A crossing is not a cruise, I know that, but where else do I file these blog posts?
Crossings were the main way folks got to Europe before 1958. That year more people crossed the Atlantic by air than by ship. 1958 also the first year of trans-Atlantic jet service, although flying piston planes “across the pond” nearly surpassed sea crossings in 1957.
Ocean liners were different from cruise ships. They were faster, needing speed, and reserve speed, to maintain schedules. They were designed to sail in stormy North Atlantic weather. They did not have outdoor pools on upper decks. They had enclosed or semi-enclosed promenades Dining rooms did not have picture windows, they were located below the main deck because stability was more important than views. There were no hamburger stands or lido buffets. While there was dancing in the lounge there were no elaborate shows. I don’t remember lectures, but there were movies, bingo, shuffleboard and quoits (a game where you throw rope rings at targets, in case you were curious.) At least in tourist there were passengers with guitars, fiddles, banjos and accordions, and perhaps one would keep rhythm with spoons grabbed from the dining room. Passengers were divided into classes, First, Cabin and Tourist.
I’ve made four crossings. Over and back in 1961 with my grandfather, documented in the linked blog posts. (Double Crossings – Eastbound. Double Crossings – Westbound.) We sailed westbound on the SS United States, the Big U, flagship of the American fleet, and westbound on the America, a warmer and more intimate older ship. Ocean liners were still popular in 1961 but wouldn’t be for long. They had already lost market share to airlines by 1961. That was yet not a disaster because trans-oceanic jets greatly increased the size of the overall trans-Atlantic tourism market. But the crossing market was slowly dying. It would take a decade to really finish the liners off. The last single purpose trans-Atlantic liner went into service in 1963. After that (and before in the case of the 1959 Rotterdam V) the liners were designed, from scratch, for dual purpose as cruise ships and liners.
My other two crossings do not have their own posts. One was in 1968 on the SS United States. Suzi and I were on our honeymoon. The America, my first choice, had gone out of trans-Atlantic service. The Big U would go out of service the next year, we caught her near the end of her run. I don’t remember much about that trip. Suzi and I had had quite the week beforehand. She graduated from college, her sister from High school, (I had graduated two weeks earlier), I wrapped up my radio job, I voted for the first time (in the NJ Presidential Primary election), we got married, had receptions in Minnesota and New Jersey, missed a friend’s wedding because the plane was late (we were going to drop into Chicago on the way from Minnesota to New Jersey) and had physicals for the Peace Corps which we were to join at the end of the summer. (The host government was overthrown and we never got into the Peace Corps.) When we got on the SS United States for our crossing to Europe for our honeymoon, I was exhausted. My parents threw a bon voyage party on the ship, we stood by the rail and waved at them as we cast off, threw some streamers as the band played, then I went to bed.
The only things I remember was that the steward was named Diego Soto, we went dancing one night and we pretended that we had been married for three years because we didn’t want people at the table to make a fuss about the newly-weds. We fooled no one. I’m not sure what Suzi did but some friends of hers from college were on board just a few doors down from our cabin. I “came to” in time to take one, not very good picture as we pulled into Le Havre and one as we pulled into Southampton. I had not kept a diary.
I vividly remember our time in London, what shows we went to, where we visited, and extending our honeymoon because our peace corps job was canceled. We bought camping gear and headed north of the Arctic Circle in Norway and Finland. But the crossing was a memory loss. At least I wasn’t seasick. We flew home on the “hippie express,” an Icelandic Airlines prop jet, with a 48 hour stopover in Iceland that lasted a week because Icelandic Airlines overbooked and overbooked and overbooked. We didn’t care, we didn’t have anything else to do. But my poor parents kept getting middle of the night calls from the airline telling them we were not on the plane, not to meet us at the airport.
Our last crossing was in December 1983 on the QE2. We wanted the kids to experience a trans-Atlantic crossing before they were forever gone (perhaps we will take our grandkids on a QM2 crossing before they are forever gone). Right after we left Southampton, I got sick. It was rough but this wasn’t seasickness. Seasickness does not come with a fever. I had plenty of time to recover because the 6 day crossing was extended as we moved slowly through the storm. In my fevered haze I remember some pretty big waves, ship lurches and loud crashing sounds. My poor parents were getting calls telling them not to meet us at the pier in the morning. Fortunately, the ship was showing Star Wars 4, 5 and 6 (the first three films) so the kids probably didn’t notice the waves and were happy memorizing the films while I recovered. I am not sure what Suzi did. I didn’t keep a diary. Instead of sailing into New York in the morning we arrived at 11 at night, I had recovered by then, and the experience of sailing into the harbor with all the city’s Christmas lights blazing was memorable. Customs had gone home for the night, so we stayed on the ship until morning. My parents met us at the pier.
Double Crossings — Eastbound. (SS United States, July, 1961)