One of the first all gay cruises – Cruising on the SS BERMUDA STAR in 1987 aboard the second all gay cruises operated by RSVP. It is a retro look at gay life. Operated by gay pioneer RSVP the passengers dubbed the ship Bermuda Star Cruise Line ship the SS BRENDA STARR.
In BUT THE SHOW WENT ON, (the prequel to his best-selling memoir, POSTCARDS FROM PALM SPRINGS) author Robert Julian recounts sailing aboard the S.S. Bermuda Star from New Orleans in 1987 – over twenty years ago. This was the second all gay cruise. RSVP founder, Kevin J. Mossier, had a bold, new idea – to provide a safe, tailor-made vacation environment for gay men and lesbians. Unable, at the time, to find a resort that would open its doors to the concept, he found an understanding company known as the Bermuda Star Line and the gay cruise was born.
The RSVP second all gay cruise – “A Cruise To Remember” – sailed out of New Orleans, February 15, 1987 with 750 guests ready to create and enjoy the overwhelming experience that only can happen on an all gay vacation. Bermuda Star Line was open to the gay cruise idea and chartered the Bermuda Star to RSVP.
Other major companies, such as Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruises, etc., were very reluctant to do a gay cruise and charter to RSVP or any other gay travel organization for a long time. Of course, in the end, money talks and all the major cruise companies clamored for gay and lesbian business.
(left) The SS Bermuda Star was originally the Moore-McCormick liner SS Argentina. This is a photo of the children/teenage dining room in the 1950s on a voyage from New York to Buenos Aires. Wonder if any of them eventually ended up on an RSVP Cruise?
Julian writes about his experience in the mid-1980s aboard the S.S. Bermuda Star in his new book – BUT THE SHOW WENT ON – which you can order by clicking here. This is not your standard “Cruise Critic” travel piece.
Cruising on the SS Brenda Starr by Robert Julian
From the San Francisco Sentinel
(1987) RSVP’s second all gay cruise aboard the SS Bermuda Star!
The RSVP travel brochure promises “a cruise to remember,” a minimal expectation under the circumstances. Any time you put 750 gay men on a boat, chances are they’ll walk way with a few memorable moments. What follows is a week in my life aboard the SS Bermuda Star. For reasons that will soon become apparent, I have changed some names. This is not a travelogue.
The relentless late afternoon sun pushes unseasonably warm and humid temperatures even higher. My roommate David and I check into our hotel in the French Quarter and immediately hit the streets. It our first visit to New Orleans and we sail tomorrow morning, so we want to take in as much as possible. The Quarter is a tired party girl, decked out in centuries old finery, decaying round the edges. Ornate balconies lean over cobblestone streets exposing themselves for the benefit of tourists. Secluded courtyards, hiding at the end of corridors, hold a vague promise of mystery and intrigue that is orchestrated by the lingering sound of jazz floating from the clubs along Bourbon Street. Drinking beer from paper cups, tourists wander aimlessly, peering down alleys and beyond wrought iron gates for a glimpse of a Stanley Kowalski or ersatz Blanche Dubois. It is all too Tennessee Williams.
We stop by The Mint for happy hour and I run into an old friend and future shipmate who now lives in Washington D.C. Before we know it, a group of about 10 people has assembled, carrying on like Jewish mothers at a bar mitzvah. One of them works for All American Boy in New Orleans, and although he is not going on the cruise, he extends his own brand of Southern hospitality by inviting me to a private J.O. party the Monday after the ship returns. Do you think this is what Blanche meant by “the kindness of strangers”?
We all decide to attend a masked party at Jewels after dinner and, several hours later, David and I find ourselves pushing our way through another crowded bar. Forget Williams, this is beginning to feel like Fellini. Since I usually spend about three hours a month in bars at home, I’m beginning to lose all touch with normal reality. This feeling is heightened by being surrounded by dozens of men wearing bizarre feathered masks.
Back by the pool table I run into more shipmates. Jack, an old friend from San Francisco, and his new lover, Richard, are standing with a mad Cuban queen named Ramon, while another friend, Bill, leans against the cigarette machine. David pulls me aside and, with his uncanny knack of tuning-in on my wavelength, gives me some history on Bill.
David met him on an airplane a few years ago when Bill was traveling with a local singing group, and he left a definite impression, but I have formed my own. A shock of blond hair falls over his forehead while large shoulders and biceps distract attention from his spreading waistline; but nothing makes a clearer statement than his sad blue eyes. They have seen too much, been too many places, and done too many things. This man is trouble.
Hours later, David and I finally wind our way back to the hotel. As we walk in shadows near the edge of the Quarter, I spot Bill once more. He is still drunk, leaning against a stucco wall across the street. A young man lingers a few feet away and they are engaged in a conversation pregnant with expectation. It is humid. The cool night air blows a damp chill through my white cotton shirt and my nipples contract. I cross my arms in front of me for warmth.
At the pier, we run into a San Francisco couple from last night who suggests we sit together at dinner. They have invited two lovers from Denver to join us who seem like a couple of live wires. The Denver boys met on last year’s cruise and this is their first anniversary.
We work our way through an interminable check in line, and make it to our cabin. It is barely big enough to turn around in, but much larger than the one David and I shared on a Windjammer cruise four years ago. All is forgiven when we see the small box of candy and the fruit basket left in our room. In addition, RSVP has included a beach bag with a variety of travel necessities, a copy of the Advocate, and a gay guide to Key West, our first stop. We had heard of some snafus last year, but RSVP obviously has their act together this time.
We shove off with champagne and hors d’oeuvres on the promenade deck while the crew releases hundreds of purple balloons, kept under wraps in the empty swimming pool. Tourists stand at the pier and stare open mouthed while a boatload of queens tosses streamers to the musical accompaniment of “Tara’s Theme” from Gone with the Wind. Lordy, what would Miss Ellen say?
We arrive early for dinner to observe the promenade of gay couples as they enter the dining room. This, alone, is worth the price of admission. If you split up every couple on the ship and stood them at opposite sides of a room, I think I could match them up with 95 percent accuracy; they all look, talk, act, and sound like each other. Our four tablemates arrive and bear out my observation. The two San Franciscans are upscale in terribly tasteful Wilkes Bashford blue blazers with matching gray slacks; the Denver boys are both informal with Hawaiian shirts open at the neck. I, of course, am a gay Martian. A writer caught somewhere between art and commercialism, first class and steerage, no doubt as queer to my tablemates as they are to me.
After we cram down a five course meal, David and I separate and I head to the “Star Lounge” for Gotham, the evening’s entertainment. As vocalists, their harmony leaves much to be desired, but their dishing is great; they call the ship the “Brenda Starr.” The real entertainment, however, is just about to begin. After the show ends, we are introduced to the ship’s staff, who all seem to have the same shade of blonde hair. The Brenda Starr’s beautician must stock only one toner.
As if this isn’t enough, there’s an icebreaker in the lounge after the show. This petite soiree defies belief. All passengers get name tags containing little stop lights to be filled in with a red, yellow, or green dot that indicate one’s availability for amorous adventures. It’s practical, but I object to reducing myself to a piece of meat in such an obvious way. I mean, I might as well add my room number and book appointments. I resolve my moral quandary by compromising my principles and, like a slut, affix a green dot. Walking around the room, I run into several sets of lovers who have affixed a red dot and almost, but not quite, covered it with a green one.
Gay men are so deep. I think I need a drink. I head for the Observatory Lounge and toss my nametag overboard.
The Observatory is a piano bar, obviously destined to be the Alta Plaza of the ship. Jack and Richard are standing there with Ramon and Bill, Mr. Trouble from the night before. The boys start playing matchmaker and Bill and I find ourselves thrown together, but we don’t complain. He has truly lovely eyes that turn down at the corners and I find myself increasingly drawn to him. We talk and I discover he originally planned this cruise with a lover who died of AIDS just seven weeks ago. As a result, he is traveling alone. The young man I saw him with on the street last night left early in the morning, taking Bill’s wristwatch with him.
I try hard to be a bitch. I watch Dynasty and catch The Women every time it plays the Castro. But when you get right down to it, I’m more Mary (Mrs. Stephen) Haines than Crystal Allen. Love takes many forms and is shared for many reasons. Although it is hard to explain why, I decide to spend my first night onboard with Bill.
I drag Bill to the 9 a.m. aerobics class on the Promenade Deck, taught by a blonde Neanderthal with the body of death and the demeanor of an Army drill sergeant. He’s in great shape, but pushing forty. Bill’s friend Ramon takes one look at his weathered expression and exclaims, “My dear, I could make a pair off shoes out of that face, and a bag, too.” Don’t mess with a Cuban queen.
The rest of the day is spent sunbathing, eating, and drinking. Everyone finds themselves running into old lovers or past affairs, and I am overwhelmed by what an affluent, global community we represent. People are certainly getting to know each other, in every sense of the word. If you ask about a passing stranger around the pool, someone within earshot can provide you with a detailed biography, including their occupation, marital status, and sexual peculiarities.
I am also overwhelmed by how many people are getting drunk. According to the boys from Denver, last year the ship left port with the normal amount of liquor for one week and ran out on the second day. Based on what I’m observing this year, I have no reason to question the story. I can’t decide if something is radically wrong here, or if everyone is just having a good time.
Tonight’s dinner is black tie. After we finish, Bill and 1 proceed to the lounge for Rita Moreno’s performance. Her act is everything I thought it would be, and less. Although she readily admits that she is an actress who sings, and not a singer who acts, that doesn’t excuse the canned Las Vegas type show she presents. Nothing has been specifically planned for this exceptional audience, but they don’t seem to care. I can only attribute her reception to the credentials she carries in the form of an Oscar, a Tony, and over 30 years in the business as a working actress. She receives an incredible ovation and we all file out of the lounge and head for the midnight buffet.
I’ve been sleeping with Bill and haven’t spent a single night in my cabin, but I manage to see David at dinner and everything is fine between us. He’s having numerous escapades of his own and having the cabin to himself has been an asset.
The empty top level of the ship, which has no name, has been dubbed the “fun deck.” After hours it is apparently hop¬ping. Last year’s inaugural gay cruise, they made the mistake of painting it late in the evening; the next day passengers showed up with green deck paint on the knees of their jeans. The RSVP people know who they’re dealing with and constantly restock the two large bowls of condoms at the information desk. You help yourself, like after dinner mints, only different.
We dock in Key West and receive a royal reception from the locals. All the gay guest houses are sponsoring open houses for us and our entourage of eight ends up at Early House. It’s terrific. They have an open bar and bathing suits are op¬tional, so we spend the whole afternoon by the pool or in the Jacuzzi. The owners are friendly and seem to be having as much fun as we are.
Someone from Washington DC opens the Pandora’s Box of AIDS by asking Jack and me, “How bad is it in San Francisco?” That question is quite a conversation stopper. We give him an answer that has something to do with numbers and statis¬tics, but somehow this doesn’t seem to cover the territory.
When we get back to the ship, I slip a note under Wayland Flowers’ door, requesting an interview, and Bill disappears. Oh well, I know the last few months have been difficult for him and I’m trying to understand his needs. I’d like to think he’s off meditating, but somehow I doubt it. Jealousy is the graveyard of affection, and this is a vacation.
David and I smoke a joint after dinner and start primping like schoolgirls for dancing at The Copa, Key West’s premier disco. He shows me how to use a portable steamer to get wrinkles out of clothing and I teach him how to shave only his cheekbones so the stubble of his beard adds definition and shape to his face. Feeling like Gale Storm and Zasu Pitts, we bounce over to The Copa. As soon as we arrive, I’m accosted by a Japanese man from San Francisco who interprets a couple of dances as betrothal and wants to exercise his conjugal rights on the dance floor. I don’t mind being manhandled, but not in public, and especially not while I’m dancing. Just when I’m trying to wriggle out of this, Bill arrives and the problem is solved.
We dance until 1 a.m. and walk slowly back to the ship. I don’t ask Bill where he’s been for the last six hours, but it isn’t too hard to figure out. Stories of his escapades are already filtering back to me through other people. We’re becoming one, big, incestuous family onboard, hurtling out of control at the mid point of the cruise. The hot tropical sun is already producing wild, erratic behavior and tomorrow we have the masquerade.
Cruising from Key West to Grand Cayman Island, the tone of things on the Lust Boat begins to change. Couples have formed, reformed, and deformed them¬selves into a bizarre ménage of 750 and it’s impossible to predict what’s going to hap¬pen next.
The effect of five meals and ten drinks a day begins to manifest itself in ugly ways. The food shows up in the growing paunches of 50 year old men, ridiculously attired in Speedos, and the alcohol leads to arguments between lovers. The strain of monogamy – in the face of so many attractive, available men – becomes unbearable for some couples. Richard and Jack are fighting and Ramon, who is traveling with his lover, spends every spare moment in search of sexual liaisons with other men.
Bill’s frequent disappearances during the day are hard to ignore but easy to ex¬plain. When it comes to polygamy, he’s a pro. I’m an amateur. But for some reason our irrational attachment to each other continues. I work out in the gym and at aerobics classes, hoping the physical exhaus¬tion will take my mind off the subject.
Rita Moreno originally planned to leave the ship in Key West, but she is having such a good time she decides to stay for the duration of the cruise. She and her husband, who bears a striking resemblance to Father Time, take chairs on the deck where I’m sunbathing. Instantly, a few hundred cameras emerge from RSVP beach bags as everyone tries to be subtle about snapping a photograph of a woman applying sunscreen.
When I’ve had enough sun, I head back for my cabin through the Star Lounge, and find myself standing next to Wayland Flowers who is enjoying Quentin Crisp’s afternoon question and answer session. Mr. Crisp is in the process of charming everyone with his uniquely off the wall philosophy on life. I introduce myself to Wayland who has already sent me a note agreeing to an interview, but right now I can only think about getting through the next 24 hours.
Bill has somehow gotten himself in the middle of Jack and Richard’s argument, and unless he can work things out, he’ll be the only Playboy bunny at the masquerade without false eyelashes. Jack and Richard brought the adhesive.
Before stopping by Bill’s cabin, I visit the Denver boys and their entourage. The six lovelies that await me are somewhat beyond description. They are going to the masquerade as the Texas Chainsaw Cheerleaders, complete with pink fright wigs containing twinkle lights, and tiny pink plastic chainsaws. I help them with their makeup and, one pint of mascara later, I run upstairs to escort Bill. He is upset about the argument with Jack and Richard and doesn’t know if he wants to wear his costume. I neglected to bring one myself, but see no reason he shouldn’t go for broke. With a little encouragement, he slips into his yellow out¬fit, complete with ears, a white cottontail, and bright red sequined pumps. In his Rita Hayworth wig, he looks adorable. But the listing of the ship combined with three-inch heels, gives him the walk of a drunken sailor.
Once we get to the party, he borrows a tray from a waiter, places a cocktail on it, and walks precariously around the room where Rita Moreno is judging cos¬tumes and Wayland and Madame are doing impromptu dishing. When we run into Richard and Jack, the little flare up is quickly extinguished, and the four of us dance until 3 a.m., then Bill and I head back to his cabin. As we get off the elevator, I glance at the ashtray affixed to the wall. It contains a full set of discarded shocking pink fingernails and two marabou feathers. This is not your average cruise.
We arrive at Grand Cayman Island, just south of Cuba, and are greeted like lepers. The local authorities don’t want to let 750 faggots on their island and try to deny landing privileges, but somehow the captain works it out. Bill has left me orange juice and croissants in the room and gone ashore to shop while I sleep late.
I am grateful for the solitude. When he returns we set out with 90 men and Rita Moreno for an afternoon of snorkeling. Rita becomes the den mother of the outing, reminding us to “Be sure to put sun¬screen on the backs of your knees so they don’t burn.” Mothers are like that.
The fish are great; they eat right out of your hand. But the island is a dump. It’s hard to get a consensus about anything on this ship, but everyone agrees that Grand Cayman sucks. The tour of the island, which I decline, includes as its high points the water purification plant, the cinderblock factory, and the turtle farm. After the snorkeling, Rita leads us all down to the local pub for a drink and I barely make it back to the ship in time for my afternoon hot fudge sundae.
I have decided to spend the night alone, in my own bed, so I sit down to plan my evening. Looking at the daily agenda, I decide to skip the seminar entitled “Gay Estate Planning.” What an up! I also pass on Tom Ammiano’s evening show. Having endured several of his “comic” performances in San Francisco, I see no need to subject myself to another.
After dinner, I stop by the Observatory where tonight’s 1 a.m. talent show con¬testants are rehearsing. A truly dismal rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon” is followed by an even worse interpretation of “Maybe This Time.” The talent show may turn into the camp highlight of the cruise, but I’m not sure I want to wait up for it. In the middle of the rehearsal someone wanders into the room in full leather drag and quickly realizes he’s in the wrong bar. The leather party is downstairs in the Safari Lounge where my roommate David is hanging out. His social life has been drastically reduced since RSVP began policing the “fun deck,” not allowing passengers up there after dark. I drop five bucks in the casino slot machines and head for bed. Ah, sleep.
My early evening last night caused me to miss a bitch fight between two of the entertainers in the lounge. This morning it’s the talk of the ship, but it was evidently quite a night all around.
Ramon came in late and drunk – after whoring around the boat – and collapsed on top of his bed. This morning he woke up with chocolate smeared all over his face and pillowcase from the Andes mint that the steward carefully placed on his pillow when he turned down the bed. When they encounter each other in the hall this morning, the steward shakes his finger at Ramon in mock disgust, “No more chocolate for you!” I discover even more when Bill joins me on deck to sunbathe.
He wants to regale me with the details of last night’s trick. Isn’t love grand? When he offers to go below and bring back some lunch, I’m thrilled since a detailed discussion of his sexual escapades is of little interest to me. In a moment of weakness, the Crystal Allen in me emerges and I decide two can play this game.
Three men sit in front of me, speaking German, and one of them has been giving me the eye for several days. I pick up my pen and, when no one is looking, I slip him the following note: “My name is Robert — room 102 — how about 4:30 pm? Could we work out an international agreement? Ya?”
He smiles broadly and a few moments later, responds with another note. “4:30 p.m. would be okay (after the aerobics lesson). By the way, my name is Hans.” All this transpires without a word being spoken. One of his companions may be his lover and I see no need to cause trouble on the home front.
Bill returns with lunch and thinks, based on the stares he’s getting from Hans, that he’s be¬ing cruised. He mentions it and I suggest he not jump to conclusions. When I explain the situation, Bill is astonished but wisely stifles himself. I take the 3 p.m. aerobics class with Hans to my right and Bill on my left.
Hans shows up at my door at the appointed hour and I learn that his two friends are fellow Swiss Air flight attendants with no romantic connection to him. A few moments later, I discover he lives in the same town and works with a man I had an affair with two years ago in Zurich. I’m sure the world could get smaller, but I don’t know how.
Hans couldn’t be more charming, and in the middle of our assignation, the phone rings. It’s Bill. His voice purrs with feline insinuation, “Are we going to see you at dinner? Is this a bad moment? Are you still engaged?” Men are cads, gay men are cadettes; I respond in mono¬syllables and hang up. Two hours later, David knocks on the door and I plead for a stay of execution. The “DO NOT DISTURB” sign has prevented him from dressing for dinner and Hans and I are still in bed.
At dinner, gossip about the tension between the entertainers spreads like wildfire. Queens make good listeners and even better talkers. One performer too many has confided in a passenger and the stories that are going around are pretty juicy. Tom Ammiano is exempt from the gossip, but the comments about his show last night are devastating. Everyone I talk to says it was “crude, vulgar, and unfunny.” Considering the crude and vulgar behavior I’ve observed, I can’t imagine what this crowd could find offensive. Now I wish I’d gone to see him.
Bill and I smoke a joint before Wayland’s show and part after¬wards. We have made tentative dates with other people but Bill rings up my cabin and asks what I’d really like to do tonight. I answer honestly, “Come down to your cabin and not step out¬side until tomorrow.”
He responds, “Okay.”
I leave Bill, pick up my things, and run down to 618 for my interview with Wayland. He is open and charming one moment and guarded and paranoid the next. I have to turn the tape recorder off and on so many times that I have no idea what I’m capturing. Some things he won’t discuss “for the record” and I can’t help feeling someone must have once written something really horrible about him that he hasn’t forgotten.
By the time we finish, it’s rain¬ing and miserable and I go to the Observatory Lounge for a vodka tonic. I keep thinking about the strange circles we create as our lives overlap. This week has been a crash collision of destinies, a flotilla of fantasy with strange twists of coincidence and the unexpected intrusion of the past into the present. But most of all, it has been a journey of self revelation.
The pianist starts to play “Send In the Clowns” and I feel like Sylvia Plath, yet I am not inside a Bell jar, but floating on a ship in a bottle, observing a life that is not my own. I could use a shot of cheap sentiment, with a Lana Turner chaser. Why won’t an artist like Wayland discuss any topic openly? Why do we build walls to separate ourselves from others? What is it in gay men that produces such a relentless pursuit of sexual encounters? And, most importantly, what is there about me that makes me such a copious observer of life, often recording details with such detachment that my life seems to be happening to someone else. The ship lists restlessly from side to side and the rain pours down from the skies and I return to my cabin, and then join Hans for a cocktail party.
After we return, we make love for hours, missing both the early and the late seating for dinner and the final evening of entertainment. Brilliant burst of lightning spill light into the dark cabin through the porthole, while the patter of rain and the gentle rocking of the ship quietly embrace us. Hans asks no questions. He is the nicest man I have met on this ship and I’m a fool to have spent so little time with him. Tomorrow he returns to Switzerland.
After Hans leaves, Bill drops by to chat, suggesting we have breakfast in the morning. To¬night he wants to prowl around. After all, he points out, he can come see me any time in San Francisco, but this is his last night on the ship. He suggests we travel together on next year’s cruise. That way we can play around all we want and still en¬joy each other between liaisons. Bill is a pro.
I decline the invitation for next year and continue packing for tomorrow’s arrival in New Orleans, placing my suitcases in the hall for the steward. After Bill leaves and I have showered, I notice that the water in the toilet has turned an ugly brown. We have left the sea and are already traveling up the Mississippi.
I ring Bill for breakfast, but he is unable to keep the engagement due to the presence of someone else in his bed. He suggests David and I go down without him. After clearing customs, we all gather in the lounge where Bill finds me. Jack and Richard have a car waiting and they offer to drop us at our respective hotels. Why not?
I say goodbye to David, who is going directly to the airport, and follow Bill to the long black limousine waiting on the pier. On the way to the hotel, we pass the streetcar named Desire, garishly painted, standing alone in a storage yard behind a tall fence. The chauffeur drops off Robert and Jack first, then we head for my hotel. The limo pulls up to the curb and, in the few seconds before the driver opens the door, Bill suggests we meet later for a drink. I kiss him goodbye and follow the driver as he carries my bags into the lobby.
My suite overlooks an ancient courtyard and, once the bellboy has gone, I walk onto the balcony and look down at black wrought iron furniture, bogged down by worn canvas cushions soaked with rain. The place has the humid, sultry feel of sex on a wet afternoon. My skin peels from the Caribbean sun and the smell of smoke still lingers on my shirt from the evening at The Copa in Key West. Foghorns in the harbor shout at the rain and the tops of tall buildings disappear in the mist. The ancient sound of horses’ hooves on cobblestone streets echoes through the Quarter as I turn from the window to face my tanned reflection in the mirror.
“Flores, flores para los muertos.”
This is how I spent my winter vacation.
S.S. Argentina (aka Bermuda Star) sailing into New York – 1958.
THE S.S. BERMUDA STAR (first “gay cruise ship”)
Bahama Cruise Line’s BERMUDA STAR was built in 1958 for Moore McCormack Lines as the ARGENTINA.
The 14,984 gt ARGENTINA and BRASIL were the last true American-built passenger liners and were designed for the New York to Buenos Aires run but were also built with an eye toward off season cruising. They featured platformed midships dummy funnels and, in a style reminiscent of the Holland America liner ROTTERDAM of 1959, their actual funnels were twin uptakes located far aft. This design is credited to American marine architect George Sharp, who first devised it on the 1940 conversion of the Great Lakes cruise ship JUNIATA into the streamlined ferry MILWAUKEE CLIPPER.
The ships were rebuilt in 1963 to increase their passenger capacity from 437 to 557 and tonnage to 15,257 gt. There was now an extensive observation deck located atop the bridge and new observation lounges offered panoramic views over the bow (similar rooms would be incorporated on Holland America’s newbuilds NIEUW AMSTERDAM and NOORDAM in the early 1980s). Even with their increased capacities, the Moore McCormack twins were hard pressed to make a profit during their relatively short careers. Rising American labor costs and their fuel guzzling powerplants found the ships struggling by the mid to late 1960s, although their reputations for fine food and service seem to have been untainted all the way until their final cruises in 1969, when they were subsequently laid up at Baltimore.
Holland America Line bought both sisters and refitted them for cruise service in 1971. When they debuted in 1973 to replace the dowager 1938-built SS NIEUW AMSTERDAM, the ARGENTINA was renamed VEENDAM and the BRASIL became VOLENDAM. More modifications included the extension of portions of the aft superstructure and a new capacity of 671. Mainly due to different measurement standards, their gt increased significantly to 23,372.
The VEENDAM became BRASIL in 1974 for a brief charter, then VEENDAM again in 1975. In 1976, she became MONARCH STAR for Holland America’s subsidiary, Monarch Cruise Lines. In 1978, she was renamed VEENDAM again. In 1984, she was sold to Bahama Cruise Line and renamed BERMUDA STAR. Her itineraries spanned from New England/Canada in the summer to the Caribbean and Mexico in the winter. In 1990, she went to Commodore Cruise Lines, who renamed her ENCHANTED ISLE. In 2001, she was laid up at Violet, Louisiana following the bankruptcy of Commodore. In late 2003, she was renamed NEW ORLEANS and sailed to Alang, India for scrapping.