A cruise ship, or less commonly cruise liner or luxury liner, is a passenger ship used for pleasure voyages, where the voyage itself and the amenities of the ship are considered an essential part of the experience.
Cruising has become a major part of the tourism industry, with millions of passengers each year as of 2006. The rapid growth of the industry has seen nine or more new-build ships catering to a North American clientele added every year since 2001.
The practice grew gradually out of the transatlantic crossing tradition, which despite the best efforts of engineers and sailors into the mid-20th century, rarely took less than about four days. In the competition for passengers, ocean liners added many luxuries - most famously seen in the Titanic, but also available in other ships - fine dining, well-appointed staterooms, and so forth.
In the late 19th century, Albert Ballin, director of the Hamburg-America Line, was the first to make a regular practice of sending his transatlantic ships out on long southern cruises during the worst of the winter season of the North Atlantic. Other companies followed suit. Some of them built specialized ships which were made for easy transformation between summer crossings and winter cruising.
With the advent of large passenger jet aircraft in the 1960s, the vast majority of inter-continental travellers switched from ships to planes. There were some, however, who actually enjoyed the few days of enforced idleness, so while the ocean liner transport business crashed, the cruising voyages never stopped altogether.
Later other cruises were introduced, such as to the islands of the Caribbean, and through the Mediterranean, and new ships were built to accommodate the growing demand.
The 1970s television show The Love Boat, featuring Princess Cruises' since-sold ship Pacific Princess, did much to raise awareness of cruises as a vacation option for ordinary people in the United States.
As of 2004, several hundred cruise ships, some carrying over 3,000 passengers and measuring over 100,000 gross tons, ply routes all over the world. For certain destinations such as Antarctica, cruise ships are very nearly the only way for tourists to visit.
Present-day cruise ships are organized much like floating hotels, with a complete "hospitality staff" in addition to the usual ship's crew. It is not uncommon for the most luxurious ships to have more crew/staff than passengers.
As with any vessel, adequate provisioning is crucial, especially on a cruise ship serving several thousand meals each at seating. The amount of food and beverages consumed by a cruise ship on an average 7-day voyage is staggering. Passengers and crew on the Royal Caribbean International ship Mariner of the Seas consume 20,000 pounds of beef, 28,000 eggs, 8,000 gallons of ice cream, and 18,000 slices of pizza in a week.
Many older cruise ships have had multiple owners over their lifetimes.
Since each cruise line has its own livery and often a naming theme (for instance, ships of the Holland America Line have names ending in -dam, e.g. MS Statendam; or Royal Caribbean's ships all ending in "of the Seas"), it is usual for the transfer of ownership to entail a refitting and a name change. Some ships have had a dozen or more identities.
Crusing in 2006 is an increasingly affordable and varied experience.
Family friendly, adventure, sight seeing, older generation and youth and romance geared experiences are all available. For some, cruising will always be the only 'civilized' way to travel!