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Interliners are experienced travelers and they know a travel classic when they see one. When it comes to classic cruise ships, experienced interliners see floating history, old-world style, frequently larger cabins and public space, and, often, some of the best bargains at sea.

The cruise industry is experiencing a history-making period of popularity and growth, with the number of cruise passengers at an all-time high and more than 20 new ships christened in the past two years (and more coming in 1998). “Veteran and first-time cruisers will find many new opportunities as they plan their cruise vacations,” says James G. Godsman, president of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the marketing arm of the North American cruise industry.

But the growth in popularity and new ships has also led to a resurgence in interest in older ships. When it comes to cruise ships, new or bigger doesn't always mean better. Lots of the older ships (many with major renovations) offer a perfect cruise experience to both new and experienced interliners heading for the high seas instead of the air. What you may miss in size or amenities may be more than made up for in character.

There are many solid reasons classic cruise ships are experiencing renewed interest. Among many advantages, older ships often offer: history at sea; generally smaller capacities; teak decks and other old ship touches; larger cabins and public spaces, relative to number of passengers; and much more. They also offer more bang for the buck to interlining travelers.


When it comes to classic cruise ships still afloat, a floating history lesson has to start with the Cunard Line. Founded in 1840 by Scottish entrepreneur Samuel Cunard, Cunard has operated almost 200 ships and has set many standards for classic and modern passenger cruise travel.

Their history-laden Queen Elizabeth 2 is the quintessential classic cruise ship. Now celebrating 30 years in elegant service, the QE2 underwent a major renovation in late-1994 and has most of the modern amenities of new ships. But this wonderful older ship also has the look and feel of the bygone large transatlantic ocean liners, when Cunard transported hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Europe to the U.S. Today, interliners can enjoy transatlantic crossings to and from Europe, as well as many other unique worldwide itineraries aboard the QE2. Quite simply, there's no other ship like the QE2 afloat.

The Vistafjord is another classy Cunard ship. Built in 1973, this oceanliner makes a slow circuit of the globe's warm waters each year, starting and ending in the Caribbean. The renovated ship features many traditional European touches, like a romantic 40-seat Italian restaurant, a European-style casino, a cozy library, and much more.

Princess Cruises and its parent company, P&O Cruises, certainly shares the limelight with Cunard when it comes to living history. The Peninsular and Oriental Navigation Company (P&O) was founded shortly before Cunard. While Cunard concentrated on North America, P&O concentrated on the East. Today, P&O is still a leader in worldwide shipping, but they also offer several British-style cruise experiences, with the Canberra and Victoria providing unique itineraries and old world elegance on-board.

Los Angeles-based Princess Cruises has developed into a worldwide cruise industry leader, with a fleet of modern vessels and two older ships with a large and loyal following. The TV series, "The Love Boat," made Princess a household name, but the company has a lineage of cruising back to the 1960s. If you want to get a feel of life aboard the original "Love Boat," then book a cruise on one of the 610-passenger renovated sister ships, Pacific Princess or Island Princess. With worldwide itineraries and an intimate seafaring feel, these two Princess dowagers would make Captain Stubing proud.

No cruise ship buff's lifetime would be complete without a sailing on Norwegian Cruise Line's Norway. Built in 1962 as the France for the old French Line fleet, the fully-renovated Norway is a true classic. Though she holds more than 2,000 passengers, the ship sails and feels much smaller. Memorable details include: Art Deco murals, marble statues, teak wood throught, a huge ballroom, wonderful tile mosaics, and more.

Delta Queen Steamboat Company offers a classic all-American cruise experience on America's rivers, with the 1948 Delta Queen leading the way. This National Historic Landmark is laden with steamboatin' history and unique river cruising features, as are her more modern sister ships. There's little classier than a paddlewheeler slowly making her way through America's heartland.

Alternatively, for an all-American cruise with an Hawaiian flair, it's hard to beat American Hawaii Cruises and the SS Independence. The only oceangoing U.S.-flagged ship, the Independence was originally built in 1951 by Bethlehem Steel in Massachusetts. Thus, the renovated ship has many classic cruise ship details, including a wide variety of cabin styles and sizes, lots of glass, teak wood throughout, and much more. To get a feel for this classic ship, watch the feature film An Affair to Remember, which was filmed on the sister ship of the Independence, the SS Constitution.

This wonderful older ship offers three-, four-, and seven-day itineraries to interliners, sailing from Honolulu on Saturdays, with ports of call on the islands of Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island (Hilo and Kona). Through the line's Hawaiiana Program, passengers experience authentic hula, Hawaiian language, and the true aloha spirit of warmth and respect for Hawaiian people and places.

The late-1995 merger of two traditional Greek cruise companies, Sun Line and Epirotiki, formed Royal Olympic Cruises. This company now offers interliners a unique opportunity to explore the Mediterranean and South America aboard several small and classic cruise liners. Using the colors of the Greek flag to differentiate between their two products, blue represents Sun Line and white represents Epirotiki.

The blue ships of Sun Line emphasize the traditional elegance and ambiance of the cruise experience and the white ships of Epirotiki offer a congenial and relaxed atmosphere, with a more lively program of entertainment and activities. Royal Olympic's fleet of six ships are ideal for Mediterranean waters, including Sun Line's Stella Solaris (620 passengers), Stella Oceanis (300 passengers), and Odysseus (400 passengers), as well as Epirotiki's Triton (670 passengers), Orpheus (300 passengers), and Olympic (900 passengers). Blue and white options are available on all of Royal Olympic's varied Mediterranean itineraries. Most of the renovated Royal Olympic fleet was built in the 1950s and 1960s, giving them many smaller ship touches and filled with lots of Greek cruising lore.

Interliners looking for an excellent value aboard an older ship should look no further than Commodore Cruise Line and their 1958 ship, the Enchanted Isle. This ship has had ten names and lots of uses over her illustrious history, but Commodore's current use may be the best for value- and history-oriented cruisers. The 729-passenger Enchanted Isle has many traditional touches and a unique itinerary, sailing out of New Orleans to Playa del Carmen/Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Montego Bay. The prices aren't quite the same as 1958, but they're quite reasonable (especially with interline discounts).

Regal Cruises and their Regal Empress offers another excellent older ship value. Built in 1953, this refurbished ocean liner has many lovely public spaces, one of the prettiest libraries afloat, and lots of glass and wood. In the winter, the ship is based out of Port Manatee in St. Petersburg and sails varied-length itineraries that include Key West, Cozumel/Playa del Carmen, Grand Cayman, and Jamaica. The classically-detailed 1,180-passenger ship is based out of the Northeast U.S. in the summer.

Interliners with kids will definitely enjoy the classic touches aboard the 1,800-passenger SS Oceanic with Premier Cruise Lines ('The Big Red Boat'). Originally built in Italy in 1965, the ship offers huge pools, large cabins, nice deck space, and many other flourishes of the period. Parents, kids, and even seniors (with and without grandchildren) have made this classic ocean liner (and the 1982 sister ship SS Atlantic) quite popular.

Of course, many other cruise lines operate older ships and offer a classic cruise experience. Some additional possibilities include: Dolphin Cruise Line's 1961 IslandBreeze, 1954 OceanBreeze, and 1958 SeaBreeze (all renovated); the early-1980s Holland America Line classics, Nieuw Amsterdam and Noordam; short cruises from Port Canaveral with Canaveral Cruise Line's 1955 Dolphin IV; several older Italian-style ships with Costa Cruises; historic windjammer coastal cruises with the Maine Windjammer Association; Esplanade Tours, which features Indonesian and Nile sailings aboard Bali Sea Dancer, Caledonian Star, and MS Regency; various older ocean, river, and canal cruise ships through EuroCruises; the 1931 Sea Cloud sailing yacht from Sea Cloud Cruises; Seawind's 1961 Seawind Crown, based out of Aruba; and the 1917 schooner Sir Francis Drake with Tall Ship Adventures. In addition, popular adventure cruise options on older ships include: the Explorer with Abercrombie & Kent, the World Discoverer with Society Expeditions, the Universe Explorer with World Explorer Cruises, OdessAmerica's adventure cruises aboard Ambasador I and Terra Australis; and several small ships with Special Expeditions.

If you're interested in more modern ships that are throwbacks to an earlier period in cruising, there are many options. Some sound choices include: many modern river paddlewheelers with Delta Queen Steamboat Company, along with their historic Delta Queen; Queen of the West, a new paddlewheel steamer on the west coast with American West Steamboat Company; two modern old-style clipper ships with Star Clippers; the largest single fleet of tall ships in the world with Windjammer Barefoot Cruises; or a 'freighter' cruise aboard the modern Americana with Ivaran Lines.


The Cunard Heritage Trail, located aboard Cunard's QE2, is a classic cruise ship lover's dream walk. The 'trail' features a fascinating collection of 150 years of Cunard cruise history throughout the QE2, with highlights including pictures, paintings, ship models, tapestries, bells, and much more cruise-oriented memorabilia. Passengers can take a guided tour or follow the trail throughout the ship on their own.

Known for his famed designs aboard all of Carnival's recent mega-ships, entertainment architect Joe Farcus got his start aboard the current Epirotoki Olympic. When his boss got sick and no one else could go, young Farcus went to Greece to redesign it to become Carnival's Carnivale. Today's Olympic passengers can see many early Farcus touches.

When Premier Cruise Line christened the SS Oceanic, the godmother was Miss Minnie Mouse.

Built in 1948, the Delta Queen is a National Historic Landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The word 'posh' probably originated on the old P&O passenger ships cruising between England and India. Passengers demanding the coolest staterooms in each direction were given 'Port Out, Starboard Home.'

Picture Contacts:

--Cunard (QE2 and Vistafjord), Julie Davis, 212/880-7505 or Carla DeLuca, 212/885-0457

--American Hawaii (Independence), Nancy Loewenherz, 847/949-4379

--Commodore (Enchanted Isle), Laura Bennett, 407/425-6040

--Princess/P&O (several), Denise Stanley, 310/553-1770, ext. 5816 or Leslie Cohen, 310/553-1770, ext. 5815

--Royal Olympic Cruises (several), Anne Burgurieres, 800/872-6400, ext. 267

--Premier Cruise Lines (SS Oceanic), Teresa Hall, 407/783-5061

--NCL (Norway), Fran Sevcik, 305/436-4762

--Regal (Regal Empress), C.L. Conroy, 305/662-6960