Sailing through time: The evolution of cruising

Apr 30, 2023
Holland America Line introduced its first-ever “pleasure cruise”, departing New York in 1910. Image source: Supplied

Setting sail across the open waters, exploring new horizons and discovering distant lands has always been a cherished pursuit for people throughout time.

Although our love for adventure and discovery hasn’t changed, the ways in which we indulge in this passion have evolved significantly, especially in the world of cruising. Since the introduction of passenger cruising in the 1800s, the industry has experienced remarkable transformations with cruises now traversing the globe, boasting elaborate amenities, facilities and itineraries.

Cruise through the 1800s

With the invention of steamship technologies and a growing interest in expanding horizons, leisure travel saw its emergence in the form of passenger cruising. 

The first steam-powered passenger ship, the Savannah, made her maiden voyage in 1819 from the United States to England, marking the beginning of a new era in maritime transportation. However, it wasn’t until the 1830s and ‘40s that the concept of leisure travel was first introduced.

The 1830s saw the emergence of British-owned Peninsular Steam Navigation Company, offering passenger services on steamships, and while some catered to leisure travellers, the service was primarily used for mail and cargo transport. Come the 1840s, the popularity of the “Grand Tour” (mostly extended trips to Europe) grew amongst the upper class. Leisure travel, while on the rise, was reserved for the wealthy, and the Grand Tour was seen as a rite of passage for young aristocrats, providing them with an opportunity to acquire knowledge, refine their tastes, and expand their social and cultural horizons.

Fast forward two decades to the 1860s, and the birth of modern cruising is witnessed. Cruise ships were specifically designed with leisure in mind, and amenities such as comfortable cabins, dining rooms, and recreational activities are included on board. In the 1870s, we saw the introduction of a major cruise line, one that stands out for its enduring legacy as it currently celebrates an incredible milestone of 150 years taking people ‘round the world – Holland America Line.

Holland America Line introduced the Rotterdam I to the world of cruising in 1872, with her first maiden voyage departing Rotterdam in the Netherlands, crossing the Atlantic for New York. From the 1880s to the 1920s, Holland America Line became a primary carrier of European immigrants, helping more than 10 per cent of immigrants begin their lives in the New World, and pioneering the experience on board, providing travellers with three meals a day served in dining rooms. 

Cruise through the 1900s

By the 1900s, the cruising industry was well and truly established and flourishing, and has become an increasingly popular experience for those seeking exotic and adventurous experiences. 

Jumping on the trend, Holland America Line introduces its first-ever “pleasure cruise”, departing New York in 1910 for the Mediterranean and Holy Land aboard the Statendam I.

However, the 1910s saw the cruise industry take a stumble, as the impact of World War I rippled through it. Many cruise ships were requisitioned for military purposes, and the industry saw a decline (understandably) in leisure cruising during the war years. 

After the war, the cruise industry thankfully rebounded, Holland America Line built four new ships – Edam (IV), Leerdam (II), Maasdam (III) and Spaarndam (II) – and several other new cruise lines were established. A number of steamship companies entered the market, offering travellers a wider range of cruise itineraries to various destinations, including the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and South America. 

Cruise lines such as Holland America have launched impressive ships with modern amenities, including swimming pools, ballrooms, and dining saloons – catering to the growing demand for leisure cruises. It wasn’t long before Holland America set off on its first world cruise, taking travellers on a round trip departing New York City, stopping at Africa, India, Asia, Hawaii, and the Pacific Coast before taking the Panama Canal back to New York.

Cruising through to the present 

By the 2000s, there were a number of prevalent cruise lines in the industry, each finding a niche such as luxury and themed cruises to target specific interests through both onboard and onshore activities. 

Holland America Line has become a renowned name for its opulence, and its Signature of Elegance initiative, which saw premium enhancements installed like plush Euro-top mattresses, large, soft towels in staterooms, the Culinary Arts Centre and Explorations Cafe; setting the standard for luxury cruising. It has recently hit an incredible milestone, celebrating its 150 years at sea.

You can experience the history and luxury of Holland America Line for yourself aboard the Westerdam, a destination all on her own. You’ll enjoy live entertainment with Music Walk, and taste delicious food and wine from Port to Table with regional cooking demonstrations. 

The Westerdam can make your ‘round Australia dreams come true, beginning and ending in Sydney, including a stop at Hobart on an extravagant 35-night cruise; or allow her to take you overseas to Japan in 2024 where you’ll be treated to 10 port stops while you chase the country’s cherry blossom season.

If you’d like to pair your cruise with a tour, then this Alaska cruise tour is perfect for you. Over 14 nights, explore Yukon and Denali’s majestic scenery, and float along the beautiful Alaskan waters aboard the Noordam. 

Explore other Holland America cruises here.

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