America’s superliner SS Untied States has been in mothballs since 1969 and has seen multiple owners come and go. Richard Hadley, in Seattle, in the late 70’s, had aspirations of transforming the SS United States into a cruise ship / time share vessel that would cruise the Hawaiian islands. Unfortunately those plans fell through. Then the ship was towed across the Atlantic to have her interior fittings, including tons of asbestos, removed, leaving the ship an empty gutted hulk. The Big U, as she was affectionately called, eventually made her way to Philadelphia where she remains today, towering over an IKEA in a backwater pier. Norwegian Cruise Lines also had dibs on restoring the ship to service, but that plan too was scrubbed. Finally, February 4th at a press conference at Pier 88 in New York City, Crystal Cruises, a luxury cruise brand, announced they would take on the $60,000 per month tab on the ship’s docking fees, and conduct a feasibility study to be certain the ship can be sound-enough to go to sea again.
Chief Executive at Crystal Cruises, Edie Rodriguez, standing with Susan Gibbs, who is the Grand Daughter of William Francis Gibbs, the designer of the great American-built ocean liner, announced the plans to restore the SS United States to sea again. Artist renderings show a modified superstructure to offer verandas, her massive iconic red, white and blue funnels will remain in-place. Recently, Crystal Cruises has surprised the cruise industry by purchasing a 787 luxury jet, a yacht-like vessel for luxury adventure cruises and Crystal will also enter the river boat market with their own brand of luxury river boats. The estimated costs to restore the SS United States to sea again may cost up to $800,000 million dollars, which sounds about right considering the ship has been idle for 47 years. In the past few years divers and investigators have determined that her hull is still very much in excellent condition. You wouldn’t think she is seaworthy by looking at her in her current condition because her black hull paint is falling off, there’s rust everywhere, and she simply looks terrible, however; the paint chipping and rust is only a minimal layer to her otherwise steel and aluminum hull which is battleship strong. Once in drydock, and after a good sand-blasting and hull-cleaning, she is in great shape for an extensive refit. Every little inch of her interior, her hull plating, and in the bowels of the ship, will be scrapped, repainted, and power-cleaned in order to make sure she is ready for the sea again.
According to Crystal Cruises, when the SS United States emerges once again as a luxury cruise vessel, she will only carry up to 800 passengers as opposed to the nearly 2,000 passengers she use to carry in her life as America’s great ocean liner in the 50’s and 60’s. With a passenger complement of only 800 passengers, the SS United States will have more space per passenger offering more lounges, restaurants and offer a more upscale, luxury experience. In the old days as a superliner, crossing the Atlantic, the SS United States carried famous people such as Bob Hope, President Kennedy, Sean Connery, Walt Disney, Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe, to name a few. Elizabeth Taylor was also a regular passenger and she would usually request the Duck Suite. Gone are the days of the trans-Atlantic era, but today, the SS United States by Crystal Cruises, may once again wow her passengers with grace, poise and luxury.
Some interesting nuggets of information that many people may not know include the fact that when the SS United States was launched in 1952, she had more aluminum built into her superstructure than any other single structure built at that time. William Francis Gibbs, the ship’s designer, was fanatical about creating a ship that was nearly fireproof, with very limited use of wood onboard, in fact, the only wood found onboard were the pianos, the butcher’s block, and in her bilge keel. Gibbs even went as far as to remove the music director’s wooden baton with a replica made from aluminum. The SS United States could carry up to 15,000 troops in wartime and could steam up to 10,000 miles on one tank of fuel. The battleship-ready luxury liner was built for speed, which was a U.S. military secret, until she was removed from service in 1969. Her engines could generate up to 240,000 horse power and her top speed was arguably in excess of 40 knots which is nearly 50 land miles per hour. That’s incredibly fast considering she was such a large vessel, and she proved her speed by winning the Blue Ribband for the fasted trans-Atlantic record of three days, ten hours, and forty minutes.
Time will tell if this plan of Crystal Cruises will result in America’s superliner returning to sea. If a company can do it, Crystal Cruises can, as they establish their brand as the leading luxury cruise line. Now we await the results of a feasibility study, and remain optimistic that America’s great superliner will return to sea. The following video was filmed in 1979 in Norfolk Virginia while the SS United States still contained her interior fittings. Some pictures are also used from another visit to the ship in 1986, after much of her interior furniture and fittings were removed. The video is a Vaudrin production with all rights reserved through Cruising Authority.
Look at the excellent photos of the SS United States in mothballs in Norfolk Virginia: https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/114418807600031523395/albums/5503452507684347185?banner=pwa
This article is sponsored by My Pillow:
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