What Was The First Cruise Ship?

Ever wonder how the world of cruises got started? Discover what the world's very first cruise ship was.

What Was The First Cruise Ship?
The Prinzessin Victoria Luise

People have been enjoying pleasure trips on boats for centuries. Look at any point in history, and we are positive that you will find people heading to far-flung destinations purely for the fun of it. However, these boats weren't cruise ships. They weren't built with passenger comfort in mind. They may have had places to eat and some cabins, but they weren't passenger-focused. Most people on these ships would have been stuffed together with various pieces of cargo and mail.

The cruise ship is a much more recent phenomenon. In fact, it has been around for just over 100 years. The first proper cruise ship was launched in 1900. This was at a time when people were really starting to consider exploring the world. Obviously, the launch of that cruise ship really changed the way that people traveled although, of course, with the advent of the aircraft a few decades later, cruise ships probably didn't quite take off the way that people expected them to.

The Earliest Cruise Ships

On this page, we are mostly going to discuss the very first purpose-built cruise ship. However, cruising for leisure wasn't necessarily a revolutionary idea at that point. A lot of companies had been trying to profit from making passengers' lives more comfortable while traversing large parts of the sea. Take the SS Savannah, for instance. It was the first steam-powered ship to cross the Atlantic. It made for a much smoother ride for the passengers, although it was still, at heart, a freight ship.

Enter, Albert Ballin. In the late 19th Century, Albert Ballin was at the helm of the Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft shipping company. Because that can be quite a mouthful, we are going to refer to it as the HAPAG, for short.

At the time, the HAPAG was the largest shipping company in the world. It was ferrying freight everywhere. Chances are, if you had an international delivery in the 19th Century, it would have passed through one of their ships.

Of course, Albert Ballin was a visionary. While he was making a ton of money off of freight, he wanted to take a few risks. He wanted to make a little more cash. Actually, scratch that. He wanted to make a lot more cash.

Albert Ballin, in his time, noticed that ships were getting a lot more pleasurable to ride on. He also noticed that people were more willing to travel longer distances via boat, mostly because everything was becoming a bit faster. So, he had the rather bright idea of creating cruise ships.

Now, at the start, he didn't build cruise ships from scratch. Albert Ballin was smart, but he wasn't stupid enough to invest a ton of cash in something that may not have worked out. So, he decided to start changing some of his freight ships into cruise ships. They weren't the most comfortable ships in the world, but with the amount of passengers he was able to pick up, he realized that he was onto something. This leads us onto his next bright idea.

Enter...The Prinzessin Victoria Luise

Albert realized that while his current cruise ships were probably good enough for passengers, he realized that he could make them a touch more pleasurable.

In 1899, he called in the team at Blohm ; Voss. He told them exactly what he wanted. They probably laughed because something like this hadn't been done before. Then, they realized that he was deadly serious and knuckled down with their work.

The result? The Prinzessin Victoria Luise. The world's very first cruise ship.  Measuring 407-feet long, the yacht-shaped vessel was able to cut through the water at a whopping 16 knots, which was surprisingly fast at the time.

The vessel was clearly designed for the richer folk out there. However, it boasted much of what we enjoy on cruise lines today. This includes:

  • Gymnasium
  • Library
  • Promenade Decks
  • Shops
  • Countless rooms (this ship was mostly first class)
  • Dining areas

The best part? It didn't feel like a retrofitted freight ship. Reports at the time suggested that this was essentially a hotel on the sea, and that is what Albert intended. He had no time for the cheaper tickets on these boats. He wanted the most luxurious experience possible.

Sea trials for the vessel took place in 1900, and the very first cruise happened in 1901. The ship traveled around the world, mostly through South America, but it stopped at many major ports throughout South America, North America, and Europe in its short lifespan. The ship really leaned into the cruising life too. The company set up excursions at many of the destinations (another modern cruise ship staple), to grab even more cash from the pockets of the rich tourists.

Around this time, other companies really started to see the benefits of cruise ships, and they started to copy these ideas. The cruise ship world had really taken off.

The End Of The Very First Cruise Ship

Sadly, the Prinzessin Victoria Luise was only on the waters for around 6-years. The ship run aground in Kingston, Jamaica. Thankfully, no lives were directly lost in the sinking of the ship (it took a while to sink), but the captain of the ship committed suicide on the boat as a result of the sinking. He was later to be found at fault for the loss of the ship.

The cruise ship industry continued to hobble along for the next couple of years, although the loss of the Titanic made people somewhat dubious of it. Then we had World War I which, of course, stopped most pleasure cruises. However, when the world wars were over, the world of cruise ships took off again...and it was more popular than ever before.

The cruise ships that we have today owe their popularity to the vision of Albert Ballin and his attempt to tackle something no other company was willing to tackle. His first cruise ship wasn't around long, but it certainly caused massive waves in the industry.