A cruise ship is a passenger ship used for pleasure voyages, where the voyage itself and the ship's amenities are considered an essential part of the experience. Cruising has become a major part of the tourism industry, with millions of passengers each year.

The first vessel built exclusively for this purpose was the Prinzessin Victoria Luise, commissioned by Albert Ballin, general manager of Hamburg-America Line. The ship was completed in 1900. The practice as known today grew gradually out of the transatlantic crossing tradition, which, despite the best efforts of engineers and sailors into the mid-20th century, rarely took less than about four days. In the competition for passengers, ocean liners added many luxuries........

In the late 19th century, Albert Ballin, director of the Hamburg-America Line, was the first to make a regular practice of sending his transatlantic ships out on long southern cruises during the worst of the winter season of the North Atlantic. Other companies followed suit. Some of them built specialized ships designed for easy transformation between summer crossings and winter cruising.

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With the advent of large passenger jet aircraft in the 1960s, the vast majority of inter-continental travellers switched from ships to planes. There are some however, who enjoy the few days of luxury and enforced idleness that a liner voyage affords, so a small niche market has remained for transatlantic voyages. Excluding this exception, the ocean liner transport business crashed. Cruising voyages however gained in popularity; slowly at first but at an increased rate from the 1980s onwards. Initially the fledgling industry was serviced primarily by redundant liners, and even the first purpose built cruise ships were relatively small. However, after the success of the SS Norway (previously the SS France, re-launched in 1980) as the Caribbean's first "super-ship", the size of these vessels has risen dramatically to become the largest passenger ships ever built.

For certain destinations such as the Arctic and Antarctica, cruise ships are very nearly the only way to visit, a fact that is the primary attraction for many tourists.

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