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Ocean Liner History and Stories from the Sea, Past and Present. With an In Depth focus on Holland America Line

The First Real Cruise ship

Of days gone by…………………. The first specially built cruise ship.

1902 Hamburg America Line poster with the ship

As we all know cruising started the moment ships could be relied upon to reach their destination on time and to return on schedule. Until well in the 1960’s, cruises were mainly made by ships whose normal function it was to transport passengers on a regular service. Being it the North Atlantic run to New York or the Pacific service to Hawaii, the ships were primarily designed for a certain route and would only cruise during the off-season. North Atlantic Liners would often be employed on cruises during the period from January to April when there was a downturn in Trans Atlantic bookings due to the prevalent bad weather.

The newly built Prinzessin Victoria Luise.

The first ship solely built for cruising entered service in 1901. This was the Prinzessin Victoria Luise of the German Hamburg America Line. The managing director of the company, Albert Ballin, had already been very successful in sending his North Atlantic liners on cruises during the off-season and now he took the idea one step further by building a dedicated cruise ship. The Prinzessin Victoria Luise was named after the daughter of Emperor Wilhelm the 2nd of Germany and it was not a big ship by our current standards. Compared to the largest mega liner now sailing, she would have fitted 35 times inside. (Liberty of the Seas, 154.000 brt) But for those days it was of a considerable size when taking into account that the biggest North Atlantic Liners of that time were only around 16000 tons. The size of what we know consider to be a small cruise ship. Never the less this ship formed the ultimate in cruising luxury that was available around the turn of the last century. With a capacity of 180 guests and 161 crew to look after them, service was of a very high standard.

Late Victorian opulence. Left the Music Salon and to the right the Smoking Room

The plan had been to have the ship depart on a maiden voyage, being a world cruise, on 28 August 1900. Leaving Hamburg it would have gone Eastbound around the world until arriving in San Francisco. From there the guests would have travelled by train through the United States and then return to Hamburg by Trans Atlantic liner. The whole trip was to take 135 days. The next group of guests would go the opposite way, join the ship in San Francisco and then cruise westwards back to Hamburg. Due to a prolonged strike at the shipyard the ships construction was delayed and she was only completed on 16 December. Thus the above cruises did not take place. (The first real world cruise was eventually made by the Laconia of Cunard in 1922)

At anchor in one of the Norwegian fjords during her summer cruises.

Upon completion the ship measured 4419 tons and had a length of 122 meters. Two triple expansion steam engines gave it a speed of 15 knots, which was quite fast for those days. Painted white, she looked very yacht like. After having been given the look-over by the emperor, who was a good friend of Ballin, the ship sailed for New York on 4 January 1901 to commence cruises to the West Indies. From then on she would spend spring and autumn in the Mediterranean, the summer in the Baltic and the winter in the West Indies.

Her career was however short lived and her demise quite dramatic. On 16 December 1906 she ran aground just outside Kingston Jamaica. As the pilot was not on station upon arrival, the captain decided to sail the ship into port himself in the dark of the night. Due to a wrongly identified lighthouse he missed the entrance and ran the ship onto the beach. After realizing what he had done, he went down to his cabin and shot himself with his hunting gun. The First Officer then took command and oversaw the disembarkation of the guests. They were lowered with the lifeboats to the water and then carried ashore by the crew wading through the surf. The ship itself could not be saved. An underwater earthquake made its position untenable and salvage plans had to be abandoned. The ship did proof that dedicated cruise ships had a place in the world and the Hamburg America Line continued to built several of them.


  1. What was the first cruise ship to offer e-mail by passengers?

  2. Just found your web site .iIhave been looking for a Capt who would do this thanks .Question .How does this Harbor pilot work .I see a small ship pull up to all the cruise ships I go on.They say it a harbor pilot.You dont bring the ship In?

  3. Enjoying your blog, Capt. Albert, perhaps you can steer to some information about the life of a cruise ship second-class passenger, circa 1901. How big was the room? How was it heated (or cooled)? What was the mattress and the bedding made of? Was the there usually a private bath? What did the passengers do for entertainment?
    Any leads you could give me would greatly appreciated.


  4. Caroline Wolter Hall

    August 26, 2017 at 10:56 pm

    Hi – My name is Caroline Wolter Hall.

    I dearly need to know how long it took for the passenger/vehicle ships of 1950s to cross from the Hoek of Holland to Harwich. It had to have been longer than the 6 1/2 hrs with Stena Lines.

    In those days, the vehicles were lowered into the hold by crane. I have no idea of the time that took & whether passengers were already allowed to go on board.

    I need this for my book that I’ve been writing for past 7 years. I invite you to Google me.

    I am most grateful for your reply. No one seems to have an answer.

    Thank you so much.

    Ontario, Canada

    • Good morning,

      The Stena crossings varied in speed depending on the craft used. Currently the departures are 10 or 11 pm in the evening and arrival at 06.30 (Harwich) or 0800 in the morning (Hook) or 10 am in the morning with an arrival of 1800 in the evening. For a while they had a fast very service and then the crossing only took 3.5 hrs. But fuel costs put an end to it.
      Before Stena with had the SMZ Stoomvaart Maatschappij Zeeland running from the Dutch Side and Sea Link running from the British side.

      In the 1950’s. there was one day crossing and one night crossing from both sides so similar to what we have nowadays. In the period 1948 to the late 50’s the crossing time was about 10 hrs. (8 pm. departure and 6 am arrival) and from the late fifties onwards it slowly became shorter as the ships grew faster until we are now at the 8 hrs. crossing. I can not give exact departure times for the 50’s as it changed nearly every year. The departure times were in sync with the time table from British Rail and the Nederlandse Spoorwegen and were adapted to link directly to the most opportune boat train arrival.

      I hope this helps.

      Best regards

      Capt. Albert

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