Home / CRUISING THE PAST / 1930s… Sailing to France from New York for $159 – First Class
1930s… Sailing to France from New York for $159 – First Class

1930s… Sailing to France from New York for $159 – First Class

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French Line Cabin sailings in 1933 aboard what they called their “Cabin Service”. The Champlain, Lafayette, De Grasse and Rochambeau offered sailings (6 to 7 days at sea) from New York to France on a regular service. Cabin, Tourist (aboard the Champlain and Lafayette) and Third Class. Express service (5 days at sea) was being offered by the Paris and the Ile De France. Ironically, today’s service aboard Cunard Line is 7 days at sea. “Slow boat to China”!

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The above schedule and rates gives a great indication of what it cost to travel from New York to Europe at the height of the Great Depression. $159 for a one-way ticked Cabin Class (equivalent of First Class). Transportation and all meals. Plus wine and booze, since America was still ruled by prohibition.

SS CHAMPLAIN

The last of the “trio” including SS Colombie and SS Lafayette, the?”Champlain” was a commercial highlight beginning with the inaugural trip on June 18th 1932. René Prou, architect, gave this liner a very sleek, but extremely friendly touch. The Interiors were simply elegant and modern, in harmony with bright colors.?Outside the SS Champlain had a great “cleaned” sun-deck, result of the situation of her streamlined funnel. The liner was destroyed, and sunk in 1940, by hurting a mine in La Pallice.

The SS Champlain was a cabin class ocean liner built in 1932 for the French Line by Chantiers et Ateliers de Saint-Nazaire, Penhoët. She was sunk by a mine off La Pallice, France, in 1940 — one of the earliest passenger ship losses of the Second World War.

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Although not as well remembered as her larger fleetmates, the Champlain was the first modern ocean liner and embodied many design features later incorporated into the French Line’s SS Normandie. Her interiors were designed by Rene Prou who decorated spaces on several earlier French Line ships, including the cabin motorship SS Lafayette. When she made her début in June 1932, the Champlain was the largest, fastest, and most luxurious cabin class liner afloat.

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At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Champlain was pressed into evacuee work, transporting refugees from Europe to the safety of North America. This included many European Jews escaping Nazi Europe. Vladimir Nabokov and his family were passengers on the last voyage to New York in May 1940. It was on the return trip that the Champlain met her fate. On 17 June 1940, the liner struck a German air-laid mine while swinging at anchor in the waters off La Pallice, France, near Île de Ré, and quickly heeled over on her side.

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A few days later a German U-boat fired a torpedo into the hulk — possibly to finish her off, as much of the ship lay above water level. Many sources quote a wire service report from 1940 that as many as 300 lives were lost but this is erroneous. Although there were many injuries there were only 11 or 12 fatalities. She was one of the largest ships sunk in WWII. Her wreck lay quite visible for over twenty years and was eventually scrapped in 1965.

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SS DE GRASSE

After World War 2, the DeGrasse re-established trans-Atlantic service from New York to Europe from 1947 until 1952.

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De Grasse was the first ship built for the French Line after World War One. With a shortage of materials at that time and a strike in England, her maiden voyage from Le Havre – New York was delayed until August 21st 1924. The French Line operated De Grasse on that run alongside their larger ships, the 23,666-ton France launched in 1910 and the 34,569-ton Paris launched in 1916. The arrival of the French Lines 79,280-ton Normandie on the Atlantic run in 1935 led to De Grasseundergoing a refit in 1938 to make her more suitable for cruising. Following the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939, De Grasse was laid up at New York for a few months before being returned to Bordeaux/France in May 1940. The decision to return her to France soon proved to be a serious miscalculation as she fell into the hands of the advancing Germans. After the German forces were forced to retreat in 1944, they sank De Grasse in shallow waters at Bordeaux to create a blockade.

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After the war had come to an end, De Grasse was raised and towed to Saint Nazair to undergo repairs and an extensive rebuild. She returned to the Atlantic run in the summer of 1947 with the most noticeable change being the removal of one funnel. De Grasse was relocated on the Le Havre – West Indies route after the arrival of the French Line’s Flandre on the Atlantic run in 1952. At the time of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth 11 coronation ceremony in 1953, the Canadian Pacific Line was fully booked and had lost their liner Empress of Canada to fire. This led to the Canadian Pacific Line buying De Grasse to serve as a temporary replacement under the name Empress of Australia.

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By February 1956, she had again been sold, this time to the Italian shipping company Grimaldi-Siosa to be operated on the Naples – Caribbean migrant run under the name Venezuela. Now an old ship,Venezuela was operated on that route until she ran onto rocks at Cannes March 17th 1962. Gramaldi-Siosa had their aging liner towed to La Spezia for scrapping soon after as they declared her a total loss.

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SS ROCHAMBEAU

Second “single class” steamer of the company, entered in service in September 1911 on the line Le Havre-New York. Extended version of the CHICAGO steamer, brought into service three years earlier. Between 1915 and 1918, ensures a regular service between Bordeaux and New York (because of the war, the terminus was moved from Le Havre to Bordeaux). Modernized in 1926. Work includes the installation of glazing-windows in front of the promenade deck. Demolished in Dunkerque in 1934.

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SS LAFAYETTE

LAFAYETTE will have a very short career. First large engine steamer of the Company, very modern of style, she is brought into service on the line the Le Havre-New York in May 1930. Carries out cruisings regularly. Her voyages to Spitzberg inspired the novelist Roger Vercel. Is completely destroyed by a fire in May 1938, while she was in the great dry dock of Le Havre. Demolished in Rotterdam.

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ABOUT CRUISING THE PAST… 

CRUISING THE PAST is a historical and contemporary look at cruise ships, hotels, ocean liners and Pullman streamliners. From the 1930s through the 1960s and how it relates to the present. Examining the glamour of traveling prior to 747s and the “Love Boat” mentality. Looking at a “retro” period when there were no security checks, 24-hour buffets or baseball caps. An age when passengers didn’t have to be told how to dress for travel or at what cruise lines call a “formal night.” When “getting there was half the fun” in an era when travel was an event and not a nightmare.
We realize many aspects of modern day cruising are much more comfortable than these earlier ships. Cabins are larger and there is a much wider choice of accommodations and activities. But certain aspects of social interaction are absent. There is no longer a feeling of gentility on most cruise ships. Most of the time you think you’re stuck in some strip hotel in Vegas that’s been dropped down in the sea.

The cruise industry owes THE LOVE BOAT TV series for the dramatic popularity of cruising starting in the 1970s.

P&O Lines, the former owner of Princess Cruises, emphasized in a early 1990s financial press release that the LOVE BOAT had probably generated over a billion dollars in revenues for the cruise lines.

Robert J. Thompson, Professor of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, owes his increasing stature as one of the country’s reigning experts on popular culture to The Love Boat, known in many circles as one of television’s silliest shows. As a graduate student at Northwestern University, earning a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in radio, television, and film, he wrote an article for The Journal of American Culture on “The Love Boat: High Art on the High Seas.” His premise was that television was a new, modernistic art form that people watched while doing something else—unlike novels or ballet, which demand full attention. Viewers could tune to The Love Boat at any point and follow its plot, which, he noted, “broke down into an algebraic equation.” Thompson recognizes that The Love Boat was a lightweight show, but says, “TV as an art form was at its best when it was at its silliest and frothiest.”

Travel by ship prior to the 1960s, was a more serious and demanding experience. You had to have social skills because much of the entertainment was based on the social-interactions of the passengers. There were large lounges where people met and conversed, passenger lists to see what friends were aboard, formal ballrooms, officers tables, the ship’s pool and ceremonies when you crossed the Equator.

Today, when you see a napkin-folding contest you know times have changed!

MICHAEL L. GRACE and CRUISING THE PAST…

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace was a writer on the TV Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. It was a ten year info commercial reaching planet. Much of it was over-the-top fantasy but it has to be one of the greatest selling tools or all time. Without Love Boat, there would be no Carnival Corp or the endless large cruise lines. P&O Lines (owner of Princess Cruises until Carnival bought it) said “Love Boat” brought in over a billion dollars in business. Love Boat was the ultimate realization of a TV show turned into a brand name.

Love Boat contrasted with Grace’s own experience with ships and cruise liners. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in early 50s to early 70s. He had been a passenger aboard ships operated by Cunard Lines, Holland America Lines, US Lines, American President Lines, Matson Lines, Pacific Far East Lines, Grace Lines, Delta Lines, Moore-McCormick Lines, Swedish America Lines, Home Lines, Canadian Pacific Lines, Italian Lines, American Export Lines, P&O Lines, Orient Lines, Italian Lines, French Line, etc. He sailed on some of the great liners and passenger ships including the Kungsholm, President Hoover, Empress of Canada, America, Lurline, Medea, Mauritania, Homeric, Mariposa, Monterey, Matsonia, President Wilson, Dentledyke, Del Sud, Santa Rosa, Oriana, Prince George, Royal Viking Sky, etc. He experienced P&O Line’s Canberra going Around-the-Pacific in the late 60s and the next time he heard of this ship she was doing troop duty during the Falkland War. He sailed with his aunt on the Saturnia – the pre-war Italian Line ship was the first to have individual balconies or verandas for their first class staterooms. His last cruise voyage prior to 2000, was aboard Carras Line’s Daphne sailing to Havana, Cuba in 1978 from New Orleans. There have been no passenger ship services between the USA and Cuba since.

By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. You couldn’t travel trans-Atlantic except by the QE 2 (only in the summer) and there were no trans-Pacific voyages. There was no First, Cabin or Tourist Classes. No private grills or skeet shooting or playing the ship’s pool. Vanished. Just one big class. Vegas afloat.

The very successful Cruising The Past website has been an outgrowth of Grace’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Starting with his first ocean voyage when he was eight years old.

Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website.

Cruising the Past captures the moments in the time when passengers “crossed the pone” in style and “getting their was half the fun”!

The website is visited by thousands of people daily who search for a glimpse of the past and researching social history.

He has lectured and consults extensively on the social history of maritime travel.

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About Michael L. Grace