Cruising, like everything in the world, is constantly evolving. Certain things about cruising however are engrained in the minds of those who experienced them first hand, or even by watching The Love Boat. To this day for example not a cruise goes by that I don't hear someone, often younger than I, asking if they still have a midnight buffet. Let's take a quick glimpse at five of the things we just don't see on cruise ships any longer.
Skeet Shooting (aka Trap Shooting)
It's not hard to understand why cruise lines don't want to hand loaded shotguns over to random passengers walking away from pool bars, but this wasn't always the case. For many years, a popular onboard activity was skeet shooting. This usually took place towards the aft of the ship on a sea day. Manned by an officer, guests could pay a few dollars and try their hand at shooting clay pigeons out of the air as they sailed over the ocean. Obviously, when this activity was going on, everyone knew it, as the sounds of shotgun blasts tends to stand out on a serene Caribbean cruise.
I don't recall seeing this much past the very early 1990's, and have heard people mention environmental concerns as one reason. While I try to be an eco-conscious person, I really think this may have come down more to lawyers finally realizing that this was actually happening.
Ice Carving Demonstrations
Passengers weren't the only persons on deck wielding potentially dangerous equipment. Ice carvings, still seen around ships at times, used to be an event to be witnessed. While the occasional ice carving now happens in the galley, or at least, with little fanfare on deck, this was once an activity that drew big crowds. Talented chefs would come out, often in the late afternoon, and place large blocks of ice on the pool deck. Then, in a matter of minutes, they'd dazzle passengers as they turned the boring blocks of ice into unicorns, dolphins, birds, or even cruise line logos using chain-saws and sharp knives.
While it was an impressive display, my guess is that the popularity waned as other activities competed for the attention of passengers. Additionally, I can't help but think the talented chefs occasionally needed a mulligan, or suffered quite the challenge lugging the carved ice back to the galley for freezing before display at the midnight buffet. That in mind, as shown in the picture above (taken sometime since 2008), it still occasionally occurs, but isn't the staple of cruising it once was.
The Ocean As Your Driving Range
Not everything flying off the stern of a cruise ship resulted in a loud "boom", as driving golf balls off the deck into the open ocean was a popular activity until the mid-nineties. Similar to skeet shooting, passengers would pay a few dollars for gold balls and use of a club. The passenger would then don a safety harness of sorts as a section of railing was removed, allowing a clear path from the deck to the water below. I never understood this activity, as there was no goal - even a child could manage to get the ball into the ocean, and there was no way to measure distance or accuracy.
Here, the environmental concern was real, as new studies demonstrated how long the golf balls lasted in our oceans (hint, they're still there from the Love Boat days). Eventually a company did come along with bio-degradable golf balls, but the cost was high. Newer and cheaper formulations came about later, but by then the magic of watching one-self waste time and golf balls had passed as ships now feature virtual driving ranges that allow golfers to simulate various courses, and judge their performance.
As mentioned earlier, it's still not uncommon to hear passengers asking about the midnight buffet. I remember as a child eagerly awaiting midnight, as I, wide awake, would beg my parents to sleepily drag me to the midnight buffet so I could take in all it had to offer. This didn't just mean food by the way, but the ambiance too. An entire area of the ship was often redecorated for the event, where presentation was as important as the feast. Ice carvings, fondue, intricately carved fruit, hand dipped chocolates - any over the top delight you could think of.
The midnight buffet was a staple of cruising since the early days of ocean liner crossings, so what made it go away? Ironically, the 24 hour availability of food is largely to blame. As more ships entertained crowds later into the night, offering pizza and other snacks around the clock, deserts outside of nightclubs, etc, the justification for such a time and labor-intensive feast simply faded. You do occasionally see similar events on ships these days, but usually just one night out of a cruise, if at all.
Number five on our list isn't an event or even something necessarily good, but those of us who cruised prior to the mid 1990's know exactly what I am talking about. Technology today has really made the sky the limit when it comes to cruise ship construction. There was a time however when not only were there no surfing simulators and planetariums on ships (imagine that!), but the engineering limits of the vessels were something you could literally feel, just by reaching up. Ceilings in staterooms and public areas were generally only seven to eight feet high. This meant that an average size adult could stand up from his or her chair at dinner, reach up, and touch the metallic ceiling panels, lights, sprinklers, etc.
These days ships have eight story atriums, and public areas generally have ceilings no lower than ten or twelve feet high. Even our staterooms are taller (believe it or not, our stateroom bathrooms are much larger too - but that's a story for another time). If we were to visit ships of the past now, I'm sure we'd feel terrifically cramped by the layout, especially the low ceilings, but until twenty or so years ago, this was all we knew.
We tend to look back on things with great love for the way they used to be. I'm certainly guilty of this, even when it comes to cruising. Sure I miss some things, like midnight buffets, but even the uncomfortably low ceilings remind me of amazing and wonderful times that have long passed. The great news is that the second I step onto a ship now, I immediately fall in love all over again with the experience - and it's the experience of cruising that keeps me going back. It's the new amenities and technologies on today's ships however that allow me to form even greater memories that I'll look back on in another twenty years when we're shocked at how we used to cruise in 2016.