The first man-built machine to circumnavigate the world that wasn't a ship was the Graf Zeppelin airship. In a William Randolph Hearst-financed expedition, it did the journey in 12 days and 11 hours. Zeppelins were the first commercial airliners and for a brief time looked as though they might threaten the cruise liners' dominance of transatlantic travel. Subsequently, enthusiasm for dirigible flights was curbed by the Hindenburg crash, production was stopped completely by Goring in 1940 and the remaining Zeppelins were used for scrap metal.
The history of the Zeppelins is a complicated one but had the Nazis not effectively banned them from commercial use even before Hindenburg, could they have seriously challenged cruise liners? Several projects are currently being developed to resurrect non-inflammable helium-powered travel and the concept of the cruise liner of the airs, particularly the aeroscraft.
So is air travel necessarily the be all and end all in this mad rush to get from departure to destination and what are the advantages of a cruise ship over an aeroplane?
A ship is part of the holiday, not just the journey
Depending on the cruise you take, journey times vary between six days and two weeks. That leaves a lot of time to just relax. What's the hurry? Cruises are now exclusively leisure, but in the days before the jet engine, a boat was the only way to get from one continent to another. Take time to relax and meet people. You can always take the laptop and your cell phone if you really have to.
Plenty of places to stop off
Despite the obvious rather large bit of water in the middle, there are a surprising number of places to stop off, especially if you go via the Caribbean. If you don't cross the Atlantic but go on a Mediterranean journey instead, you can experience European history of the last couple of thousand years without booking a single flight or hotel!
Take a themed cruise
If you can have themed holidays, you can have themed cruises. Astronomy cruises north of the Arctic Circle, genealogy or creative writing retreats, the number of themes available is mind boggling. There's even a search engine for them. Although the thought of a Disney-themed cruise is particularly scary! Not even on a direct flight to Orlando from Disneyland Paris would they dare dress the stewards and stewardesses up as Mickey and Mini!
Because you're worth it!
Let's face it, if you do a cruise properly it doesn't come cheap. So do it properly. Make the most of the facilities you don't get on a plane like a spa, swimming pool or top-class entertainment. You'll feel so relaxed, you won't need your travel insurance. No, that's a joke, you should take it anyway, you never know.
Only unpack your bags once
On any typical multi-destination holiday (it's Friday, it must be Stockholm), you'll be constantly packing and unpacking bags and possibly forgetting stuff on the way. On a cruise, whilst you'll be hopping on and off the ship to visit the stopover points, you'll leave your cases on board.
Enjoy the experience of the sea
Travel has become so antiseptic these days. What with high-speed train travel from one city centre to another or moving from one anonymous airport terminal to another, you'd be excused for thinking that you were just hopping from starting point to destination. A cruise will help you experience the bit in the middle. You'll get fresh air and contact with real things. Depending on where you go, they'll also be opportunities for interaction with the wildlife.
Meet new interesting new people and avoid the others
We've all had that experience travelling on a plane being stuck next to Mr or Mrs Boring, Boorish or Downright-Rude (the posh, double-barrelled version) without being able to get away. That's hard enough on a 45 minute Paris to London flight, but transatlantic it's sheer hell! Cruise ships these days have capacities in the thousands so there's plenty of opportunity to avoid people you don't want to mix with and even more opportunities to meet or even become friends with those you wouldn't encounter otherwise.