Back in 1996, fellow cruise journalist, friend and co-founder of both Cruise Critic and Cruisemates; Anne Campbell, and myself were invited on the inaugural voyage of the Grand Princess, at the time the largest cruise ship in the world.
Our itinerary was the Aegean Sea, starting in Istanbul and stopping in wonderful places like Ephesus, the ancient city founded by Alxander the Great and the site that inspired Paul of the Bible to write his "Letter to the Ephesians." At the time, Anne was the editor of Cruise Critic, and we wanted to do something to really get our readers' attention, and so I had an idea which became the cruise industry's first ever "virtual cruise."
We didn't even know what to call it at first. We knew would be sending daily reports, along with pictures, back to the site (which was not even on the Web yet, just a sub-site in AOL), to give our readers a daily update on the progress of the cruise, as if they were virtually there themselves. When we were deciding what we were doing should be called Anne blurted out the words, "Virtual Cruise." God bless her.
Making it happen was another story. See, cruise ships did not have Internet cafes in 1995. They didn't even use email to communicate between the home office and the vessels, they were still using "telexes" which were similar to Western Union telegrams.
But I knew Europe was far ahead of the U.S. for cell-phone technology, so I got Swedish cell-phone company Ericsson to donate a free European GSM handset to me. Another company made a compatible PCMCIA modem to connect the phone to my laptop. We downloaded the AOL access numbers for all over Europe, knowing that coverage in the Aegean Sea was very good, even when sailing, because there are so many Greek Isles.
The first night at sea, 10 miles out, I connected the modem and cell-phone and started AOL. I dialed the access number for Istanbul. "Welcome!" we heard the AOL man say. We had just connected to the Internet from a cruise ship, possibly for the first time in history. As hastily as we could over this 1200 baud connection we uploaded Anne's commentary and a few pictures of Istanbul.
Within a day, everyone onboard working for Princess knew what we were doing. The telecom engineers invited us into the communications room and offered the ship's phone line for our next daily report. The cellphone still worked, but their satelite connection was mor reliable. We decided to dial up AOL London since all ship phone calls were $10/minute no matter where you called, and now Princess was paying for it.
I will never forget the look on the Princess Officer's faces when they saw us accessing the Internet from their ship for the first time. They were overjoyed and filled with smiles. At the time, no one had even an inkling that someday Internet access on cruise ships would be as common as CNN International on the cabin TVs.
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Well, very similarly to that first Virtual Cruise, for the next two weeks you can join Kuki on nearly the same itinerary following the tradition we started: virtual cruising - from NCLs Norwegian Jade. Kuki is sending daily updates to our message boards, along with pictures. Kuki's Virtual European Cruise
Join in and kick off the summer cruising season in Europe with Kuki and the rest of CruiseMates. He is already three days into his cruise and hoping the luggage the airlines lost can get to Alexandria Egypt. But at least he is having a great time on the NCL Jade cruise ship, enjoying "Free-style 2" in comfort and convenience.
Allaying the Fears of New Cruisers
A first cruise is often preceded by questions, fear and doubt. This article allays the concern behind taking that first cruise.
Project Genesis Innovates Cruising
Royal Caribbean International will "bring the best of the land to sea" to their new class of ships, Project Genesis.
What's New in Family Cruising: 2008
So what's new in family cruising? Plenty. Here's a rundown of new ship features, cruise line by cruise line.
Zip Line Shore Excursions
How to get the most out of this action-oriented tour option now available on many cruises.
NEW YORK TIMES:
"Many sites that offer reviews are selling cruises, which raises questions about impartiality. An exceptions is CruiseMates."
"The Web's best site for articles, advice, or chatting with Cruise People. Self-financed and run independently of the industry, so their opinions are impartial"
A 14-night transatlantic cruise.
April 2008, from Florida to the Caribbean then to Europe including the Canary Islands, Spain, Florence Italy and ending in Rome - starting as low as $699 per person. This one is filling up fast!
John Heald's Blogger Cruise 2
Come and join all of John Heald's friends and the CruiseMates' family. Everyone is welcome on this cruise, and it's going to be a ball.
Norwegian Jewel NY City to Miami
Oct 28-Nov 9 2008 Ports of call: New York City; Samana; Aruba; Curacao; Belize City; Roatan; Miami and a Halloween Party too!
Kiplinger's Magazine named CruiseMates to its
Top 25 Best Value Travel Sites for 2006
CruiseMates is the most useful cruise-review site. We especially like its advice columns, which are written for people of different ages and interests.