Monday, December 9, 2019

Cruise Ships of the Past

By Tiffany Amber Stockton

Last month, I delved a bit into little known facts about how electricity and specifically the light bulb got established in the United States. If you missed that post, you can read it here:

In just 4 days, my family will be heading out to join my extended family for our first experience together on a cruise to the Caribbean. Being the curious historical researcher I am, I thought it might be fun to look up the history of cruise ships.


Would you believe the birth of leisure cruising began in 1822? Hard to imagine anyone would use a ship for anything other than intentional travel with a specific purpose in mind. Traveling via ship purely for fun, though? Yet, they have been doing so for nearly 200 years! The honor of the first company to own and launch such ships was the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company.

RMS Strathaird, a P&O cruise ship of the early 20th century.
The company began offering luxury cruise services in 1844.
Another company first introduced passenger services in 1844, advertising sea tours to destinations such as Gibraltar, Malta and Athens, sailing from Southampton. The forerunner of modern cruise holidays, these voyages were the first of their kind, and P&O Cruises has been recognised as the world's oldest cruise line.

Some sources mention Francesco I as the first cruise ship, though. She was built in 1831 and sailed from Naples in early June 1833, boarded by nobles, authorities, and royal princes from all over Europe. In just over three months, the ship sailed to Taormina, Catania, Syracuse, Malta, Corfu, Patras, Delphi, Zante, Athens, Smyrna, Constantinople, delighting passengers with excursions and guided tours, dancing, card tables on the deck and parties on board. However, it was restricted to the aristocracy of Europe and was not a commercial endeavour.

Prinzessin Victoria Luise was the first
purpose-built cruise ship.
The cruise of the German ship Augusta Victoria in the Mediterranean and the Near East from January 22 to March 22, 1891, with 241 passengers, popularized the cruise to a wider market. The first vessel built exclusively for luxury cruising, was Prinzessin Victoria Luise of Germany, designed by Albert Ballin, general manager of Hamburg-America Line. That ship was completed in 1900.

The practice of luxury cruising made steady inroads on the more established market for transatlantic crossings. In the competition for passengers, ocean liners added luxuries — Titanic being the most famous example — such as fine dining, luxury services, and staterooms with finer appointments.

In 1896, there were three luxury liners for transportation, for the Europe to North America trip. These were European-owned. By 1906, the number had increased to seven. Luxury cruising continued for the more elite and upper class travelers well into the 20th century and beyond WWII. With the advent of large passenger jet aircraft in the 1960s, intercontinental travelers switched from ships to planes sending the ocean liner trade into a terminal decline.

Queen Elizabeth 2 was reinvented as a luxury ocean
liner following the advent of the jet airliner.
Ocean liner services aimed at passengers ceased in 1986. In an attempt to shift the focus of the market from passenger travel to cruising with entertainment value, Cunard Line pioneered the luxury cruise transatlantic service on board the Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) ocean liner. International celebrities were hired to perform cabaret acts onboard and the crossing was advertised as a vacation in itself.

Queen Elizabeth 2 also inaugurated "one-class cruising" where all passengers received the same quality berthing and facilities. This revitalized the market as the appeal of luxury cruising began to catch on, on both sides of the Atlantic. The 1970s television series Love Boat, helped to popularize the concept as a romantic opportunity for couples. Funny little insert here from my recent cruise. We were in port at St. Thomas with one of the Princess ships, and as we were leaving, we passed her. Our captain sounded the ship horn with a single blast, then the sound continued. It took me a moment to realize a tune was being played...and it was the beginning of the theme song from the TV show! I recognized it almost immediately. What fun!

Oasis of the Seas (2009)
Up until 1975-1980, cruises offered shuffleboard, deck chairs, "drinks with umbrellas and little else for a few hundred passengers." After 1980, they offered increasing amenities. As of 2010, city-sized ships have dozens of amenities.

There have been nine or more new cruise ships added every year since 2001, all from a variety of cruise lines. In two short decades (1988-2009), the largest class cruise ships have grown a third longer (268 m to 360 m), almost doubled their widths (32.2 m to 60.5 m), doubled the total passengers (2,744 to 5,400), and tripled in weight (73,000 GT to 225,000 GT). Also, the "megaships" went from a single deck with verandas to all decks with verandas. Whereas it might seem the golden age of ocean liners has faded, the golden age of cruise ships may well be these recent decades and decades to come.


* Have you ever taken a cruise? If so, when and where?

* If you haven't taken a cruise, is it something you might want to do in the future? Why or why not?

* What has been your experience with, exposure to, or knowledge of the concept of a cruise or cruise ship?

* Do you currently have a cruise planned? When and where?

Leave answers to these questions or any comments on the post below. Come back on the 9th of January for my next appearance.


Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having a very active imagination and cited with talking entirely too much. Today, she has honed those childhood skills to become an award-winning and best-selling author and speaker who is also an advocate for literacy as an educational consultant with Usborne Books. Through personal development, she strives to help others become their best from the inside out.

She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, along with their two children and three dogs in Colorado. She has sold twenty (21) books so far and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. You can find her on Facebook and GoodReads.


  1. Lucky you! I've never been on a cruise, I know several people who have and love it. I have one friend who is going on a 180 day cruise this coming year. I can't even imagine!!!! I know people in both camps; who love it and who hate it and think it's a big germ bomb floating on the ocean. I'd like to see the US before I head out over the ocean.

    1. I can certainly understand some viewing a cruise ship as a big germ bomb floating on water, but with the opportunities to venture outside and even get off the ship at various ports, it's nowhere near the germ bomb that an airplane is with all its recycled air and vacuum-sealed doors. :) Still, I've now been on 2 cruises, and I am definitely a fan! A 180-day cruise, though? I can't imagine that either!! Guess is depends on where it's going and who's on the cruise with me.