The First Cruise Ship Launches in Germany

June 29, 1900

A pioneering passenger ship built for the Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft (HAPAG, or the Hamburg-America Line) was launched at the city of Hamburg in what was then the German Empire (now part of the Federal Republic of Germany). The ship was christened by the Countess von Waldersee (formerly Mary Esther Lee), the U.S.-born wife of an Imperial German Army field marshal.

The new vessel was named the SS Prinzessin Victoria Luise in honor of seven-year-old Princess Victoria Louise of Prussia; she was the only daughter and youngest child of German Emperor (Kaiser) Wilhelm II and his wife Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein. In addition, the princess was a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England.

Albert Ballin, 1857-1918

The Prinzessin Victoria Luise is generally considered to be the world’s first cruise ship built specifically for that purpose. The major force behind the creation of the Prinzessin Victoria Luise was Albert Ballin, who had joined HAPAG as manager of its passage department in 1886. It dawned on Ballin that the ocean liner SS Augusta Victoria (named after the Kaiser’s wife) could be used for leisurely voyages rather than just as a regular means of transporting passengers, cargo, and mail. Ballin, despite strong protests from many both within the company and elsewhere, made arrangements for the Augusta Victoria — the largest vessel in the HAPAG fleet — to serve as a cruise ship for wealthy tourists starting in the early 1890s.

While the Augusta Victoria and other HAPAG ocean liners enjoyed some notable success as cruise ships over the next several years, Ballin eventually realized that these vessels also had significant limitations when it came to pleasure excursions out at sea. There were few if any readymade amenities on the ships, for example, since the accommodations on board had been designed for multiple classes of passengers rather than just the more elite travelers. Another major drawback involved restrictions on deck space. There was comparatively little room on an ocean liner deck for passengers who might want to stroll around and take in the surrounding scenery.

Not long after becoming HAPAG’s managing director in 1899, Ballin sought to address these limitations by commissioning the shipbuilder Blohm & Voss to construct a vessel that was specially outfitted for cruises. The end result of these efforts was the Prinzessin Victoria Luise.

This steamship, resembling a yacht in several key respects, measured 407.5 feet (124.2 meters) in length and featured two masts and funnels each. The Prinzessin Victoria Luise also contained promenade decks (both open and enclosed); luxurious staterooms; a total of 120 first-class cabins; a library; and a gymnasium. There was even a darkroom where amateur photographers on board could develop their film.

In early 1901, the Prinzessin Victoria Luise left Hamburg for her maiden voyage. She made her way to Boulogne in France and Plymouth in England before traveling across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City. From New York City, the ship took her passengers to the West Indies for a cruise. The Prinzessin Victoria Luise went on to make a number of other cruises in various parts of the world.

Unfortunately, however, the ship’s career proved to be short-lived. During a West Indian cruise in 1906, the Prinzessin Victoria Luise ran aground on some rocks while trying to enter the harbor of Kingston, Jamaica. The ensuing structural damage rendered the ship permanently inoperable.

For more information on the SS Prinzessin Victoria Luise, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prinzessin_Victoria_Luise and http://www.nnapprentice.com/alumni/letter/PRINZESSIN_VICTORIA_LUISE.pdf.

A video highlighting the ship is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EA0zjOLz9TI.

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