Fans of vintage ocean liners rejoiced yesterday when Crystal Cruises announced its intentions to not only purchase and restore the SS United States but also bring it back into service as a modern luxury vessel. But just what does it mean?
Crystal is already in the middle of an unprecedented expansion; adding new yacht, river and ocean ships to its fleet, not to mention private jets and residences. The United States plans come a little out of left field, but they make more sense the deeper you dig into it.
As Crystal's parent company, Genting Hong Kong now owns the Lloyd Werft shipyard in Germany, it is equipped to make her seaworthy once more, pending an expected yearlong feasibility study. Looking closely at the proposed rendering of the completed ship is evidence that she will be largely rebuilt. The current ship is only a shell, with its interior completely stripped to the structural bone.
Once complete, the rendering (in full resolution here) shows that the only remaining elements from the original are the hull below the bow line and the iconic twin smokestacks. The forecastle has been streamlined and the superstructure sports more decks full of veranda suites, of which there will be 400 accommodating 800 total guests. But classic features like the Promenade and Navajo Lounge will remain in some form.
Also, like Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America, which can cruise exclusively between domestic ports, as in Hawaii - having been partially constructed in the U.S. and now registered here - so too can the domestically-built SS United States should Crystal choose to register it accordingly. In fact, the line mentions travel from U.S. ports for its future itineraries besides classic trans-Atlantic and world voyages.
Speaking of Norwegian, fellow ocean liner buff Peter Knego at Martin Cox's Maritime Matters also points out that "over a decade ago, there were many studies done to attest whether the ship could be re-purposed for cruising under the NCL banner. At that time, the ship's then-owner, Norwegian Cruise Line, was a subsidiary of Genting-owned Star Cruises, whose chairman Tam Sri Lim Kok Thai was especially keen on the project. Now that Genting owns Crystal, the dream is alive again."
Bringing the SS United States up to par will be a costly endeavor, estimated in excess of $700 million, which tells me that Crystal and Genting have some seriously ample coffers, to ante up that amount in addition to the outlay of cash for all their other projects. My only concern: I hope they don't overextend themselves and dilute the acclaimed luxury brand in the process. With the recent launch of the beautiful new Crystal Esprit yacht, the outlook appears positive that such fears won't be true.
As a reality never anticipated, I for one am extremely excited by the possibility of soon sailing on the classic ship. After all, my favorite SS United States restaurant onboard Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Infinity has been recently replaced, so the real McCoy will be beyond a worthy substitute. I mean, to sail on the ship that to this day holds the title as the fastest trans-Atlantic vessel is surely something special.
It's not a complete given yet that the plans will see the full light of day, but the ship is in great hands and may very well see this new life. Crystal president and CEO Edie Rodriguez said if it all works out, the ship will relaunch in 2018, which is just about as quick as the ship itself. Here's hoping we'll be covering a historic event in that time.
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