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11 Things Cruise Lines Are Getting Rid Of

Say goodbye to golfing at sea.

Just like hotels adapted to modern times, so have large-scale cruise ships. For example, out with the ball gowns and in with athleisure. Some amenity tweaks have to do with safety (you just can’t have golf balls zipping into the open water), while others fall into environmental conservation (do we really need a ship full of plastic water bottles?). Other changes are simply a response to social cues: people don’t want to don a tux or glittery ball gown at sea, now do they?

If you haven’t cruised in a while, here are things you are not likely to see at sea anymore.

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Formal and Elegant Nights

With lower participation rates than two decades ago, formal nights—typically 1-2 nights in each sailing, where passengers wear suits, tuxes, fancy dresses, and glittery gowns in the evening—have gone by the wayside. Let’s face it: we’re in a T-shirts and jeans culture, especially when on vacation. Still want to dress up? Nobody’s stopping you. Just don’t go to the buffet.

Specialty or fine-dining restaurants enforce a strict dinner code, such as “fancy jeans” only on Oceania Cruises and “no jeans” on Viking Cruises. Theme Nights are still a thing, whether it’s a “white hot party” or “’80s glow party,” but you need only a white T-shirt for those.

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While on Princess Discovery last year, I was sadder than if I’d read Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook to discover that the library wasn’t in the new ship’s design. When I inquired as to why, I was told I’m not the only one to call this out—and that it may be back. The Ralph Lauren Home-designed library on the new Oceania Vista convinced me we’re not all “reading” audiobooks. Viking Cruises has a compromise: books are placed throughout the ship. This might actually be better than zipping up ten flights in an elevator when all you want is a steamy beach read.

Related: Is the Most Magical Library in the World in the Middle of the Ocean?

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Single-Use Plastics

Think about all the water you guzzled from plastic water bottles in a week’s sailing. If you had any misgivings about taking a cruise out of concern for the environment, plastic usage adds a new layer. Oceania Cruises announced in 2019 it would eliminate plastic water bottles from all of its ships, replacing them with aluminum bottles to take to shore or on the pool deck and refilling glassware in the room from glass bottles. Celebrity Cruises uses aluminum water bottles. Norwegian Cruise Lines also pledged to eliminate single-use plastic water bottles across the entire fleet—by 2020, a goal it actually met. In their place is water in paper cartons. The next wave is plastic straws and packaged condiments, which many cruise lines are now saying no to.

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Art Galleries

Along with skewing more casual in apparel, some ships have abandoned their fine-art galleries onboard. Do people really buy art at auction in the middle of the ocean anyway? Art is now placed throughout the ship, including in stairwells, for better and deeper integration with the interior design. Another artistic shift is through interactive art. Oceania Cruises hosts artist-in-residences in a dedicated space where passengers can sign up for an art-making class. Royal Caribbean also has artists-in-residence through its “Art on Royal” program, and in 2019 Cunard launched a similar initiative, demonstrating art techniques on board.

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Because nearly all passengers carry a smartphone now, or at least someone in the family does, and take multiple photos at a breakneck speed, there’s no need to splurge on what cruise lines call “a photo package.” This isn’t all that different from a school-picture day where you select a size—wallet or 8” x 10”?—of what a roving photographer captured of you and your party while boarding the ship or at dinner one night. Cruise lines haven’t completely abolished photography, including that you can buy photos, but it’s definitely not at the same level as before.

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Short Port Stops

It used to be that port time began at 10 a.m. at the earliest and ended at 6 p.m. at the latest. How is this helpful when you’re dying to explore Barcelona’s tapas scene or soak up a Caribbean sunset from the beach—not your cabin balcony? More and more cruise lines are either staying overnight in port (you can still return to your cabin at night but have the option to stay out late) or pulling away from shore between 10 p.m. and midnight, allowing more time for dinner or drinks out on the town, or to see the skyline all aglow. This is especially crucial in Europe’s Mediterranean, in cities like Rome, Barcelona, Venice, and Dubrovnik.

Related: This Is Perhaps the Strangest Thing We’ve Ever Learned About Cruises

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Paper Newsletters

It’s not that you can’t get a paper newsletter anymore featuring the ship’s goings-on for that day. It’s more about cruise lines steering passengers to use an app on their smartphones instead. This means more than accessing a daily calendar of events. You can make dinner reservations through the app, message fellow passengers, or order food or drink from your lounge chair on the Lido deck, like through Princess Cruises’ OceanNow service on the MedallionClass app.

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Serve-Yourself Buffets

In response to COVID, cruise lines didn’t get rid of buffets—but they did change how diners are serviced. There are fewer opportunities to grab the croissant you want or pile your plate with sushi. Instead, the restaurant staff stands behind the glass with tongs, ready to place whatever you want on your plate.

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Cruises to Nowhere

Laugh as much as you like, but there really did used to be people who would hop on a ship and never get off—because there wasn’t a port stop. Dubbed “cruises to nowhere,” these are no longer legal as any ship departing from the U.S. requires at least one foreign port of call. This is also why you see Ensenada, Mexico, on many California sailings and Victoria, British Columbia, on a lot of Alaska cruises, not to mention Freeport, Bahamas, tacked on with a Miami or Fort Lauderdale, Florida, sailing, or Costa Maya, Mexico, paired with a Galveston, Texas, embarkation.

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Topless Sunbathing

Some passengers would clutch their pearls if they saw topless women catching the sun’s rays on the Lido deck. After all, this isn’t “The Love Boat.” Today’s cruise-ship demographic is much more family-friendly. There are places to lose the bikini top while in port, such as the French side of St. Maarten (St. Martin), several beaches on the Italian and French Riviera, or in Greece. However, this rule may not apply to your private balcony, as the ban is on public spaces. On some cruise lines—such as Virgin Voyages and Costa Cruises—there are designated areas to sunbathe topless. When in doubt, ask. Better to inquire before you’re firmly asked to “cover-up,” right?

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Golfing at Sea

There’s a strict “nothing overboard” policy on cruise ships pertaining to humans, trash, and, yes, golf balls. Instead, pickle ball, mini golf, and bocce ball are popular outdoor activities with glass walls protecting game pieces from diving into the ocean or sea. This policy took over during the 1990s. If you really want to golf? Book tee time while in port.

debram8105 July 24, 2023

I like the buffet decision for the staff to serve you. 

For one, only one person is handling the serving spoon and 2nd people can be so wasteful.  Last cruise I was on kids filled 2 tables with plates full of food and took one bite and left..sinful and the parents in the next table saw nothing wrong with that.


I assume the "nothing overboard" policy means that skeet shooting from the fantail is also a no-no.   Can you still spit over the rail to see how long it takes to hit the water?