Cruise ship balconies have been all the rage for the better part of two decades now, but some of the latest ships to enter service have come in for some pointed criticisms in the balcony stakes.
Both the new Norwegian Breakaway and Royal Princess have been slated for cutting back on space on their standard balconies; both do, indeed, look a little on the small side. Photos reveal sitting room to be more than a little tight on both. And the mini suite balconies on the later ship have been slated as positively miniscule.
By contrast, the new Europa 2 of Hapag Lloyd Cruises boasts the largest standard balconies ever seen on any ship; at a whopping seventy five square feet, they are bigger than some of those turn of the century steerage cabins offered by the same line in the nineteen hundreds.
She is, admittedly a deluxe ship, And yet balconies at sea are not quite as newfangled as you might think.
Italia Line sister ships, Saturnia and Vulcania, had a small suite of upper deck balcony cabins as far back as the 1920’s. These two ships operated on the Italian Line’s ‘sunny southern’ route between Italy and North America. Needless to say, these were attached to only the most very expensive cabins.
Later, in the 1930’s, the record breaking Normandie had a pair of vast, sternward facing terraces attached to her two pre-eminent suites. Ironically, these lacked the one thing essential to all good balcony accommodation; any form of privacy. Anyone walking the aft terraces of the French masterpiece could be party to the platinum chip lounging of the top suite occupants. Interestingly, her great rival, Queen Mary, had none.
Three years after her 1969 debut, Queen Elizabeth 2 had a prefabricated block of penthouses hoisted on board, just aft of her mainmast. These had small balconies, and a big effect on her centre of balance. In the winter of 1986-7, another block was added further aft, extending to just forward of the new funnel.
Two years later, her great rival, the SS. Norway, had a whole deck and a half of brand new balcony cabins built on her upper decks, around the funnels. And while some purists claimed that the addition ruined her beautiful lines forever, those new decks were instrumental in keeping the ageing former French liner financially afloat for another decade and a half.
Two things emerge from this; balconies are not new, but they are certainly here to stay. It seems doubly ironic that shrinking balcony real estate on seagoing ships is being complemented by increasingly generous balconies on the newest generation of river cruisers.
If this is a new trend in passenger shipping, it will not be a popular one. A balcony at sea should be a space to lounge on, and not merely a ledge to perch on.