Let’s take a cruise through history (see what I did there) aboard the SS Prinzessin Victoria Luise, a German passenger ship of the Hamburg-America Line launched in 1900 and credited with having been the first purpose-built cruise ship.
It only spent six years in service before it was accidentally grounded off the coast of Jamaica (oops), but boy was she a beauty. Designed to look more like a private yacht than any of her commercial counterparts, she was pure luxury. We’re talking first-class cabins only (120 of them), interior design approved by the German emperor himself and amenities including a library, a gymnasium, and even a darkroom for the development of film by amateur photographers.
It was such a beautiful ship that it actually made the Kaiser jealous that it was slightly better than his royal yacht.
Pushing at a steady 15 knots (28 km/h), she might not have chugged along quite as quickly as the Titanic (probably for the best), but for a passenger-only ship, the SS Prinzessin Victoria Luise was a totally revolutionary vessel. She had been purposely built as the world’s cruise ship, a novel idea that came about following an experiment by German shipping magnate, Albert Ballin.
In 1988, he noticed that one of his company’s largest flagship ocean liners, the SS Augusta Victoria (above), was doing a lot of sitting around in port being quite useless for most of the winter season, simply because travellers preferred to make the North Atlantic journey in warmer climates.
So against everyone’s advice, he decided to send the Augusta Victoria on a 58-day “pleasure voyage” from Germany through the Mediterranean to the Orient. The cruise included well-planned excursions ashore and ports-of-call along the route. The voyage was a huge success and introduced the concept of the “floating hotel”.
So technically, the SS Augusta Victoria was the first vessel to go on a cruise, while the SS Prinzessin Victoria Luise was the first ship built specifically for a cruise. (I have photos of both here to show you).
What’s the difference anyway? Well, the SS Augusta Victoria (above) was constructed as an ocean liner, so it didn’t exactly have the same amenities you would expect of a floating hotel for long stretches at sea (except of course for that fine-looking horse saddle machine thing ↑).
In the SS Prinzessin Victoria Luise, Albert Ballin designed a real cruise ship for the pleasure-seeking market. Check out the gym aboard the Prinzessin ↓
As for her demise– it was the night December 16th as the SS Prinzessin Victoria Luise was attempting to enter the harbor of Kingston, Jamaica. The Captain muddled up his lighthouses and headed for the wrong one at 14 knots, hitting and climbing the shallow rocks bow first at 9.30pm. The engines were put full astern but the ship could not be dislodged.
The captain returned to his cabin and shot himself. Passengers were not rescued until the following morning and salvage operations declared the beautiful SS Prinzessin Victoria Luise a total loss.
So, not quite the happy tale of a luxury cruise voyage I was hoping to leave you with, but I do love a good shipwreck story. And now I’m wondering what sunken treasures from the Victoria Luise might be hiding in the shores of Jamaica’s Port Royal…