First cruise in history

A cold North Sea wind ruffled the ladies' coiffed hairdos and whipped underneath the gentlemen's elegant coat-tails, rattling the piles of luggage stacked on the pier. In January 1891, 241 passengers went up the gangway in Cuxhaven to board the AUGUSTA VICTORIA, among them the director Albert Ballin, head of the passage department at the Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft (Hapag). The Hamburg-born shipping magnate accompanied the adventurous party of travellers on this "pleasure cruise". The first cruise in history sailed to the "Orient", which was at that time the dream destination of well-to-do travellers.

The AUGUSTA VICTORIA sets out on a Grand Voyage

On 22 January 22 1891, the floating rococo palace, the AUGUSTA VICTORIA, put to sea. The guests on the first "excursion", described by Albert Ballin as "daring travellers", among them many British ladies, admired the splendour of the mirrored rooms (such as the elegant "Ladies Room"). To go on board a steamship for enjoyment was deemed exotic and - more than that - unseemly. Especially for female guests. Isn't a cruise of this kind too strenuous, both mentally and physically, for the weaker sex? It is quite evident that the later general director of HAPAG did not share this attitude. In addition to his wife, Marianne, there were a further 67 women on board.



The first cruise came to be because it rankled the visionary Albert Ballin to see the magnificent North American express steamer, AUGUSTA VICTORIA, bobbing idly up and down at anchor during the winter. Who would voluntarily cross the Atlantic at this time of year, defying fierce storms? Against resistance from his head-shaking colleagues on the HAPAG board, Albert Ballin had his way: in January the shipping company dispatched the AUGUSTA VICTORIA to the Mediterranean. The demand for tickets at up to 2,400 gold marks was enormous. Thus was born the idea of the luxurious pleasure cruise on which modern-day cruises are modelled.

During the first "pleasure cruise", the illustrious company of German, British and American guests enjoyed excellent service on board: butlers, balls and exquisite cuisine. A series of journalists plus the illustrator of travel reports, Christian Wilhelm Allers, accompanied the cruise and filled the pages of the first on-board newspaper. In it, an article stated that, as the cruise progressed, the travellers from Hamburg had been "united in three things": "They are at pains to acquire the same travel hats, to relish each and every meal to the full - and to eat caviar rolls as if they were going out of fashion."

The first cruise in figures

  • 241 passengers were on board the AUGUSTA VICTORIA
  • 57 days, 11 hours and 3 minutes was the duration of the cruise
  • 14 ports were called at: Cuxhaven, Southampton, Gibraltar, Genoa, Alexandria, Jaffa, Beirut, Constantinople (Istanbul), Piraeus, Malta, Palermo, Naples, Lisbon, Southampton and back to Cuxhaven
  • 1,600 to 2,400 gold marks was the cost of the cruise (modern-day equivalent approximately € 28,500 to 42,800)

The young director Albert Ballin, always immaculately dressed, attended to nearly everything himself. From the posies of violets for the 67 ladies on board and the games on deck, right through to the toast to the emperor at the celebratory dinner on the birthday of Wilhelm II - Ballin oversaw everything with discretion, earning Hapag a reputation for being a fabulous host.

There were thirteen shore excursions on the agenda once the luxury steamship had passed the Bay of Biscay, where, due to the severe swell, even the band fell silent. On 28 January 1891, the AUGUSTA VICTORIA dropped anchor overlooking Gibraltar. The cruise continued to Genoa in glorious weather. A glamorous ship of this nature had never before been seen in many Mediterranean ports. In some places, the cruise pioneers were greeted with gun salutes, while in Constantinople (Istanbul) even the sultan himself paid a visit.

In March, the HAPAG flagship returned to Cuxhaven to the enthusiastic welcome of thousands. Following the success of the premiere voyage, the shipping company adopted cruising as a firm part of its programme from then on. And over the course of the next 125 years, further innovations were to enhance the fame of the shipping company: the first purpose-built cruise ship; the first on-board indoor swimming pool; the first expedition ship with a high ice class; the ship offering the most space ... Hapag-Lloyd Cruises reinvents the cruise time and time again. Yet one thing has always stayed the same: for 125 years, guests have found fresh flowers in their cabins - just as in Ballin's time.

Historic images © Hapag-Lloyd AG, Hamburg



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