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.