The history of a transatlantic cruise
Timeline of the Transatlantic Crossing
When was the first Transatlantic Crossing?Historians across the world continue to dispute who made the first transatlantic crossing and when it happened. The main contenders for the title are famed explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492, Vikings in the 10th century, or Europeans of the Stone Age, perhaps as far back as 18,000 years ago.
Stone Age: European SettlersArchaeologists Smithsonian believed that fishermen and hunters of the Neolithic period were sailing across the Atlantic, in small boats made of animal skins, around 18,000 years ago. While such a journey may seem improbable in such a vessel, during this period it’s likely that the seas would have been lower, and the gap between the continents closer, giving the theory some credibility.
10th Century: VikingMany historians believe that the first transatlantic voyage was undertaken by Vikings in the 10th century. Leif Erikson is credited as the lead explorer, and it’s thought he and his crew arrived in North America by mistake. Upon arrival, Erikson is believed to have named the land ‘Vinland’, owing to the grapevines he found, and he soon made a return trip to Europe. After his arrival, more Vikings made the crossing and built a small settlement. This was eventually abandoned after tensions with Native Americans.
15th Century: Christopher ColumbusCommissioned by Spanish monarchs, Italian-born explorer Christopher Columbus made four voyages across the Atlantic during his lifetime. When he first arrived on the soil of the Americas (the Bahamas) in 1492, Columbus was in fact aiming for India, which is why he coined the term ‘Indians’, when actually referring to Native Americans. His discovery of the land led to the recognition of Spain as the first global superpower and went on to spark mass colonialism.
How long did a transatlantic cruise take?
The world’s first ocean liner purpose-built for transatlantic voyages was the SS Great Western, built in Bristol and launched in 1837. It took around 15 days for this ship to make the crossing. Just three years later, the first Cunard ship (Britannia) made the voyage in 14 days, and with that Cunard was able to begin a fortnightly mail service between Liverpool (England), Halifax (Canada), and Boston (USA).
As the years passed, and ocean liners became increasingly sophisticated, the journey was shortened. Companies began to compete over speed, and Transatlantic Crossings at the start to mid-20th century would usually take around five days. Believing that such a voyage is one to enjoy, today the Cunard Transatlantic Crossing is usually seven days.
Development of Cunard cruise liners
The first Cunard liner to make the Transatlantic Crossing was Britannia, in 1840. With this, Cunard won a British government contract to deliver mail across the Atlantic every two weeks.
Since Britannia, there have been hundreds of liners in the Cunard fleet, many of which have been called into service for various important posts. Between 1860 and 1900, multiple journeys transported 2.5 million immigrants who arrived in the new world on a Cunard ship. In 1912, RMS Carpathia was deployed to rescue Titanic survivors. Many Cunard ships were called up to serve in World Wars I and II, and also in the Falklands conflict.
Today, Queen Mary 2 is considered the world’s only true remaining ocean liner. This is because of the way she was built with a strengthened hull, journeying even across the roughest Atlantic waves.
When did transatlantic cruises start?
The transatlantic crossing is a historic and renowned voyage that continues to be revered today. Synonymous with a sense of adventure and exploration, this journey that has made trade and migration possible for so many, turned into something more akin to a holiday in the early 1900s: the pleasure cruise.