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Cruise lines offer more options

Written by editor

Envision the revolutionary Patrick Henry standing up and declaring, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Envision the revolutionary Patrick Henry standing up and declaring, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Or Peter Finch as anchorman Howard Beale in the 1976 movie “Network” bellowing, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

Even little Oliver Twist, piping up, “Please, sir. May I have some more?”

Now imagine these rabble-rousers taking a cruise, together with 2,000 other make-me-happy passengers.

The 91.5 million people who have boarded cruise ships in the last 10 years, according to the Cruise Line Industry Association, have propelled an explosion in choices, activities and destinations that has redefined the industry. Ships are serving up enough creativity, passion and detail to please even the “Odd Couple’s” finicky Felix Unger.

“Twenty years ago most ships had little more to do onboard than eat, sunbathe and a modest show and dancing at night,” said Paul Motter, editor of the online guide Cruisemates (www.cruisemates .com). “Modern ships have attractions for every age group and almost every interest and have become a destination in themselves.”

Consider these 10 things the industry has offered or developed in the last few years to keep passengers coming back — and bringing their friends and family.

1. Expanded dining choices

Norwegian Cruise Line is considered the pioneer in dealing with the Patrick Henrys on their passenger list.

By demanding liberty from regimented dining arrangements, Norwegian passengers set in motion an upheaval of services and amenities that continues to resonate throughout the industry, said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of Cruise Critic, a Web site ( that reviews ships and reports on industry news.

“The introduction of flexible dining in 2000 was like throwing a pebble in a lake,” Spencer Brown said. “The new NCL ships offer up to 13 dining rooms with seating anytime, and that significantly impacts when evening entertainment begins and really just about everything else on the ship.”

At least six other lines have followed Norwegian’s lead.

2. Ports of call

Cruise ports have materialized in almost every North American city that has access to a large body of water, including Miami; Charleston, S.C.; Boston; Tampa, Fla.; Galveston, Texas; San Diego; and Vancouver, British Columbia.

“You can depart from anywhere anymore and disembark anywhere,” said Susie VanderKamp, co-owner of the Cruise Connection travel agency in Kansas City, North.

VanderKamp recently worked with a couple who she thinks embody the power and possibilities of expanded ports of call. They drove to the Northeast to visit family and historic sites, then left from Boston on a cruise that will take them to one of the most popular new destinations — Iceland.

“Three or four years ago, no one went to Iceland, and no one went to Alaska in the winter, but cruises are going to the most interesting places at the most interesting times of the year,” VanderKamp said.

3. Epic itineraries

Although CLIA reports that the average length of a cruise is 7.1 days, the industry organization also notes a growing demand in round-the-world itineraries. Seven CLIA-member lines offer at least 10 voyages that circle the globe. At least half of those passengers stay the full length of the cruise, according to CLIA.

Cunard, the first line to offer world cruises, in 1922, now offers a 99-day “Exploration of Distant Horizons” cruise on the Queen Victoria. It is available in four segments, the most popular being a 31-day stretch from Singapore to New York.