Evolution of the Modern Cruise Liner

This article has been excerpted from a technical paper of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects published in the Naval Architect Journal in May 1990.


The early years

The idea of passengers embarking on a sea trip for pleasure was first promoted by Arthur Anderson, one of the founders of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company in 1835. Formed in 1837, the P & O offered its first "cruises" to the Mediterranean in 1844.

These were not cruises in the modern sense, but normal commercial voyages of cargo and passengers with sightseeing arrangements provided for passengers booked as "cruisers" at ports of call. A complete cruise entailed travelling on several ships on different legs of a circumnavigation of the Mediterranean.

In 1889, the Orient Line, in association with the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, became the first regular line operator to offer a true cruising program. The vessels Chimborazo and Garonne were sent on seasonal cruises to the Norwegian Fjords. Four years later, nine summer Mediterranean cruise voyages were undertaken.

A third vessel, Lusitania, was detailed in 1895 to a 60-day luxury cruise to the West Indies, Madeira, Tenerife and Azores.

The three ships were roughly the same size at approximately 3,860 tons and 304 feet in length. Like all other vessels operating cruises at the time, these ships retained their ordinary line voyage accommodations without any added attractions, such as swimming pools, sports decks and posh lounges.

Of all the early companies engaged in cruise services, the Hamburg America Line offered the most exclusive voyages In the winter of 1891, the 7,000-ton Augusta Victoria cruised the Mediterranean, In January 1901, the Hamburg America Line commissioned the world's first liner built for cruise service, the two-funneled luxury yacht Prinzessin Victoria Luise.

Measuring 446 feet in length with a gross tonnage of 4.409, the ship had exclusive accommodations for 200 passengers and a private suite for the German Kaiser. Unfortunately. Prinzessin Victoria Luise was wrecked after being stranded on an uncharted reef off Jamaica in 1906.

In 1911, the magnificent four-funneled, 16,700- ton steamer Victoria Luise emerged as the largest of the early cruise liners. Originally the Deutschland, the ship entered service in 1900 as an express liner on the Atlantic. Even though it once set a record for the fastest Atlantic crossing, its high operating costs convinced Hamburg America that the largest profits lay in ships of great size and modest speed.

Deutschland was withdrawn from the Atlantic and refurbished for continuous cruise service as Victoria Luise. The engine rooms were cut down and passsenger accommodations renovated to cater to 487 first-class passengers.

Victoria Luise survived World War I, but in poor condition. The ship spent its last years as an emigrant carrier and was scrapped in 1925.

The Thirties

There wasn't a great deal of cruising after World War I. The loss of many vessels and the high cost of replacements halted most cruise activities.

One exception was the Royal Mail's second Arcadian, which was converted from the war- damaged 12,002-ton Asturias, which entered service in 1908. The conversion included the installation of a tiled swimming pool, and a supply of hot and cold water to each cabin. Arcadian was in constant demand for charter work for 12 years, gaining a fine reputation as a British cruise liner.

The introduction of Stella Polaris in 1927 heralded the dawn of a new era in ultra-luxury cruising. Similar in concept to Prinzessin Victoria Luise, the 5,209 ton Stella Polaris was a large yacht accommodating 165 passengers. The ship had an ornate, scrolled clipper bow, twin masts, one buff funnel and a white hull. In the winter, it usually sailed around the world for more than 100 days, and, in the summer, cruised the fjords and Nordic countries.

Blue Star Line's Arandora Star was the most luxurious of the larger continuously operating cruise liners. Known as the "queen of cruising liners." Arandora Star started service with line voyages to South America in 1927.

Two years later, Arandora Star was redesigned for cruising with three former refrigerated cargo holds converted into passenger spaces. New public rooms including a ball room, garden lounge and gymnasium were added, and a swimming pool and sports deck were installed. All this cost the princely sum of 200,000 pounds.

In 1932, more than 100,000 Britons spent their holidays afloat, taking some 200 cruises on luxury liners from British ports. At this time, a two-week cruise would cost from 12 pounds for tourist rates and 21 pounds first class on an Orient Line ship to the Mediterranean.

The depression hit passenger ships hard in the 1930s, and many famous vessels were pressed into cruise service to keep them in operation.

For example, the Cunard Atlantic express fleet, Mauretania ( 1907), Aquitania (1914) and Berengaria (1912), normally remained tied up at New York for six days between voyages. However, the need to generate income was so acute that they were sent on "booze cruises" to the Caribbean between Atlantic crossings. These four-day excursions, which cost as low as $50, marked the beginning of popular cruising.

After World War II

As did the first World War, World War II severely disrupted passenger shipping. Several notable cruise liners, including the 42,348 ton Empress of Britain, were lost during the conflict. And once again, the demands of liner shipping reduced the number of ships available for cruises.

In 1948, Cunard took delivery of the 34,172-ton Caronia, which was designed for luxury cruises, with full air conditioning, outdoor pool and private baths in every cabin. Distinctively painted in four shades of green, Cunard's first permanent cruise liner was dubbed the "green goddess." Crew members called the vessel, "God's waiting room," because of the many elderly passengers, some of whom were permanent residents.

Regarded as the epitome of postwar cruising luxury, Caronia initially operated at considerable profit. However, the ship's large size, low passenger density (600 maximum with 640 crew member), high fuel bilk end escalating operating costs caused it to slip into the red in the early 1960s. Caronia was sold for scrap in 1974.

The majority of vessels built after World War II were for line voyage routes. Many new large ships entered service, including the 28,705-ton Union Castle liners, Edinburgh Castle (1948) and Pretoria Castle ( 1949), which traded with South Africa. New P. & 0. liners on the Australian and Far East routes included Himalaya! 1949), Chusan (1950), Iberia (1954) and Arcadia (1954). Orient line ships were Orcades (1948), Oronsay (1951) and Orsova (1954).

As ships that survived the war were retired in the late 1950s, larger vessels joined the liner fleets. Union Castle took on Pendennis Castle (1958 - 28,582 tons), Windsor Castle ( 1960 - 37,640 tons) and Transvaal Castle! 1961 - 32,697 tons). P.& O. added Canberra (1961 45,773 tons) and the Orient Line, Oriana (1960- 41,923 tons).

Significantly, all these ships depended on cargo as well as passengers for survival, each having considerable stowage space.

Despite the threat of increasing competition from the air, new flagships were pressed into service on the North Atlantic from 1952 through 1969. There were more nationalistic flagships than company flagships on this route with United States, Rotterdam, Bremen, France, Michelangelo/Raftaello and Queen Elizabeth II.

Entering service in May 1969, Queen Elizabeth II was proclaimed, "the last of the superliners," with the widespread expectation that nothing approaching its size would ever be built again.

The Sixties

The first winds of change occurred on the South Atlantic. The British flagships Reina del Mar ( 1956) and Andes ( 1939) were redeployed from their South American routes and adapted for cruising in the early 1960s. The mainstay of British luxury cruising in the decade, the two ships catered to 500 first class and 1,026 one class tourist passengers.

As air competition increased during the 1960s, many liners were dispatched on cruises. Well- known companies including French, Furness, Greek, Holland America and American Export lines featured mostly single-departure cruises.

However, the Eastern Steamship Company offered a choice of three-, four- and seven-day Bahamas and Caribbean cruises on Bahama Star (1931) and Ariadne (1951). These excursions operated year-round from the port of Miami.

In the late 1950s, the postwar P. & O. and Orient liners were upgraded with full air conditioning, stabilizers and, in some cases, more private plumbing. Several ships were recast for one class tourist operation instead of the first and tourist classes by adding extra berths in first class cabins. It was hoped that these alterations would enable the ships to compete with air transportation on round-the-world routes.

Once begun, the decline of ocean travel was rapid. During the late 1960sand early 1970s, almost all line voyage routes ceased to be profitable. Many ships were sold for scrap, while a few turned to cruising.

The last continuous line voyage operation, Union Castle/Safmarine's Cape Mail Run, ended in 1977 with the sale of the Windsor Castle and S A Vaal.

Modern cruise ships

Home Line's Oceanic (1965) can be considered as the first "modern" cruise liner by default. Designed for line voyages between Cuxhaven and New York, the vessel instead entered service as a full-time cruise ship, sailing from New York to Bermuda and the Bahamas. An attraction of Oceanic was an extensive lido deck amidships with a Magrodome roof, which could be open or closed depending on the weather.

The first "new generation" cruise ship, however, was the Norwegian Caribbean Cruise Line's Sunward ( 1966). The ship started out as a car ferry/cruise vessel sailing from Southampton to Gibraltar for Klosters Sunward Ferries This was not a successful undertaking.

About a year later,Sunward enjoyed nearly instant success running three and four-day cruises from Miami to Nassau with accommodations for 554 passengers.

Three new ships were quickly built and put into service: Starward (1968), Skyward 11969) and Southward (1971). To satisfy the demand for cruise berths, the 70.000-ton Norway joined the Norwegian Caribbean Line fleet in 1980.

The Norwegians realized the great potential of cruising quickly, and, in the early 1970s, two new cruise lines were formed: Royal Caribbean and Royal Viking.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line initially ordered three 18.500-ton ships from the Wartsila Helsinki shipyard. In the early 1970s, Song of Norway, Nordic Prince and Sun Viking were delivered and put in continuous service with the same itinerary throughout the year.

The popularity of these three ships brought about a demand for more berths. Consequently, in 1978 and 1980, Song of Norway and Nordic Prince were lengthened to accommodate a 40- percent increase in capacity Catapulting demand necessitated a new larger ship rather than similarly jumboizing the remaining vessel. In 1982, 37,584-ton Song of Norway was delivered, followed by 74,000-ton Sovereign of the Seas in 1988.

While the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line catered to the upper end of the mass market, the Royal Viking Line appealed to the more exclusive upper market with three 21,800-ton ships delivered from Wartsila in 1972 and 1973. Royal Viking Star, Royal Viking Sky and Royal Viking Sea accommodated 536 as against 725 passengers on the Royal Caribbean ships.

Popularity again necessitated jumboizing all three ships to 28,220 tons in the early 1980s. In 1988, 40,000-ton Royal Viking Sun emerged.

Carnival Cruise Lines joined the Norwegian and Royal Caribbean lines in major mass market operations in 1972 with the former Canadian Pacific transatlantic liner Empress of Canada (1961), renamed Mardi Gras.

The Carnival ship prospered with a "non-union" crew, a "flag of convenience" registry and an oversize casino. It was joined in 1975 by an old running mate, Empress of Britain ( 1956 ). Renamed Camivale, the vessel brought added prosperity to the line since shore costs could be spread over the running of two ships.

Festivale, the former Transvaal Castle (1961) joined the fleet in 1978, followed by five new vessels: Tropicale ( 1980), Holiday ( 1985), Jubilee ( 1986), Celebration ( 1987) and Fantasy ( 1989) Two more 70,000-ton ships are on order with Wartsila: Ecstasy and Sensation.



The traditional passenger ship arrangement of public rooms occupying longitudinal center-line positions on one deck required promenades for access. On multi-class ships, such an arrangement usually was reserved for first class spaces only. Other classes made do with public rooms scattered where they would fit without any need for promenades.

Promenades were fully enclosed with glazed windows, partially enclosed with and without windows, or open with either bulwark or railing. Initially, the choice depended on the route.

On the Atlantic ships, such as Aquitania and other Cunard Line ships, the promenades were either fully or partially enclosed to protect passengers from the elements. Warm-weather boats, on the other hand, such as those of Union Castle and P. & O., provided open promenades.

The long narrow spaces were also used for relaxation with rows of seats and deck chairs, providing vantage points for the perennial shipboard activity of watching the sea.

Although primarily a warm-weather cruise ship, Cunard's Caronia had enclosed port and starboard promenades to contain air conditioning, a practice followed by most cruise ships.

The idea of using promenades for more than just thoroughfares was extended with the introduction of Carnival Cruise Line's Holiday in 1985.

Rather than having two promenades of relatively narrow width, one double-width promenade was placed on the starboard side. This shifted the public rooms against the shell on the port side, allowing for windows to overlook the sea and provide natural daylight. Named "Broadway," the promenade had a snack/refreshment bar and a street side café.

A number of new ships, such as Seaward, have traditional promenades, but some vessels have dispensed with them altogether. For example, passage on Crown Odyssey is through the casino.

Public rooms

The elimination of multi-class accommodations did away with duplication of facilities. Traditional rooms such as smoking and drawing rooms became multi-purpose lounges.

One of the greatest changes has been the relocation of restaurants to the upper decks. Traditionally, restaurants on line voyage ships were located low down in the vessel with visible or screened portholes providing negligible natural light and no view. On new cruise liners, restaurants are high up on the ship's structure with oversize windows providing full natural light and wonderful views of the sea.

Unfortunately, forward-facing observation lounges are no longer a part of new cruise ships. (In its original form, Queen Elizabeth II had an observation lounge, but it was soon removed to make room for a galley extension.)

Many new ships are constructed with sharply angled bridge front superstructures, forming low head-room space which is difficult to use. Newer Carnival cruise liners use this prime lookout space for air conditioning equipment or as changing rooms for entertainers. Devoid of windows, the superstructure fronts have a slab-like appearance.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ships have unique observation lounges located half way up the funnel structure, providing an unparallel observation platform, a sales gimmick and an unmistakable corporate image. The first three Royal Caribbean ships had cantilevered lounges aft, with access limited to an exterior stairway. Song of America (1984) and Sovereign of the Seas (1988) each have wrap-around 360-degree lounges with lifts and internal stairways.

Some modern passenger ships have dispensed with traditional accommodation layouts of full length public rooms above cabin decks. They have adopted modern car ferry practice in grouping public rooms aft on top of each other.

The reasoning behind this practice is to move passenger cabins away from potential noise and vibration sources, such as propellers and engines. Being predominately noisy areas themselves, public rooms don't need to be isolated.

The "stacked" public room arrangements cause some passenger inconvenience, and most of the newer ships follow the traditional longitudinal design.

The traditional ship s cinema survives on many new ships, although the provision of television in each cabin with a full range of films and information services precludes the need for this facility.

Entertainment on line voyage ships was invariably limited to dancing to the ship's band, bingo, fancy dress balls and the like. Recently, amusements have diversified, with some ships offering full compliments of entertainers.

Big show extravaganzas with full theater facilities are staged in multi-purpose show lounges. Many new ships are equipped with two deck multi-level lounges providing good sight lines to the stage from all corners In addition, demonstrations, lectures, aerobics and computer lessons are offered.


Sovereign of the Seas boasted the world's first marine atrium, the Centrum, in January 1988. This is not quite the case, because several of the great French Line transatlantic vessels, i.e., France (1912), Fans (1921) and Ile de France ( 1927), all had atrium entrance halls.

The atrium on Sovereign of the Seas rises up through five decks and provides a spectacular link to most of the vessel's 20 public rooms with staircases arranged between each deck level.

Despite the new-found popularity of atriums with operators, some authorities are less enthusiastic. The U S Coast Guard maintains that some atriums exhibit features which conflict with Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations.

For example:

a. Atriums, while not specifically prohibited by SOLAS, do not meet the intent Atriums with staircases (such as on Sovereign) are particularly hazardous due to the natural desire of passengers to use open stairs instead of protected stairways as a means of escape in a fire emergency.

b. Spaces contained within atrium boundaries represented additional fire hazards (chemicals from a photo laboratory, cosmetics etc ), with such spaces having limited fire boundary protection.

c. Steps within main fire zones are required to be kept to a minimum. With normal maximum fire zone divisions fixed at 40 meters, the Coast Guard questioned the desirability of Although the flag administration of the vessel had accepted Sovereign of the Seas, the Coast Guard ultimately objected based on these points and forced Royal Caribbean Cruise Line to make considerable modifications to the vessel's atrium area (including the installation of sprinklers) while in service before an extended operating certificate was issued, allowing the vessel to soil from the United States with passengers.


Traditionally, passenger cabins have been placed throughout the ships according to class However, cabins on paddle steamships were all located in the aft section because the paddle machinery took up so much room amidships.

The advent of the screw propeller did not influence the location of accommodations right away, and passengers on early screw steamers

Return to Top of Page

Ocean Travel Fun Facts
GG Archives

Interest Facts About Steamships, Etc.

Ocean Travel Topics A-Z