Has anyone offered economy sea travel since planes became popular?

In the old days you had to ride on a ship if you were crossing the ocean. Because of this, there were low-cost options for poorer people who were needing to make the trip. Today commercial sea travel is always sold as a luxury - has anyone tried selling it as an economical (though much slower) alternative to air travel? I’d think this could make some money. If passengers slept in bunks (maybe in small compartments like certain Japanese hotels) and ate in a cafeteria, you could fit a lot of people on a ship converted for this (perhaps a cargo ship with containers made for people). If you charged them something like $100 each you could make money, and maybe carry non-human cargo on the ship as well, and I think a lot of people would be willing to pay that.

Hmmm - I’m afraid your market segment is pretty damn small.

People who can afford to travel as tourists (even the backpack “round the world on a shoestring” type) generally speaking have more money than time to spend. Business travellers even more so. Emigrants poor enough to consider a 100$ boatfare aren’t really welcome anywhere.

I can imagine this happening for pilgrims (big market there, think about it) and perhaps very dedicated budget travellers.

Then again, it’s not just a matter of rigging a bunch of containers with berths. You’ll need fire suppression systems, lifeboats etc. - according to a shipping engineer friend of mine, cargo ships are basically chunks of steel with a hole in the middle, passenger ships are sophisticated beasts. And you’ll need extra crew to serve as firefighters etc. in an emergency.

At the very least, I think you’ll have to construct the ship specifically for the purpose.

S. Norman

While it doesn’t seem an option for prolonged cruises, economy sea travel is still very much alive on the shorter hauls. There’s plenty of ferry companies that travel the North Sea area (UK, France, Belgium, The Netherlands) and the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark). Most of them offer different packages, including economy deals.
I once took an overnight boat from Rotterdam (NL) to Hull (Yorkshire, UK). The cabin was a small room, two by two meters, with a bunk bed.

On an amusing note, the ferries between Copenhagen (DK) and southern Swedish cities like Malmö serve as complete party boats. Due to stringent Swdish alcohol laws, beer etc. can be served much cheaper once a ship is in international waters. So a lot of Swedes just buy the cheapest ticket and take a return trip to Kopenhagen, often not even leaving the ship.

how long would it take to cross the atlantic? factor in meals and other items you must consume and you are approaching the price of a cheap flight.
Just buying food in the cafe will probally run you $25/day - if they don’t inflate the price due to a captive audiance. If it will take 5 days to cross it will cost an extra $200 round trip for cheap meals alone.

You still can get some very good deals on freighters. They always have a few cabins left for passengers and the prices are very reasonable. Not a lot of activities, however, so it can get somewhat boring on long halls.

In a number of third world countries you can still get “cut-rate” accomodations. I traveled “deck” class (on deck under a tarp with 30 or so locals-a storm came up and everyone was puking over the side, not a pretty sight or smell)in Micronesia and “hammock” class in Malaysia (barrack sort of structure on deck you were issued a hammock and roughly 30 people slept in an area most Americans would considered comfortable for seven or eight).

I’ve often wondered about that. I’ve never taken a cruise, but my impression is that the major activities are eating and watching bad Vegas-style shows. I’ve thought it would be more interesting to travel on a working vessel.

Hmmm… I wonder if there are any berths on a Los Hideous to Seattle freighter?

There are also always the working freighters and freight/passenger ferries in places like British Columbia/Alaska panhandle, Labrador, the Quebec North Shore, etc.

I do apologize, that, of course, should read “long hauls”, not “long halls.”

I have a cold and errors like that slip into my writing when I am fighting off the evil bug.

I’ve never gone bargain-basement, but even the mid-range packages are cheaper than flying… and you can take your car. The mid-price cabins on the Oslo to Denmark routes (and Oslo-Kiel) are roughly 10 sq.m. and have four bunks and their own midget shower-bath. Models of efficiency: you can move your bowels, shower, and brush your teeth all at the same time!

Since Norway isn’t in the EU, international ferry routes in and out of the country still offer taxfree shopping (which routes between EU countries no longer may). The ferry companies advertise “shopping cruises”, with photos and text telling you how much fun it is to shop for taxfree perfumes and designer sunglasses, but everyone knows what the real issue is here. Cheap booze and smokes. Not far from the ferry landings on the Danish side, there are shops offering the things the round-trippers want to buy in a hurry: cut-rate beer, wines and liquors; meats including bright red Danish sausages; and… hard-core porn videos :eek:

A friend of mine is one of those ‘round-the-world-on-a-shoesring’ backpackers, and once decided he was going to cross the Atlantic via sea on a trip. His extensive research and experience turned up the following:

  1. Travelling commercially, or even by buying a spare room on a freighter, is essentially impossible. The former is not an option at all, and the latter was not an option unless you had a good connection with one of the highest people in a freighter company.

  2. It is theoretically possible to work your way across the Atlantic on a boat. This requires one apply for and get seaman’s papers, which actually isn’t too hard. (Basically all you need is a physical and access to a Coast Guard office - my friend got his at the landlocked St. Louis branch.) However, it is a Catch-22 trying to find any actual work; no one will give you the time of day unless you’re in a union, but no union will admit you unless you’ve already got work experience. In addition, you generally don’t get to pick your destination, unless you manage to get hired on a ship that’s going where you want to.

  3. If you have a bit of sailing/nautical experience, one can go to a port city that’s home to a lot of departing trans-Atlantic private yachts and similar boats and beg/plead to be taken on as a crew member. This is what my friend was finally able to do, after two weeks of hanging around the docks and pestering people in Charleston, SC. He worked in exchange for food and passage on a yacht owned by a French family, the father/captain of whom eventually turned out to be a little crazy and kicked him off the boat, leaving him stranded in the Azores.

Later he was told by several other yacht captains that no one who’s even slightly reputable would allow a complete stranger to get on their boat and go out in the middle of the ocean with them; the risk for both parties of the other side doing something bad w/no witnesses around is just not worth it. And in fact, he did end up having to fly onward Europe in the end.

So, in short, it’s nigh impossible to get across an ocean (at least the Atlantic…I imagine the Pacific would be even tougher) on a boat that isn’t your own.

It is possible to get about a third of the way across the Atlantic by ferry. There is a once-weekly ferry between eastern Iceland and Norway or Denmark (summer only, I think) making a stop in the Faroe Islands. It’s cheaper than airfare, but not exactly dirt-cheap. The cheapest fare is about $320 round trip, roughly half as much as airfare. See http://www.smyril-line.fo/Skipsdeild/Prisir.asp

The price of food would not have to be that much. You could simply allow travellers to bring their own food and only provide fresh water.

Yeah, sounds like a story I heard, some aviators flew their small plane and got halfway across the Atlantic but they didn’t bring enough gas so they had to go back.