Cruise History

Historical: The world’s oldest cruise lines

The cruise industry came of age in the 1960s and 70s, but has been around for much longer than that, surviving the Great Depression, two world wars and the 2008 financial crisis.

Cunard Line is famous for pioneering the legendary trans-Atlantic passenger service in the 19th century.

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The cruise industry has been around since the mid-19th century when ocean liners were still in their heyday and commercial aviation was a century from being developed, but even then, ocean liners were still being repurposed for cruises.

Hamburg-Amerika Line (now Hapag-Lloyd) launched the world’s first purpose-built cruise ship in 1900.

While P&O Cruises is generally regarded as the world’s first cruise line, having first introduced passenger cruising services in 1844 to destinations such as Gibraltar, Malta and Athens, sailing from Southampton, you’d be surprised at how long many of the world’s other cruise lines have been around.

The global cruise industry survived the transition from coal to diesel, the Great Depression, the advent of long-distance commercial aviation, two world wars and the Great Financial Crisis of 2008, by which time it had reached full maturity and was the fastest growing segment in the travel industry.

From oldest to youngest, here’s how long each of the world’s major cruise lines have been around:

P&O Cruises – 1837 (1977 in current form)

P&O Cruises is the modern iteration of P&O (Peninsula & Orient Steamship Company), which began operating cargo and passenger shipping services back in 1837. P&O was the first shipping company to offer ‘cruises’ back in the late 19th century, and 100 years later a dedicated cruise subsidiary, P&O Cruises, was established in 1977. The subsidiary was sold to Princess Cruises in 2000, and then both Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises were purchased by Carnival Corporation in 2003.

Oceanic launched in 1871 by Cunard, was one of the most advanced ships of the age

Cunard Line – 1840

While P&O was the first to provide cruises to exotic locales around the world, Cunard Line is the legendary shipping company that began offering a regular scheduled passenger service across the Atlantic back in 1840 when Samuel Cunard formed by British and North American Royal Mail Steam-Packet Company. In 1879, the firm was reorganised as the Cunard Steamship Company and later Cunard Line. In 1998, it was purchased by Carnival Corporation.

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises (formerly Hamburg-Amerika Line) – 1847

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is today a small, premium cruise line offering cruises around the world aboard three mid-sized cruise ships, but in its heyday it was one of the mighty passenger shipping lines on the Atlantic. Formed in 1847, Hamburg-Amerika Line was Germany’s biggest shipping company and, like P&O, was one of the first to pioneer cruising. It’s fleet was wiped out during the two world wars, and the company was absorbed into a competing business to form Norddeutscher Lloyd in 1970. In 1998 it was acquired by Preussag AG (since 2002 called TUI AG) and in 2006, the cruise business was devolved as a separate subsidiary.

Hamburg-Amerika Line (now Hapag-Lloyd) launched the world’s first purpose-built cruise ship in 1900.

Holland America Line – 1873

Holland America Line is the Netherland’s own version of the UK’s Cunard Line. It was founded in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 1873 and operated as a Dutch shipping line, a passenger line, a cargo line and a cruise line until 1970 when it ceased shipping and passengers shipping services, focusing on cruises instead. In 1989 it was purchased by Carnival Corporation.

Hurtigurten – 1893

Hurtigurten is Norway’s largest cruise and ferry shipping company, and has been sailing the North Sea since 1893 when it was established by government contract to improve communications along Norway’s long, jagged coastline. It operates 12 mid-size cruise ships calling at 34 destinations along the coast.

Linea C, Costa’s first cruise ship

Costa Cruises – 1854 (1948 for passenger services)

Costa Cruises started out life as a cargo shipping company in 1854, but only launched passenger services in 1948 during the mass emigration between post-war Europe and North America. In 1959, the company gradually transitioned into offering more cruise holidays, with trips being offered in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean regions. In 1986 it was re-branded as Costa Cruises and was purchased by Carnival Corporation in 1997.

AIDA Cruises – 1960

AIDA Cruises started out as Deutsche Seereederei (German Shipping Company) in 1960, and like all the (future) great cruise lines of that era, it started out with a converted ocean liner. The ship, Völkerfreundschaft, the former Stockholm, had made world headlines in 1956 when she collided with the ocean liner Andria Doria and sank her.

The cruise line was restructed and re-branded several times over the years, especially after the reunification of Germany, and ultimately became AIDA Cruises in 2000, when P&O Cruises acquired a 51% stake. P&O Cruises itself had just merged with Princess Cruises and three years later in 2003 all three brands were bought outright by the rapidly expanding Carnival Corporation.

Princess Cruises – 1965

Princess Cruises was launched in 1965, but didn’t own its own ships until 1974 when it became part of P&O. Before that, it chartered various ships for cruises on the Mexican Riviera out of Los Angeles. The acquisition by P&O gave the line a cash injection that enabled it to buy its first cruise ship, Sun Princess and the now-famous Island Princess, which served as the set for the popular Love Boat television series.

The series cemented Princess Cruises as a household name in the United States and played a major role in increasing the popularity of cruising for the American public. The cruise line was purchased by Carnival Corporation in 2003 with its parent company P&O Cruises.

Fred Olsen Cruise Line – 1848 (1966 cruise services)

Fred Olsen Cruise Line is one of the UK’s oldest companies, having started out as a cargo shipping company back in the 1800s. Fred. Olsen acquired the Færder Steamship Company in 1901, a first decisive venture into the passenger business. However, it wasn’t until 1966 that it entered the cruise business.

During the 1950s, the company added two ocean liners to the fleet – Blenheim and Braemar, but by 1966 it had left the ocean liner business and instead began offering cruises to the Canary Islands from London. Fred Olsen Cruise Line is today a leading cruise company in the UK and one of the few independent operators, with five vintage ships in its fleet.

Norwegian Cruise Line – 1966

The world’s third-largest cruise line, Norwegian Cruise Line, actually started out life as Norwegian Caribbean Line in 1966. It was founded by Ted Arison, who left shortly afterwards to launch Carnival Cruise Line instead. His partner, Knut Kloster stayed on and acquired additional ships for Caribbean service.

NCL went on to pioneer many firsts in the cruise industry, from the first combined air-sea program combining low-cost air fares with the cruise, to the first purpose-built cruise ports in the Caribbean, such as Ocho Rios in Jamaica. Later, it would go on to pioneer freestyle dining, new onboard entertainment concepts and at-sea attractions. Today, NCL is owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which also owns Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Royal Caribbean International – 1968

The world’s second-largest cruise line, Royal Caribbean International, came along just two years after Norwegian, but was, at the time, a modest affair, with just one ship.

It was the product of a joint venture between three Norwegian shipping companies, though, so grew quickly. By 1986 it had several ships in its fleet and its own private cruise destination, Labadee in Haiti. In 1993 it went public on the New York Stock Exchange and grew exponentially.

Today, it’s part of the Royal Caribbean Cruises Group, which owns Celebrity Cruises, and Azamara Cruises outright, as well as a 67% stake in Silversea Cruises, a 50% stake in TUI Cruises and a 49% stake in Pullmantur Cruises.

The original Mardi Gras in 1979

Carnival Cruise Line – 1972

Ted Arison launched Carnival Cruise Line in 1972, with a single ship, Mardi Gras (formerly the ocean liner Empress of Canada). She joined in 1975 by Carnivale (the former Empress of Britain) and Carnival was off the races. By 1996, Carnival Cruise Line had grown into one of the largest in the world, and launched Carnival Destiny, which (at 101,000-gross tons) was at the time the largest passenger ship ever built.

Three years earlier, in 1993, the cruise line had gone public with Carnival Corporation as its parent company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. By 2003, Carnival Corp was in a position to embark on a spending spree, snapping up cruise lines all over the world.

Marella Cruises – 1973

Marella started out life as Thomson Cruises back in 1973, when Thomson Travel Group entered the cruise sector. It didn’t do well initially though, and was cancelled in 1976. By 1996, however, Thomson was ready to get back in the game with a fleet of former ocean liners.

Newer ships were added to the fleet as the line grew, and by the 2010s, it was in a position to replace almost its entire fleet with former Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises ships. In 2017, Thomson Cruises was rebranded as Marella Cruises, following the purchase of Thomson by TUI.

Windstar – 1984

Windstar started out life as Windstar Sail Cruises in 1986, focusing initially on sailing passenger ships rather than traditional cruise ships (something it still specialises in). A year after it launched, the cruise line was purchased by Holland America Line, which was itself purchased by Carnival two years later. Carnival later sold Windstar in 2007 and in 2013, Windstar purchased three more ships, effectively doubling the size of the fleet. Star Pride joined the fleet in 2014, while Star Legend and Star Breeze launched in May 2015.

Seabourn – 1986

Seabourn was founded in 1987 by a consortium of Norwegian investors headed by industrialist Atle Brynestad under the name Signet Cruise Lines, but adopted the name Seabourn Cruise Line shortly afterward after objections from Signet Oil over trademark ownership. In 1991, Carnival Corporation purchased a 25% stake in Seabourn, upping it to 50% in 1996 and then full ownership in 1998.

Celebrity Apex

Celebrity Cruises – 1988

Celebrity Cruises was founded by the Greece-based Chandris Group in 1988, sailing cruises to Bermuda. It rapidly added new destinations and ships and by 1997 had merged with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. Celebrity’s signature logo is an “Χ” displayed on the funnel of Celebrity ships, and is the Greek letter chi, for “Chandris”. The acquisition by Royal Caribbean enabled further expansion. During the same year Celebrity Cruises took delivery of the first Century class vessel, Century, that was followed by Galaxy in 1996 and Mercury in 1997.

Ponant – 1988

The French luxury line Ponant was founded in April 1988 by Philippe Videau, Jean-Emmanuel Sauvé, and other officers of the French Merchant Navy and launched the first French cruise ship the same year. The company operated a number of large yachts and small cruise ships over the years until 2010 when it launched its first newbuild, Le Boreal. She was followed by three sister ships, L’Austral in 2011, Le Soléal in 2013 and Le Lyrial in 2015.

Crystal Cruises – 1988

Crystal Cruises was founded in 1988 as a US-based luxury cruise line offering longer cruises to far flung destinations. In 2015, former parent company Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) sold Crystal Cruises to Genting Hong Kong (GHK) – a major shareholder in Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. The same year, Crystal launched river cruises, expedition cruises and luxury air cruises aboard a custom designed private plane.

Phoenix Reisen1988

The German cruise line Phoenix Reisen was born in 1988 when the Bonn-based travel agency of the same name decided to get into this rapidly expanding travel sector. It chartered the West German-built cruise ship SS Maxim Gorkiy from the Soviet Union-based Black Sea Shipping Company on a 20-year charter agreement and added more second-hand, vintage cruise ships over the years. Today, it operates a fleet of five cruise ships, but sails all of them on charter.

MSC Europa will belong to a cruise ship class second only to the Oasis-class in terms of size

MSC Cruises – 1960

MSC Cruises started out in 1960 as Lauro Lines, named after Italian shipping tycoon Achille Lauro. The company entered the cruise business with MS Angelina Lauro and MS Achille Lauro, cornering the Mediterranean market and up-and-coming cruise markets overseas, such as South Africa. The early years were marred by misfortune. Angelina Lauro caught fire in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands in 1979 and Achille Lauro was hijacked by members of the Palestine Liberation Front in 1985, before later catching fire and sinking in 1994.

In 1989, MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company), one of the largest shipping lines in the world, saw the potential inherent to the cruise industry and acquired Lauro Lines and renamed it StarLauro Cruises. A few years after Achille Lauro caught fire, the name was changed again (in 1998) to MSC Cruises. MSC Cruises has rapidly expanded since then, replacing all of its older ships with newer, larger vessels. In 2006 it took delivery of its first newbuild (MSC Musica) and is now on track to launch the second-largest class of cruise ship in the world with MSC Europa.

Pullmantur – 1990

Pullmantur was founded in the late 1990s as a subsidiary of the Madrid-based travel agency Pullmantur. Its parents company was purchased by US-based Royal Caribbean Cruises in 2006, but Royal Caribbean later sold a 51% stake in the cruise line to Spain-based investment firm Springwater Capital, retaining a 49% stake. The cruise line had a shifting fleet line up throughout the 90s and early 2000s as all its ships were chartered. However, following the purchase by Royal Caribbean, it now owns three vessels, two of which are former Royal Caribbean ships, as well as the much smaller MS Horizon.

Regent Seven Seas – 1992

Regent Seven Seas Cruises started out as Radisson Seven Seas Cruises back in 1992, specialising in small, luxury cruise experiences. It was later purchased by Carlson Companies and then sold to Apollo Management in 2008 for US $1-billion, a few years after taking delivery of its first newbuild vessels, Seven Seas Voyager in 2003 and Seven Seas Mariner in 2001.

Under Apollo ownership, Regent Seven Seas Cruises ordered its largest and most expensive ship to date, Seven Seas Explorer, and was then purchased by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (along with Oceania Cruises). Seven Seas Explorer was delivered in 2016, two years after the sale to NCL. In 2020, sister ship Seven Seas Splendour was delivered. The two ships are believed to be the most expensive ever built on a per-gross ton basis.

Silversea – 1994

Silversea Cruises was founded in 1994 in a joint-venture between a Monaco-based shipping company and the Lefebvre family of Rome. While other luxury cruise lines had built complimentary experiences into their cruise fares, Silversea did it on a whole new level, with all-inclusive fares including gratuities, beverages, port charges, travel insurance, and some complimentary shore excursions.

That policy, and its two little cruise ships Silver Wind and Silver Cloud, proved hugely popular and in 2000, the line launched Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper in 2001. Both ships were enlarged versions of the original two ships, but carrying about 100 more passengers. In December 2009, Silversea launched Silver Spirit and in 2014, Silver Muse, its largest ship to date. In 2018, Royal Caribbean Cruises acquired a majority stake in Silversea for approximately $1 billion, and Silversea ordered three more ships.

Disney Magic

Disney Cruises – 1996

The Walt Disney Company launched Disney Cruise Line in 1996 in an effort to take the magic of Disney to the high seas. It started out as Magical Cruise Company Limited, when the first vessel, Disney Magic, was launched. In 1998 it purchased a private island in the Caribbean and redeveloped it as the Castaway Cay cruise destination. Disney Cruise Line currently operates four ships: Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream, and Disney Fantasy. Three ships will join the fleet in 2021, 2022, and 2023.

Saga Cruises – 1996

The British cruise line Saga Cruises was launched by the travel company Saga Group in 1996, with the former Cunard Line ocean liner Saga Rose, which was joined shortly afterwards by sister ship Saga Ruby. In 2010, Saga Rose was sold for scrap, followed by Saga Ruby in 2014. Saga Cruises now operates the Saga Sapphire and its first newbuild Spirit of Discovery, which joined the fleet in 2019, replacing Saga Pearl II.

Paul Gauguin Cruises – 1998

Paul Gauguin Cruises was established in 1998 by Regent Seven Seas Cruises to sail the luxury cruise ship, Paul Gauguin, to Tahiti, French Polynesia and the South Pacific. Pacific Beachcomber took over Paul Gauguin Cruises and its ship in January 2010, and in 2019 it was purchased by Compagnie du Ponant, which announced plans to add two new ships to the fleet, based on its hybrid Explorer-class design.

SeaDream Yacht Club – 2001

In 2001, SeaDream Yacht Club was launched by Atle Brynestad, the Norwegian founder of Seabourn Cruise Line, offering yacht-like cruise experiences aboard its two little cruise ships SeaDream I and SeaDream II. In 2019, the company ordered a new 220-passenger ship, SeaDream Innovation, from Damen Shipyards, but later cancelled the contract in December, just months before the Coronavirus pandemic brought the global cruise industry to a standstill.

MS Riviera of Oceania Cruises

Oceania Cruises – 2002

Oceania Cruises was founded in 2002 by cruise industry veterans Frank Del Rio, Bob Binder, and Joe Watters. Del Rio would go on to become president of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which purchased Oceania in 2014. In the early years, the line chartered R-class ships that previously belonged to Renaissance Cruises (which went bankrupt in 2001). In 2007, it ordered its first newbuilds from the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy. The two new 1,250-passenger ships Marina and Riviera were delivered in 2011 and 2012. Two further ships are being built by Fincantieri for delivery in 2022 and 2025.

TUI Cruises – 2007

The German premium cruise brand TUI Cruises was launched in 2007 as a joint venture between German tourism giant TUI AG and Royal Caribbean Cruises, both of which hold a 50% stake in the company. The cruise line started out by operating former Celebrity Cruises ships until 2014 when it took delivery of its first newbuild, Mein Schiff 3. Three more ships of the same design were added between 2015 and 2017 and in 2018 and 2019 it took delivery of its largest cruise ships to date, Mein Schiff 7 and Mein Schiff 8 at 111,000-gross tons each.

Cruise & Maritime Voyages – 2010

Cruise & Maritime Voyages was launched in 2009, by Cruise & Maritime Services International, after their German based Transocean Tours (for whom they were the UK representative) filed for bankruptcy. The cruise line operates a fleet of five former ocean liners and vintage cruise ships, primarily from the UK. Cruise & Maritime Voyages serves an adult market, with a traditional onboard style with low-key entertainment, set dining times and longer voyages.

Viking Ocean Cruises – 2013

Viking Cruises, a Switzerland-based travel company offering luxury river cruises, was established in 1997 and has one of the largest river boat fleets in the world. It’s ocean-going subsidiary Viking Ocean Cruises, wasn’t launched until 2013. It began operating its first cruise ship, Viking Star, in 2015, with itineraries in Scandinavia, the British Isles, the Baltic and Mediterranean Sea. Five further cruise ships joined the fleet between 2016 and 2019, with a further 10 on order for delivery between 2021 and 2027.

Celestyal Cruises – 2014

Celestyal Cruises is a subsidiary of Louis plc, the first travel agency in Cyprus (which was launched in 1935). Celestyal started out as Louis Cruises in the 1980s, operating a range of former ocean liners and classic old cruise ships in the Aegean Sea. In 2014 it was re-branded as Celestyal and currently operates two ships (Celestyal Crystal and Celestyal Olympia).

Scarlet Lady

Virgin Voyages – 2014

The world’s newest cruise line, Virgin Voyages, was established in 2014 as a subsidiary of the Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. It ordered three new cruise ships to be built by Fincantieri, the first of which, Scarlet Lady, was delivered in 2019. Scarlet Lady is scheduled to enter service in 2020, operating four-to-seven-day cruises to the Caribbean. In 2018, it ordered a fourth cruise ship and in February 2019, it launched its private beach club in the Bahamas called The Beach Club at Bimini.

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