Another classic cruise ship that helped lay the foundation for today’s multi-billion dollar industry has reached the end of its long career. Introduced in 1977 as Cunard Line’s Cunard Princess, the tiny 17,500 gross tonnage cruise ship occupies a unique place as the last of the first generation of modern ships. She survived for 45 years, outliving nearly all of her contemporaries, and now joined others in the Breakers’ shipyards.
The 537-foot cruise ship was ordered in the early 1970s as part of a pair to be built at Burmeister & Wain in Denmark, which was at the tail end of the wave of modern cruise ships. Unlike the others ordered by the start-up cruise line, these sisters were planned to be used by hotel chain MGM to break into the burgeoning industry. Before the ships were completed, however, they were sold to Cunard, which wanted to expand its cruise operations. In the 1960s, the famous British shipping company was successful with Caribbean cruises with two converted liners, followed by two smaller purpose-built cruise ships, which they launched in 1971 and 1972.
Cunard launched its newest ships as the Cunard Countess and Cunard Conquest and made the unusual decision to have her builders send her to a second shipyard in Italy for outfitting. The first of the two ships Cunard Countess, was commissioned in 1976 and sailed from San Juan to the Caribbean all year round. With room for 800 passengers, she quickly gained notoriety as a newly built cruise ship sailing the Caribbean.
Measuring 537 feet, the sister ships retained the original sleek looks despite their long careers (Cunard)
Renaming of the second ship Cunard Princess, she entered service in March 1977, initially operating cruises from New York to Bermuda, a market that Cunard had dominated in the late 1960s. She would be the last of the first generation of purpose-built cruise ships to enter service, and with construction costs skyrocketing, many predicted she would likely be the last cruise ship ever built. It would be three years before the next cruise shipbuilding orders were placed for the first of the larger, second generation of modern cruise ships.
That princess and the countess became the backbone of Cunard’s cruise operations, running alongside the much larger ones queen elizabeth 2 which retained the traditional Atlantic crossings. In contrast to the countesswhich operates year-round out of San Juan, the princess operated out of Florida during the winters, while over the years she also expanded her operations to include Alaska, Mexico’s Rivera, returning to New York for Bermuda cruises, and European cruises in the Mediterranean and Canary Islands. She was also chartered briefly by Italian shipping company Lauro for summer Mediterranean cruises and by the US government to serve as a recreation center in the Persian Gulf in 1990 and 1991.
After nearly 20 years of service, Cunard decided to sell the sister ships, but both ships would go on to long but varied careers. That Cunard Princess was sold to StarLauro, the successor of the Italian Lauro Line and the predecessor of MSC Cruises. renamed rhapsody She sailed mainly in the Mediterranean and Europe for MSC until 2009. During this time she was rebuilt and her passenger capacity increased to a maximum of 959, but she kept her elegant, now classic lines.
Vintage 1970’s promotional brochure for the new sister ships (Allan Jordan)
In the last nine years of service she sailed for the Israeli Mano Maritime from 2009. She was used to modernize the company’s cruise operations, which sailed seasonally from Haifa on voyages that included the ports of Cyprus, the Greek Islands, Montenegro, Italy and Croatia. Known as Golden irisshe was finally retired at the end of 2018 and put up for sale.
After spending the last four years in Greece, it was announced that she had been sold to the crushers at Aliaga in Turkey. She arrived on the surf earlier in the week after outlining her sister ship by nine years. the previous Cunard Countess was destroyed by fire during an overhaul in 2013.
The arrival of the former Cunard Princess at the breaker also completes much of the first generation of modern cruise ships. Recently, the last of the former Royal Viking Line trio, also launched in the early 1970s, has arrived in India, while newer cruise ships are also being sold for recycling. The Marella Dream, built in 1986 as Homericalso recently came to turkey for breaking during the zenith Launched by Celebrity Cruises in 1992, the yacht has also recently left anchorage in Greece and is believed to be on her way to scrapyards in Asia.
The pandemic hit the older generation of cruise ships, which were mostly operated by smaller companies, particularly hard. More than two dozen cruise ships built between the early 1970s and mid-1990s were outperformed by the larger, more modern ships and were less economical to operate. They were discarded and recycled, taking with them the history of the emergence of modern industry.