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The slow death of cruise etiquette and tradition

I was recently asked to indirectly write an article for Conde Nast on "Cruise Etiquette".

My mind quickly turned to images of Gala Night, the Captains Cocktail and the Sail-away Party. However, as I pondered on these time honored events, upon recalling my most recent experiences, I soon came to the conclusion that both cruise etiquette and tradition was dying a slow death and perhaps for good reason.

The Cruise Industry was once seemingly the exclusive right of the elite, who sailed the seven seas on board ocean liners, whereby the ticket price was exceptionally high and 0.001% of the world's population could realistically afford a cruise. The pomp and pageantry of maritime tradition was in full flow during this period and one only needs to watch the Titanic film to get a sense of how life used to be on board.

Then in the 1970's came the "Love Boat" Soap Opera which attracted the longing attention of the masses "my mother is still in love with the Captain". Cruise etiquette was suddenly on show for the masses. Sadly however, the old Princess Cruises ship that featured in the series was recently scrapped with barely a protest, which is a clear sign of the times.

With around 10 new mega ships coming into service each year to cater for around 22 million passengers, the volume of first time cruisers curious about "Cruise Etiquette" is becoming less and less. Many of the emerging markets entering the cruise world have their own take on cruising and never even saw an episode of the "Love Boat" series.

Apart from the die hard traditionalists, which tend to favor smaller classic vessels, the etiquette and tradition of cruising is pretty much doomed when looking forward.

In fact, when one considers the unnecessary hassle, over commercialization and somewhat fake ambience generated by some of the events linked to etiquette and tradition, it's no wonder that such practices are on the decline.

Here are some classic examples of traditions that take place on Gala night:

The dress code is traditionally formal, preferably with a dinner suit, bow tie, cummerbund and trimmings to match for the men and a stunning cocktail dress for the ladies. It's of course nice to see people dress up and make the effort. However, when you are suited and booted and forced to share a Restaurant with the casual crowd in Jeans or even sometimes shorts, it's a real atmosphere killer!

Then the Gala Night itself is usually a non-event. Sometimes forced queues just to have a picture with the Captain who is bored out of his brain and no wonder with often thousands of people to meet and greet in repetition! More queues are generated to participate in the Captain's Cocktail, which features a free drink, music and the same old speeches, which nearly always leaves one with the feeling of an anti-climax.

Then of course, there is the "Baked Alaska Parade" that used to always appear on Gala Nightin the Restaurant. This features a long line of waiters carrying the "Baked Alaska", with a candle and/or a sparkler on top. This is now somewhat of a rare sight, but with most cruise lines there is nothing to replace it.

Finally after a hearty breakfast with snacks at 11am and a full on lunch followed by afternoon tea, leading up to a 7 course dinner, the Gallery is often forced to produce a Magnifique Buffet at midnight! Of course the culture of some is still unfortunately "I paid for it so I'm having it" hence the practice still lives on board some vessels, although less and less cruise lines are maintaining the Midnight Buffet concept.

What's interesting is that River Cruises on average maintain nearly all of these traditions and forms of etiquette.

Suffice to say that all these traditions and forms of etiquette were fine for their time, however the cruise lines must move on and now find new imaginative and innovative ways to capture the hearts and minds of their Guests.
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