"The Love Boat": How a TV series transformed the cruise industry

The industry has seen a lot of changes over the years, from steam-powered vessels to mega-liners.

"The Love Boat": How a TV series transformed the cruise industry

The industry has seen a lot of changes over the years, from steam-powered vessels to mega-liners. The market has exploded.

In 1970, an estimated 500,000 people took a cruise vacation. This number had increased to five million in 1997.

What was the reason for this sudden increase in interest? Industry experts believe it was due to a TV show that had a catchy theme song.

"Come aboard, We're waiting for you!"

Aaron Spelling, TV legend, produced "The Love Boat", which aired its first episode in 1977. It went on to be one of the most successful TV shows for a decade.

Paramount Plus and Princess Cruises teamed up to make the program available online. Episodes were filmed on various Princess Cruise ships, with the most notable being the Pacific Princess and Island Princess.

"Greatest product placement"

There have been many spin-offs. The new reality dating competition show "The Real Love Boat" will be filmed aboard a Princess Cruise Ship, just like the original. It is scheduled to air on CBS in the latter part of this year.

"The Love Boat", based on a book by Jeraldine Sunders (ex-cruise director), was about ship captain Merrill Stubing and his crew. Each episode featured different guests actors playing passengers.

Since then, the show has been called "the greatest product placement" and served as an introduction to cruising for many of its viewers.

Michael L. Grace, who was a scriptwriter for the show in the 1980s, says that "The Love Boat" really helped to create the cruise industry. "Because there were 50 million people watching and everyone wanted to go on cruise."

There were many modern cruise lines when the show started, including Princess, which was founded in 1965 with one ship that sailed to Mexico. Royal Caribbean was launched in 1968 and Carnival Cruise Line was established in 1972.

However, the cruising population was quite different from what it is today.

Cruise companies may have been keen to attract younger passengers. However, many people didn't know much about cruises, and those who did knew had a very narrow understanding of the subject.

"Back in the day, people would have said cruising was for newlyweds or the nearly dead," Carolyn Spencer Brown, chief content strategist for Cruise Media, LLC, says cruise journalist Carolyn Spencer Brown.

"So, when "The Love Boat" came on and showed people from all walks of life having fun on cruise ships, it opened up cruising to a whole new world.

Every week, millions tuned in from around the globe to see the adventures of Captain Stubing (Bernie Kopell), Dr. Adam Bricker, Julie McCoy (Lauren Tewes), Julie McCoy (Lauren Tewes), Isaac Washington (Ted Lange), and Vicki, the captain's daughter, played by Jill Whelan. The idea of going on a cruise was a popular choice.

Grace says that passengers would be allowed to board the ship.

"They would have a problem. They all come back together after the problem has been solved. The episodes were small movies.

Cruise-building boom

The "Love Boat" was launched at a time when most cruise ships were old liners that had been converted. Few new ships were in service.

This quickly changed, however, as the show's success caused a surge in demand.

CNN Travel's Peter Knego, a cruise historian, says that "it [the show] did so good that Princess Cruises were selling their ships out." "And that led directly to the first boom in new cruise ship construction in the early 1980s."

The appeal was only enhanced by the fact that "The Love Boat" scenes were sometimes filmed on real-life cruises with passengers as extras.

Spencer Brown notes that "so many cruise lines want you to have experiences you can't make on your own,"

"It's not something most people do."

In order to capitalize on this rapidly-growing market, existing cruise lines built new cruise ships to meet the needs of their customers. Meanwhile, new companies like Celebrity Cruises were founded in 1988.

Knego explains, "Back then it was a big deal to build new cruise vessels, that was huge."

In the 1980s, nearly 40 new cruise ships were built, including Tropicale from Carnival Cruise Lines. Royal Princess was Princess Cruises' first purposely-built cruise ship.

He adds that "It [Royal Prince] had new features such as balconies, which are pretty rare in mainstream cruising."

The market grew as more cruise lines began to compete with one another, making cruising more affordable.

Entertainment is the main focus

The "Love Boat" could also have been a factor in the high entertainment content we see on modern-day cruise ships.

The Love Boat featured a lot of outlandish musical performances, which proved to be a huge hit with viewers.

Ann Miller, Ethel Merman and Carol Channing, all iconic screen and stage stars, sing "I'm The Greatest Star" together during one of the show's specials, "The Love Boat Follies".

Grace says it was "very spectacular" and is currently working on a book about "The Love Boat's impact.

"And what was so odd was that when they would flash back at the people in the audience it was almost like a tiny club. The stage was about the same size as a West End theatre.

The main stage production shows that were very popular with cruise fans included the Island Princess and Pacific Princess.

This resulted in some great new features being added to cruise ships over the years.

Knego says that "Princess" and other cruise lines built ships with state-of-the-art showrooms that featured sound, lighting, and stage effects. Knego also said that modern atriums found on cruise ships today can be traced back to the "Love Boat" ships.

He says that the two deck lobbies featuring the grand staircase, which were replicated for studio shoots, were early versions the large atriums that are popular features on modern cruises.

Romantic adventures

Romance was clearly a key factor in "The Love Boat." Spencer Brown emphasizes that the romance plots were entertaining and that it was important to keep the viewers interested in "The Love Boat."

She adds that Princess had "for a long period, all sorts of enhanced amenities which were pointed at romance,"

They really believed in this idea all the way. You could have a balcony and sunset dinners on your bed, or rose petals scattered on your bed. All these wonderful, romantic things.

Patterson says that the show bears little resemblance with reality. It was entertaining. It's hard to believe that this is what cruise ship passengers actually experience.

"It was a lot of fun to see and imagine that these things could happen."

Reruns of "The Love Boat", still being aired around the globe years after the last episode. The show's loyal fan base has also remained strong.

Lasting Legacy

Spencer Brown, who met her husband onboard a cruise ship, believes that Princess Cruises' partnership with "The Love Boat", is the key to their longevity.

She says, "They really embraced one another in a way which was truly sincere and heartfelt." "The cast members were so integral to the cruise line and they are still so."

Princess Cruises holds many reunion cruises with special guests such as the stars from "The Love Boat". The next one will be held in October 2022 and sails from Los Angeles to Mexico.

Knego says that people line up for hours to take pictures with cast members. Knego will be attending the reunion. "They sign autographs, and it's quite an amazing situation to this day."

MacLeod was a frequent passenger on popular cruises up to his death in 2021.

The actor stated back in 2015 that "people always ask us why The Love Boat' was so successful and I always answer them that it's because people had something to dream about."

They could imagine themselves on the open seas, discovering the greatest places on the planet. They could also dream of love and happy endings. It's a proud honor to have been able to contribute to the growth of the cruise industry.

Cruise cruising is now a multi-billion dollar business. There are more than 1,200 cruise ports around the globe.

In the 1990s, more than 100 new ships were constructed. Most of these vessels were significantly larger than the ones featured on the show.

Royal Caribbean's MS Sovereign of the Seas was the first megaship with a passenger capacity of 2850. Disney Cruise Line was founded that year.

Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas is currently the world's largest ship. It has an 18-deck capacity and can accommodate 6,988 passengers and 2,300 crew members.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic was undoubtedly a disaster for the cruise industry, the past two years were rocky, things are improving.

Cruise Lines International Association, a leading trade association in the global cruise industry, announced last month that 75% of its members had returned to service and almost all were expected to return by late summer.

Knego, who owns the YouTube channel MidShipCinema and is dedicated to old and modern cruise ships, says that "the cruise industry is almost victim of its success." Because the mainline cruise ships can carry up to 5,000 passengers and are massive.

"They don’t have the same intimacy as when ships carried 800 people or maybe 1,200 like the Love Boats."

There are many cruise companies that offer smaller ships to those who want a more Love Boat-style cruising experience.

Patterson and her husband have been on many cruises with the Viking small-ship cruise line. They will embark on a world cruise in January 2023.

She says that she only now travels on small ships, noting that it is slightly more expensive to travel with smaller ships. "We were able to travel on larger ships."

A new chapter

The original Love Boats of the Pacific Princess and Island Princess were scrapped in recent times.

Knego was able photograph the Island Princess in its final days at an Indian scrapyard. He also managed to save a few furnishings and ornaments, including a bronze Mermaid sculpture and furniture from the lobby.

He plans to take some of these items on the "The Love Boat", reunion cruise in the fall, so that fans "can feel a connection with the original ships".

"The Real Love Boat" will feature another Princess ship, Regal Princess, on the main stage of a TV series, but in a completely different format.

Spencer Brown, who is a cruise industry representative, says that the new series will be good for the industry. However, he notes that reality shows are a "very radical reinterpretation of" the original show.

It's great for cruises because it tells a completely different story. It's fun and romantic.

Top image: Love Boat cast members from left to right, Ted Lange and Gavin MacLeod. Jill Whelan, Bernie Kopell. Lauren Tewes, Fred Grandy. Credit: TV Guide/courtesy Everett Collection

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