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History of Luxury Cruise Liners

Through wars and royalty

History of Luxury Cruise Liners

Long before the Titanic made its fateful voyage in 1912, and centuries before the Proud Mary was rollin’ on the river – cruise ships were floating across the ocean.

Humans have always been looking for more effective ways to see the world. Nowadays, with the advent of flight technology, we can be on the other side of the world in a matter of hours.

But, as James Taylor would say, “The secret of life, is enjoying the passage of time”. So true, James, so true. Sometimes you just need to enjoy the journey. And that’s what cruise culture is all about.

“Any fool can do it, there ain’t nothing to it”, also very true James. Thanks.

So – here’s the history of cruisin' across the globe


Wilcox and Anderson were the first to see the waterways as holidays. They started off as merchant traders before branching out into the much more lucrative business of shipping about rich people.


So success was their business model, that Wilcox and Anderson ceased all other ventures. In its place, the founded the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company – better known as P&O Cruises.


The first ‘cruise’ as we’ve come to know it launched from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Nobles, dignitaries, royals with no place to go and all the time to get there. Onboard the Francesco I they saw 11 countries in three months.

Yet, the birth of commercial cruising was yet to come.


After much persistence, Wilcox and Anderson were given permission to sail into the Egyptian Port of Alexandra.


‘Leisure excursions’ began. If they could pay the fare, passengers could travel from Southampton to the Iberian Peninsula and the Mediterranean. And so, the P&O we’ve come to love was born!

And from then on, the differences were only in cosmetics as cruise ships became much more luxurious.


Cruises across the world began, with the Quaker City making regular trips from New York to Europe.

P&O steamer in Venice, circa 1870

[P&O steamer in Venice, circa 1870]


The SS Valetta added electric lights to its inner cabins


The Prinzessin Victoria Luise was built in Germany, the first example of a top-end luxury cruise ship.

Prinzessin Victoria Luise

[German vessel, Prinzessin Victoria Luise]


Lest we ever forget, the tragic fate of the Titanic. Its sinking stimulated an immediate review of cruise ship safety, the world over. Because if there’s one thing about humans, we won’t let one instance of immeasurable tragedy stop us from trying it again, and this time improving the experience!


Owing to the outbreak of World War, cruise ships took a short hiatus. No luxury voyages were made, and no new cruise ships were built. Those already in production were either modified for war usage, or retired in the interlude.


Almost as if to celebrate the end of the War, and to show off her naval supremacy, Britain made the first world cruise ship, the Laconia. It was made by the British Conard Line, and travelled the world for six months, before it was retired.


The French followed the British’s lead by sailing the Ile de France. The passenger ship was decorated in such an art-deco style that it registered the end of the classical era, and welcomed a new era of interior design.


Cruise ships once again fell out of vogue due to the Second World War. Many were used to transport troops to the front. Many, including the Laconia were sunk during the war.

Following the end of the war, cruises once again began. They’ve continued in popularity, and have become far more attainable for the regular holiday-maker to afford.

P&O Cruise Liner Strathaird, circa 1950

[P&O Cruise Liner - Strathaird, circa 1950]

It’s definitely something to pop on you bucket list. There’s nothing quite like seeing the land drifting away, and launching into the blue yonder. No problems, no stresses, just relaxation as far as the eye can see – and further.