The World's Fastest Luxury Ship Gets Second Life

Anna Johansson

It was believed that the S.S. United States, the world's fastest luxury liner, would be retired for good after sitting for the last 20 years, but it looks like the ship is getting a second life. It will sail into the world as a brand new vessel in 2018 after a massive design and construction overhaul.

The S.S. United States is more than 60-years-old. Built in 1952, it was the crowning jewel of its time. It was made larger than the Titanic with more spacious guest rooms and scenic views, but that's not the only way it outshined the Titanic. It's still floating, for starters, despite predictions that it would sink, and it's also broken the world's trans-Atlantic speed record as the fastest luxury liner in the word.

The ship, which is built to carry 2,000 passengers, has been nicknamed the Big U. It's as long as the Chrysler Building is tall. Famous stars like Cary Grant, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Coco Channel, and Grace Kelly (who would later become the Princess of Monaco) have all sailed aboard the ship. This was considered one of the most fashionable ways to travel during the 44 years it sailed the seas.

Now, the ship gets a second life thanks to Crystal Cruises, who purchased the ship and vowed to redo both the interior and exterior. Before, it was owned by a nonprofit organization called S.S. United States Conservancy, but they did not have the funds to rebuild the ship. Thanks to a generous donation, they purchased the ship from the cruise operator NCL, who had plans of using the ship for scrap metal.

"The prospect of the ship's return to seagoing service was a dream we'd basically given up on because of the technological challenges," said Susan L. Gibbs, executive director of the Conservancy.

At a press conference at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal on Pier 88, the CEO of Crystal Cruises, Edie Rodriquez, discussed the details of the ship's reincarnation.

"It is our goal that the S.S. United States re-emerge as a modern luxury vessel," Rodriquez told the crowd. She also explained that the makeover of this ship could cost as much as $800 million, which is just a little less than it would cost to build a replica from scratch. It will also be tagged with a nine-month feasibility study and they will cover the costs of caring for the ship during that time, which will come to approximately $60,000 per month.

Crystal saw a lot of potential in the old ship marked for scrap metal. The company plans to transform the vessel into an 800-passenger luxury liner. By cutting down on the capacity level, the liner will be equipped with larger rooms and more entertainment areas to mimic the look of a cruise ship you would see today, which includes equipping some rooms with balconies.

"It's not going to be easy," Rodriquez remarked about the amount of work in store. But, she says it will be an incredible undertaking "from an opportunity cost perspective," noting the iconic nature of the ship.

This makeover will face some unique challenges. The original S.S. United States was a steam engine ship, which means that everything will need to be swapped out for more modern equipment. It's been 40 years since the ship moved by its own power, something that will need to be rectified in the newest version.

In addition, the builders will need to check for toxins in the ship's construction and engineering to make sure it will be approved by the most current Environmental Protection Agency standards. It will also need modifications to get the design and architecture up to code.

When all is said and done, Rodriquez predicts this ship's second life will be a "showstopper."

[Image via Hulton Archive/Getty Images]