THE FIRST CRUISE SHIP WAS A “PRINCESS”: – The Prinzessin Victoria Luise was the world’s first cruise ship.

THE FIRST CRUISE SHIP WAS A “PRINCESS”: – The Prinzessin Victoria Luise was the world’s first cruise ship.

The Prinzessin Victoria Luise was the world’s first cruise ship.

Cruise Ship History and Cruising The Past – The Prinzessin Victoria Luise was the world’s first cruise ship. 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.

Credit for many of the photos seen here are through the courtesy of The Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives – The Future of Our Past. This wonderful website is one of the largest private archives of historical documents from the 1800s through 1954. Click here to visit this wonderful website.

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.

What must have been 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. 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 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. Yet, 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 where put full astern to no avail.

The crew quickly calmed panicked passengers who were 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. Inspection revealed major structural damage to her frame and keel plates. Her engines had been displaced during impact and her port side was filled with 16 feet of water. She was declared a total loss on December 19.


About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

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