History of the Cruise Industry | 1990-Present


The 1990s saw a frenzy of new builds that featured bigger and more innovative ships. Innovations such as HI-FOG fire suppression systems, GPS, Voyage Data Recorders and Azipod propulsion were introduced. Cool new features such as ice skating rinks, rock walls, weddings at sea, and internet cafes were also emerging.

That decade and the next decade saw new cruise lines formed while some existing cruise lines merged. Unfortunately, September 11, 2001 brought a slow down to travel and the end to a few cruise lines. Luckily, the majority of the cruise industry was resilient and grew stronger. Regulatory and policy development continued to promote a safe, secure and healthy cruise ship environment.

Amendments were made to SOLAS, MARPOL and STCW95 in an effort to introduce new safety measures, pollution control, and better training standards. The first decade of the millennium also brought wireless internet, bowling alleys, shore-power to cruise ships, female captains and millions of dollars spent on ship upgrades. Here are the details.


Princess Cruises’ Captain’s Circle is introduced, one of the first cruise line loyalty programs.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norway undergoes a $40 million expansion that adds two upper decks to her superstructure which equates to more than 100 more cabins and suites with verandas. The Norway becomes the largest cruise ship afloat again.

Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Fantasy enters the market. It is the first of eight Fantasy-class ships.

Celebrity Cruises sails its first cruise with the rebuilt SS Meridian, a ship originally built in 1963. During that year the Horizon enters service and Celebrity Cruises orders a sister to Horizon to be delivered in 1992 as the Zenith.

MSC Cruises is founded by its parent company, Mediterranean Shipping Company.

Crystal Cruises launches their first ship, Crystal Harmony. On its maiden voyage in the Caribbean, it catches fire as water enters her engines and she drifts afloat for three days.


First HI-FOG water mist sprinkler system for fire suppression is launched for use on passenger ships.

Royal Caribbean International launches Monarch of the Seas. Although smaller than the Norway in size at less than 74,000 tons, it has the largest passenger capacity at 2,744.


Princess Cruises launches their new private destination on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. They rename their private destination, Princess Cays.

The QE2 runs aground in August on route to New York. Although there was damage to the hull of the ship, no one was injured.

The amendments on the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) enter into force. Search and rescue (SAR) authorities ashore as well as ships within the vicinity of a ship in distress will be alerted to a distress incident so immediate action can follow. The system also provides meteorological warnings to ships.

Royal Caribbean formalizes their “Save the Waves” program focusing on reducing, reusing and recycling.


Genting Hong Kong is incorporated operating its fleet under Star Cruises.

Royal Caribbean goes public trading on the New York stock exchange as RCL.

Carnival changes its name to Carnival Corporation to distinguish itself from their Carnival Cruise Lines brand.

Orient Lines is founded. They rebuild the Alexandr Pushkin and reintroduce their ship as Marco Polo.

In October, Disney ends their partnership with Premier Cruise Lines. By March 1994 Disney characters will not be on the Premier vessels any more.

By December, the Global Positioning System (GPS) has a constellation of 24 satellites. This allows a navigational fix for a ship’s position to be taken 24/7.


As a result of the Gulf War, the price of oil decreases to about $4 per barrel, prices that were seen before 1973.

In September, cruise ferry, Estonia sinks in the Baltic Sea. The Estonia was crossing from Estonia to Stockholm in rough weather and with poor cargo distribution. The bow door opened, flooding the vehicle deck, capsizing and sinking with 852 passengers and crew.

Silversea Cruises is founded as a niche luxury cruise line. They introduce their first ship, Silver Cloud.

NCL sends their first ship to Alaska. During that time their “Dive-In” snorkelling program is introduced in Ketchikan, Alaska.

By 1994, Steiner operates 50 salons and spas on cruise ships. They acquire Coiffeur Transocean Limited and become Steiner Transocean Limited, operating over one hundred spas at sea.

New fire safety standards (amendments to SOLAS) are phased in between 1994 and 2000, applying to existing ships as well as new ships. The safety measures include mandatory requirements for fire and smoke detection, general emergency alarm systems, sprinkler systems, emergency lighting and public address systems.

In December, the Maritime Safety Committee approves guidelines for alternate fire extinguishing systems because Halon is not allowed anymore. Although IMO prohibits new Halon installations from 1994, they accept existing Halon systems installed prior to that date.


Sun Princess joins the Princess Cruises fleet as the largest cruise ship in the world at over 77,000 tons.

“Guidelines for Care of Cruise Ship Medical Facilities” is approved by American College of Emergency Physician (ACEP) Board of Directors.

International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers 1995 (STCW95) represents a major revision and replacement to the 1978 convention. As a result of the Estonia accident of 1994, amendments include specific training requirements for crew on passenger ships, such as training in emergency evacuation and training in crowd and crisis management. STCW95 would enter into force in 1997.


Steiner buys two British skin care brands, Elemis and La Thérapie. These brands supply the products such as lotions, shampoos and oils to the spas on board.

Carnival Cruise Lines debuts the first passenger vessel to exceed 100,000 tons. The 101,353-ton Carnival Destiny is the world’s largest cruise ship at the time and can carry 2,642 passengers.

Royal Caribbean signs a deal to build two 130,000 ton ships. These ships would be the largest cruise ships ever built.

MARPOL 1996 Protocol is adopted and will enter force in 2006. Instead of stating which materials a ship may dump, the Protocol prohibits all dumping, except for acceptable wastes on a permitted list (requiring a permit).

Royal Caribbean becomes the first cruise line to employ an environmental officer on each of their ships.

Royal Cruise Lines is merged into the Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) fleet. The cruise line name is changed to Norwegian Cruise Line Limited.


As of 1997, smoke detectors must be fitted in all passenger cabins and public spaces. There must be low level lighting to show fire escape routes. All fire doors must be controllable from the ship’s bridge.

In December, Holland America purchases the uninhabited 2,400-acre island of Little San Salvador, Bahamas for $6 million. They rename their private island, Half Moon Cay.

Disney Cruise Line selects the guests for the Disney’s Magic maiden voyage by a lottery held in February.

Norwegian Cruise Line is the first cruise line to launch a website.

Carnival Corporation acquires 50% of Costa Cruises.

Royal Caribbean merges with Celebrity Cruises. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line changes its brand name to Royal Caribbean International to reflect its international operations as well as distinguish itself from the parent company.

Windstar Cruises purchases Club Med I and renames it Windsurf.

Five voyage data recorders (aka: VDR) are delivered and installed on Star Cruises’ vessels. The VDR is designed to perform a similar function to an aircraft’s “black box,” recording vital information from the ship’s sensors and voice recorders in a hardened data capsule for analysis by safety investigators following an incident at sea.


The International Safety Management (ISM) Code for passenger ships is entered into force. It focuses on the “human element” side of shipping, by providing an international standard for the safe management and operation of ships and for pollution prevention.

Royal Caribbean announces that it will equip all its new Voyager class ships with the Azipod propulsion system, a technology that eliminates the need for rudders and stern thrusters.

The Grand Princess joins the Princess Cruises fleet as the world’s largest ship at 109,000 tons. It is also the first ship to feature an on board wedding chapel to offer weddings at sea.

Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Paradise enters service as the industry’s first non-smoking ship.

Carnival Corporation acquires Cunard Line.

NCL acquires Orient Lines. During this year they also reintroduce the Dreamward and Windward after they are stretched. The ships are renamed Norwegian Dream and Norwegian Wind respectively.

In July, Disney Cruise Line launches Disney Magic.

Royal Caribbean is fined $18 million because its ships were caught repeatedly illegally dumping waste.

In July, Carnival Ecstasy departs Miami and a fire starts in the main laundry room. The fire travels through the ventilation system and spreads to the aft mooring station, igniting the mooring lines. There were only minor injuries.


In August, Disney Cruise Line launches their second cruise ship, Disney Wonder.

NCL’s Norwegian Sky enters service and becomes first cruise ship to offer an internet café and Freestyle Cruising. On Norwegian Sky’s maiden voyage in the St. Lawrence Seaway it runs aground, requiring the assistance of the Canada Coast Guard. The ship proceeds to Quebec City for repairs. Earlier in the year, Norwegian Dream collides with cargo vessel in the English Channel.

Voyager of the Seas enters service as the biggest cruise ship in the industry at 138,000 tons. It features a rock wall, an ice skating rink and a golf simulator.

SS United States is placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located at Philadelphia Pier 82.

NCL’s Norway experiences an engine room fire while docking in Barcelona, Spain. She is taken out of service for a few weeks to make repairs.

Carnival Corporation assumes full ownership of Seabourn Cruise Line and Cunard Line.

Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Triumph is launched. It is 101,509 tons and 893 feet. It breaks a capacity record with 3,413 passengers on August 22nd.


Premier Cruise Line’s vessels are all arrested for debt and the company leaves hundreds of passengers stranded in the Bahamas, Mexico, and Halifax, Canada. Premier Cruise Lines goes bankrupt.

Holland America’s Rotterdam (62,000 GRT) makes HAL’s first ever visit to Antarctica.

Genting Hong Kong (formerly Star Cruises) acquires Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and becomes the third largest cruise company in the world. As a result, NCL embarks on an expansion programme that involves new ships, on-board product enhancements, Freestyle Cruising, and innovative itineraries.

Costa Cruises becomes 100% owned by Carnival.

Starboard Cruise Services, Inc. is officially established as a retailer for cruise ships’ on board boutiques.

The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) initiates to amend SOLAS by reviewing passenger ship safety with the aim of assessing whether the current regulations are adequate, in particular for the large passenger ships now being built. It would be adopted in 2006.

The International Code for Fire Safety Systems (FSS Code) is adopted by the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in order to provide international standards for the fire safety systems and equipment on passenger ships.

Celebrity Cruises launches Millennium. It features the industry’s first application of gas turbine engines, which reduce exhaust emissions.

P&O Princess Cruises demerges from P&O.


In March, Radiance of the Seas enters service. The vessel is equipped with the gas turbine engines and the first complete Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) with IMO-compliant protective memory capsule.

Steiner acquires Mandara Spas, a resort spa group with nearly 50 resort spas in Asia and throughout the United States.

In Juneau, Alaska, Princess Cruises’ Dawn Princess becomes the first cruise ship to be operated by shore power alone.

On September 11th, terrorists hijack passenger airplanes and fly them into the World Trade Center towers in New York City.

Rising fuel costs and post 9/11 uncertainty result in a number of cruise lines declaring bankruptcy including Renaissance Cruises, American Classic Voyages and Commodore Cruise Lines.


Holland America Line introduces an alternative restaurant concept. The Pinnacle Grill that costs $20 per person is introduced on the Statendam and Ryndam. The concept will be added to the rest of HAL’s fleet by early 2004.

Princess Cruises converts more ships to use shore power while in Juneau, Alaska.

Norwegian Cruise Line is the first in the industry to provide remote wireless Internet access to guests fleet-wide.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) requires that all new ships over 3,000 GRT on international voyages carry voyage data recorders (aka: VDR).

Carnival Cruise Lines introduces three new ships this year, Carnival Conquest, Carnival Legend, and Carnival Pride.

Shipyard fire damages Diamond Princess while it is under construction.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code) is developed. It is a comprehensive set of measures to enhance the security of ships and port facilities.


Royal Caribbean adds rock walls to all the ships in their fleet.

Oceania Cruises is formed as an upper premium cruise line. The Regatta is introduced.

In November, Holland America Line announces a $225-million Signature of Excellence initiative.

Product and service enhancements to its fleet include such amenities as plush Euro-top mattresses, a Culinary Arts Center and Explorations Cafe.

The MARPOL Annex regarding the Prevention of Pollution by Sewage from Ships enters into force. It contains requirements to control pollution of the sea by prohibiting the discharge of sewage into the sea with specified exceptions.

The merger between P&O Princess Cruises and Carnival Corporation is finalized, making Carnival Corporation one of the world’s largest cruise companies.

Outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) disrupts cruise schedules. The cruise industry institutes screening and control protocols including pre-embarkation screening, isolation of ill people, infection control, and antiviral treatment of ill people and contacts.

Norwegian Cruise Line announces that their new brand, NCL America will start operations in 2004. NCL purchases SS United States to restore it for the new brand. (They change their mind about the conversion once they do the math. They eventually sell the SS United States in 2011.)

NCL’s Norway suffers a boiler explosion on May 25th. Although no passengers are injured, 8 crew members are killed. After this incident, the Norway would never cruise again with passengers.

Celebrity Cruises introduces Acupuncture at Sea on select cruises.


Norwegian Cruise Line renovates their Norwegian Sky and renames it Pride of Aloha. It is re-flagged as a US registered ship to cruise under their new brand NCL America. It’s all US-crewed ship operates in Hawaii incompliance to the Passenger Vessel Services Act.

In December, Holland America Line completes Signature of Excellence enhancements on their private island, Half Moon Cay. Upgrades include a string ray adventure program, a horseback riding tour, a personal watercraft course, and a family aqua park.


In May, MARPOL Annex VI enters force. It contains regulations relating to the Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships. It sets limits on sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from ship exhausts and prohibits deliberate emissions of ozone depleting substances.

Carnival Cruise Lines introduces their Carnival Comfort Bed sleep system.

The World Health Organization (WHO) revises the International Health Regulations. These regulations provide international standards for ship and port sanitation, disease surveillance, and response to infectious diseases. They enter into force in June 2007 and are binding on 194 countries.

Steiner Transocean Limited launches Acupuncture on select cruise lines.


The latest and simplified voyage data recorder, Consilium S-VDR is launched.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) merges with International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) and makes Miami their head office.

In February, the International Labour Organization (ILO) develops a bill of rights for the world’s maritime workers. The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 sets minimum requirements for seafarers to work on ships and addresses conditions of employment.

The citizens of Panama approve the Panama Canal expansion plan. The project is expected to double the capacity of the Panama Canal by 2014.

On March 23, a fire starts on a balcony on board Star Princess and spread quickly. It causes damage to 150 cabins and one passenger dies from a heart attack. A discarded cigarette on a balcony is believed to be the start of the fire.

Princess Cruises installs sprinklers to all their ship’s balconies and replaces plastic furniture with non-combustible alternatives.

NCL is the first cruise line to feature a bowling alley at sea on their Norwegian Pearl. Pride of Hawaii is built for the NCL America’s Hawaiian route.

Norwegian becomes the first cruise line to fully implement cell phone service fleet wide.

Royal Caribbean International launches Freedom of the Seas. It is the largest cruise ship built at 154,407 tons complete with Flow Rider surfing simulator, full sized boxing ring, rock wall and ice rink.

Holland America’s Westerdam and Oosterdam are retrofitted to use shore power at the Port of Seattle to reduce both fuel consumption and emissions.

Costa Cruises’ Costa Concordia is launched. It features the largest oceangoing spa operation at 25,000-square feet and offers Spa Suites at Sea.

A $50 head tax is charged to cruise passengers visiting Alaska. As a result, cruise lines start pulling their select ships out of Alaska.


In April, Holland America’s Zaandam features new emission reduction technology, using sea water to reduce (aka: scrub) engine emissions.

Golden Princess is the first mega cruise ship to cruise to Antarctica.

Louis Cruises’ Sea diamond runs aground and sinks off the coast of Santorini.

Apollo Management purchases Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas controlled by holding company Prestige Cruise Holdings (PCH). Star Cruises sells 50% of NCL to Apollo Management for $1 billion, but NCL remains a separate holding outside of PCH.

NCL announces Freestyle 2.0 fleet upgrades including stateroom upgrades.

Celebrity Cruises creates a luxury sub brand, Azamara Cruises (renamed Azamara Club Cruises in 2010).

Queen Elizabeth II is sold to a Dubai company to be used as a floating hotel.

Windjammer Barefoot Cruises ceases operations and leaves passengers and crew stranded.

In November, Canadian operated expedition ship, Explorer, sinks in the South Shetland Islands near Antarctica after striking an iceberg. All crew and passengers of the Gap Adventures’ vessel are evacuated, but the safety of Antarctica cruising is questioned.

The IMO decides to develop an international mandatory Polar Code. Previously published by the IMO is “The IMO Guidelines for Ships Operating in Arctic Ice Covered Waters”.

Carnival Corporation sells Windstar Cruises to Ambassador International.

Carnival Cruise Lines announces plan to upgrade Fantasy class ships (Evolution of Fun Initiative).

In May, Karin Stahre-Janson is the first female captain for Royal Caribbean. As the captain of the Monarch of the Seas, she is also the first female to command a major cruise ship.

The price of oil increases rapidly over 2007 from $50 per barrel to $90 per barrel. As a result, numerous cruise lines introduce a fuel surcharge (around $5 to $10 per passenger per day) on passenger bookings through 2008. Airlines also increase their fuel surcharge to around $40 per round trip fare.


Steiner Maritime division begins to offer medi-spa treatments onboard select cruise ship spas, including Botox and Dermal Fillers.

Norwegian Cruise Line pulls both the Pride of Aloha and the Pride of Hawaii out of the Hawaiian cruising market due to financial difficulties. Only the Pride of America remains in Hawaii under the NCL America brand.

Late in the year, cruise lines eliminate the fuel surcharges on passenger bookings. Most cruise lines, such as Carnival Corporation develop a clause that basically states that they reserve the right to reinstate surcharges if the price of oil exceeds $70 per barrel.

Celebrity Cruises launches Celebrity Solstice with industry firsts such as real growing grass, solar technology and a Hot Glass Show.


Carnival Cruise Lines’ largest ship to date is constructed, Carnival Dream. It is 130,000 GRT and features the longest waterslide at 303 feet and four decks high. There is also a 104-foot-long spiral water slide and a double-lane 80-foot-long racing slide.

Fire occurs in engine room of the Royal Princess after leaving Port Said, Egypt.

G8 leaders stay onboard MSC Fantasia during G8 Summit in Sardinia.

Cruise and Maritime Voyages is formed and offer cruises on their two aged vessels. Also during this year, Voyages to Antiquity is established as a one ship cruise line with the Aegean Odyssey, built in 1973.

There is an influenza A (H1N1) pandemic and cruise line medical personnel make case-by-case decisions regarding the boarding of passengers with influenza like illness.

Holland America Line invests $200 million over the next two years on five cruise ships.

Ports invest to handle the new Royal Caribbean ship to be delivered later in the year.

Royal Caribbean International launches the Oasis of the Seas, the largest cruise ship built to date. It is over 225,000 tons, 1187 feet long and carries 5,412 passengers.


In April, volcanic activity at Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland causes disruption to air travel across western and northern Europe which in turn disrupts cruise passengers’ travel arrangements.

In May, UK-based cruise lines P&O Cruises and Cunard Line reinstate fuel surcharges as the price of crude oil rise. By the end of 2010, the price of oil is around $90 per barrel. North American based cruise lines choose not to reinstate the fuel charge in 2010.

NCL launches Norwegian Epic. It features the first Ice Bar at sea, a tube waterslide, Studio staterooms for solo travellers, the most bowling lanes at sea, and 20 dining choices.

In July, the Pacific Sun is struck by large waves. At least 40 passengers are injured with broken bones as a result of unsecured furniture and casino machines.

Carnival Splendor experiences a fire in the engine room. There are no injuries.

Inger Olsen becomes Cunard Line’s first female captain and Sara Breton becomes P&O Cruises’ first female captain.

Major amendments to SOLAS are adopted. This includes prohibiting the use of combustible materials in the construction of new cruise ships. SOLAS also requires that all tables and furniture on the ship be secured to walls and floors. These regulations will go into force January 1, 2012.

The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act is passed. (Note: In 2007, the U.S. Coast Guard testified before Congress that security procedures are working and that it does not believe Americans are at any significant crime risk while aboard cruise ships.)


In March a Tsunami hits Japan causing major damage. Hawaii is put on alert. Few cruise ship schedules are affected.

In March, Royal Caribbean launches their Royal Caribbean Bedding Collection giving consumers the opportunity to purchase mattresses, pillows and linens.

In April, Windstar Cruises’ parent company, Ambassador International files for bankruptcy. In May, Xanterra Parks purchases Windstar Cruises and in September they announce an $18 million refurbishment starting with the Wind Surf.

In May, crew members from India on P&O’s Arcadia strike over tipping policy. Although they were not fired during their contract, their contracts were not renewed.

In July 2011, IMO adopted the most recent amendments to MARPOL which are expected to enter into force on 1 January 2013. The revisions prohibit the discharge of all garbage into the sea, except as provided otherwise. It also introduces energy efficiency measures which will significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from ships.

Royal Caribbean announces it will spend $300 million to bring Oasis-class features to other their other ships.

Carnival rolls out its no smoking in staterooms ban. Princess Cruises, HAL and NCL roll out their ban in January 2012.

Celebrity Cruises “Solsticizes” its Millennium-class ships in 2011 and 2012 with stateroom upgrades and dining options.

Innersea Discoveries leases former Cruise West ships.

Carnival Cruise Lines announces it will spend $500 million on Fun Ship 2.0 upgrades.


Costa Cruises’ Costa Concordia runs aground off an island in Italy. Of the 4,300 passengers and crew onboard, around 30 persons perish. During the same year, both the Costa Allegra and Azamara Quest have a fire onboard.

Cruise industry adopts and enforces new muster drill policy. In February, HAL disembarks a passenger for not attending the drill and then in May, Seabourn disembarks a couple for the same reason.

Cunard Line changes its ships’ registry to Bermuda and offers weddings at sea. During this year Royal Caribbean International can also offer weddings at sea on its Bahamas-registered vessels.

Royal Caribbean announces it will build two Sunshine-class ships at 158,000 GRT each and the capacity to carry 4,100 passengers.

P&O celebrates 175 years this year, plus it’s the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

Although airlines continue to increase their fuel surcharges, cruise lines and tour operators have not followed suit, absorbing the fuels costs themselves.

Norwegian Cruise Line introduces the Norwegian iConcierge Smartphone app available to passengers on the Norwegian Epic. The app allows passengers to talk and text on their iPhone or iPad with fellow cruisers while at sea for a flat rate of $7.95 for the duration of their cruise.

Disney Fantasy delivered. There are more than 20 ships introduced in 2012. Of those, Viking River Cruises launches six river vessels.

Classic International Cruises’ ships are arrested for not paying wages and fuel bills.

IMO incorporates new safety policies.


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