Being an island nation with a rich maritime history, it seems only logical that many in the UK think of the sea when it comes to taking a holiday. While many fly over the sea or are passengers under the sea (via the Chunnel) in order to reach their destination, some still find the allure of the open water conducive to relaxation. Before getting too caught up in dining opportunities, on-board entertainment activities, and ports of call, let’s look at the word itself and see what we actually mean when we decide to “take a cruise.”
The English word cruise comes to us in the 1650s from the Dutch word kruisen, meaning, in a nautical sense, “to cross, or sail to and fro” and originated as the word kruis, simply meaning “to cross.” Given the generalized sense of the word, it should come as no surprise that it was initially just meant to define the movement of any ship, from warships to transport vessels. Our modern understanding of the word as a tourist package or holiday destination is an instance of adapting an older word to a newer concept.
Like the idea of a holiday itself, what we think of as cruising is a product of the Victorian era. Due in part to an 1840 contract to deliver mail to Alexandria, Egypt by way of Gibraltar and Malta, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, capitalizing on the route, soon began offering sea tours to these and other regional destinations. From this humble beginning, ships rapidly became larger, more luxurious, and the choices of routes became ever-expansive. Today, British cruising is bigger and more varied than ever: with approximately 2 million Brits going on cruises annually, more than 800 departing British shores, and a notable number cruising around the UK, the industry itself adds £2.5 billion to the economy.
Reflecting its generic meaning, the first known use of the word cruise occurs in 1706, in Phillips’s New World of Words, where it is defined as, “the Course of a Ship.” The first use of the word as we understand it occurs in The Four Million, a collection of short stories by American author O. Henry (William Sydney Porter), where he writes that, “The hibernatorial ambitions of Soapy were not of the highest. In them were no considerations of Mediterranean cruises.”