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The SS America Sailing Experience

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America First Class

When the America began her Atlantic crossings in 1946 some travel agents questioned the ship’s ability to attract affluent passengers. Cunard lines offered bigger and faster ships in the Queen Mary and Elizabeth. Their service was impeccable. America met the competition and over the years attracted a loyal following. This was accomplished by offering luxurious First Class facilities with service that was superlative yet genuine and friendly. In addition, she offered something no other ship had, a piece of America at sea, a more democratic spirit; a fresh new world appeal. As this country’s ship of state, she was a showcase for the best in American engineering, art, craftsmanship, interior design, and cuisine. The ship was an all-American product. From the Oregon pine decking to the Rhode Island silverware on the tables, practically every State in the Union contributed material and equipment. The interiors were fashioned by American designers, architects, and decorators. The food featured the best regional cuisine. It all came together to create a truly First Class experience that would attract tourists, diplomats, royalty, and Hollywood stars. First Class fare to Southampton in 1951 was $295.00 and up in First Class, $200.00 in Cabin, and $160 in Tourist. For that price passengers sailed on a floating luxury resort offering the refinement and conveniences of the finest American hotel. They enjoyed expansive deck space and elegant public rooms. First Class had the best location, amidship, away from the vibration of churning propellers and the impact of waves slamming into the bow. It was a wonderful way to travel, civilized, luxurious, entertaining, relaxing, and friendly without being stuffy. The America set the standard for American First Class travel at sea.

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Picture from the Brian Petersen collection

America Cabin Class

Cabin class was referred to as the ” Middle Class” of the ship. Referred to in travel brochures as “Happy Medium” in Atlantic travel, offering high standards of comfort and service at reasonable rates. Typical travelers included vacationing clerics, professors, seniors, and families. With more space, comfort, and amenities passengers lived between the luxury of First and spare accommodations of Tourist. It was just the right mix for those who wanted more room and were put off by the extra appointments and perceived formality of First. Dressing up for dinner was optional, and a more informal atmosphere prevailed in the public rooms.

All but four staterooms in Cabin Class had a private shower and toilet. The curly maple paneled dinning room was bright and cheerful . Passengers dined beneath Hildreth Meire’s stylized murals of the skylines of San Francisco, New York, Paris and London. The smoking room came with fireplace and chairs upholstered in leather and hand woven fabric. There was room for deck games on a large expanse of Upper Deck and a glass enclosed promenade on Main deck.

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In this beautiful air-conditioned Dinning Room you will satisfy the hearty appetite that brisk sea air and your daily activities will stimulate. The cheerful environment makes every meal a pleasurable event – Immaculate white linen, gleaming china, glistening silver, fresh flowers and soft indirect lighting.

Elaborate menus afford a wide choice of appetizing foods of the lighting. Elaborate menus afford a wide choice of appetizing foods of the highest quality expertly prepared by skilled chefs and served by trained stewards. Special menus are available for children. Tables are of varied sizes to accommodate large or small groups.

US Lines brochure

Sample items available on the Gala Diner. Cabin Class.

  • Beluga Malossol Caviar, Canape or Smoked Irish Salmon.
  • Roast Maryland Turkey, Chestnut Stuffing, Giblet Gravy, Cranberry Jelly
  • Baked Sugar-cured Yorkshire Ham, Pineapple Sauce
  • Prime Cut Sirloin Steaks, Mushrooms Sauce
  • Clara Barton Salad, Special Dressing
  • Strawberry Sundae, Petits Fours
  • Tunis dates, fresh Fruit basket Cheese and toasted crackers Demi Tasse
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S.S. AMERICA gets here first review

” To those who like dignity rather than pretentiousness comfort rather than display, all of this will seem no drawback. Having traveled on the French and English superliners, I can testify that the slower smaller American competitor is easily the most attractive both in decorations and that indefinable element of personality that every ship possesses.”

Felix Morely
Washinton Post Editor
Sailing on the delivery voyage from Newport News to New York, July 1940

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America Tourist Class

Tourist class on ships is a thing of the past. However when the America was launched in 1939 class distinction on ships was quite rigid with strict separation between First Cabin and Tourist. The only exception was an occasional adventurous small child would break out of the confines of Tourist by sliding under the locked gates.

United States lines described Tourist class as a “Convenience to those who are economy-minded and desire to obtain the best possible value in ocean travel for a limited expenditure”. Value travelers frequently included students and immigrants on a limited budget and families returning to visit the homeland. The staterooms were pleasingly decorated and comfortably furnished. About half of them had private showers and toilets. The public rooms were described as “homey”, smaller and less grandiose than those in Cabin and First Class they were comfortable with a warm friendly atmosphere. The same care and talent went into decorating all public rooms in the ship. They were so well done that it was difficult first glance detect a difference in class. Assistant Purser Morris Luft described the tourist Class smoking room as ” One of the nicest rooms on the ship”.

As for food it was good and there was plenty of it. For many it was their first taste of American food. A typical menu featured would be fried chicken Southern style, Cream Sauce, boiled potatoes or round tips sirloin of beef. Desert was chocolate pudding. The dining room was air-conditioned and attractively furnished with the same good service found in the other classes.

The drawbacks of traveling Tourist was the lack of space and location. The 51 cabins were located in the less desirable bow were the pitching motion was more pronounced. Passengers shared the limited windswept spaces with the cargo hatches. The “enclosed” promenade on Main Deck was an open space between the decks. Waves breaking over the bow would render these spaces Off limits confining passengers to cabins or the two public rooms.

In 1961 US Lines was struggling to fill the ship in all classes. To increase passenger bookings in Tourist they made it larger and more attractive by combining Cabin and Tourist spaces into a new improved Tourist class.