Last updated: 02:07 PM ET, Thu February 04 2016

Crystal Cruises Is Bringing The SS United States Back Into Service

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Crystal Cruises | Brian Major | February 04, 2016

Crystal Cruises Is Bringing The SS United States Back Into Service

PHOTO: Crystal Cruises’ Edie Rodriguez and Susan Gibbs of the SS United States Conservancy announce plan to return the classic vessel to service. (Photo by Brian Major)

Luxury operator Crystal Cruises has entered an agreement with the SS United States Conservancy on a plan to return the classic ocean liner to service. In a press briefing in New York, Crystal president and CEO Edie Rodriguez said Crystal will cover all costs associated with preserving the ship, which has been moored in Philadelphia since 1996, while launching a feasibility study she expects to be completed by the end of the year.

Rodriguez said returning the ship to service is expected to cost “in excess of $700 million.” If successful, the ship’s re-launch will occur in 2018, she added. The plan will transform the ship into an 800-passenger luxury ship, retaining original features ranging from the ship’s classic liner profile to facilities including the Promenade and Navajo Lounge.

“As an American and someone in this maritime industry for 35 years, I think we would be remiss to pass up the opportunity to restore such an image of luxury travel and a bygone era of America and Americana,” said Rodriguez. “It is our ultimate goal that the SS United States re-emerges as a modern luxury vessel.”

Originally launched in 1952, the SS United States was considered a hallmark of post-war industrial design and innovation, setting a transatlantic speed record, which still stands, on its maiden voyage. The ship remains the largest passenger vessel ever built and designed in the U.S., transporting four U.S. presidents, international royalty and Hollywood celebrities prior to its 1969 retirement.

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The ship has passed through several owners in subsequent years. In 1999, the ship was placed on the National Register of Historic Places following a campaign led by the SS United States Foundation and the SS United States Conservancy. In 2003, Norwegian Cruise Line purchased the ship and briefly floated a plan to place the ship back into passenger service but that plan failed to materialize.

Crystal Cruises’ plan will begin with a feasibility study led by Tim Sullivan, a retired U.S. Coast Guard admiral, who will “build and lead a team with a wide range of cruise line technical, legal and regulatory experience,” according to Rodriguez. She said the project’s most significant challenge will be renovating the vessel to meet current safety and environmental standards.

“Extensive exploration of the technical feasibility of restoring the vessel in the most responsible manner of bringing the ship up to code must be done,” Rodriguez said.

“My grandfather dreamed of the biggest, strongest and fastest ship to ever grace the seas,” said Susan Gibbs, executive director of the SS United States Conservancy and granddaughter of William Francis Gibbs, the ship’s designer.

“The ship emerged as a powerful expression of American innovation and invention,” Gibbs said. “Before the moon shot, the space shuttle, the computer and the iPhone this nation gave the world the SS United States. She will again become a global ambassador and an icon of technical design.”

The partners will also seek to establish a land-based museum dedicated to preserving the ship’s legacy and broader design and innovation themes. The museum will feature original artifacts and components from the ship’s historic past. 

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