Crystal’s latest project: Restore the SS United States

Crystal’s rendering of a restored SS United States.

NEW YORK — Crystal Cruises on Thursday revealed a grand plan to transform the SS United States — a mothballed, 65-year-old ocean liner — into a modern, luxury cruise vessel.

The ship has been docked in Philadelphia since 1996.

Edie Rodriguez, Crystal’s CEO, revealed the company’s plans today along with the ship’s current owner, the SS United States Conservancy, at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal here. Rodriguez said Crystal would cover all costs associated with preserving the ship while it undergoes a technical feasibility study to determine if it can be revitalized.

Edie Rodriguez said Crystal would cover all costs associated with preserving the ship while it undergoes a technical feasibility study. Photo Credit: Arnie Weissmann
Edie Rodriguez said Crystal would cover all costs associated with preserving the ship while it undergoes a technical feasibility study.Photo Credit: Arnie Weissmann


Crystal plans to transform the liner into an 800-passenger, 400-suite vessel called the United States by Crystal Cruises, preserving historical elements of the original United States, such as its promenade and Navajo Lounge. Crystal said it would be rebuilt extensively to meet current standards and would be in full regulatory compliance.

“Our goal is that it reemerge as a modern luxury vessel,” Rodriguez said, adding that the vessel would have the same 1.6 passenger-to-crew ratio as the 1,070-passenger Crystal Serenity. “It is our aspiration that it emerges as America’s flagship again.”

Susan Gibbs, executive director of the SS United States Conservancy and granddaughter the ship’s designer, William Francis Gibbs, said the conservancy planned to develop a land-based museum dedicated to the United States, and hoped to anchor it in New York.

She conceded that the liner “obviously needs upgrades” in order to “adhere to 60 years of rules and regulations.”

“Change is both exhilarating and challenging,” she said.

This is the second time that Crystal’s owner, Genting Hong Kong, will own the storied ocean liner, long known as the Big U.

Genting’s Star Cruises purchased the United States in 2003, intending to operate the ship as part of NCL America, Norwegian’s U.S.-flagged fleet operating in Hawaii. (Star Cruises owned 100% of Norwegian Cruise Line at the time.)

NCL’s U.S.-flagged operations did not grow as planned, and the SS United States Conservancy purchased the United States from Norwegian/Genting in order to save it from being sent to a scrapyard.

The United States still holds the “Blue Riband” record for fastest transatlantic speed, set in 1952 on its maiden voyage from New York to England.

Carnival Sunshine Comes to New Homeport

After a major renovation, Carnival Sunshine is welcomed in New OrleansBy: Chere Coen

The renewed Carnival Sunshine will homeport in New Orleans. // © 2013 Carnival Cruise Lines

The Details

It seemed appropriate that Carnival’s massive restoration project — the newly rebuilt Sunshine, transformed from the former Carnival Destiny — should have its renaming ceremony in New Orleans. Not only is Louisiana’s state song “You Are My Sunshine,” but winter in the Bayou State remains balmy for the most part, and Carnival Sunshine will host seven-night Caribbean cruises from New Orleans until the spring, while Carnival Elation continues to sail four- and five-night cruises.

The ship, which received an extensive $155 million makeover earlier this year, arrived in New Orleans following a 16-day transatlantic crossing. The 3,006-passenger Carnival Sunshine was renamed on Nov. 17 with a ceremony featuring Gerry Cahill, Carnival president and CEO, and Lin Arison, wife of the late Ted Arison, founder of Carnival Cruise Lines and godmother to the Sunshine.

“We did something in the cruise ship industry that no one has ever done before,” Cahill said of the renovation. “We rebuilt virtually every guestroom on the ship. This was more difficult than building a new ship.”

“It was an amazing thing to see what can be done on a ship,” said Arison, whose association with Carnival Cruise Lines dates back to the company’s inception in 1972 when she named Mardi Gras, the line’s first ship.

The naming ceremony included a performance by the Destrehan High School Band, chosen from the New Orleans area in a competition, and members of the National YoungArts Foundation. Along with her late husband, Arison founded the program as well as the New World Symphony in Miami Beach. Carnival donated $25,000 to each.

“Carnival has taken it further with these gifts for young artists,” Arison said, just before pulling the symbolic ribbon while the audience watched a video of a champagne bottle hitting the ship’s exterior.

Most of those in attendance were travel agents, media and corporate guests, all getting a first-hand look at the newly designed ship before it embarked the following day on a special six-day cruise. Carnival Sunshine remains in New Orleans until April 2014, when it heads to Port Canaveral, Fla., for year-round, five- to eight-day Caribbean departures.

“I am extremely picky, and I was very pleased,” said Terri Howell, owner of Dream Cruises, which has offices in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La.

Howell had already begun booking cruises for her clients on the Sunshine but she was even more “revved up and ready to sell” after the ceremony.

“I am 100 percent satisfied and am extremely happy to be selling the Sunshine, even though it’s only here for a few months,” she said.

Kathy Lavalla, owner of Vacation Makers Travel in New Orleans, was impressed by the ship’s varied restaurant choices and the hallways, which sport teak doorways, bright colors and beach photos on the walls.

“I love how many dining venues there are,” Lavalla said. “There are so many options.”

Having a ship docked in downtown New Orleans with a massive waterpark on the top deck makes it easy to sell. Lavalla added that children will see the ship and demand that their parents to take them on a cruise.

“Cruises in general are an easy sell in New Orleans,” Lavalla said. “The city is a great port location because visitors can stay a night in New Orleans and see quite a bit in town before sailing. If you come even one day early to New Orleans, you find so many things to do — for families as well as couples.”

The only drawback, both agents agreed, was that Carnival Sunshine would only stay in New Orleans for the winter.

“I wish it could stay longer,” Lavalla said.