matter of life and death
In order to fully appreciate Ballin's idea, it's worth looking at history. Ocean travel until the middle of the 19th century was anything but fun. In steerage, where people replaced freight that had come from America, conditions were very challenging. Epidemics spread and food was scarce. And worst of all, how long the boats would take to cross the Atlantic was unknown and variable.
Millions leave Germany after 1850 to escape unemployment and hunger
Even if the sea gods were kind it would have taken roughly six weeks to reach the life-saving coast of America. If weather conditions were bad many passengers never even made it. Millions starved on board or sank on the difficult to navigate people-carrying cargo ships. The chance of actually reaching the much desired destination in the 19th century was a mere 50 percent.
Sailing in style – the lady's salon on the "Augusta Victoria"
The situation only began to improve with the arrival of steam boats. In 1889, the launch of the "Teutonic" marked the first ever ocean steamer without sails to be taken into service. It belonged to the British "White Star Line," which was competing with other shipping companies for control of the Atlantic market. The aim was to keep improving on speed and comfort, at least in first class.
The set back caused by the sinking of the Titanic
When it entered service in 1912, the Titanic was the largest ship afloat in the world. It wanted to set new standards in luxury passenger facilities and service. But on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York it collided with an iceberg and sank. 1514 of the 2200 passengers died in one of the deadliest commercial peacetime maritime disasters in modern history.
Sea cruises today are hugely popular and affordable
Progress can not be stopped. Over time both the number of cruise ships and passengers increased. In 2015 some 22 million people worldwide went on a cruise. And as it turns into a mass business the prices sink. In Germany you'd currently have to shell out about 1,500 euros (1,634 USD) for a voyage on the high seas - 30 percent cheaper than five years earlier.
Floating palaces: FlowRider and iFly on the "Quantum of the Seas"
A library on board? That was yesterday - in 2016 it's all about surf simulators, IMAX cinemas and 10 storey high water slides. Herbs for the gourmet meals are grown in the ship's own greenhouse and robots mix drinks at the bars. In 2016, 11 new super class cruise ships are to be launched worldwide, with suites measuring up to 360 square meters. But 1,500 euro will not get you far here.