Crystal Cruises reaches deal to restore the record-breaking and storied SS United States to a fully operational modern luxury cruise ship
Crystal Cruises has come to the rescue of historic luxury liner SS United States, today announcing an exclusive purchase option agreement to begin work on returning America’s flagship to service as the world’s fastest cruise ship.
Once the world’s fastest, safest and largest passenger liner, the historic ship still holds the transatlantic speed record, yet it has spent years mothballed at dock holding off a looming trip to the scrapyard, having last sailed under her own power more than 40 years ago.
Following a number of attempts by developers to save the SS United States through the years, Crystal, together with the SS United States Conservancy, the group that owns the vessel and has led the efforts for its preservation, will now work toward bringing the ship into compliance with the latest standards in order to return the Big U to oceangoing service.
The plans were announced at a press conference at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal in New York City, where Crystal also committed to covering the $60,000 per month in costs associated with preserving the ship while undertaking a nine-month technical feasibility study, expected to wrap up by the end of 2016. The Conservancy will continue to own the vessel throughout the study.
To facilitate the technical feasibility study, Crystal has appointed retired U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Tim Sullivan to build and lead a team with a wide range of cruise line technical, legal and regulatory expertise.
In order to become able to return to sea, the SS United States will require an extensive rebuild to meet modern demands and be in full regulatory compliance with more than 60 years of new maritime rules and shipbuilding practices. The total price tag for the restoration is estimated at $700 million, according to Crystal President and CEO Edie Rodriguez, who said she believes the SS United States could be ready to sail again as soon as 2018.
“[Revitalizing the SS United States] will be a very challenging undertaking, but we are determined to apply the dedication and innovation that has always been the ship’s hallmark,” Rodriguez said.
A shipyard eligible to perform the work has yet to be identified as plans are in their early stages. Crystal said it intends to transform the Big U into a modern 800-guest-capacity vessel, featuring 400 suites measuring about 350 square feet with dining, entertainment, spa and other luxury guest amenities that are true to the ship’s history. Many features of the original design such as the Promenade and Navajo Lounge will be retained, while new engines and other marine technology will be retrofitted to uphold her title as the world’s fastest cruise vessel.
“Crystal’s ambitious vision for the SS United States will ensure our nation’s flagship is once again a global ambassador for the highest standards of American innovation, quality and design,” said Susan Gibbs, executive director of the SS United States Conservancy and granddaughter of the ship’s designer, William Francis Gibbs. “We are thrilled that the SS United States is now poised to make a triumphant return to sea and that the ship’s historical legacy will continue to intrigue and inspire a new generation.”
“We are ready to save history,” Gibbs said, “full speed ahead.”
The SS United States was launched in 1952, capturing the transatlantic speed record on her maiden voyage. Still the largest passenger ship ever designed and built in America, the Big U was designed as part of a secret Pentagon program during the Cold War, which stipulated it could be quickly converted from a luxury liner into a naval troopship in the event of a war, carrying 15,000 troops with a 240,000 shaft horsepower propulsion plant capable of traveling 10,000 nautical miles – almost half way around the globe – without refueling.
Before her retirement in 1969, the SS United States was regarded as not only a technological marvel, but also as the world’s most glamorous and elegant ship, having transported more than one million passengers, including four U.S. presidents, international royalty and many of Hollywood’s “golden era” celebrities.