How Cruises Work

Titanic Image Gallery Millions of Americans go on cruises every year. See pictures of the Titanic, the worst cruise ever.
Titanic Image Gallery Millions of Americans go on cruises every year. See pictures of the Titanic, the worst cruise ever.
Roland Maguina/AFP/Getty Images

­For many people, the 1970s s­how "The Love Boat", which was filmed on a real Princess cruise ship, along with the pioneering Carnival Cruise Line "Fun Ship" commercials, represented the first glimpse of the world of cruise travel. If you were intrigued, you were definitely not alone! What other industry has enjoyed a 900% growth in the number of passengers over the past 20 years? It seems that no matter what happens in the travel industry overall, cruising is booming!

According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), in 1999, 5.4 million North Americans cruised on ships owned by U.S.-based cruise lines, a figure that's up 7 percent over the previous year. Another 500,000 sailed with cruise lines not based in the United States. The cruise industry has responded to vacationers' obvious approval of their product. There are currently dozens of cruise lines, more than 150 passenger cruise ships of all sizes (up to 100,000 gross tons!) and more than $24 billion has been committed to building 60 new ships by 2004. In the 1970s -- the beginning of cruising's heyday -- no one would have believed that the future would hold ships that carry as many as 3,000 people, cruise at speeds of 27 knots per hour and offer features such as 24-hour Internet cafes, non-smoking environments, rock-climbing walls, skating rinks and virtual reality centers! But this is all part of cruising today!

If you're one of the shrinking number of Americans who hasn't tried cruising and you don't know what all the fuss is about, picture this: You arrive at the ship, where you are shown to your nicely appointed stateroom. Your bags are delivered and you unpack -- once for the entire vacation! Then you wander down to the dining room for dinner, where you produce no cash and sign no tab because meals are included in the price of your cruise. After dinner, you take in a Broadway revue in the ship's showroom -- free of charge, of course. That kind of inclusive packaging, so appealing to people, has been copied by resorts around the globe.

Now is a great time to learn more about cruising, since February is National Cruise Vacation Month. CLIA, the professional organization representing cruise lines, is sending teams of ship captains, cruise directors and hotel directors on media treks to cities across the country to offer an avid public a glimpse into life on a passenger cruise ship. In this edition of How Stuff Works, we'll tell you everything you need to know to help you choose the perfect cruise for you and your family and friends. We'll talk about destinations (the number one factor affecting people's choice of cruising), the various ships and lines, accommodation levels, prices, seasickness, excursions (tours in the ports the ships visit), what to wear and all about shipboard culture. We'll even tell you how to handle it if you're invited to the captain's table for dinner! (First lesson: NEVER call a ship a "boat"!)

Now, let's go cruising!