See old cruise ships & ocean vacations from the ’30s through the ’60s

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Grace Line cruise ships

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For decades, old cruise ships like these were primarily a mode of transportation — getting people from one place to another via an ocean route.

Of course, what set the various vintage cruise lines apart was the experience they offered. Luxury travel was a big seller, and onboard amenities like air conditioning, swimming pools, and private bathrooms were very popular amongst travelers with money to spend.

And the perks didn’t end there. Even as far back as the ’30s, in the bid to charm customers, the Panama Pacific cruise line offered passengers pre-release movies while at sea.

Here, look back at what people in the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties could expect when they sailed the high seas in high style on these fabulous vintage ships.

Grace cruise ship line 1950s

Cruise the tropics the Grace way — leave winter behind (1934)

Only GRACE Line with its four-score years in southern waters offers such gay and carefree days and nights at sea, blended with adventuresome and memorable trips ashore, into six exotic and fascinating countries.

Fortnightly a new GRACE “Santa” sails from New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Victoria, Seattle, visiting en route Havana, Colombia, Panama Canal, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, where only GRACE Line stops.

And only on a new GRACE “Santa” liner can tropical cruising with perfect appointments be accomplished so delightfully.

Every luxury of trans-Atlantic travel, every room outside with private bath, a dining room with roll-back dome, to that you may dine under the stars, the largest outdoor tiled pool on any American ship. 

Photographed in natural color aboard the “Santa Elena”

Old Grace cruise ships from 1934


Vintage ’30s cruise ship prices – and see the cabins (1934)

Bask in luxury of this spacious room and bath for $176 (each for two)

Sail and enjoy the value that makes these two ships such popular Cabin liners on the Atlantic.

It is luxury like this that has led more passengers to sail to Europe on the new Manhattan and Washington this past year than on any two Cabin ships of any other line in the service.

World’s fastest Cabin liners, largest ships ever built in America, the Manhattan and Washington, with their running mates President Harding and President Roosevelt, offer weekly service to Cobh, Plymouth, Havre, Hamburg. See your local agent. His services are free.

United States Lines - Vintage cruise ship cabins in 1934 (1)


Imagine sailing to Europe in this room (1934)

… for $201 each… and that means a private bathroom, too

It doesn’t take long for Americans to find out where true value lies. They have discovered the new Manhattan and Washington — the luxury of them, and the rates they offer.

And the record of these two American-built liners speaks for itself. The Washington and Manhattan have this past year carried more passengers to Europe than any two Cabin ships in the service.

World’s fastest Cabin liners — largest ships ever built in America. The Manhattan and Washington with their running mates, Pres. Harding and Pres. Roosevelt, offer weekly service to Cobh, Plymouth, Havre, Hamburg. See your local agent. His services are free. Roosevelt Steamship Co., Inc., General Agents, No. 1 Broadway, NY.

United States Lines - Vintage cruise ship cabins in 1934 (2)


Old cruise ships: Panama Pacific to California (1935)

Cruise away from cold to the glowing warmth of California — and enjoy summer all the way! Sail on the largest liners in the service — the 33,000-ton sister ships Virginia, California or Pennsylvania. Enjoy all their comforts and luxuries.

They’re the only ships in this service with air-conditioned dining salons. Two outdoor swimming pools. Large, perfectly appointed cabins — all outside. Pre-release moving pictures. And you can do it for as little as $185 First Class!

ALSO SEE: Old Florida hotels & historic resorts: Trip back to these amazing Victorian vacation destinations

panama pacific line cruises to california 1935


Panama Pacific Line’s “The Big 3” new liners (1936)

The “Big 3,” huge modern Liners, are the largest and most popular in Coast-to-Coast service via the Panama Canal — The S.S. California, S.S. Virginia, and S.S. Pennsylvania.

Breakfast in bed if you wish; All “Big 3” rooms are outside rooms. Swim, splash, or just sun tan — each ship has two built-in deck pools.

Dinner foursomes, air-conditioned dining rooms, the cuisine — famous! And intermission on deck. There’s dancing every night… movies, too.

panama pacific line the big three vintage liners to california 1936


Travel over the ocean on America’s Atlantic fleet of cruise ships (1948)

This year, more Americans than ever want to take ship and go to Europe — on business, to study, to play, or for one last look around.

The fleet that will transport nearly all of them is shown in a drawing that pictures every regularly scheduled Atlantic liner carrying 100 or more passengers.

It is a smaller fleet than the pre-war one — 29 ships against 77 in 1939. It ranges in size from the 2,287-passenger Elizabeth, the world’s biggest, to the 150-passenger Noordam and Westerdam; in age from the 6-week-old Parthia to the 30-year-old Stavangerfjord; in fares from about $1,000 for a suite on one of the Queens, to about $160 for tourist-class passage on vessels like the America and Mauretania.

While the airlines, which can carry 18,705 passengers a month to Europe, still have space available, every accommodation on the Atlantic fleet (about 27,000 passengers a month) is booked through September. Nearly 150,000 would-be tourists applied too late.


Traveling first class… and lower classes (1948)

For those with first-class reservations on the bigger vessels, the five-day trip provides a chance to rub shoulders with celebrities in sumptuous salons, to dance every evening, see first-run movies, swim and lounge in a variety of bars.

SEE ONE OF THESE SHIPS: The Queen Mary: Vintage tours of the possibly-haunted old ship from the builders of the Titanic

Those traveling lower class on smaller and slower ships will find cabins less luxurious, often without a private bath, and sometimes with as many as six bunks. They will see few celebrities and hear no orchestras, but can get plenty of rest and quiet in a voyage that averages eight days.

And for travelers on ships famed for cuisine, like those of Sweden, France and Italy, the Atlantic crossing can also be an epicurean adventure.

Middle-Atlantic fleet

The ships [below] are the middle-Atlantic fleet, which calls at Mediterranean ports. Nine more ships will be added to the entire fleet in the next two years.


Five swank ships sail south (1948)

The five ships shown [below] are the only vessels, except for round-trip cruise ships carrying 100 or more passengers, between New York and Latin America. It is a small, luxurious fleet, with fares from $395 to $1,100.

Most of the ships have been renovated since the war, with décor by famous artists, and not one but two swimming pools. The Santa Rosa’s dining room has a roof which rolls back in fair weather. Winter is their busiest season, but nearly all are booked through this summer.

MORE: How to make 30 classic cocktails & drinks

Five swank ships sail south (1948)


Grace Line cruises to the Caribbean and South America (1948)

12-Day deluxe cruises on the splendid Santa Rosa and Santa Paula, specially built for tropical cruising… visiting Curacao, a little bit of old Holland set down in the Caribbean, famous for its fascinating shops… La Guaira, port for Caracas, Venezuela’s picturesque capital and starting point of the Grand Tour of the Andes.

16 to 18 day “casual cruises” to Cartagena and Barranquilla, Colombia, and Maracaibo; Venezuela, by new, air-conditioned cargo-passenger “Santas”… all outside rooms, each with private bath, outdoor tiled swimming pools… verandah cafes… weekly sailings from New York.

Vintage cruise Grace Line Carribean and South America 1948


Perks for Canadian Pacific’s Alaska cruise (1950s)

  • Bustling Vancouver, B. C., is the starting point of your thrilling Princess cruise to Skagway, Alaska.
  • Escape motor-map cares — glide through the sky-high Rockies by Canadian Pacific Diesel train.
  • 2000 miles of glorious Inside Passage on your exciting Princess cruise.
  • See Alaska’s amazing past and future at all these stops…Ketchikan, Wrangell, Juneau, Skagway.
  • Wonderful side trips up the gold rush “Trail of ’98” by rail… or to inland glaciers.

ALSO SEE: Sea shanties: Why these songs exist (and who first sang them)

Canadian Pacific cruise lines 1950s


Really relax on a Grace Line cruise (1952)

The “Santa Rosa” and “Santa Paula”, especially designed for tropical cruising, provide every comfort and luxury: large outdoor tiled swimming pools: light, airy dining rooms on top decks, excellent cuisine, gracious public rooms, beauty salons, sun decks, attractive cocktail lounges, dance orchestras, shipboard entertainment and interesting tips ashore. Every room is outside, each with private bath.

ALSO SEE: Inside the Titanic: When the huge ship sank in 1912, here’s what the luxurious interior looked like

Grace Line New York to Caribbean and South American 1952


Vintage cruise ship passengers playing in boats alongside the ship (1952)

Grace line - Old cruise ships (1952)


Matson Lines’ Lurline to Hawaii (1953)

Your dream becomes a living romance!

Cascades of color tumble from the deck… the serpentine breaks… then, with Island songs voicing the promise of Hawaii, the Lurline gently moves into the setting sun.

The shoreline disappears… and you soon discover Hawaii’s special charm everywhere on this lovely liner.

ALSO SEE: A 1950s tour guide to Hawaii: See what the islands looked like before becoming the 50th state

You see it in the soft, strange beauty of the Lurline… you sense it in the gaiety and friendliness of ship sports and parties, of movies, dancing and relaxing with congenital shipmates… you experience it in the wonderful food and thoughtful service, in the luxurious comfort of your accommodations.

In it all you see reflected over seven decades of Matson experience on the Pacific… and it’s all included and twice enjoyed in your round-trip fare.

Lurline cruises cruise california to hawaii 1953


Glad to have you Aboard! Matson Lines (1953)

There are no strangers on the Lurline. Captain Johnson makes you feel right at home with his cordial “Aloha”… his “Welcome Aboard!” And all around you is the spirit of Hawaii.

Vintage Matsom Lines cruise 1953


Vintage Italian cruise ship: Cristoforo Colombo (1954)

500 years to build this ship… da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Cellini. You’ll feel their spirit and see the mark of their immortal minds in every detail of this great new ship.

You’ll see it in the smoldering colors of her mosaic and the intricate beauty of her tapestries and inlaid woods. You’ll feel it in the soft luxury of Milanese fabrics and Florentine leathers. You’ll hear it in the bell-like ring of Venetian crystal and the courteous tone of a Roman steward.

She is the fulfillment of the rich Renaissance tradition, five centuries old. She is the gallant new Cristoforo Colombo.

Italian cruise line - Cristoforo Colombo 1954


Grace Line Caribbean Cruises (1957)

Picture yourself in a comfortable deck chair on a romantic Grace Line Cruise. You’ll bask in Caribbean sunshine… meet new friends… enjoy delicious meals… swimming in a king-size, outdoor, tiled pool.

Cruise ships from 1957


Getting there is half the fun… Go Curnard (1958)

Tonight… 1500 miles at sea… Johnny will get his wish!

Blow those candles down, Johnny! Your ship, far out in the starlit sea, is a timeless, enchanted island. Aboard this great Cunarder with her twinkling lights, her laughter and happy faces, you share a wide kingdom with small friends.

It’s a blissful place where wishes are commands… for you… your big sister… Mom and Dad. There are so many reasons why most voyagers to Europe (young, old, and in-between) choose Cunard… a wonderful family vacation going and coming in any season.

vintage cruises Cunard to europe 1958


Grace Line’s new twin Caribbean pleasure cruise liners (1958)

The last word in cruising luxury… the new Santa Paula and Santa Rosa!

Here they are! Newest, loveliest cruise liners under the sun… ready to give you the pleasure experience of a lifetime! Their top-deck beach club atmosphere will delight you.

You’ll be enchanted by the freedom of of their wide, uncrowded decks… the gracious charm of their dining rooms, clubs and lounges, all up on the Promenade Deck… the matchless luxury of their accommodations, all First Class.

Grace Line cruise ships


Delta Line’s “Resort at Sea” (1960)

Among the finest cruise ships in the world today are Delta Line’s luxurious sister ships: Del Norte, Del Sud, and Del Mar.

These ocean-going ambassadors to our South American neighbors are well-known visitors to the ports of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.

A Delta Line cruise to South America leaves every two weeks from fabulous New Orleans and Houston. A typical voyage visits Rio de Janeiro, Santos, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, with stops at the Caribbean’s most colorful islands, Curacao and St. Thomas.

Each Delta liner is a floating resort. The finest accommodations are enjoyed by a limited passenger list of one hundred and twenty, ideal for shipboard social events. 

retro delta line resort at sea to south america 1960

MORE: Titanic: Newspaper front pages with the first stories of the disaster on April 15, 1912


Matson Service… only a wish away ’round the ship’s clock (1960)

All this and Hawaii too!

Matson service is unobtrusively at your elbow from breakfast –regally served in bed if you wish — till the last dance! melody echoes away into the tradewind-soft night.

You’ll delight most of all in the way your wishes are answered before you say a word — with special treats like the early risers’ breakfast on deck, the evening buffet –scores of pleasant attentions by the Pacific’s favorite host.

All this, sparkled with gay entertainment, refreshing leisure and superb food are yours in the “Aloha” atmosphere of the Lurline or Matsonia.

Lurline matsonia retro cruise trips 1960


Ease “executive pressure” with Delta Line cruises (1961)

Sail calm Southern Seas to gay Brazil and Argentina!

Come home refreshed, relaxed, revitalized and rarin’ to go! Aboard a Delta Liner time passes so pleasantly it is almost forgotten. Cares are gone with the sea-breeze… you luxuriate in solid comfort.

vintage delta line cruises to south america 1961


Sail Matson to Hawaii this summer (1961)

Stretch out and relax this Summer on the happiest island in the Pacific — a glamorous, spacious Matson Liner. Sail away from routine on this vacationland at sea where appointments are kept only with blazing suns. 

ALSO SEE: See Hawaii in the ’60s: How the tropical islands used to be, and how they changed

matson lines to hawaii 1961


This is your year for a cruise! Moore-McCormack cruise lines (1962)

There never was a better time. In February, two of the most beautiful cruise ships in the world will shake the snow from their lines in New York and sail leisurely south to the sun.

The S.S. Argentina will be gone for 38 days: the S.S. Brasil for 63. Both will be in Rio for the Carnaval. Whichever you choose, you will live as elegantly, as splendidly, as memorably, as man has ever dreamed of. These ships are new; they were built for first-class passengers only — and everything about them shows it.

Come with us and see. Come — this year. 

moore-mccormack cruise lines south american trip 1962


Vintage United States Lines ad with Harry Truman (1963)

You’ll have a wonderful time slowing down on the fastest ship afloat — Europe’s less than 5 days away on the S.S. United States.

The Hon. Harry S. Truman, former President of the United States, and Mrs. Truman enjoy a delicious dinner selected from a menu featuring specialties from five continents. “I’ll never understand,” says Mr. Truman, “how they cook so many things, so well.”

“It’s impossible to be bored.” say Mr. and Mrs. M. W. V. Ash. There are three Meyer Davis orchestras, first-run movies daily, deck sports of every kind, a gym and swimming pool. Mr. Ash is President of Shell Oil Company of Canada, Ltd.

On the S.S. American, Admiral and Mrs. W.S. Anderson relax for a moment in their spacious, apartment-size stateroom. This popular liner offers the same fine food, the same flawless service, as her sister ship — with extra hours at sea to enjoy it all.

United States Lines retro cruises featuring Truman to Europe


United States Lines “This way out of winter…” (1963)

“… into a world of fashion and fun!”

The fun begins the minute you board the S.S. United States or S.S. America. There’s spaciousness… elegance.. everywhere –contagious gaiety in the air — and the passenger list is always sprinkled with well-known exciting names. And whether you’re Europe- or Caribbean-bound, you’ll find the service flawless.

The spacious sun deck on the S.S. United States provides plenty of room for playing or relaxing. There are salt water pools, indoors and out, a complete gym. The cuisine is sophisticated and international.

United States Lines Vintage cruises to Bermuda and West Indies 1963


P&O-Orient — “the biggest bloom’ ships sailing the seven seas” (1965)

6 A.M. — You are cruising the South pacific at 27-1/2 knots. Destination: Australia. All is quiet on the Canberra’s 14 passenger decks.

2 P.M. — Time to take a dip, P&O-Orient liners — the biggest and fastest sailing around the world — have two to four pools.

7 P.M. — The golden hour — a sociable time at sea. You meet interesting people from every part of the world on the P&O-Orient.

10 P.M. — Dancing after dinner. Or you might watch a first-run movie, wager on a horse race, read a book or stroll and sea gaze.

This glorious day on the South Pacific can cost as little as $22 first class with P&O-Orient!

P and O Orient retro cruise ships round world trip 1965


Matson Lines “South Seas” cruises (1966)

No other cruise experience can give you the grace and charm of the South Seas!

Sail away to an incomparable adventure… an enchanted journey with Matson to the romantic lands and islands of the South Seas.

Enjoy 12 days of pampered comfort and explore ten of the world’s most fascinating ports of call.. ports visited regularly only by Matson.

Your gracious home for this memorable odyssey will be the exclusively First Class SS Mariposa or SS Monterey. Staterooms are spacious and each has a private bath.

Aboard your elegant liner, you’ll savor epicurean cuisine, attentive services, every thoughtful luxury. The pace is yours to set. Warm friendships bloom in this atmosphere of sea-born congeniality.

MORE: How to have a retro Hawaiian luau party

vintage Matson Lines South Seas 1966


Memorable vacations with Moore-McCormack Lines (1967)

How long since you’ve had a memorable vacation?

Is your idea of a holiday seeing as much as possible in the shortest time and exhausting yourself scurrying from one place to another?

Do you have blurred memories of having been here and there, no recollection of what you did between stops and a hazy idea of whom you met and where?

Then you’re ready for a ” Moore-McCormack sea-escape aboard either S.S. Argentina or S.S. Brasil, America’s newest, most modern luxury liners.

moore-mccormack retro cruise lines to south america 1967

NOW SEE THIS: Vintage ’80s cruises: See what Princess, Carnival & other cruise ships used to look like

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