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Premier Cruise Lines

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Premier Cruise Lines
Company typeCruise line
  • A.E. Merhige
  • Bruce Nierenberg
DefunctSeptember 14, 2000
HeadquartersCape Canaveral, Florida

Premier Cruise Lines, a subsidiary of Premier Cruises, was a cruise line that was headquartered in Cape Canaveral, Florida.[1][2] From 1985 to 1993, it was licensed as the official cruise line of Walt Disney World and used the trademark "The Big Red Boat" based on the color scheme of some of its ships.[3]

Company history

The S.S StarShip Oceanic in September 1987; most likely at Out Island
Premier Cruise Lines first ship Royale

Premier Cruise Line was formed in 1983 by A.E. "Ed" Merhige (Florida Export Warehouse/International Cruise Shops) and Bruce Nierenberg (NCL), two cruise veterans.

The lines first ship was the former Federico C from Costa Cruises, and renamed Royale. In 1985 the line would purchase their second ship the Oceanic from Home Lines, and in 1988, the Atlantic replacing the Royale. Also in 1988 the line would also expand further purchasing the Sun Princess from Princess Cruises, renaming the ship the Majestic. All the ships would later have the "Starship" prefix added to their names in the lines marketing.

The cruise line typically operated three- and four-day Bahamas trips out of Port Canaveral, Florida. The company earned over $20 million annually on a gross revenue of $100 million during the 1980s. The successful niche that Premier served was the family cruise line, especially attractive to grandparents sailing with their children and grandchildren.

Walt Disney World Partnership


Starting in 1985, Premier partnered with Walt Disney World, providing seven-night land and sea vacations on The Big Red Boat. Premier was licensed to provide Disney characters on its ships, until the relationship ended in 1993.[4] Disney then proceeded to start its own cruise ship line in 1995.

After the Disney contract ended, Premier then affiliated itself with Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes characters to maintain its family-friendly image,[5] and was returned to profitability under the direction of 20-year cruise veteran Jim Naik. The company had an aging fleet of Italian-designed ships competing with newer and larger liners. Mr. Naik brought Premier to profitability in his first quarter with the company.

The line was later bought by Dial Corporation (of Dial soap fame), which then also owned the Greyhound Bus Company. From the company's inception, Mr. Stensby grew Premier Cruises from one to six ships, operating on itineraries in the United States, Bahamas, South America, the Caribbean and Europe. Mr. Stensby resigned as chairman and chief executive officer of Premier Cruises in the fall of 1997 after growing the company to annualized revenues in excess of $200 million, an operating profit in excess of 20% and more than 3,000 employees, making Premier Cruises, with its 5,500 lower berths, the largest privately-held cruise line in the world at the time.

Following new ownership of Premier Cruises in 1997, the Atlantic was sold to the newly expanding MSC Cruises.

New Ownership & Rebranding to Premier Cruises

Seabreeze in the new Premier Cruises livery

Premier's parent company, Dial, sold the company after posting profits for 1995, 1996, and 1997. New owners and new leadership followed, with Larry Magnan as president in 1998.

After the acquisition, three different operations; i.e. Premier Cruise Line, Dolphin Cruise Line, SeaWind Cruises and Direct Cruises fleets were merged. Premier would rebrand themselves as Premier Cruises with a new ship profile logo, with blue funnels and blue hulls for all the ships except the Oceanic, which would retain her red hull. Premier would also acquire the former SS Rotterdam, and renaming her Rembrandt. Premier Cruise Lines first ship the former Royale, now the Seabreeze that had been part of the Dolphin Cruise Line fleet, would return to Premier after almost 10 years.

Premier Cruises (under new ownership and management led by Bruce Nierenberg)[6] changed their business strategies and decided to cancel their marketing agreements with international marketing partners such as Thomson Holidays, Pullmantur and others and decided to reposition a number of their ships back to the United States.[7][8]

Oceanic in the new Premier Cruises livery

In 1999, Premier would again rebrand, and revert back to the Premier "P" logo in red on a white funnel and introduced "Seven Star Service". The line would again plan to rebrand their primary fleet as "Big Red Boats".[9] However, plans for the Rembrandt, to be named Big Red Boat IV, were canceled after public outcry of ruining the former Holland America flagship.

The line announced they intended to be reorganized Premier Cruises Corp. with a Big Red Boat brand; the MexiCruises brand with the Seawind Crown and planned charter of theTriton and Odysseuss, and the "‘transitional’ blue-ship brand, which was intended to be the new-ship brand that would temporarily include the SeaBreeze.[9]



It was announced by president Bruce Nierenberg that new blue-hulled “new-ship” brand, was to have first newbuilding delivered by the end of 2002 with an order of or at least five ships.[9]

In March 1999, Premier bid on acquiring the former Eugenio C, with a costly refit of $25million and renamed Big Red Boat II.[10] Towards the end of 1999, the Oceanbreeze was chartered to Imperial Majesty Cruises, who would later purchased her in May 2000.

In December 1999 Premier Cruises launched new round-trip Mexico cruises from Cancun chartering Royal Olympic Cruises Triton. The charter was canceled after one month due to low interested, with the ship being returned to Royal Olympic on January 2 ,2000.[11]



Premier Cruises would file for bankruptcy and cease all operations on September 14, 2000, with passengers on the still-running cruises being docked and given flights home on a first-come, first-served basis; the company's primary lender had seized its existing fleet, which had been put up for collateral.[12][13] The ship seizures disrupted the vacations of about 2,800 passengers. Creditors seized Premier's Big Red Boat I in Nassau, Bahamas; Big Red Boat III in Cozumel, Mexico, and the Rembrandt and SeaBreeze in Halifax, Nova Scotia.[14] Premier's Seawind Crown, under charter to Spanish tour operator Pullmantur Cruises, continued to operate in the Mediterranean.

Most of the 1,700 passengers who disembarked Rembrandt and Sea Breeze in Halifax were flown back to their points of origin, but several hundred were allowed to board Premier's Big Red Boat II for its return voyage to New York, where it was reclaimed by Ocean Marine.

"The shutdown cost about 270 shoreside employees their jobs at the company's Port Canaveral headquarters. Employees were informed of the shutdown upon arriving at work on Sept. 14."[14]



The SS Oceanic (Big Red Boat I) was still sailing until 2012 when she was sailed to Yokohama for scrapping.[15] The Big Red Boat II, formerly Eugenio Costa, was put up for sale and was laid up in Freeport, Bahamas. She had no potential buyers and remained there until 2005, eventually being sold to the breakers and was scrapped in Alang, India in late 2005.[16] The former Starship Majestic, now known as the Ocean Dream, was sailing out of Asia. In 2016, the Ocean Dream, which had changed hands and names multiple times and been abandoned by its owner, capsized and sank off the port of Laem Chabang, Thailand, leaking oil into the Gulf of Thailand.[17][18]

The Big Red Boat III, formerly Carnival Cruise Line's Festivale, was also sold for scrap. The former Frederico C (called the Seabreeze I) was to be scrapped at India but instead sank in a storm 220 nautical miles (407 km) off the Virginia coast. Lastly, the Rembrandt, formerly the Rotterdam, was purchased by the city of Rotterdam, The Netherlands and restored and kept as a historic landmark.

Former fleet

Ship Built In service with Premier Tonnage Status Image
1958 1983–1988
21,000 GT Previously Federico C for Costa Cruises. Sank in 2000.
StarShip Oceanic
Big Red Boat I
1965 1985–2000 38,772 GT /
39,241 GRT
Also known as Oceanic for Home Lines, Sold to Pullmantur Cruises in 2000 and to Peace Boat in 2009. Scrapped in 2012.
StarShip Majestic 1970 1988–1995 17,042 GT Previously Spirit of London for P&O Cruises and Sun Princess for Princess Cruises. Sold in 1995. Capsized and sank in 2016.
StarShip Atlantic 1983 1988–1997 35,143 GT Previously Atlantic for Home Lines. It later became the MSC Melody for MSC Cruises and the Qing. The ship sank at its berth in Goa, India in 2016. She was later refloated and sold for scrap in 2018.
OceanBreeze 1955 1997–1999 20,204 GRT Previously Southern Cross, Calypso, and Azure Seas. Sold for scrap in 2003.
Big Red Boat III
1962 1997–2000 26,632 GRT Also known as Transvaal Castle, S.A. Vaal, IslandBreeze, and Festivale. Sold for scrap in 2003.
SeaWind Crown 1961 1997–2000 23,306 GRT Previously known as Infante Dom Henrique and Vasco Da Gama. Scrapped in China, 2004.
Rembrandt 1958 1997–2000 38,645 GT Previously Rotterdam for Holland America Line. Converted into a hotel and museum in 2004.
Big Red Boat II 1966 1999–2000 32,753 GRT Also known as Eugenio C / Eugenio Costa for Costa Crociere, and Edinburgh Castle for Lowline Shipping. Sold for scrap in 2005.
Triton 1971 1999-2000 14,194 GT Built as the Cunard Adventurer, chartered from Royal Olympic Cruises for Mexico Cruises, charter was canceled after one month due to low bookings. Ship was returned to Royal Olympic Cruises.[11]
Planned Charters
Odysseus 1961 1999-[19] Planned charter from Epirotiki Line for Mexico Cruises, appeared in Premier Cruises brochure, but never occurred.



  1. ^ "Cape Canaveral city, Florida[permanent dead link]." U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on September 27, 2009.
  2. ^ "FALL AND WINTER CRUISES; Where to Get Information". The New York Times. Sunday October 4, 1998. Retrieved on September 27, 2009.
  3. ^ "Sealetter Cruise Magazine". Archived from the original on 2015-07-22. Retrieved 2007-12-30.
  4. ^ "How Disney Cruises Started" USA Today Travel.
  5. ^ "Cruise Line Will Cut a Disney Link". The New York Times, October 7, 1993.
  6. ^ "Premier Cruises Appoints New President and CEO". Archived from the original on 2008-12-06.
  7. ^ HighBeam [dead link]
  8. ^ "SS IslandBreeze".
  9. ^ a b c Industry News, Cruise. "Big Red Boats - Cruise Industry News | Cruise News". Cruise Industry News.
  10. ^ Fran Golden, and Ernest Blum. "Premier bids on 'Big Red Boat' ship".
  11. ^ a b Archives, L. A. Times (2000-01-02). "Premier Line Cancels Sailings From Cancun". Los Angeles Times.
  12. ^ "Cruise Ship Co. Goes Belly-Up". CBSNews.com. CBS News. September 15, 2000. Retrieved January 22, 2022.
  13. ^ "Vacationers flown home after cruise company forced to shut down". money.cnn.com. CNN Money. September 14, 2000. Retrieved January 22, 2022.
  14. ^ a b "Premier Cruises seems sunk for good".
  15. ^ Peter Knego (June 2012). "Scraps Of Shipping News".
  16. ^ Eugenio C / Big Red Boat II
  17. ^ "Abandoned Cruise Ship Ocean Dream Sinks Off Thailand". The Straits Times. February 29, 2016.
  18. ^ Bond, Mary (February 29, 2016). "Abandoned cruise ship capsizes in Thai waters". Seatrade Cruise News.
  19. ^ "Premier sets Mexico cruises".