Weekly Wednesday – Premier Cruise Lines

Premier Cruise Lines logo

Last week, on Weekly Wednesday – Feeling Blue, I introduced a teaser at the end about Treasure Cay. You were probably wondering why I felt compelled to include Treasure Cay into the list since it isn’t used as a cruise destination any longer. Welcome to this week’s Weekly Wednesday where I will uncover the cruise line that operated the ships that sailed to Treasure Island and what happened to that company.

Premier Cruise Lines was created in 1983 when cruise lines were fighting for attention. This line was inspired by two cruise veterans, Bruce Nierenberg and Bjornar Hermansen, who had a vision of what it would take to be successful. They weren’t about building the biggest and most impressive ships but were instead identifying what their clientele would be interested in to gain their loyalty.

Their ships initially sailed out of Port Canaveral in Florida and would run three- and four-day trips to Nassau and Salt Cay in the Bahamas. Premier decided to look for ways to improve the leisure cruise industry by attracting an older generation of cruisers who would bring their children and grandchildren for a short getaway. One of the ways Premier Cruise Lines set themselves apart from the competition, was by introducing kids clubs and activities on their ships. Each group consisted of a specific age range of kids which allowed them to safely interact with each other. This also allowed for the grown-ups to have a stress-free vacation while still being together as a family.

“There’s nothing like traveling to open your eyes – wide with wonder, shining with excitement. You see first-hand that the world is really a zillion little worlds, all connected, but each one different, each one special. On the Big Red Boat, we want to bring as many little worlds to you as we can.”

(Premier Cruise Lines Website, Archive 08/23/2000)

The first ocean liner to join Premier was StarShip Royale. She sailed with Premier for five years until 1988 when she was transferred to Dolphin Cruise Lines and her name was changed to SeaBreeze. Later, Dolphin Cruise Lines merged with Premier Cruise Line in 1997 which brought the ship back into service under the previous company where she sailed until the demise of the company in 2000.

Premier was off to a strong start with their first ship, and in an unexpected turn of events, Greyhound Bus Lines purchased Premier in 1984. They operated the cruise line starting in 1985 until Greyhound was sold to Dial Corporation (nee Henkel Corporation).

The new owner brought new changes to the company, when they introduced StarShip Oceanic when it joined Premier Cruise Line in 1985. That same year, Premier entered a licensing agreement with the Walt Disney World Resort where you could encounter Mickey Mouse and friends and take pictures with them on board. If you created your booking with Premier Cruise Lines, you had the opportunity to reserve a seven-night vacation which was split between land-based attractions (like visiting the Walt Disney World theme parks), and the other half would be spent at sea on a ship. SS Oceanic remained with Premier Cruise Line the longest of all and would be let go when Premier closed up in 2000.

The second and third ships that were added to the fleet were the StarShip Majestic and StarShip Atlantic. They joined in 1988 with a guest capacity of 1,027 and 1,600 passengers, respectively. Starship Majestic was purchased form Princess, a P&O Cruises subsidiary at the time, where she underwent a transformation to house the family-friendly atmosphere. StarShip Atlantic came over from MSC Cruises, previously known as Atlantic. SS Majestic was sold after a few years of service in 1994, while SS Atlantic held on for a few more years before being sold in 1997.

Disney pulled all of their beloved characters from Premier Cruise Line ships in 1993 as they were in the negotiation process with Carnival and Royal Caribbean to carry their brand. When those offers fell through, Disney started working on their own leisure cruise company to set sail in 1998. Premier immediately sought an affiliation with Looney Tunes characters to continue to maintain its family-friendly image.  Under the current operation model, profitability had soared into 1997 which lead Dial Corporation to sell the cruise line.

After the sale event, Premier Cruises Lines merged with Dolphin Cruise Line, Premier Cruises and Seawind Cruises (to be headed up by the original person who started the line, Bruce Nierenberg). This changed their business strategies, cancelling all of their international marketing agreements to work alongside Thomson Holidays, Pullmantur and other cruise lines. In doing this, several of those marketing partners built up their own independent cruise lines including Thomson Holidays who became part of one of the largest travel groups in the world, TUI.

SS OceanBreeze was the next ship added for Premier in 1997. This ship was notable in passenger cruise ships as it introduced the first time the engine room and funnel were moved the aft of the ship from midship, giving way to more usable public space on many of the decks. Near the end of 1999, the ship was chartered to Imperial Majesty Cruises, who later purchased her.

Screenshot of www.premiercruises.com, August 8, 2000

That same year the SS Rotterdam was put up for sale by Carnival Corporation from their Holland America Line fleet due to the exorbitant cost to bring the ship up to ADA compliance. Premier stepped in to purchase her, performed the necessary upgrades at half the projected cost and reintroduced her as SS Rembrandt. When Premier stopped sailing, this ship went homeless. Eventually she was purchased by her namesake city and was docked in Rotterdam where she lives on to this day as a museum and hotel.

Carnival Cruise Lines operated a ship named the SS Festivale which was chartered to Dolphin Cruise Line in 1996. When Premier Cruise Line took over in 1997, they performed maintenance on the ship and reintroduced her a year later as The Big Red Boat III. The Looney Tunes contract had also expired in 1998 and was not renewed. This was due, in part, to the declining attendance and lack of interest to sail on the currently aging fleet. The Big Red Boat III sailed until the demise of the company in 2000 when she was eventually sold for scrap and was laid up in Alang, India.

In an attempt to revive a ship from Costa Cruises, Premier was set to introduce Big Red Boat II in 1999. They began the re-branding process which was scheduled to take 10 months at a cost of $25 million. By this time, there were several other cruise lines who were building brand new cruise ships. Combined with the change in management from 1997, loss of a big company investing in their operations, and the purchases of aging ships bringing high maintenance costs to remain seaworthy, Premier Cruise Lines ended up filing for bankruptcy in September 2000.

The Big Red Boat II and Rembrandt sit side-by-side in Freeport, Bahamas – Photo: Wikipedia

The remaining ships in fleet, Big Red Boat I, Rembrandt, SS SeaBreeze, and Big Red Boat III were immediately ordered to stop sailing, with some of the ships offloading everything in the port where seized. A few of the ships were laid up in Freeport, Bahamas and others were left elsewhere. The SS SeaBreeze ended up capsizing and sinking within a few months of the closure.

Premier Cruise Line definitely had a rough 17-year history. The start of Disney Cruise Lines was the beginning of the end for Premier as their vacation packages weren’t as desirable since the Disney characters weren’t found on the Premier ships any longer.

An easier way to understand the brand and changes over the 17 years in existence.

While the cruise line itself is not in operation today, the impact that Premier left on the cruising industry is still visible. Many modern-day leisure cruise lines offer several on-board camps for kids to make it easier for families to vacation together. Sadly, all of her fleet has since been destroyed or sank and Treasure Cay was turned into a luxury golf course with million dollar mansions on it. Port Canaveral, which was introduced by Premier Cruise Lines for its proximity to the Orlando theme parks, is now served by Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, and Disney Cruise Line. Finally, if you make a visit to the web domain premiercruises.com, you’ll come across a faith based planning company who charters ships from various cruise lines to host sail parties.

2 thoughts on “Weekly Wednesday – Premier Cruise Lines”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *