'Somewhere beyond the sea'
JAMAICA'S ROLE IN THE HISTORY OF THE CRUISE LINE INDUSTRY
Dr. Rebecca Tortello,
"AMERICA CANNOT be long blind to the wonderful advantages offered by this beautiful spot as a winter resort."
So wrote the much-travelled author, Ella Wheeler Wilcox in the early 1900s. Today, tourism has become a mainstay of Jamaica's economy. During Ms. Wilcox's time, travellers to Jamaica came aboard United Fruit Company steamers and also on the Hamburg-American Line West Indian cruises. A round trip from New York cost US$75 and took five to six days.
The concept of passenger
ships goes back to 1818 when the Black Ball Line became the first shipping
company to offer a scheduled
THE ADVENT OF STEAM TECHNOLOGY AND MORE
The introduction of steamships in the 1830s significantly reduced the time of the journey made by millions of immigrants to America's shores. It also provided greater safety. In the Caribbean, steam vessels meant quicker access to the therapeutic benefits of places like Jamaica. It was the cool, healing air of Jamaica's hills that was marketed, not the sea, sand and sun which is so greatly emphasised today. In the early-mid 1900s there were many available tours, most of which today would fall into the categories of heritage and eco-tourism. Visitors who often brought their automobiles with them on ships went to Milk River, took trips to Victoria and Jubilee markets, and explored the Cane River Gorge (on the way to Morant Bay), Rock Fort, Roaring River, Cane River Falls, Blue Hole and the Martha Brae. Sightseeing tours included the Institute of Jamaica, Spanish Town, Port Royal, Newcastle, King's House, Hope Botanical Gardens, Castleton Gardens, Cinchona and Fern Gully. Visitors travelled by car, hackney carriage, electric tram car which ran through Kingston every 24 minutes from 5 a.m.-11 p.m.; and for extended tours to places such as St. Ann, Montego Bay and Mandeville, by railway which offered one to four-day trips around the island.
By the early 20th cen-tury, Jamaica had hosted the Great Exhibition of 1891 in Kingston which also promoted the development of the island's hotel industry.
Indications that the government was taking the emergence of this new industry seriously came with the establishment of the Jamaica Tourist Agency in 1910. The early 20th century also saw the debut of the concept of the superliner. Germany led the market in the development of these giant floating hotels which offered comfortable accommodations and entertaining activities in an attempt to mask the fact that passengers were in fact at sea. The Mauritania and The Lusitania, both owned by the English Cunard Line, started the tradition of dressing for dinner heralding the emergence of a new idea: the romance of the voyage.
However, speed is still what superliners were best known for. American financier J. P. Morgan decided to change all of that as his White Star Line introduced the most luxurious passenger ships ever seen: The Olympic (complete with tennis court and swimming pool) and the infamous Titanic. These ships were larger, more stable liners but the sinking of the Titanic on its maiden voyage in 1912 devastated the White Star Line and for a time, cruising in general.
ROUGH SEAS FOR CRUISING
As the advent of World War I neared, ships started to offer ventilation, running water and toilets to their steerage passengers but conditions in that class of voyage remained harsh. People washed their plates in the same basins used for bathing and the effects of seasickness wreaked general havoc on all struggling to survive below deck. Laws, however, were eventually passed to quell the tide of overcrowding, lack of provision of appropriate amounts of food and the sexual abuse of female passengers (Garin, 2005, p. 15).
During the war, many older liners were used to transport troops. The war itself put an end to the lucrative immigrant trade and with the establishment of an immigrant-hostile administration in Washington post-World War I, came the advent of a new type of passenger tourist, third class. It was this type of person to whom Miss Wilcox may have been appealing in her statement below: "humble people with small bank accounts but high social aspirations academics, business people. As Garin states in his book that details the development of the cruise line industry, Devils on the Deep Blue Sea (2005), "unless you were in first class, the only reason to board an ocean liner was to get from one place to another" (p. 16). Interestingly, however, the American Congress which had dampened the industry with new immigration laws, just as quickly offered it a boon with the passage of prohibition laws. The concept of the 'booze cruise' was born. Jamaican rum, Scotch whiskey, all flowed freely, attracting more and more 'thirsty' passengers throughout the 1920s (Garin, p. 18).
The decades between 1920- 1940 were actually considered to be the most glamorous for transatlantic passenger ships. The rich and famous were captured enjoying luxurious settings and soon American tourists interested in visiting Europe replaced immigrant passengers.
Advertisements promoted the fashion of ocean travel, featuring elegant food and on-board activities. Where the 'Grand Tour' became the mainstay of the cruising business during the spring and summer months, trips to the Caribbean became integral to survival during the winter. Now, the leisure-time trinity of sea, sand and sun replaced therapeutic reasons for travel to the region. This occurred despite the fact that the ships were not meant for tropical conditions. They had limited deck space, dark paint that attracted the sun, recreational facilities buried deep in the ship to prevent interruption from harsh North Atlantic winds and no air conditioning (Garin, pp. 18-19).
This situation lasted through the Great Depression until World War II, when the era of passenger shipping was once again halted. Cruise liners again became troop carriers in and all transatlantic cruising ceased until after the war. European lines then reaped the benefits of transporting refugees to America and Canada, and business travellers and tourists to Europe.
Yet the war did more than put a temporary hold on cruise shipping, its main raison d'etre the transport of people from one place to another was overtaken by a war-induced development: the jet age. Passenger lines were fast becoming a relic of a bygone age (Garin, p. 19). Many passenger ships were sold and lines went bankrupt from the lack of business.
GRANDFATHER OF CRUISING
Enter Frank Fraser, a Jamaican of Scottish descent, who owned several plantations in the north of the island from which he exported bananas to the U.S. in family vessels. Friendly with the likes of movie star Errol Flynn and General Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, Fraser saw Miami's potential as a cruise port and with Trujillo's blessing, began operating a passenger ship owned by the Dominican Government. In the 1950s he established a year-round Miami-based cruise operation.
Trains and planes from the northeast were coordinated with Miami's ship schedule and cruises to the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Haiti, Nassau and Jamaica ensured a quick and relaxing escape from the winter weather. In later years, cruise industry members would come to regard Fraser as the grandfather of a $13 billion industry.
By the mid-1960s, Miami had five cruise lines running out of the city to the Caribbean. Passenger lines created a 'fun ship' image which attracted many people who would have never had the opportunity to travel on the superliners of the 1930s and 1940s. Now the emphasis was on the voyage itself as a destination.
In the 1970s, an unusual event occurred that further entrenched Jamaica's role in cruise history. Spearheaded by a man now regarded as one of the founding fathers of the modern cruise industry, it was called 'New Experiences' and offered on the Starward, one of Knut Kloster's Norwegian Cruise Lines ships. A Jamaican family would be resident on board the ship to act as ambassadors of Jamaican life and culture. Passengers would meet the family informally, dine, drink, and dance with them, as well as discuss politics and racial problems. Jamaican books, magazines, newspapers, crafts and costumes would be on display and the ship's Jamaican stewards and waiters would agree to take the passengers on tours of the 'real' Jamaica visits to their home, to meet their friends, family, etc. There was also a 'Meet the People' component where passengers could sign up to meet a Jamaican counterpart, i.e. a doctor could arrange to spend a day with a Jamaican doctor, a teacher, with a Jamaican teacher.
However, as well-intentioned as it sounded in theory, the reality was starkly different. Then, as now, the island's poorly-performing economy meant that many professionals were unemployed and the middle-class Jamaicans being sought by the programme were in short supply.
There was a presumptuousness that Americans should be allowed into Jamaican homes and places of employment just because they were curious and the Jamaican crew was not that excited about spending the one day they had in their homes each week shuttling tourists around (Garin, 2005, pp. 52-3). The programme died a quick death.
CRUISING IN JAMAICA TODAY
Tourism is the largest industry in the world and cruising is by far its fastest growing sector. A $13-billion business, one in seven Americans are said to have been on a cruise.
Ten of the 16 cruise
lines operating out of U.S. ports are owned by subsidiaries of the two
industry giants Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Cruise
Lines. These companies have managed to operate with relatively free reign
within a global economy getting passengers form the United States,
workers from Third World countries and ships built in western European
Ocho Rios is Jamaica's most active cruise port seeing over 800,000 cruise visitors annually, followed by Montego Bay which sees some 300,000-400,000. Cruise passengers continue to climb each year. Port Antonio boasts a much smaller but increasingly steady cruise presence hampered as it is by the small channel between Navy Island and the mainland which precludes the docking of large, weekly-visiting cruise ships.
The majority of Jamaica's cruise ship visitors come from America although interest in other parts of the world, particularly Europe, is growing. In fact, new developments are occurring more and more. In June 2006, Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship which carries 4,300 passengers (not including crew) will begin visiting Montego Bay. Later in this same year, the Queen Mary, the world's largest cruise liner and part of Carnival's Cunard Line, will also begin docking in Montego Bay.
Today, a typical cruise ranges from less than US$100/night to more than US$1,000/night, depending on the type of vessel and services offered. For the past five years, Jamaica has consistently ranked within the top 10 of destinations worldwide in terms of passenger numbers. It continues to hold on to its traditional role as one of the marquee ports of the Caribbean and the Caribbean itself (the Western Caribbean to be more exact), remains the most popular cruise shipping region in the world.
Early 1900s: The United Fruit Company's steamer, 'Admiral Dewey', was one of a large fleet engaged in the passenger and fruit carrying trade between Jamaica and Boston and Philadelphia. In the background is the Hotel Titchfield in Port Antonio, Portland.
* If any readers have information regarding the development of aviation in Jamaica please email Rebecca Tortello at email@example.com
A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted May 2, 2006
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