top of page
Search

P&O Princess and Cunard Revolutionise cruising in the 1970s

Updated: Aug 15, 2022


Oriana becomes a one-class cruise ship in 1973


As I joined P&O in 1973 world passenger shipping was changing dramatically. In 1958 the Boeing 707 jetliner came into service nonstop between New York and London, taking just eight hours to go across the ocean on its inaugural trip. The fastest ship, the SS United States, took three and a half days. This spelt doom and gloom for the shipping companies and they knew it.


By 1968 most of the grand old ladies of the sea had been sold off and only a handful of liners had been built to replace them, most of them designed with cruising in mind. Launched in 1959 ss Oriana originally built for the Orient line had been absorbed into the P&O Group. Having changed livery from the traditional corn-coloured hull of the Orient line, she was sailing with the white livery of P&O. Still, with the writing on the wall for around the world passenger routes she was converted to a one-class ship in 1973 and started operations as a cruise ship. Towards the end of 1973, I was lucky to join her as a Junior Assistant Purser and spent my first very happy year at sea on her.


Island Venture becomes Island Princess in 1974


The cruise industry was changing fast with purpose build cruise ships beginning to appear. Flagship cruises launched two sister ships. 1971 saw the arrival of Sea Venture on the New York to Bermuda Caribbean cruise service followed a year later by Island Venture, Island Venture only completed one season for Flagship before she was chartered by Princess Cruises and was renamed, Island Princess. At the time she was the most advanced and newest cruise ship on the West Coast of America.


In December 1974 P&O acquired Princess cruises and on the 5th December 1974, I flew to San Francisco for the Inaugural cruise of P&O/Princess Cruises Island Princess. It was an exciting time, a whole new way of working, taking over from the Norwegian Officers and starting a new chapter for P&O.


Captain Crighton and Pacific Princess Pursers for the Inaugural cruise of Pacific Princess in 1975 (Not sure why the Chief Engineer was as the pour out)


Four months later after a short leave back in the UK, I found myself flying to Newport News, Virginia for the handover of Sea Venture who was to become Pacific Princess (The Love Boat). After dry dock in the naval dockyard, we headed for a short season of cruises from Tampa and Galveston before heading through the Panama Canal to take up our new home in Los Angeles, Home of Princess Cruises. Spirit of London was renamed Sun Princess and also joined the Princess fleet around this time.




A couple of years later Cunard was jumping on the bandwagon with the introduction of Cunard Countess and Cunard Princess, of a similar size to the Princess ships and certainly after the lucrative Princess market. At the time we were cruising Los Angeles to San Juan through Panama on what was to be the start of fly cruising.


Passengers joining in LA, disembarked in San Juan to be flown home, with the next group of passengers being flown to San Juan for the reverse cruise.




I Remember this very well as we chartered American Airlines planes and we had to do the seating plans onboard in the Purser’s Office, remember this was before computers and was a logistical nightmare at times.


Cunard Countess and Cunard Princess in San Juan


Cunard Countess and Cunard Conquest (later Cunard Princess).

Princess unsuccessfully sued Cunard for this name change.


The two sister ships were built in Denmark and fitted out in Italy. Originally the Countess was intended to be a floating playground for MGM, but the project fell on it’s face and Cunard stepped in. Cunard Countess was christened by Mrs Armstrong, wife of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.


Princess and Cunard followed each other around the Caribbean and were often in port together, but l have to admit l always thought of Cunard as the enemy. At the time I was assistant purser on Island Princess, my friend and colleague Stuart Bennett was deputy purser and he recalls.


The two Cunarders were beset with teething problems. We were in the Caribbean (doing 14-day trans Panama cruises) when one of them had an accident berthing in San Juan. As she came into the berth her engines went full ahead instead of slow astern (problems with the bridge controls) and she ploughed into another cruise ship, bending her bow downwards into a “Beak”.

The purser on the QEII sent his opposite number a telegram (remember telegrams?) which went something like this;


“FROM HOTEL MANAGER QEII

TO HOTEL MANAGER CUNARD COUNTESS

“WE MAY BE A BIG QUEEN BUT UNDERSTAND YOU ARE NOW A LITTLE BENT YOURSELF”


Thank you Alan Marsden for setting me straight on a couple of points

It wasn’t the Cunard Countess that had the mishap in San Juan, but the Cunard Adventurer. I was Second Radio Officer on her at the time and was on the bridge at the moment she speared into the promenade deck of the Carla C as she was reversing into her berth that Saturday morning in 1976 (or was it ‘77?). Not only did we punch a big hole in the side of her but, as we reversed away, we dragged a whole bunch of pax baggage into San Juan harbour which had been stored on the prom deck in preparation for disembarkation later that morning.


I would also point out that Cunard had had a cruising presence in the Caribbean since 1971 with Cunard Adventurer and, a year later, with her sister ship, Cunard Ambassador. Far from being opportunistic and “jumping on the bandwagon”, they pre-dated most of their competitors and were one of the earliest innovators of the fly/cruise industry.



I reminded Stuart recently that he once bollocked me for being on the dockside in uniform without my cap. I had just spent the last few hours in San Juan airport trying to locate lost luggage and had ridden back to the ship in an open-top lorry sitting on the luggage and was having to throw it onto the ship so that we could sail on time.


How times change it is rare nowadays to see a ship’s officer with a uniform cap.


After nearly 20 of service with Cunard Countess and Cunard Princess were sold off and continued to serve the cruise community for many years. In 1996 - before Carnival’s buy-out of Cunard Line in 1998 - Cunard Countess was sold to Awani Cruises and renamed Awani Dream II, to cruise along with the original Awani Dream. The Awani cruise company ran into financial trouble and in 1998 the ship moved to Royal Olympic Cruises, as Olympic Countess under the Greek flag.




In November 2013 The Countess caught fire whilst laid up anticipating a return to service. However, her damage was so bad that she was sold for scrap.


Meanwhile, Cunard Princess was sold to StarLauro, renamed Rhapsody and cruised the Med. In 2009 she was sold again to Mano Maritime and renamed Golden Iris and operated from her home port of Haifa to Cyprus. She was retired in 2018 and listed for sale and earlier this year she was sold for scrap.



Cunard Princess - renamed Rhapsody - finally Golden Iris before she was scrapped last month.


She survived for 45 years, outliving nearly all of her contemporaries, and now joining others at the breakers' yards.


Do you have any stories to tell about your time at sea?

please let me have them to share.

Send them to Salty Seadog


Read More from Salty Seadog







901 views9 comments

Recent Posts

See All

9 comentários


In 84 and 85 I did a trip on as 3/O on the PP and SP , one of them Mexico cruising.

On the same route was the Cunard Countess or Princess or both!


We used to do sail pasts in those days and communicate with the opposite team, who I invited over for lunch one day.

My Captain was most impressed when he walked by and I was dining with about 9 stripes!

Me a lowly one striper. Seems on Cunard it was Chief Officers on watch.


As part of the sail past at night I used to put the deck lights and the Sea Witch illumination; the Cunard ships could not respond and it became apparent they…


Curtir
Salty Seadog
Salty Seadog
18 de ago. de 2022
Respondendo a

Great Story.


Curtir

Salty Seadog
Salty Seadog
15 de ago. de 2022

Brian Portwig comments.


Thank you for the article - thought I would share my small contribution re the Cunard Princess later the MSC Rhapsody - it was to be my 4th cruise ship on a coastal from Durban to Cape Town - with a brief call at Plettenberg bay - a popular holiday place for locals - before heading onto cape town - she was a very " plain " ship - bearing in mind my 3 previous cruises were all newsmakers at the time - Betsy ross x leda - Oceanos which sunk a year after my cruise on her as did the Achille Lauro - - the later 2 I actually watched sink on telly !

MSC Rhapsody…


Curtir

Alan Marsden
Alan Marsden
14 de ago. de 2022

I have to jump in with a correction here. It wasn’t the Cunard Countess that had the mishap in San Juan, but the Cunard Adventurer. I was Second Radio Officer on her at the time and was on the bridge at the moment she speared into the promenade deck of the Carla C as she was reversing into her berth that Saturday morning in 1976 (or was it ‘77?). Not only did we punch a big hole in the side of her but, as we reversed away, we dragged a whole bunch of pax baggage into San Juan harbour which had been stored on the prom deck in preparation for disembarkation later that morning.


I would also point out that…

Curtir
Alan Marsden
Alan Marsden
14 de ago. de 2022
Respondendo a

Here is Adventurer in Curacao after a "discussion" with The Carla C.


Curtir

Jamie, The Purser
Jamie, The Purser
14 de ago. de 2022

Thanks David, for this interesting and revealing tale of P&O and Cunard’s entry into cruise service in early 70’s. Of course, both companies offered cruises much earlier with more classic liners such as Arcadia and Caronia, but interesting to read again your personal experience as a young P&O Purser. Loved the story of being ashore without your cap, had similar experience in Willemstad Curacao, which you have just reminded me of , perhaps I will need to write a few lines when I get time !

Curtir
Jamie, The Purser
Jamie, The Purser
09 de set. de 2022
Respondendo a

Hello again David, I meant to point out that Shaw Savill’s Northern Star had scheduled a Mediterranean cruise in July ‘68 to test the market for cruising on a passenger liner as opposed to a cruise ship. The trial cruise was an immediate success which paved the way for the introduction of regular cruises on our ships as the market for long haul voyages to the Antipodes declined in late 60’s and early 70’s. Shaw Savill were the first company to introduce one arm bandits (fruit machines) on their liners, and also first Company to offer West End style Musical Stage Shows, by professional entertainers.

I worked on this initial trial cruise in ‘68 and we had 6 extra supernumerary…

Curtir

stuartbennettnz
stuartbennettnz
14 de ago. de 2022

My memory is slowly coming back regarding the QE II telegram. It was addressed to the Hotel Manager CONCORD Countess (due to the downward bend in the bow). I think the QE II's Hotel Manager was a John Williams at the time.

Curtir
Salty Seadog
Salty Seadog
14 de ago. de 2022
Respondendo a

Thanks Stuart for your input and inspiring this blog.


Curtir
    
     Please subscribe to  Salty Seadog

Thanks for joining us

bottom of page