Luxury cruise operator proposes historic plan to bring famous ocean liner back to the high seas.

By Jacqueline Gifford
February 05, 2016
Courtesy Crystal Cruises

Travel + Leisure World’s Best winner Crystal Cruises has just announced an historic deal. The luxury cruise operator has signed an option agreement with the owners of the S.S. United States, a ship that, during its heyday in the 1950s, was the fastest at sea. If all goes well, Crystal will restore the iconic trans-Atlantic liner at a cost of some $700 million, and passengers will once again be able to sail with her on the high seas.

The 2,000-passenger ocean liner—which was designed as part of a Pentagon project during the Cold War—has been docked in South Philadelphia, rusting and aging for nearly two decades. But its history remains vivid and fascinating: The S.S. United States was unique in that it could easily convert into a naval troopship during wartime and carry 15,000 troops. It broke the record for transatlantic speed on its first voyage. Four American presidents, Princess Grace of Monaco, and Coco Chanel sailed with her, and she remains the largest ship ever designed in the United States. But in 1969, the liner went out of commission, eventually landing in Philadelphia.

For years, the conservancy that runs the S.S. United States has sought to transform it into a museum or venue and revive it in some way, but costs have been prohibitive. Crystal, which has been aggressively expanding into new markets such as river cruising and private jet travel, saw potential in reinventing the ship, whose future was in jeopardy.

Crystal is conducting a feasibility study over the course of nine months to see if the S.S. United States can actually be salvaged, and will pay the current $60,000 per month docking fee. The intention will be to turn it into a 400-suite luxury vessel, and preserve original features such as the Promenade and the Navajo Room.

There will be challenges ahead, as Crystal tries to bring the S.S. United States into the modern era. New engines, for example, need to be installed, and EPA standards need to be met. For now, we’ll just have to sit back and hope that a cruising icon can indeed be reborn.