Everyone has the moments they treasure most during their cruise. For some, it is basking in the sun around the pool or dancing up a storm in the nightclub, while for others it is time spent on the promenade. Whether a moonlit stroll hand in hand with your significant other, looking out over blue seas for playful porpoises or just relaxing in a traditional wooden deck chair, such moments on the promenade epitomize a day at sea for many travelers.
Since the earliest days of the ocean liners, the promenade has been a social center. During long voyages, passengers were encouraged to get out on deck to enjoy the sea air. The promenade was the place to “see and be seen.” Imagine how passengers on a 1936 trans¬Atlantic crossing aboard the Gripsholm marveled at catching a glimpse of elusive movie actress Greta Garbo walking the promenade early each morning before retreating to her suite. Similarly, reporters followed Queen Marie of Romania’s every move as she traveled to America on the Leviathan for a state visit in 1927; they speculated on a budding romance when her daughter, Princess Ueana, “took several turns around the promenade deck arm in arm” with a handsome young German prince.
Travelers also were advised to take a turn around deck upon boarding to select the location for their steamer chair and to book it early so as not to be disappointed. In those years there was a fee for the chair and steamer rug (heavy blanket), but it included the services of an attentive deck steward. This practice, in fact, continued on some ships right into the 1970s, but not on the modern cruise ships that substituted a plastic lawn chair for the traditional wooden one.
Some traditions, however, continue; today’s “walkies” are following in the footsteps of earlier passengers. One travel writer in 1904 observed, “After a coffee and a rusk (biscuit) in the saloon, one gets out on deck for a stiff morning walk. Two or three miles can be covered with pleasure and a fierce appetite worked up.” The more leisurely passenger could take a “morning constitutional” after breakfast, walking back and forth along the teak deck and socializing with fellow passengers. Either way, passengers often followed the morning walk with relaxing in a wooden deck chair reading or gazing upon the vast ocean, and later, perhaps after the multitude of courses served for luncheon, briefly napping under a warm steamer rug.
In the tropics, long before the days of modern air-conditioning, passengers would linger in the evening, enjoying the cool ocean breezes. On sailing day the promenade looked like a scene from the latest Hollywood feature, as smartly dressed passengers lined the rail, waving farewell. A band would be playing and paper streamers would stretch out as a last connection between passengers and well- wishers as the ship pulled away from the pier.
Ship owners realized the appeal of the promenade and sought to lay out broad, teak decks for the passengers to enjoy. For example, when White Star Line in 1907 introduced the Adriatic, then the largest liner in the world, the ship boasted three decks running fore to aft, one a continuous shade deck and “above all a roomy sun deck.” However, these earliest decks were exposed to the elements, and while some passengers found the ocean spray invigorating, others returned indoors. Every once in a while there would be one of those stories of the crashing ocean wave that washed down the promenade, sometimes placing passengers in peril.
Windows were added to some promenades in the early 1900 s, providing the first sheltered decks for passengers. However, still lacking a controlled environment, the decks would be cold in the winter and stifling hot in the summer. In 1914, Cunard Line sought to provide an alternative space for promenading with the indoor Long Gallery, a corridor stretching more than 150 feet on the lounge deck of the Aquitania, with windows on one side and displays of china, jewelry, lacework and art throughout. Though it was a comfortable space, passengers still preferred the promenades where they could stretch out in a deck chair.
As liners grew larger, the promenades continued to expand. On White Star Line’s Majestic, passengers were advised that four times around would equal a mile. In a 1920s article, a New York Herald-Tribune reporter described the shipboard experience to his readers: “When we reach the head of the gangplank, we find ourselves on the promenade deck, the greatest part of which is enclosed by heavy plate glass windows where the 700 to 900 passengers may exercise or sit in deck chairs to while away pleasant hours of sunshine in reading or in conversation….”
Sometimes the frivolity of the lounges spilled out onto the promenade. Take, for example, a 1924 crossing on Cunard’s Berengaria, where Britain’s Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII and the Duke of Windsor) after a concert and dances led his entourage, including Lord and Lady Mountbatten, to the promenade. As the New York Times reported, “In a dark corner, just out of the wind, they sat in deck chairs singing American jazz songs, with the prince leading them all.” Later the prince brought a portable phonograph on deck to continue the music.
The promenade also became the venue for sporting competitions from potato races to putting competitions, sometimes with celebrity spottings. On an Atlantic crossing aboard American Export Lines’ Constitution, His Eminence Cardinal Cushing of Boston was spotted in a golf cap and wind- breaker practicing his putting on the promenade. But the best sporting event on a promenade goes to Britain’s Lord Burghley, an Olympic gold medalist, who on the Queen Marys maiden voyage in 1936 sprinted nearly a third of a mile in 58 seconds in evening attire. While the liner failed to establish a speed record on her crossing, Lord Butghley’s “record” was commemorated in a small plaque on the promenade.
The promenade remained an essential element of passenger ship design even into the 1970s. In fact, Carnival Cruise Lines considered it an integral part of its ships, demonstrated by the fact that in 1978 when converting a former South African liner into the Festivale, Carnival actually added enclosed promenades where none had existed before. However, as liners were replaced by modern purpose-built cruise ships, the enclosed promenade faded. In 1985, Carnival adopted a single walkway running along one side of its lounge deck with the introduction of the Holiday, and, of course, Royal Caribbean International now features its Royal Promenade with an array of shops and cafes.
Many passengers fear the wide-open, wrap-around promenade may soon go the way of morning bouillon, which, by the way, was served on the promenades at 11 a.m. each morning. Today’s designers are challenged to find space not only for deck chairs, games and walkers but also for jogging and other activities, not to mention the lifeboats. However, the struggle to include the promenade while making space for everything else on the ships is not new. White Star Line reportedly debated the use of deck space on the liner Olympic and her ill-fated sister ship Titanic, ultimately choosing to limit the number of lifeboats so as not to block the promenade space. Modern safety regulations govern the height of the lifeboats above the waterline, but while some blame the rules for impeding the promenade, international SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) regulations do not specifically regulate the promenade nor the methods used to store and launch the lifeboats.
Some cruise lines contend that with the addition of the ever-popular private balconies, the promenade has become less important. (But it is hard to walk hand in hand on a balcony that measures four by six feet.) Passengers familiar with the wide, wraparound promenades on Holland America Line’s ships have been surprised and even disappointed with what they have found on the new Koningsdam. The lifeboats were lowered in the design, which provides spaces for more balconies and fewer obstructed-view staterooms, but that has resulted in the promenades being narrower and more enclosed. Many people are commenting about the lack of room for deck chairs and shaded space to relax, walk and enjoy the views.
The same, unfortunately, is true on many of the newest generation of cruise ships, such as Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess and her sisters, and Celebrity Cruises’ Solstice class. Similarly, on the smaller luxury cruise ships, you will not find wrap-around promenades on Seaboum Cruise Line’s newest ship, the Seabourn Ovation, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ new Regent Seven Seas Explorer, or Silversea Cruises’ new Silver Muse. Viking Ocean Cruises, however, has elected to build a wrap-around promenade on its “3 ships.
Other new cruise ships, such as Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Breakaway and the larger Norwegian
Escape, along with Carnival Cruise Line’s latest entry, the Carnival Vista, have sought to incorporate the promenade into the lounge areas. Aboard these ships, you can find out-door dining and bars and food stands that provide attractive new venues but also encroach on space that once might have been devoted to lounging. This trend will continue to evolve on new ships such as MSC Cruises’ MSC Seaside and Norwegian Cruise Line’s recently ordered next generation of cruise ships.
As a result of these changes in cruise ship design, some passengers now are scouring deck plans and choosing ships that have maintained the wrap-around promenades. Many others will never know the simple pleasures of life on the promenade.