Vintage Photos Illustrating How Elegant And Luxurious Cruise Ships Used To Be

Before air travel became commonplace, people traveled from place to place via cruise ship. But these ships weren’t your typical Carnival Cruise liner with ziplines and pools packed with people. Instead, these ocean liners were the picture of elegance.

Built with painstaking detail, people didn’t dare cross onto the ship unless they were dressed in their best and ready to travel for up to months at a time. Keep scrolling; you’ll marvel at the luxury these vintage cruise ships had to offer.

Women Wore Day Gowns Instead Of Sun Dresses

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Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

On cruise ships today, you’d be hard-pressed to find women walking on the upper deck in full day-gowns, fancy hats, and umbrellas. Instead, sundresses and bathing suits are the names of the game.

But from the launch of the first cruise ship through until the roaring twenties, women would be dressed to impress when they took their daily walks around a ship. And these outfits are considered “dressed down” compared to what they’d wear when the clock struck six pm.

Travelers Were Always Dressed In Their Best

Travelers Were Always Dressed In Their Best
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It’s amazing to see the difference in casual wear. Today, men and women would more likely be found lounging about in a short-sleeved shirt, shorts, and flip-flops, reading a trashy magazine.

Here, the women are wearing full-length, high-neck, long-sleeved gowns, and the men are wearing casual suits. And instead of wind-blown hair that comes with sitting on the deck of a cruise ship, both hairstyles are meticulously arranged, gelled, pinned, and paired with a hat.

Dinner Was A White Tie Affair

Dinner Was A Black Tie Affair
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While men and women would walk about the ship dressed in what was considered casual wear during the day, evening wear was a completely different ball game. Once the clock struck six, women would go to their quarters and trade in their day gowns for evening dresses.

For the men, dinner and after-hour drinks were a white tie affair. However, the men’s dress code changed to black-tie after the first World War. And, as you can see, there’s no buffet in sight!

A Maiden Voyage Was A Huge Event

A Maiden Voyage Was A Huge Event
The AGE/Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images
The AGE/Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images

Something that is rarely, if ever seen, today is a grand spectacle during a cruise liners maiden voyage. This photo, taken in May of 1954, shows a massive crowd lined along the dock to witness the first voyage of the P & O Liner Orsova.

As the picture shows, streamers were thrown from the ship as well as from the dock, people were cheering and smiling, and passengers were lined along the liners rails to wave goodbye to the crowd.

Sitting Rooms Were Spacious

Sitting Rooms Were Spacious
Central Press/Getty Images
Central Press/Getty Images

Back in the day, quiet sitting rooms were one of the more popular rooms onboard cruise ships. Here, people would sip on adult drinks, read books, and get away from all of the bustling activity probably happening above deck.

This room is a far cry from the entertainment rooms on the modern-day cruise ship. Instead of peace and quiet, people are more interested in the casino rooms and the loud mall-type arrangement of stores throughout the liners.

Tea Time At Sea

Tea Time At Sea
Bert Hardy/Getty Images
Bert Hardy/Getty Images

If you can believe it, back in 1948, waiters would come around and serve tea to passengers. While people can still order food and beverages on cruise liners today, there is something very timely about tea time.

Here, we don’t see people being served pool-side burgers and French fries. Instead, there are multiple waiters dressed in suits, instead of tee shirts, serving tea in tiny porcelain cups on the deck of the ship.

First Class Dining Was No Joke

First Class Dining Was No Joke
ND/Roger Viollet via Getty Images
ND/Roger Viollet via Getty Images

Back in the day, cruise ships were broken up by class. While the steerage class was subjected to the lower decks of the ship, first-class passengers were living the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

They’re dining area, for instance, was beautiful, lavish, and the epitome of elegance. With velvet dining chairs fit for royalty, banquet-style seating, and multiple-course meals, first-class was a far cry from steerage class that was responsible for bringing aboard their own food.

Mid-Morning Snack Service With A View Was A Norm

Mid-Morning Snack Service With A View Was A Norm
Garry Hogg/Getty Images
Garry Hogg/Getty Images

Honestly, this picture makes us think this lady rented out an entire cruise ship, fully-equipped with staff, for a solo vacation. Never is the upper deck of a cruise ship this empty!

She even has a waiter serving her a bit of breakfast while she takes in the gorgeous views of the Grecian cliffs in the distance. This is the type of luxury cruising we’re missing out on in the modern age.

Shuffle Board Instead Of Gambling

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Touring Club Italiano/Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Touring Club Italiano/Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

This picture was taken back in 1959, a simpler time. As you can see, these ladies are out in the sun playing a game of shuffleboard instead of inside at a poker table, as people are more likely to do today.

The fact that these women are most likely strangers makes this vintage photo all the better. People on-board ships today are less likely to get involved in a simple game with people they don’t know.

Boxing Was Preferred Over Basketball

Boxing Was Preferred Over Basketball
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

While passengers on cruise ships today prefer to compete in sports such as basketball, ping pong, or even volleyball, if the liner has a net, guests back in the 20s had a different sport.

Boxing was a very popular international sport back in the 1920s, so it only makes sense that it was a form of entertainment on ships. Even though these two ladies are wearing dresses and heels, they seem to know what they’re doing!

Hula Lessons For The Gals Onboard

Dance Lessons For The Gals Onboard
Gene Lester/Getty Images
Gene Lester/Getty Images

This vintage photo makes us very happy because it shows that cruise ships didn’t always have “clubs” for dancing. Instead, ladies had some boogie down entertainment in the form of dance classes!

This cruise liner, for example, was headed towards Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1954. So, naturally, the dance lesson aboard the liner taught women the traditional Hawaiian Hula dance. From the looks on their faces, it seems like these gals were having a blast!

Egg And Spoon Races Were All The Rage

Egg And Spoon Races Were All The Rage
J. B. Helsby/Getty Images
J. B. Helsby/Getty Images

While modern-day entertainment on cruise ships is typically in the form of casinos, basketball, and water sports, back in the day passengers had many other ways to compete. Here, women are doing a good old fashioned egg and spoon race.

This might not seem like too much fun, but when you’re out at sea for months at a time like a lot of these old liners, egg races probably become the best part of the day.

Famous Actors Traveled By Sea

Famous Actors Traveled By Sea
Mondadori via Getty Images
Mondadori via Getty Images

For a lot of modern-day celebrities, being stuck on a cruise ship with a bunch of people doesn’t sound like a relaxing vacation. But back in the 60s, movie stars such as Rory Calhoun jumped at the chance to travel by sea.

Back in the day, cruise ships didn’t cost nearly as much as they do today. Although, the average $160 per ticket probably didn’t seem like a lot to Mr. Calhoun in any case.

Parties Were A Classy Occasion

Parties Were A Classy Occasion
Puttnam/Getty Images
Puttnam/Getty Images

Dances and parties looked a lot different back in the 60s. Instead of huge club-like rooms, full of laser lights, huge speakers, and perhaps a disco ball or two, it looked a bit classier.

Not only are people dressed in suits and dresses and not “clubbing attire,” but they are all paired-off and dancing in a traditional fashion. And, as you can see by this picture, there are no subwoofers or smoke machines in sight!

Potato Sack Races Were A Form Of Entertainment

Potato Sack Races Were A Form Of Entertainment
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Another form of entertainment that might surprise you, as it’s typically something that is only seen at fairs, was potato sack races! Well, we’ll just call them “sack races” since those aren’t strictly for potatoes.

Regardless, men and women would entertain themselves by having different variations of races. Here, we see four women competing in a sack race. And, by the looks of it, they’re having a very fun time doing so in front of some of the sailors.

Lounges Were Designed With Painstaking Detail

Lounges Were Designed With Painstaking Detail
Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Of course, lounges and dining areas are still commonplace on cruise ships today. The difference is that vintage lounges, such as this one, were designed with such painstaking detail; its hard not to wish they still looked like this.

With the glass-domed skylight ceiling, heavy drapes, oriental carpet, upholstered seating, and large mural paintings, this particular lounge room was part of the Cunard Line promotional brochure for the Berengaria back in 1930.

Professional Boxers Graced Cruise Ships

Professional Boxers Graced Cruise Ships
Brooke/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Brooke/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Boxing was one of the most popular international sports throughout the roaring twenties. Men and women alike would line-up to see their favorite athletes fight in the ring. Heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsey was one of those must-see athletes.

And here we see him dressed in his best aboard the Berengaria as it’s docked in Britain. Cruise liners were so elegant and luxurious back in the 20s that the athletes of today would probably think about vacationing on one, too. Alas, private yachts are more in vogue.

Staff-Led Exercise On The Top Deck

Staff-Led Exercise On The Top Deck
William Vanderson/Fox Photos/Getty Images
William Vanderson/Fox Photos/Getty Images

Here, we see some of the SS Vienna staff doing an “athletic display.” We’re just going to call it what it is, though. These staff members are doing yoga instruction on the top deck of the cruise ship.

And while yoga is still offered on many liners, you’d be hard-pressed to find a staff-led instruction going on top of the deck. This is because the decks are typically overcrowded with people and activities, leaving no room for group exercise programs.

People Dressed Up At The Pool

People Dressed Up At The Pool
Puttnam/Getty Images
Puttnam/Getty Images

It seems like ditching a party with friends to find somewhere quiet to sit and chat is a normal thing in every decade! Here, we see four people who clearly left the ballroom to sit in on the edge of the indoor pool.

Dressed in suits, bowties, furs, pearls, and evening gowns, these four definitely didn’t come into this room to go swimming. Even so, it just shows how elegant people dressed while aboard ocean liners.

Ditching The Party For A Photoshoot

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Puttnam /Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Puttnam /Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Cruise ships during the roaring twenties were probably a blast, as you can see by the way these four guests are dressed. Not only did the women wear flapper dresses and curl their hair just so, but men wore Gatsby-style suits that made them look very dapper.

Unfortunately for these four, if they were on a modern ship, we’d doubt they’d get away with sitting on some of the equipment! Although it does make for a very good photo.