Recently, I tuned into an old episode of “The Love Boat” and watched passengers having a good time skeet shooting off the back of the Pacific Princess. That got me to wondering: Whatever happened to skeet shooting? Come to think of it, what ever happened to formal night? And cash tips? And the midnight buffet? Some venerable cruise traditions have recently died a natural death, while others, less loved, have gotten the hook. Herewith a look back at some cruise highlights that have come and gone.
No smoking! Oh, never mind
In November 1998, Carnival Cruise Lines launched the Paradise, the world’s first completely nonsmoking ship. The ship was designed and built by nonsmokers and smoking on board was verboten; in fact, anyone caught smoking was given the heave-ho at the next port and was slapped with a $250 fine. Fast-forward five years: Now the Paradise has been moved to the West coast, where it sails three- and four-day cruises to Mexico -- smoking permitted.
“With only one ship operating this itinerary, we couldn't limit the vessel to nonsmokers,” says spokesman Vance Gullicksen. While that may be true, industry insiders say the decision to go smoking came down to money. Where there’s smoke, there’s revenue -- specifically, gambling revenue. Turns out nonsmokers don’t drink or gamble as much as their nicotine-addicted shipmates.
The disappearing midnight buffet
It used to be a cruise cliché, the gluttons’ favorite meal: the midnight buffet. These days, the midnight buffet is slim pickings, indeed -- if you can find one at all. How come? Cruise lines are just reflecting the tastes of today’s passenger, offering lighter fare and specialty eating events instead of the late-night groaning board. For example, Carnival now offers its “Gala Midnight Buffet” just once on cruises seven days or longer, and Norwegian Cruise Line usually offers one midnight chocolate buffet on its cruises. If you’re a stickler for tradition, try Costa Cruises, which still indulges its passengers with its lavish, over-the-top midnight buffets.
Formal attire? It’s optional
Dressing to the nines is a thing of the past as most cruise lines have adopted a more casual approach to cruise attire than the old ball-gown-and-dinner-jacket standard. Yes, cruise lines like Cunard and Silversea Cruises continue to offer plenty of black-tie evenings because that’s what their clientele prefer, but even aboard these swanky ships, a dark suit and tie will do. (If you’re determined to wear a tuxedo, you can rent one aboard most cruise ships.) Elsewhere, dress codes range from Carnival’s mainstream wear-what-you-want dictum to the laid-back-luxury style of Windstar Cruises.
Turn in your shotguns
Alas, the days when Captain Stubing and his passengers happily fired away at clay pigeons are long gone.
“We discontinued skeet shooting many years ago for a variety of reasons, including environmental, safety, and the noise impact on the guest cruise experience,” says Carnival’s Gullicksen.
Others say liability issues forced the end of skeet shooting, along with the practice of hitting golf balls off the back deck. “Handing out loaded shotguns on the back deck always made for some fun moments, especially when you had passengers who had never done it before swing around points onto the deck to say, ‘Hey look at me holding a shotgun!’” says Allan E. Jordan, a cruise industry writer and noted ship historian. While skeet is gone, many ships do offer golf simulators or golf nets for passengers who itch to make that long drive.
Cruise lines used to hand out envelopes so that passengers could divvy up their tips and distribute them personally to their worthy servers. These days, most cruise lines offer onboard charge programs that let passengers charge tips to their shipboard account, thus eliminating the need to carry cash around. Cashless tipping is especially convenient on big ships where you might not see the same waiter twice. That said, some travelers still prefer to reward good service with a more personal touch -- say, a handshake and an envelope of greenbacks (and most crew members like it, too).
Cruise lines have come a long way since the bad old days of throwing their garbage overboard. Today’s cruise ships have their own waste and treatment facilities for refuse that includes a separation process for plastics, glass, aluminum, paper and food. Most garbage is offloaded into landfills or recycling facilities in ports where these are available; otherwise it is incinerated or treated and then discharged into the ocean. Most food waste is discharged into the ocean, but strict guidelines call for the food to be processed into pulp particles small enough to fit through a 25-millimeter mesh screen. The pulp is then sent through an underwater discharge port while the ship is moving. Food can only be discharged at sea if the ship is at least 12 miles offshore.
It was once an evening tradition for cabin stewards to lay out guests’ pajamas, but passenger complaints led to the demise of this dubious practice.
“It kind of creeped me out because they would go through my stuff to locate my pajamas,” says Linda Coffman, editor of Cruise Diva, a cruise Web site, and author of “Fodor’s Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises.” Coffman says that despite her best efforts to hide her pajamas from the stewards, they would always find them. On one cruise she came back to her cabin to find her nightgown folded into a shape of a frog. But sensibilities differ, and some cruise lines, like Seabourn, still offer this service (without the frogs).
Spanish-speaking cruise line
In October 1993, Carnival Cruises launched Fiesta Marina, a cruise line for Spanish-speaking travelers. Nine months later, Fiesta Marina was gone. According to Allan Jordan, there were several reasons the demise. For one thing, the line’s flagship, formerly Carnival’s Carnivale, was 37 years old and more than a bit worn. For another, many Latinos felt the product was too segregated. This was one ship that just didn’t “habla” to the people.
Tastes change. Modern cruisers like rock-climbing walls, wave pools and ice-skating, but who knows? These “must-have” amenities may be gone tomorrow. Heck, in 10 years we may even be asking ourselves, “Whatever happened to hairy-chest contests?”
Anita Dunham-Potter is a Pittsburgh-based travel journalist specializing in cruise travel. Anita's columns have appeared in major newspapers and many Internet outlets, and she is a contributor to Fodor's "Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises 2006."