TravelClassic Liners Predate Today’s Mega Cruise Ships

00:15  29 november  2018
00:15  29 november  2018 Source:   travelpulse.com

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This week Celebrity Cruises introduced 2,908-passenger Celebrity Edge, the latest in a series of feature-packed mega-ships that cruise lines have launched over the past three decades.

Classic Liners Predate Today’s Mega Cruise Ships© Travalliancemedia Owned Media (Staff Photo) French Line brochures

Like its contemporaries, Celebrity Edge offers amazing amenities including spacious suites with outdoor whirlpools, a rooftop garden “playscape” and even an exterior elevator that doubles as a restaurant.

I can’t help but think it’s likely few of today’s cruise vacationers know these amazingly sophisticated mega-ships are the descendants of a bygone generation of internationally celebrated passenger ships.

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As with today’s mega-ships, trans-Atlantic liners were considered amazing technological marvels. But unlike contemporary cruise ships, which are purpose-designed for leisure vacations, the liners of yesteryear were built to provide transportation.

I was reminded of this recently when my son Derek mentioned a work colleague was discarding some old ship brochures. He managed to save some and to my amazement, they were original brochures from a legendary transatlantic ship, French Line’s France.

While plenty of people recall the ship Titanic (thanks to the 1997 film), I’m willing to bet not many know modern cruise ships are the descendants of transoceanic steamship liners that included not only White Star Line’s Titanic, but Cunard Line’s Queen Mary, Italian Line’s Rex, United States Lines’ United States and French Line’s Normandie, considered by many the greatest liner ever produced.

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Beginning around 1900 these and hundreds of other liners carried millions during an era when steamships were the only way to cross the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. While some travelers sailed comfortably in first and second class (ships were segregated by the price of accommodations) the large majority traveled in “steerage,” the lowest level.

But the business thrived and with it, ship companies launched vessels that were expressions of national pride and architectural achievement. From the 1920s through the late 1960s, designers engaged in a furious competition to outdo one another with distinctive interiors.

Thus the most popular liners featured grand staircases, lavish dining rooms, stylish lounges and extravagant suites. These amenities attracted the wealthy private citizens, celebrities and royalty.

One of the earliest of the great liners, the French Line’s Île de France, departed on her maiden voyage in 1927. Never the fastest or largest ship, she was nevertheless the first to prominently feature Art Deco interiors.

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Whereas previous interiors displayed established styles in keeping with land-based luxury manors, Île de France celebrated progressive styling with novel architectural elements including a three-deck high first-class dining room which passengers entered via a grand staircase.

Île de France also featured a grand foyer, a neo-gothic chapel, a shooting gallery, a gymnasium and a merry-go-round for children. After its launch, competing designers regularly visited the trend-setting ship, which quickly became the preferred liner among celebrities and wealthy travelers.

Île de France, along with the Cunard ships Mauretania and Queen Mary, “had a curious blend of prestige, glamor and ambiance that created strong passenger affection,” said ship historian John Maxtone-Graham in his 1972 book “The Only Way to Cross.” The liner was immortalized in the 1936 song “A Fine Romance,” with the lyric "You're just as hard to land as the Île de France.”

The most prominent liners vied annually for the coveted Blue Riband, an unofficial award for the highest average speed crossing the Atlantic. Speed was significant for trans-Atlantic ships as voyages typically lasted five days. Blue Riband winners held a distinct marketplace advantage and were routinely recommended by travel agents, who as in today’s cruise industry were the primary steamship booking channel.

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The Italian Line’s Rex also offered trans-Atlantic itineraries prior to World War II. Marketed as “the Riviera afloat,” the ship featured a classical style in contrast to the Art Deco and "liner style" interiors popular following Ile de France’s debut. In 1933, Rex captured the Blue Riband with a time of four days and thirteen hours, an average speed of 28.92 knots.

The most fondly remembered classic liner was also the most technologically advanced of it era. The French Line’s Normandie entered service in 1935 as the largest and fastest passenger ship built up to that time and held the Blue Riband at several points during her tenure.

Beyond its speed, Normandie’s clipper-like bow was a departure from passenger ship design of the age. But that was far from its sole design distinction. Normandie featured grand entryways, long and wide staircases and vast, graceful public rooms.

First-class suites offered interiors by select designers and top-level accommodations featured private dining rooms, baby grand pianos and outdoor decks. Paintings and sculpture in public areas depicted Normandy, the French region for which the ship was named.

The ship also offered a first-class swimming pool and a children's dining room with interiors by Jean de Brunhoff, creator of Babar the Elephant, who adorned the walls with the character and his friends. Built in a French shipyard from French parts, the ship was considered an expression of national pride and achievement.

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The same could be said of the last of the great trans-Atlantic ships, an American vessel that lacked the sheer elegance of its predecessors but during her maiden voyage in 1952 completed the fastest-ever Atlantic crossing.

Indeed, the SS United States has retained the Blue Riband ever since. The ship was designed as an expression of American ingenuity, if not outright flag-waving, by naval architect William Francis Gibbs, who bore “a basic antagonism for Europeans and their accomplishments,” writes Maxtone-Graham.

Philadelphia native Gibbs was determined to prove Americans could launch a ship as fast and grand as any of the European liners. He literally snuck into the Normandie’s engine room to take detailed notes on the vessel’s power plant.

To Gibbs’ great delight, the United States captured the Blue Riband on her maiden voyage, averaging 35 knots while completing the crossing in three days, 10 hours and 40 minutes. Furthermore, the ship was “an instant hit,” said Maxtone-Graham.

“[United States] received no higher accolade than the near continuous patronage of the Windsors, who transferred their affection from the [Cunard Line] Queens to their new American rival,” he wrote.

Yet that distinction could not forestall technology. By the 1970s, jet airplanes were ferrying travelers across the oceans in a fraction of the time it took to cross aboard an ocean liner. Steamship lines were forced to re-position their products as seagoing vacations or (figuratively) sink to the bottom of the ocean.

“Those that had foresight saw that the five-day crossing couldn’t compete with the six-hour crossing, so something had to be done with these ships if they were going to earn money for their owners,” said William J. Armstrong, the Cruise Lines International Association’s first executive director.

Thus ended an era of great ships that ironically led, generations later, to the debut of the largest and grandest passenger ships ever built – the present-day international cruise fleet. While so much has changed in the century since the first grand passenger shipping was launched, some things endure.

For example, the French Line brochure includes the following advice: “Your travel agent’s expert counsel can stretch your travel dollars. He can suggest what to take along and offer dozens of travel hints. See your travel agent and make use of his services.”

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usr: 1
This is interesting!