It wasn't long ago... I remember quite clearly all the concern about what was going to happen cruise ships (and the world) with the worries of Y2K, and the chaos it would create.

Now, a new decade is soon upon us, and if you take a look at the changes which occurred in the cruise industry this past decade, it will take a pretty creative imagination to envision what the industry will look like in 2020.

This decade ends with the debut of Oasis of the Seas; bringing some of the most talked about changes from our long standing vision of what cruise ships are in the history of the industry; as well as being half again as large as the largest cruise ship presently sailing. Whether she is on your to do list or not, one certainly has to admire the technology and engineering involved in bringing her from vision to reality.

Whether she will lead a charge to build ships larger yet, and lead to more ships that are a destination themselves is anyone's guess. And since I am not an engineer, in this week's Blog I'll concentrate more on the trends we've seen grow legs which are already in the onboard product, and how they may continue to expand.

Cruise ship dining has gone through very drastic changes in the past decade. It's come quite a way from when the mass market lines had one or two main dining rooms for dinner service for all passengers, and a single buffet restaurant available for breakfast and lunch.

It began slowly, early in the decade, with some cruise lines opening up portions of their buffet restaurants for casual dining in the evening. Then later, when NCL introduced its innovative Freestyle Dining, offering the choice of dining when you wanted, as well as a choice of several different restaurants; a ripple of change in the way cruise lines feed the passengers began, and has grown to a wave of change, with most every cruise line in the world being swept into it.

There is little doubt in my mind that this trend will continue, and change, and morph. I believe it's quite likely that the upcoming decade will see the traditional cruise ship dining room disappear entirely. I think the trend to more variety in choice, in smaller venues, will soon be the standard. No doubt some of those venues will still have the cost of the meals included in your cruise fares, but more and more of those restaurant choices will carry a surcharge of some amount.

Along with the trend to more alternate restaurants, there's been a trend to having signature chefs design and attach their reputations to various cruise ship dining venues. Signature or Celebrity chefs are all the rage on land, and the cruise lines have already begun to jump on that bandwagon for promotional purposes, and that trend will certainly continue. Though they'll have to tack on service charges to dine in those restaurants to pay for those signatures.

Recommended Dress Codes onboard is a practice that has certainly diminished over the past decade. There are still a few cruise lines which feature formal nights, but there's been a growing trend to more relaxed dress requirements for passengers. Some call for resort casual wear, and others yet have basically dropped most if not all standard suggested dress minimums. Even many of the traditional luxury lines have, or are testing, more relaxed dress standards.

In my view this trend will continue, in part because of the airline's recent changes to charging extra for checked baggage. Though the trend to relaxed dress codes on ships began earlier, the airline policies give the cruise lines good cover for continuing to relax them. And it well could be that the customers have been requesting less formal dining arrangements.

Entertainment may be the area featuring the most dramatic and innovative changes to what has basically been fairly standard entertainment venues and types of entertainment available on cruise ships.

The initial signs of what I think will become an industry wide movement, is the recent licensing of the Broadway play Hairspray on Oasis of the Seas, and NCL's announcement that the Blue Man Group will be appearing as a daily show on their upcoming Epic.

Until recently the headliners in cruise ship theatres have been young, unknown entertainers, possibly on their way up, or older better known names, more likely on their way down. I think it's very likely that a trend to more high profile, better known, and more current celebrities will build. At least for some time I believe the cruise lines will be willing to part with the dollars required to attract these types of acts in order to distinguish them from their competitors. Partially responsible for this move has been the success of various music themed group cruises and charters.

And like Las Vegas, the cruise lines will see that the cost of licensing such things Broadway, or Cirque de Soleil shows, can bring significant payback in terms of promotional value.

In fact, I can envision some cruises featuring some performances by very current Stars, with either a surcharge to enter the venue to see their performances, or an overall higher cruise fare, which would serve the same purpose.

I've just touched upon several changes and trends that I foresee. I'm sure there's going to be many that occur, that I'd never dream of.

What visions do you have for the future of the cruise industry in the upcoming decade - and do you think these changes will enhance the cruise experience?

- A View From the Kuki Side of Cruising -