The History of Cruising . . . As We Know It

My first cruise was on a ship leased from NASM [the original parent company of Holland America] by the Dutch Student Travel Bureau [NBBS] to provide cheap trans-Atlantic transportation for students from New York to Europe.   I worked my way to Europe on the ship, then called the WATERMAN, as a member of the NBBS cruise staff.  I spent three months seeing Europe on $5 a day, or less [I actually averaged $4 a day including food, lodging, museum entrances, TIME magazine, and letters home!], and moving around Europe First Class on a Eurailpass.  And to think, today you can’t even buy a cup of coffee for $5 in Europe!

It was the last summer NBBS ran the student ships because the Boeing 707 was just coming on line.  Suddenly it was cheaper, faster, and easier just to fly “across the pond” to Europe.  So the next year I flew over to Europe, and spent 4 months, at the highly inflated rate of $5 a day.

I graduated from seminary and took a little all-black church in the South Bronx and began spending my vacations working as a chaplain on Holland America.  The old ROTTERDAM, NIEUW AMSTERDAM, STATENDAM and all the other old Dam ships were sailing from Pier 42 in New York and Miami.  Talk on the ships was of a passing era of steamship travel.  Soon all the passenger ships would be history, replaced by the 707.  And one-by-one the great passenger ships began disappearing from their berths on the Hudson.

Then some interesting things began to happen.  The few passenger ships that remained began doing primarily cruises.  Ships left New York for the Caribbean and Bermuda.  Then, avoiding the long and often cold and dreary sail down the Atlantic coast, began sailing from Florida.  Great ships hanging on for dear life.

Three somewhat concurrent events were to prevent the extinction of passenger travel by ship and create a dynamic new industry.

1965 Stanley MacDonald charters Canadian Pacific ship that would usually have been laid up for winter, calls it the PRINCESS PATRICIA and begins offering cruises to the Mexican Riviera from Los Angeles. The “Princess Pat” lacked air conditioning, so the next year the new company, named Princess Cruises, charters another ship called the PRINCESS ITALIA. Princess will go on to become part of shipping giant P&O, find television fame as “The Love Boat”, and become part of the Carnival family of cruise lines. Today Princess Cruises Princess “offers approximately 1.3 million passengers each year the opportunity to escape to the top destinations around the globe, aboard a fleet of 17 modern vessels.”

1966 Knut Kloster and Ted Arison begin with a cruise ship/car ferry offering low-cost Caribbean cruises under the banner of Norwegian Cruise Line. Arison soon left, while Kloster acquired additional ships for Caribbean service. NCL made history with the “white ships”, three ships, tiny by today’s standards, that were designed expressly for cruising the Caribbean. Ownership of NCL has bounced around in recent years. Notable for its brightly decorated ships and “Freestyle” cruising concept, NCL currently “operates 11 ships with over 23,000 berths.”

1972 Ted Arison starts his own cruise company takes a Canadian Pacific ship, the EMPRESS OF CANADA and renames it the MARDI GRAS. To save money he repaints the ship stack red, white and blue, following the lines of the original CP logo, accidentally and for all time creating the famous Carnival logo. The MARDI GRAS sails for the first time from Miami filled with travel agents . . . and promptly runs aground on a sandbar just off Miami. From that inauspicious beginning, Carnival has emerged as the dominate powerhouse of cruising with 88 ships and 86,000 employees (including the Princess fleet).
“Carnival Corporation & plc is a global cruise company and one of the largest vacation companies in the world . . . leading cruise brands includes Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Seabourn Cruise Line in North America; P&O Cruises, Cunard Line and Ocean Village in the United Kingdom; AIDA in Germany; Costa Cruises in southern Europe; Iberocruceros in Spain; and P&O Cruises in Australia.

These brands, which comprise the most-recognized cruise brands in North America, the United Kingdom, Germany, Southern Europe and Spain, offer a wide range of holiday and vacation products to a customer base that is broadly varied in terms of cultures, languages and leisure-time preferences. We also own two tour companies that complement our cruise operations, Holland America and Princess Tours in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon. Combined, our vacation companies attract eight million guests annually.”

So much for the death of passenger travel by sea!