Sunday, December 8th, 2019

Crystal Cruises plans rebirth of iconic liner

Published on March 14, 2016 by   ·   No Comments


The SS United States at sea during her service career.
Photo courtesy of Bill DiBenedetto and the SS United States Conservancy.

Luxury cruise line, Crystal Cruises, announced in February that it had signed a purchase option for the iconic cruise liner SS United States to return the 302 metre ship to active service as a cruise liner.

The SS United States, aka “The Big U”, was built in 1951 at a cost of 79 million USD.  She was the largest ocean liner constructed entirely in the US and the fastest ocean liner to cross the Atlantic in either direction.

The build was subsidised by the US Government who covered two thirds of the cost in exchange for the promise that she could be used as a troop or hospital ship if the cold war became WW3.  As such she was built to exacting US Navy standards and there was no wood used in her construction.  This wasn’t just in the superstructure, even the coat hangers were made of aluminium, and the saying went that the only wood to be found onboard was in the galley chopping block and in the ship’s pianos.

The Big U was built for speed and on her maiden voyage in 1952 broke the transatlantic record making the eastwards crossing in 3 days, 10 hours and 40 minutes at an average speed of over 35 knots.  Astonishingly, she still holds the Blue Riband for the fastest passenger liner crossing the Atlantic Ocean westbound, and only lost the eastbound record in 1990 when the super fast catamaran Hoverspeed Great Britain broke it.



The SS United States at sea during her service career.
Photo courtesy of Bill DiBenedetto and the SS United States Conservancy.
By the late 1960s, the market for transatlantic travel by ship had dwindled.  The UK’s Queen Mary was retired in 1967 followed by the Queen Elizabeth in 1968.  SS United States was no longer profitable and was withdrawn from service in 1969, bringing the era of the great transatlantic ships to a close.

Since then she has been passed from pillar to post, changing hands numerous times for ever-dwindling amounts of money

Since 1996 the iconic ship has been sitting at a dock on the Delaware River in Philadelphia.  In 2011 she was purchased by the SS United States Conservancy group (whose executive director is Susan Gibbs, the granddaughter of the ship’s designer William Francis Gibbs) but with monthly mooring costs alone of 60,000 USD they realised they were unable to continue to pay for her upkeep and started to discuss the possibility of scrapping the iconic liner.

Luckily she has had a reprieve and Crystal Cruises have agreed to cover her docking costs in Philadelphia for nine months while conducting a feasibility study on returning the ship to service as a cruise ship.

Since its inception in 1988, Los Angeles-based Crystal Cruises has operated two medium-sized luxury ships, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, each of which carries about 1,000 guests.  However the Company changed hands last year with its original parent company, Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK), selling Crystal Cruises to Genting Hong Kong (GHK).


New owners GHK have big plans for Crystal.  In addition to the extremely bold purchase of the SS United States, last year they purchased a third boat, Crystal Esprit, a luxurious 62-guest, 3,000-ton yacht, and in 2018 plan to launch the first of three new “Crystal Exclusive Class” polar ice class cruise ships, thereby increasing their oceangoing fleet to six ships.

Crystal will also be expanding into new markets and plan to offer river cruises initially with the launch of Crystal Mozart, followed by four new river yachts later this year.  Curiously they will also be expanding into luxury air travel, Crystal Luxury Air, and will be offering around-the-world trips on their newly purchased Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Boeing 777-200LR Business Jet.

Let’s hope the feasibility study results in the Big U being recommissioned, how wonderful it would be (especially for Susan Gibbs) if she survives to cross the Atlantic again.




01: SS United States on her sea trials, June 10, 1952. Here she reached her highest recorded speed ever, 38.32 knots (44.1 mph). This is the greatest speed ever achieved by an ocean liner before or since. Photo courtesy of Charles Anderson and the SS United States Conservancy.


02: The SS United States at sea during her service career. Photo courtesy of Bill DiBenedetto and the SS United States Conservancy.





Readers Comments (0)


FAR COLUMN: Add Widgets