CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR LARGER VIEWS
WHATEVER BECAME OF
THE BIG RED BOAT?
The Story of the Oceanic
Richard H. Wagner
The useful life of a ship is frequently longer than the
time the general cruising public regards the ship as a
viable option for their vacation. At some point, the ship
no longer has the amenities and conveniences that the
public expect to find and it is no longer competitive
with the first rank of cruise ships. The major lines then
usually sell the ship to an entity that provides cruises in
the secondary market either at bargain rates or
somewhere outside of the United States. At the end of
the ship’s career in the secondary market, she either
goes to the breakers or embarks on yet another, often
unique career, for the time that remains to her.
Oceanic, popularly known as The Big Red Boat for
part of her career, provides a classic illustration of the
lifecycle of a passenger ship. Her career can be
divided into neat chapters. She has proven to be quite
resilient and has succeeded quite well in each chapter.
Recently, she has embarked on yet another chapter but
the effects of time may be closing in on her.
Chapter I Oceanic The Liner Turned Cruise Ship
Oceanic was built by Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico
in Monfalcone Italy. She was to be Home Lines first
purpose built ship and was conceived of as performing
a dual-role of transatlantic crossings between Italy and
Canada in the summer and cruises from New York to
the Caribbean and Bahamas in the winter. However, by
the time the ship entered service in 1965, jet travel had
rendered the transatlantic service no longer viable.
Consequently, Home Lines decided to use her primarily
as a cruise ship sending her on less than a handful of
transatlantic crossings while she belonged to them.
Indeed, Home Lines even marketed the ship somewhat
disingenuously as “the largest ship ever designed for
year round cruises.”
The ship had several features that made her a good
cruise ship. First, she had a large swimming pool area
with two adjoining pools of 360 square feet each. This
area was covered by a retractable glass roof known as
the Magradome, which could be closed during sailings
from New York and opened once the ship reached
warmer waters. It could also be closed on those days
when it rained or when the weather outside became too
hot. In addition, her steam turbine engines could drive
the ship through the water at speeds up to 27.25 knots.
This is much faster than most cruise ships and could be
used to take the ship from the cold to the sunny south
quickly. Like later cruise ships, the lifeboats were
arrayed closer to the waterline rather than on the top of
the ship as had been done in the past. Amongst other
things, this reduced the clutter on the open decks,
making them more passenger friendly. Also, Oceanic
was fully air-conditioned, something many older
transatlantic liners were not.
As Home Lines’ advertising indicated, Oceanic was
a large ship for her day at 39,241 gross registered tons.
While she could accommodate up to 1,600 passengers
in her two-class transatlantic liner configuration, her
capacity was reduced to 1,200 in her single class
cruising configuration. She had sleek, elegant lines
with a length of 722 feet and a beam of 97 feet.
Oceanic did very well in her role as a cruise ship.
Her interior was elegant but she had the amenities that
the cruising public expected in the mid-20th Century.
She reportedly operated consistently at 95 percent
capacity doing seven-day cruises from New York to the
Bahamas and extended Caribbean cruises in the winter.
By the early 1980s, however, Oceanic was no longer
a first tier ship. In 1982, Oceanic lost her position as
flagship of the Home Lines when the line took delivery
of the Atlantic. It had also placed an order for another
new ship that was slated for delivery in 1985, which
would take up Oceanic’s itineraries. Accordingly, after
20 years of service, Oceanic was sold to Premier
Cruises in 1985.
Chapter II The Big Red Boat
Premier Cruises was founded in 1983 with the aim of
providing short three and four-day cruises from Port
Canaveral, Florida to the Bahamas. The idea was that
sailing from Port Canaveral would allow the line to
package cruises with vacations to the nearby theme
parks in Orlando. Furthermore, research showed that
many of the people who took short cruises from Miami
and Fort Lauderdale lived in Central Florida. These
people would not have to travel a couple of hundred
miles to get to cruises that sailed from Port Canaveral.
At the time, none of the major cruise lines were sailing
from Port Canaveral but it would not take them long to
do so if Premier’s strategy proved successful.
Accordingly, Premier sought ways to differentiate itself
from the other lines. First, it negotiated an agreement
with Disney to become “The Official Cruise Line of
Walt Disney World” and to have costumed Disney
characters onboard to mix with the passengers. Second,
it made its fleet of second hand ships look unique and
fun by painting their hulls deep red. Accordingly, they
were marketed, in a manner designed to appeal to young
families, as the Big Red Boats.
Oceanic was the second ship purchased by Premier.
After an extensive refit, she entered service for Premier
in 1985 renamed “Star/ship Oceanic.” However, she
was marketed under the name “Big Red Boat.” Her
schedule took her on three and four-day cruises from
Port Canaveral to the Bahamas.
During the refit, much of the interior was transformed
from ocean liner elegant to more of a mass market
style. This engendered much criticism from ocean liner
enthusiasts but for many people the Big Red Boat was a
pleasing introduction to ocean travel.
The success of the Big Red Boat did indeed lead the
major cruise lines to position ships to Port Canaveral.
Moreover, it led Disney to decide to enter the cruise
industry itself and in 1993, it terminated its relationship
with Premier. However, Premier responded by
negotiating an agreement with Warner Brothers under
which Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tune characters took
the place of Mickey Mouse onboard the Big Red Boat.
At the same time, Premier branched out acquiring
more second-hand ships and positioning them in other
markets in America and Europe. These ships were
given a blue hull and sailed under their own names. As
a result, Oceanic was the only ship left following the
By the turn of the Millennium, it appeared that
Premier had over extended itself and management
decided to get back toward the original concept.
Oceanic was officially renamed “Big Red Boat I”. In
addition, its fleetmates including the former Rotterdam
(1959) were given red hulls and were given the name
“Big Red Boat ” followed by a Roman numeral.
However, it was all too late and Premier went bankrupt
in September 2000.
This left the 35 year-old Big Red Boat I seized by the
authorities in Freeport in the Bahamas.
Chapter III Back To The Old World
The demise of Premier was coincident with the start
of a change in attitude in Europe toward cruising. Until
then, cruising had been thought of by many Europeans as
expensive and elitist - - something for royalty and film
stars. However, as in America in the 1970s, people
were beginning to see cruising as an economical
vacation alternative. Seeing this trend, Pullmantur SA,
the largest travel company in Spain, chartered a cruise
ship from Premier in the late 1990s and began to offer
cruises. This venture proved successful and it decided
to purchase its own ship.
The first ship Pullmantur purchased was Big Red
Boat I. Accordingly, the ship was brought to Cadiz,
Spain for a major refit, which included a new paint job.
In May 2001, she entered service under her original
name doing Mediterranean cruises for the Spanish-
Oceanic once again developed a loyal following. In
response, Pullantur continually refurbished the ship.
This included removing flammable materials so that the
ship would be able to meet the international Safety Of
Life At Sea (SOLOAS) regulations that go into effect in
In 2006, Pullmantur was acquired by Royal
Caribbean Cruises Ltd, the parent company of Celebrity
Cruises and Royal Caribbean International. Royal
Caribbean decided to upgrade the Pullmantur fleet by
bringing in some ships that had served in the RCI and
Celebrity fleets but which were still more recent than
some of the existing Pullamntur fleet. As a result,
following the transfer of Sovereign of the Seas to
Pullmantur, Oceanic left Pullmantur’s service in early
Chapter IV The Peace Boat
In March 2009, Pullantur announced that Oceanic
had been sold to an unidentified Panamanian company.
She was then, in April 2009, chartered to The Peace
Boat, a Japanese organization that seeks to promote
peace, human rights and respect for the environment.
The organization carries out its activities through
voyages on chartered passenger ships. People
interested in these voyages book and pay fares much
like a traditional cruise. Activities for passengers
onboard include lectures and education programs as
well as use of the ship’s facilities and amenities.
While retaining her own name, Oceanic has “Peace
Boat” painted in large letters on her side and has the
Peace Boat logo on her funnel. Inside she looks much
like she did in her Pullmantur days although part of the
shops area has been turned into a large office and some
of the other public rooms are used as lecture rooms,
classrooms and rehearsal areas. The maximum
passenger capacity is now 1,550 and her gross tonnage
is listed as 38,772.
Shortly after being chartered, Oceanic embarked on
an around-the-world voyage with mostly Japanese
passengers. In late June, she had technical problems
during her call in Iceland and had to call upon her speed
to make it to New York as scheduled.
Passenger ships calling at United States ports are
subject to a United States Coast Guard safety inspection
the first time they call in a U.S. port each year.
Accordingly, a seven person examination team from
Coast Guard Sector New York boarded Oceanic when
she arrived on 26 June 2009. During their examination
they found that “the vessel had minor hull damage
sustained prior to coming to New York Harbor. A
small crack was discovered, leaking approximately one
gallon of water per hour into the vessel.” According to
press reports, the leak was the result of a collision with
an unidentified underwater object when the ship was
The Coast Guard also identified 16 other safety
discrepancies. Consequently, on 27 June, the Coast
Guard detained the ship. The Coast Guard’s action
meant that Oceanic had to disembark her passengers
who were put up at hotels in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
A team of divers hired by Peace Boat patched the
crack in the hull with epoxy, which enabled Oceanic to
travel across the harbor to a dry dock at Bayonne, New
Jersey. There, permanent repairs were made to
Oceanic’s hull and the ship was authorized to sail on 2
|Its all about ships
Above: Oceanic in her days as the Big Red Boat.
Below: Oceanic as the Peace Boat July 2009.
A repair vessel along side of Oceanic in New York.
Oceanic's bridge is like a time capsule. The ships was built
as a steamship in the 1960s and the instruments on the bridge
harken back to the technology of those times. Above: The
binnacle. Below left: The telegraph to the engine room.
Below right: The ship's wheel.
Oceanic retains her enclosed promenade. During the
ocean liner era, enclosed promenades allowed passengers
to stroll and get exercise while protected from the
sometimes harsh weather conditions of the North Atlantic.
A few years after Oceanic was built, ship designers did
away with enclosed promenades, bringing the interior of
the ship out to the exterior wall of the ship. The Quarter
Seck on Queen Elizabeth 2 is a good example.
Above: Oceanic still sails under her own name.
Below:: However, the Peace Boat logo is attached to the
funnel and the word "Peace Boat" is painted in giant letters
on each side of the ship.
The four cranes on Oceanic's bow harken back to her
original prupose - - transporting passengers, their
belongings and some cargo across the ocean. The cranes
would lift crates or cargo nets full of cargo up from the
pier, over the side of the ship and then down into the ship's
hold. The white structures near the cranes are the
entrances to the hold.
Rather than use such cranes, modern cruise ships load
supplies with fork lifts through door cut in the side of the
Oceanic was one of the first ships to have a retracable
magrodome over the swimming pool area. Many ships have
followed Oceanic's lead amd this innovation has become
Oceanic's lifeboat arrangement was innovative for its