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The world’s first cruise ship… the Prinzessin Victoria Luise…

The world’s first cruise ship… the Prinzessin Victoria Luise…

  • The S.S. Prinzessin Victoria Luise, surely one of the most beautiful ships ever launched, had an even shorter career of only 6 years.
  • She was not a great transatlantic liner like the RMS Titanic, rather she was the world’s first cruise ship.
  • It was on a West Indian Cruise in 1906, where she ran aground and could not be re-floated.

The Prinzessin Victoria Luise…

  • Built for the Hamburg America Line, she was launched on June 29, 1900, and served as a cruising passenger ship until December 16, 1906, after being accidentally grounded off Jamaica.

Photos of the ship and her public rooms – as seen in Scientific American.

  • With cruises targeted toward wealthy travelers, the Victoria Luise was designed to look more like a private yacht than any of her commercial counterparts.
  • She had a trim hull 52.2 feet wide by 407.5 feet long.

The first cruise passengers as seen aboard the Victoria Luise.  They were rich Europeans and Americans – pioneers!

  • She was painted all white with two masts, one fore and aft, and two tall, slim funnels amidships.

  • She had a rounded stern and a richly decorated clipper bow, with bowsprit, ending in a figurehead of the German princess.

  • Onboard, she also did not look like other commercial vessels of the time.
  • She contained 120 cabins, all first class.
  • All staterooms were luxuriously appointed.
  • Reportedly, Ballin instituted some interior modifications recommended by the Emperor.

  • There was also a library, a gymnasium, and a darkroom for the development of film by amateur photographers.
  • Pushing all this at a steady 15 knots (28 km/h) were quadruple expansion steam engines.
  • After fitting out, the Kaiser formally inspected the vessel and was unhappy that it was slightly longer than the royal yacht Hohenzollern.

The cruise ship idea came from Albert Ballin. In 1866, he joined HAPAG (Hamburg-Amerikanische-Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft ) as manager of its passage department. Two years later, he became Managing Director. It was during this term that he realized his company’s largest and flagship vessel, the Augusta Victoria, lay largely unused during the winter season. Due to inclement weather, travelers largely stayed away from the North Atlantic route. It was then that Ballin, despite criticism from his fellow directors at HAPAG and other steamship companies, planned to send the Augusta Victoria on a 58-day “pleasure voyage” from Cuxhaven, Germany to the Mediterranean and Orient. This extended cruise would include well-planned excursions ashore to ports-of-call along the route and Ballin would be a passenger himself. The voyage was a success, and similar ones were planned.

  • Despite their increasing success, these early cruises, called “excursions”, were difficult to plan with existing ships.
  • Constructed as ocean liners, they did not meet the requirements of the pleasure-seeking market.
  • They offered few amenities aboard.

  • This became apparent during long stretches at sea.
  • Furthermore, their construction as multi-class vessels also proved a hindrance as such vessels provided restricted access to deck space.


First Class stateroom…

  • Whatever deck space there was, was mostly sheltered, and designed to accommodate the rigors of the North Atlantic instead of the seas of more southern climes.
  • Ballin believed that only a vessel specifically designed for cruising would be appropriate.
  • Furthermore, such a vessel could spend the entire year doing so.

In 1899, Ballin became the director at HAPAG and months later, in 1900, commissioned Blohm & Voss to construct such a ship to be named after Kaiser Wilhelm II’s daughter. The ship was launched on June 29, 1900, and christened Prinzessin Victoria Luise.

She was a revolutionary ship for the times, but her career was short lived.

Prinzessin Victoria Luise left on her maiden voyage on January 5, 1901, from Hamburg, stopping at Boulogne, Plymouth, and finally reaching New York on January 17. She would depart New York on the 26th to the West Indies for her first cruise. Her second cruise, to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, commenced from New York on March 9. Other cruises would take the ship to the Baltic. She would be used almost exclusively for cruising as she had limited cargo or mail capacity. She would be diverted from cruising on six occasions to make complete transatlantic crossings.

Almost five years after her debut, her illustrious career came to an end while on a West Indian cruise. On the night of December 16, the ship departed Kingston when her commander Captain Brunswig mistook the lighthouse at Plumb Point for that at the westernmost point of Port Royal. Heading north at 14 knots, the ship hit and climbed onto the rocks bow first at about 9 o’clock in the evening. In an attempt to dislodge the ship, the engines were put full astern to no avail.

The crew quickly calmed panicked passengers who safely disembarked the following morning. The captain remained on the vessel after the evacuation, retreated to his cabin, and shot himself. A German Admiralty court found him negligent in May of the following year.

Salvage operations commenced immediately after the grounding. Within days, continued buffeting by waves and a storm pushed the ship broadside of the shore with a sharp list to port. The inspection revealed major structural damage to her frame and keel plates. Her engines had been displaced during impact, and her port side filled with 16 feet of water. She was declared a total loss on December 19.