Cruising through time: a brief history of cruising

Have you ever wondered how cruising came to be and how it became one of travelers’ favorite way to explore the world? Sail with us on a journey through the history of cruising!


The cruising way of traveling counts over 100 years of life and there are many changes to be spotted throughout its history. Passenger cruising’s roots trace back to the 1800s when ships were still mainly used for transporting cargo and mail and it was in 1881 that the first ever liner dedicated solely to leisure cruising was created. This cruise ship began its itinerary to the Mediterranean since the British Medical Journal reported that a cruise to the Greek Islands offers "Opportunities for recovering health" and that "the most delightful days of peace and leisure may be passed doing nothing" therefore opening the floodgates for wealthy passengers to book cruises. It’s a known fact that the industrialization of cruising had mainly passengers’ comfort in mind leading to the legendary Brittania taking a cow on board to supply fresh milk to the passengers during the 14-day journey.


In 1867, Mark Twain was a passenger on the first six-month cruise originating in America, and this experience led to his book Innocents Abroad. By the 1900s cruise ships became the most glamorous and modern way to travel and Germany led the market in the building of these luxurious floating hotels. The cruising lines became more and more aware that their customers craved for comfort and exclusivity thus investing in added luxuries like electric lights, more deck space, and entertainment. It was at this time that the tradition of dressing for dinner was introduced to add to the romantic image of sailing.

World War I forced many cruise lines to stop their itineraries, with many ships commandeered for the war effort. But the years between 1920 and 1940 are considered to be the most glamorous years for transatlantic passenger ships. These ships catered to the rich and famous who were enjoying luxurious settings. Advertisements promoted the fashion of ocean travel, featuring elegant food and onboard amenities. Only the most exclusive passengers were found on board and were either: famous, royal, or incredibly wealthy. Celebrity guests such as Queen Elizabeth and Walt Disney were among many names that cruised with many of Hollywood’s top stars. Cruise liners again were converted into troop carriers in World War II. European lines then reaped the benefits of transporting refugees to America and Canada, and business travelers and tourists to Europe. When World War II ended, ocean travel resumed. However, the Great Depression impacted the global economy and resulted in a sharp decrease in passenger levels. The industry took its final hit with the introduction of the first commercial transatlantic flights in 1958.


The cruising industry reinvented itself during the 1960s and the 1970s by transforming the ships into boutique hotels and by doubling the size of the staterooms and ships. The public image of the cruise was redesigned and focused on promoting a casual environment that provides extensive onboard entertainment. Now the spotlight was on the voyage itself and not the destination. It is said that the resurrection of cruising was partially awarded to the success of the hit TV series “The Love Boat”. Today the cruising experience is unrecognizable from its beginnings in the 1800s. Cruises just keep growing in popularity, and the variety of cruises now offered ranges in duration, destination, themes, and luxury.

In current years the cruise experience is as popular as ever. The Mediterranean charm keeps up to its name and keeps getting richer in history and sights. Being part of this great history, in 2019, Celestyal will take you to even more destinations and keep on focusing on catering to your needs. Whether you book one of our Eclectic, Idyllic and Iconic Aegean cruises or our 3 Continents cruise, Celestyal Cruises will make sure that your experience is one for the ages! The choice is yours!