Prinzessin Victoria Luise: The World’s First Cruise Ship.
Prinzessin Victoria Luise: the first cruise ship.
Cruise shipping plays a crucial role in nowadays’ maritime industry. During the 20th Century, long distance passenger transport by sea experienced an evolution where, in most cases, the way has become more important than the destination itself. The first steps in this direction were taken during the 19th Century and they all led to the construction of the first real cruise ship, The Prinzessin Victoria Luise, by the entrepreneur Albert Ballin.
Albert Ballin, the HAPAG and the success of cruising.
Born in 1857 as the 13th child of a Danish Jewish family living in Hamburg, Albert Ballin was a German business man that proved being extremely successful managing the migrant ships that sailed from Hamburg to America. His success got the attention of the shipping company HAPAG – that will later join forces with the Norddeutsche Lloyd, and still is a big player in the industry today. The company hired him in 1886 and he became its general director in 1899. During this period he also became a personal friend of the German Emperor Wilhelm II.
In 1889, the HAPAG built the largest German passenger ship of her time, the SS Augusta Victoria. This ocean liner was named after the wife of Wilhelm II and was on duty crossing the North Atlantic route. The problem was that this route was not very successful during the winter time. To make the ship more rentable, Ballin had some modifications done to her and personally planed and supervised her first cruise in the Mediterranean in January of 1891. Against all odds and the opinion of most people in the maritime industry back then, Ballin’s idea was a huge success. The cruises to the Mediterranean and to Scandinavia were constantly sold out and provided a high income to the HAPAG. For this reason, the Augusta Victoria was even enlarged in 1896. Still, this did not cover the demand for cruise tickets and the ship, built and still used as an ocean liner, was not perfect for cruising. The HAPAG needed a new ship, a real cruise ship.
The Princess of the Seas.
The Prinzessin Victoria Luise was built in Hamburg by Blohm und Voss during the year 1900. She was named after the daughter of the Empress Augusta Victoria and the Emperor supervised her construction. He allegedly later complained with irony to his friend Albert Ballin, because the ship was bigger and displayed more luxury than his imperial yacht, the Hohenzöllern.
That yacht had originally inspired the form of the new steamer. It had two masts, two chimneys and displayed a figurehead representing the imperial princess. On board there were 120 1st class cabins with two rooms and a separated bathroom and toilets each. The upper deck and the living rooms were specially conceived for leisure purposes with all kind of luxuries. The ship also had a library, a fitness room and even a darkroom where passengers could directly reveal the photographs they had taken during the cruises.
The ship had a short but successful life of sold out cruises in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the coasts of Scandinavia and the North American East Coast. The Prinzessin Victoria Luise were to find a sad fate in Caribbean waters at the end of the year 1906.
It happened in the night of the 16th of December. The first real cruise ship in history had left New York to sail in the West Indies. In the Jamaican coast, the captain Brunswig made a terrible mistake. Not listening to the recommendations of his officers, he decided not to call for a pilot to help approaching the Port of Kingston. He then realized way too late that he was heading too fast in a collision course with the coast. All efforts to reduce speed and change course were in vain and the ship ended up stuck in the coast. After the first intents to free the ship, the captain recognized the seriousness of the situation and, in a move that fitted the Zeitgeist of that time, committed suicide in his cabin.
The officers and the crew decided not to alarm the passengers and wait until the morning to evacuate them. They then built a bridge to the coast using the lifeboats, and carried through it all passengers and their luggage to safety on land. The next three days various attempts to rescue the ship where made. Sadly, the weather did not play along. The ship was hit by a storm and water came in. On the 19th of December 1906, after a new inspection of the ship, it was decided that she was a total loss.
…was just the beginning.
Already in 1905, the HAPAG had bought the Oceana from the British. This fast steamer with a yacht-like silhouette, was the perfect choice to take on the duties of the Prinzessin Victoria Luise. Later, in 1911, the company decided to rename the larger steamer Deutschland as Victoria Luise and make it the new flagship of its fleet. This time, the ship had room for 487 passengers in 1st class cabins.
Now, over 100 years after Alfred Ballin’s idea, the whole maritime industry would be unthinkable without the giant cruise ships that sail all across the globe.
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