After decades spent languishing at her berth in Philadelphia, the historic ocean liner S.S. United States has been given an unexpected reprieve by Crystal Cruises. The luxury line, which has recently embarked on an aggressive expansion of its all-inclusive cruise brand that includes new cruise ships, expedition vessels, river cruise ships and a small fleet of Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliner aircraft, has announced it will save the S.S. United States from the breakers, signing a purchase option agreement and undertaking a feasibility study to restore the iconic ship to service.
In order to meet modern demands and be in full regulatory compliance, the S.S. United States will have to be extensively rebuilt to meet more than 60 years of new maritime rules and shipbuilding practices. The modern United States by Crystal Cruises will be transformed into an 800-guest-capacity vessel, featuring 400 luxurious suites measuring about 350 square feet with dining, entertainment, spa and other luxury guest amenities that are true to the ship’s storied history.
Features of the original S.S. United States such as the Promenade and Navajo Lounge will be retained, while new engines and sophisticated marine technology will be installed to maintain her title as the fastest cruise vessel in the world.
Crystal’s ambitions for the ship are helped in part by the fact that the historic ocean liner had been stripped of her original fittings, interiors, and toxic asbestos insulation between 1985 and 1994. She has been moored in Philadelphia since 1996, and has managed to avoid being sent to maritime scrapyards like those in Alang, India, ever since.
Norwegian Cruise Line, which had expressed an interest in the United States as far back as 1979, purchased the vessel in 2003, spending five years completing feasibility studies that concluded the ship could be put back into active service. Her birthplace in the United States also gives her the right to be flagged in the U.S.; something most modern cruise ships cannot claim. It’s a desirable designation for cruise lines. Those that lack it are forced to call on “distant foreign ports of call” when departing from U.S. ports in order to meet cabotage requirements set out in the 1800’s. Norwegian Cruise Line decided not to proceed with its plans, and the ship was sold to the SS United States Conservancy in 2010.
Now, Crystal Cruises wants to bring the 1952-built ship – which still holds the record for fastest transatlantic crossing, garnered during her maiden voyage – back to life. The luxury line will be examining exciting new itineraries for the 60,000-gross-ton United States by Crystal Cruises including not only the resumption of her traditional transatlantic voyages from New York City, but cruises from key U.S. ports as well as international voyages around the globe, which are a signature offering of Crystal and part of the line’s “World Cruise.”
“The prospect of revitalizing the S.S. United States and re-establishing her as ‘America’s Flagship’ once again is a thrilling one. It will be a very challenging undertaking, but we are determined to apply the dedication and innovation that has always been the ship’s hallmark,” said Crystal President and CEO Edie Rodriguez. “We are honored to work with the SS United States Conservancy and government agencies in exploring the technical feasibility study so we can ultimately embark on the journey of transforming her into a sophisticated luxury cruise liner for the modern era.”
“Crystal’s ambitious vision for the SS United States will ensure our nation’s flagship is once again a global ambassador for the highest standards of American innovation, quality and design,” said Susan Gibbs, executive director of the S.S. United States Conservancy and granddaughter of the ship’s designer, William Francis Gibbs. “We are thrilled that the SS United States is now poised to make a triumphant return to sea and that the ship’s historical legacy will continue to intrigue and inspire a new generation.”
Crystal’s announcement is a huge deal: The S.S. United States is the largest passenger ship ever designed and built in America. Before her retirement in 1969, the SS United States was one of the most glamorous and elegant ships in the world, designed to go head-to-head with Cunard Line’s famous Queens, like Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. She was designed as part of a top-secret Pentagon program during the Cold War, which stipulated it could be quickly converted from a luxury liner into a naval troopship in the event of a war, carrying 15,000 troops with a 240,000 shaft horsepower propulsion plant capable of traveling 10,000 nautical miles – almost half way around the globe – without refueling. Her exact top speed remains shrouded in mystery to this day, with a number of varying figures that range from 35 knots to 43 knots. The average modern-day cruise ship does between 18 knots and 22 knots flat-out.
Whether Crystal’s plans come to fruition remain to be seen, but one thing is for certain: The future of the S.S. United States has never looked so bright.