The Rise and Fall of : Premier Cruise Line


The second in our series of ‘The Rise and Fall of:’ We are covering Premier Cruise Lines. We had some great responses from former Regency Cruises staff when we covered their collapse last month (check the article), we hope we can repeat that with Premier Cruises.

Premier Cruise Lines

Started in 1983 as an arm of the Greyhound bus company it grew by offering holiday packages that included staying in Orlando for Disney World & Universal Studios. The company was sold in 1997 following three years of profits.

This marked a change for the business who soon stopped dealing with Disney, mainly due to the launch of Disney Cruise Line. The company also had a lot of business dealing with European tour operators such as Thomson in the UK, TUI in Germany and Pullmantur in Spain, during the changes in strategy these tour operators started their own operations, which lead to Premier losing their custom.

In an attempt to continue the family friendly theme Premier started a partnership with Warner Bros, However this plan soon began to unravel as Premier’s old ships did not meet the requirements of its passengers. The company took to marketing itself as classic budget vacations with interesting ports of call, This led to a merger with Seawind Cruise Line & Dolphin.

The merged company adopted the common identity of Premier Cruise Lines, and all ships except the Oceanic where given  dark blue hulls, The newly combined company purchased the Rotterdam from Holland America Line and she became the flagship of the new company as the Rembrandt.

However as this plan was underway a change in strategy saw the company return to the family market and rebrand ships as ‘Big Red Boats’. This involved painting the ships hull bright red. Soon reports where abound that Premier was to repaint the famous Rembrandt bright red.

In June 2000 the company dismissed 10% of its workforce and had lost $20,000,000 the previous year. The Ocean Breeze was sold to Imperial Majesty to free up cash in either 1999 or 2000 (reports vary). Like Regency, Premier was hit in 2000 by mechanical problems and fuel prices, as well as lawsuits about lack of disabled facilities on its vessels.

Premier Cruise Lines collapsed into bankruptcy in September 2000, the ships were arrested in ports around the world. The Seattle Times wrote about how this was expected in some travel circles, with only 13% of Travel Agents offering Premier cruise lines as an option six months before the collapse. (source)

At the time of the collapse Premier Cruise Lines was reportedly the Worlds 5th Largest Cruise company at the time. (It sounds crazy that a cruise line with just 5 ships could be the 5th largest! However 11 Years ago Louis and MSC where smaller, so it is possible!).
2,600 people where onboard the ships when the music stopped, and had to return home.

Premier had no doubt seen a reprieve following the collapse of Regency Cruises (Covered Here) with the company benefiting from the loss of its nearest competitor.

The ships were arrested around the world, With Seawind Crown who was in Barcelona under charter to Pullmantur being arrested there. Most of the fleet was however sent to Freeport, Bahamas.

Since the collapse only two of the fleet members are still in existence. The Rembrandt was purchased by the City of Rotterdam and has been transformed into hotel and conference venue for the city, her performance has been mixed.

SS Oceanic, the original Big Read Boat, has survived and was sold to Pullmantur following the bankruptcy and was later sold on to Japan’s PeaceBoat project, she is still looking great!

Interestingly the Seabreeze sank in December 2000 under suspicious circumstances, the skeleton crew was saved, The ship had a $20Million insurance policy registered against it, despite a scrap value of around $5Million. The ship sank in International waters while under the Panama flag, which means it is the job of the Panamanian authorities to investigate the sinking. The ship was a mere 25 miles outside international waters.

The rest of the fleet Big Red Boat 3 (ex Island Breeze, Festivale and Transvaal Castle), Big Red Boat 2 (ex Eugenio C) and Seawind Crown (ex Vasco Da Gama) were sold for scrap.

So did you work for Premier Cruise Lines, or did you cruise with them? Tell us about your memories and experiences! Comment Below. Facebook. Twitter and Email.

Thanks for Reading,
Liam
Liam@Crociere.co.uk
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If you liked this check out our article on The Rise and Fall of Regency Cruises

31 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of : Premier Cruise Line

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  6. Ah….I was on the Oceanic as a pre-teen in the late 80’s. It remains to this day one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. I’ll never forget the memories we made on that trip! The food and service were outstanding.

  7. I enjoyed cruising the MAJESTIC, ATLANTIC, OCEANIC and finally the REMBRANDT. When we took the REMBRANDT for our only 7 day cruise with the line. I thought it was sort of strange that the ship made a stop offshore at Freeport, Bahamas; they told us they were taking on more fuel. I had never heard of a ship making a stop like that to get fuel when it should have had more than enough to get back and to the prospective ports. When I heard about Premier filing for bankruptcy, it started to creep into my mind that maybe then; in early January 2000, they may have been having trouble?? Not sure. I can tell you, they were the best in service and food; the crew were always kind and every cruise with them felt like family. I do miss Premier and Regency Cruise Lines.

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  10. In 1993 my husband and I cruised aboard the Seawind Crown. It was perfect and our favorite cruise to date. We sailed out of Aruba to the Southern Caribbean. We loved that ship!
    We also were on the Dolphin’s Ocean Breeze in 1994 and our most beloved RCI’s Song of Norway in 1990. Today’s ships don’t measure up to these old beauties.

  11. Mid-1986, I performed entertainment system evaluation for the only vessels they operated at the time, the Oceanic and the Royale, sailing alternately or together (possible when two vessels accompany each other) their only two vessels at the time. In a single word, S/S Oceanic was “Magnificent,” the epitome of seaworthiness, still the most stable vessel I have ever sailed on. The one-word descriptor for S/S Royale was “Chintzy,” poorly-engineered, probably a nightmare for her superb engineers to keep afloat.

    I suspect the tie-in between Premier and Dolphin long precedes the year described. The Greek company providing engineering, deck and other services to both cruise lines long operated from offices situated on Miami’s Dodge Island.

  12. Worked on Rembrandt and the malfunction of the engines were usual. Once, in Mallorca, we stayed for a few days waiting to the engines to be repaired. With passengers on board. South American run was a disaster. Tons of big black plastic bags full of garbage went to the sea, every week, at 3/4 AM – with no passengers seeing it, of course.
    Bad preparation for the South American run with the ship always full of passengers and no conditions at all to serve them properly. Big shame.

  13. I liked the Majestic. We sailed her a couple times. In fact our son was conceived on her back on a Christmas 1993 cruise….

    What happened to her ?

    Thanks.

  14. Yes I worked for Premier Cruise Lines for 5 years, it was a remarkable experience onboard the Starship Oceanic and Starship Majestic. I love the ships so much full of wonderful memories and camaraderie among crew members and officers. We have established friendship relationship that can’t be forgotten. Hoping that a company like Premier Cruises/Premier Cruise Lines would establish a new company that can stand and revived its composure in the cruise line industry.

  15. While living and working as an RV Sales Rep on the Space Coast of Florida from around 1986 to 1991 (I think) I was fortunate enough to have friends and loved ones who worked for Premier Cruise Lines in Supervisor and Manager capacities. Probably the most wonderful time of my life getting to cruise multiple times on the Oceanic and the Atlantic. Oh how I miss those days. I’ve never cruised since that era because I don’t believe the service, the product and the good times good be matched.

  16. I worked as an entertainer and the production show manager on the SeaBreeze in 2000, prior to the ship being seized and its doomed final repositioning. For months there were clear “red flags” with the business and ship safety. I had worked on other ships and cruise lines but this was the first time I actually felt unsafe and at times, scared. I saw many things that I don’t believe would happen today, including coast guard pay-offs (Literally bags of cash being handed over) when we failed safety inspections prior to sailings. Other times, engines would not be work properly and we physically couldn’t sail. I actually do not believe the sinking was done purposely, as some suspect. We had a full crew when we were repositioning for the summer in New England and had a similar scare in the same area (Off Virginia) but we were very lucky to make it out. Other times, we listed so heavily I actually thought we would capsize. I thought the SeaBreeze was a beautiful old ship and do have some great memories but the entire vessel was in terrible disrepair, including the lifeboats. It is fortunate no lives were lost and I am saddened that one of our last steam ships had to fall into such poor condition that it would sink.

  17. Me and my family enjoyed a cruise on the Oceanic back in…I wanna say, 1995 or 6. Did the whole Disney/Bahama package deal. Would love to take a cruise back to that location again 🙂

  18. I worked as a purser for Premier from 1987-1990. Oceanic, Atlantic and Majestic. 15 years total on ships with 4 different companies and I can say hands down my years with Premier were the best. We worked hard but we played hard as well and we all loved our jobs, which carried over into making it a happy cruise for the passengers. Oceanic was the most beautiful ship ever…I cried when I saw the google map of her in the scrapyard. On the Oceanic we had a resident, “Snuffy”…an elderly gentleman that “lived” on board. He had his regular chair in the foyer by the purser’s desk….I remember it well, as well as nights out in Nassau at the “new” Crystal Palace Casino that Carnival had just built, a nearby disco called “Club Mystique” where all the crew would meet up and a great pizza place called Roselawn back in downtown Nassau where we would go in the early morning hours. Followed the next day by lunch at the Green Shutters. Easter in Nassau with the smell of roasted lamb coming off the back decks of all three ships (with the Greek officers, Easter was always the best party). Great people and great memories.

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  20. Worked at a travel agency in 1986, and was given a free cruise on the Royale, I believe. The only glitch was it was standby. I was to call 4 weeks in advance and if there was availability, I could book a cabin. They told me “no availability,” so I asked if I could just come down on the sail date and wait it out. They agreed and so we planted ourselves in the terminal on the date of sailing. 20 minutes prior to departure, sure enough, we were given a cabin and we began our adventure. My memory of that cruise is not great, however. Pool was having difficulties, so it was not filled. Hot tub not working. I have a memory of being packed like sardines into the dining room, which was a large room with low ceilings, and no windows. Very different experience than the ships of today.

    • I worked Premier 2nd Quarter 1986. With [crew] cabin on the Oceanic, I occasionally sailed on the Royale staying in empty passenger cabins. Tom Dentino [Jr.] was Royale’s cruise director, George Stathatos the hotel manager. At Premier, most crewmembers were first-class, as were Eastern Steamship’s Emerald Seas. The smaller the company, the more human its company culture usually is. Having bought the Royale from Costa (Eugenio C?) and the Oceanic and Atlantic from Home Lines (no rebadging), I am uncertain of Majestic’s origin. I recall Premier had a problem sourcing 50 Hz. replacement motors. The day after a late-night pump failure (while berthed at New Providence Island) shut down a boiler and the resulting cinders left Royale’s funnel looking like a fireworks show finale, and the commissioning of top-deck-mount diesel emergency generators for ventilation power became necessary, the chief engineer (Mikonos?) summoned me to his office to discuss converting to North American electrical standards. With few exceptions, the rest of the world uses 50 Hz. My suggested resolution, to raise generator speed 20% was beyond those old turbines’ ability. I have long wondered if 60 Hz motors laboring at 50 Hz contributed to the loss of the Royale in a North Atlantic storm. I would caution modern day cruise passengers to stick with those smaller ships. Between lack of keel, low draft and huge superstructure side profile, G-d Help You if are ever aboard a megaship in heavy seas accompanied by strong crosswinds and gusts (like in an unexpected hurricane or typhoon).

  21. My son and I cruised on the Atlantic (Premiere cruise lines) around 1990. We did a Caribbean/Disney package out of Cape Canaveral. At 14, it was a first for him – parasailing, cruising, the Caribbean, unlimited ice cream. Although it wasn’t the first class experience he had imagined, it provided wonderful memories. Now 41, I hope he and his wife will carve out some time to take a cruise smowhere – anywhere- just for the experience.

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  23. Worked on the Oceanic and Majestic 1991/92, started as a young waiter,great times ! .Than moved on to Renaissance Cruises and finally Carnival Cruises

  24. I was Assistant/Relief Hotel Manager on both ‘Oceanic’ and ‘Atlantic’. October 1990 – June 1991. This was when they were the ‘Big Red Boats’ and contracted Disney World to have four of the Disney characters on board for each cruise for all three ships. ‘Atlantic & Oceanic’ sailed in tandem on 3 & 4 day cruises to Nassau, Grand Bahama. The smaller ‘Majestic’ sailed to the Abacos. Carnival Corp. were interested in purchasing Premier in 1991 to fit in their portfolio of cruise lines; their own brand, Carnival; Windstar Cruises and Holland America Line. For me, this looked very promising as I believed Carnival would find the investment to put another ship on the Abacos and also one on the Californian coast with a Disney World relationship that Premier had been seeking – but had not been able to raise the capital. There would have been the potential to become a permanent Hotel Manager. During the period when a company can scrutinise ‘ the books’, Carnival believed that Premier was over-valued – and reduced its offer. The two main shareholders Greyhound and Dial Corp. rejected this and Carnival withdrew. I was home on leave when I got a ‘phone call with this news and that Premier were going to have reduce its costs and that the role of Assistant Hotel Manager was to be made redundant. Despite long periods away from home – over six months on this rotation, my family were able to join for two cruises and I was able to take two cruises off to visit Disney, Cape Canaveral etc. the family loved it……and I loved working on these ships, especially being able to look after the ‘Wish Kid Foundation’ families. I was disappointed that my time with Premier was so short.

  25. I sailed on Premier during spring break of 2000. Even as a junior in high school who’d never cruised before, I could tell that the ship itself was a bit past its prime. However, my friends and I had a blast! Service, food, and activities were great- and it was the wonderful people who made it that way! Kind of odd/eerie to learn that it went bankrupt that same year…

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