Cruising as we know and love has changed a great deal over the years, its roots trace back to the 1800s and used to be a much more exclusive affair, with only the wealthiest clientele choosing to cruise.

The SS Augusta Victoria, named after the German Empress Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, was the first modern cruise ship in the world. She set sail on 10 May 1889, from Hamburg to New York City via Southampton. Two years later, she went on the world’s first Mediterranean cruise. Prior to WW I many great liners were built and sailed on lengthy cruises.

  • Off-season pleasure cruises were therefore started in 1891, and Augusta Victoria‘s cruise in the Mediterranean and the Near East from 22 January to 22 March 1891, with 241 passengers including the Ballins themselves, is often stated to have been the first-ever cruise. Christian Wilhelm Allers published an illustrated account of it as Backschisch (Baksheesh). However, the British Orient Line had offered cruises in the late 1880s.

In 1897, the ship underwent a comprehensive rebuilding at Harland & Wolff in Belfast. She was lengthened, her tonnage increased, and her speed increased by half a knot, and the middle of her three masts was removed. Her name was also changed to Auguste Victoria to correct an original inaccuracy; the Empress spelled her name with an e.

Video on the Augusta Victoria…

The 1920s To World War 2

Hamburg America Line, along with Cunard and the major trans-Atlantic steamship companies, offered cruises during the first half of the 20th Century after WWI.

  • Many famous lines would sail out of New York on cruises to the Caribbean or Around The World during the winter months when trans-Atlantic tourist traffic was slow with passengers being the rich, businessmen, immigrants, and upper-middle class.

There were smaller American flagships dedicated to cruising from New York to Cuba and the Caribbean during the 1920s and 1930s.

The 1940s to the 1960s

Following World War 2, the RMS Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth sold out their trans-Atlantic service year-round until the mid-1950s when the majority of passengers started to flying.


America had built many new liners and passenger ships such as the United States, Independence, Constitution, Santa Rosa, Santa Paula, President Wilson, and Cleveland, Lurline, Mariposa, Matsonia, Monterey, Brazil, Argentina, etc. Passenger-cargo ships included the Delta Line’s very modern Del Sul, Del Norte, and Del Mar. The Grace Line, Matson, APL, American Export provided point to point (line voyages) which were also sold as cruises to the South Pacific, Orient, Mediterranean, and South America.

Trans-Atlantic Lines such as the French Line, Holland-Americ Line, Home Lines, Italian Lines, Swedish America Lines, Norwegian America Lines, Greek Lines provided trans-Atlantic services and into the 1950s and 1960s used all their ships for winter cruises out of New York.


Cunard’s QE 2 joined the French Line’s France with regular trans-Atlantic service and cruising during the winter.

Very few ships were dedicated just to cruising except for the Stella Polaris and Cunards famous “Green Goddess” the RMS Caronia.

British companies like P&O, Orient Line introduced new liners in the 1960s, first sailing as two-class liner vessels from Britain to Australia and then in the 1970s converted to one-class cruise ships

The 1970s, the 747s, into the 21st Century. 

The year around trans-Atlantic passenger service ended in the early 1970s when the France was withdrawn and the QE 2 was made a single class ship.

The 747 pulled many potential ship passengers into flying instead of traveling by sea. 1500 plus 747s were built,


The modern cruising that we’re now familiar with emerged in the 1960s when the passenger lines began the transformation from liners to a cruise ship such as Holland-America Lines.  Royal Viking, Home Lines, Chandris, Sitmar, Princess created new ships or converted old legacy liners.

  • The new cruise line image was solidified with the popularity of the TV series “The Love Boat” which ran from 1977 until 1986. It proved to be the greatest product placement in the history of television. Princess credited over 1.5 billion dollars in revenue to the hit series.  Carnival Cruises benefited enormously from the Love Boat series since middle-America could see the possibility of cruising for a vacation. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines equally benefited. Many new ships were built in the 1990s.

The sheer size of ships changed, as well. For years, the ocean liner SS France (which later became cruise ship SS Norway, sailing for Norwegian Cruise Line from 1979 to 2003) held the title of the largest passenger vessel. But in 1988, Royal Caribbean International launched the first so-called “mega-ship”: Sovereign of the Seas, which held 2,850 guests (a comparatively small measurement by today’s standards).

  • The next year saw the inauguration of high-end brand Crystal Cruises and its first vessel, Crystal Harmony, on which I was lucky enough to embark during its maiden voyage in 1989.
  • Before Crystal’s launch, the legacy of luxury cruising could arguably be credited to Royal Viking Line, which operated from 1972 to 1998.
  • Now, along with Crystal, several more companies have stepped up to carry the torch, including Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, and Silversea Cruises.

Cruising’s traditional class system has also disappeared, but exclusive spaces available only for passengers in certain accommodations are making a comeback. The ship-within-a-ship format can now be found onboard vessels from MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, and a growing list of other lines.

  • And ships only continue to get bigger. In 2018, Royal Caribbean once again built the largest cruise vessel in the world when it launched the 5,518-guest Symphony of the Seas. It was expected that the line’s fifth Oasis-class ship would take the title when it debuts in 2021 but the Covid Virus stopped any scheduled cruises for the future that are guaranteed.


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