As the cruise industry continues to develop and expand, with each line’s new, feature-packed mega- vessel jostling for position at the top of the heap, you’ve got to wonder if there’s any room left for the more traditional aspects of cruising. But does the more intimate nature and personal level of service of luxury cruise vessels mean that they’re more in touch with the traditions which are perhaps the last surviving link to the much lamented golden age of cruising?
The sailaway party
This is one tradition which you’ll still find practiced on most cruise ships, though the format has certainly changed over the years. Today, you’ll head up on deck and join fellow passengers for a sailaway cocktail or two to the strains of a live band, casting a care-free farewell wave to the land as you leave your troubles behind for a week or two. In the past, the sailaway was a much grander affair, with an altogether more sombre undertone. The family would always be there to wave you off, not simply to share in your joy of getting away from them for a bit, but because back in ‘the good old days’ the sea was a much more dangerous place and the voyages much longer, and they were aware of the fact that there was a chance that they wouldn’t see you again.
To me, the phrase ‘afternoon tea’ conjures up images of an idyllic and quintessentially English summer afternoon spent in the grounds of some stately home or other, but afternoon tea on a cruise ship is as much of a cherished tradition; born of a desire to ensure that the more aristocratic passengers on the ocean liners of yore ‘kept things British’ while away at sea. These days, though you’ll certainly be able to track down a cuppa on-board, during sea days, you’re just as likely to find a cup cake-making session taking the place of afternoon tea. Thankfully, luxury lines such as Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea and Seabourn are keeping the tradition alive, offering a mouth-watering choice of teas and accompanying cakes and pastries.
Baked Alaska parade
For the uninitiated, Baked Alaska is a dessert of ice-cream and sponge, surrounded meringue, where the dessert is placed in an oven for just long enough to bake the meringue, but not melt the ice-cream. But what does it have to do with cruising exactly, and what’s all this about a parade? Well, veteran cruisers will probably have experienced the moment when, in the restaurant, the lights suddenly dim and a parade of waiters enter the room, each bearing a flaming dish to the delight (and admittedly, sometimes frustration) of the passengers. But what does it have to do with cruise ships? Well, no-one knows for sure but it could be something to do with the fact that many believe the dish was created as an edible celebration of America’s acquisition of Alaska, and initially introduced on American cruise ships sailing in the region. It was then popularised by other lines and these days, it’s a real ‘love it or hate it’ tradition, considered a little OTT for many of the luxury lines.
Midnight buffet? Surely the buffet is a daytime sort of thing? Well, it is, but the idea of a decadent midnight feast is another cruise ship tradition, perhaps because cuisine is such an important part of the cruise experience for many people, though it could’ve had its origins in the need to use up all the food on-board. These days it’s much more easy to keep food fresh, and with many people objecting to the waste of food most cruise lines have done away with it as a nightly practice. And, with so much food on offer during the evening buffet, few people have room for another meal. Any lines which do hold midnight buffets today do so largely to uphold the tradition, and it serves more as a food sampling exercise than a full-on feast.
The traditional end-of-cruise celebration, typically held on the second-to-last night of the cruise. This is the ‘last hurrah’, the opportunity for passengers to don their finery, enjoy a glass or three of champagne and meet the captain and his officers. It’s certainly a great way to end your cruise, though today, it’s upheld for the sake of tradition and as an excuse for everyone to ham it up just a little at the end of their voyage. In cruising days gone by however, there was an altogether more sobering reason for the party, as it was an opportunity for passengers to personally thank the captain for seeing them across the sea safely.
So, a bit of a mixed bag. Though you’ll certainly be able to enjoy a sailaway party, drinks with the captain and afternoon tea, it seems that most of the luxury cruise lines are more concerned with honouring the general traditions of good service, good food and a good bed. And who can blame them for that?
By Simon Brotherton