51 vintage photos from the days when cruise ships were glamorous

On board the SS Vienna in 1933.

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On board the SS Vienna in 1933.
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Getty/William Vanderson

  • Today’s cruise ships may have ziplines and skating rinks, but the cruise ships of yore just exuded a kind of luxury and elegance that’s hard to find today.
  • People used to dress up in tuxedos and evening gowns.
  • To pass time, events like egg and spoon races were commonplace.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Before air travel became commonplace, cruise ships were the only way to travel vast distances.

If you had the money, these ships (which you would spend weeks and months on) were the epitome of class and luxury.

Sure, nowadays cruise ships boast planetariums and zip lines, but what these floating malls lack is the elegance of yesteryear.

Take a look at these stunning pictures of cruise ships in their glory days.


Ocean travel used to be a luxurious affair.

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Wikipedia

If you could afford the upper decks, that is.

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Wikipedia

Ships were built with painstaking attention to detail, and meant to resemble the finest hotels on dry land.

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Wikipedia

You’d even get a maid to help you unpack.

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Courtesy of Cunard

The architecture was stunning.

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Wikipedia

You could barely tell that you were in the middle of the ocean.

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Wikipedia

Opulence was key.

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Wikipedia

Before airplanes became commonplace, traveling by ship was the only way to cover long distances.

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Wikipedia

People would spend entire months on ships (like Greta Garbo and Mauritz Stiller, pictured here traveling from Europe to the US in 1925).

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Wikipedia

So it’s no surprise that ships had gyms…

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Wikipedia

…no matter how quaint these may seem today.

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Wikipedia

There were other ways to stay fit though…

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22nd July 1933: Four members of the LNER (London and North Eastern Railway) staff giving an athletic display on board the SS Vienna, the company’s cruise liner.
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Getty/William Vanderson

Like on-board pools.

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Wikimedia

How stunning is this one? It even has a little fountain.

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Courtesy of Cunard

It’s like an ancient Roman spa.

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Courtesy of Cunard

Pre internet and smartphones, people came up with all sorts of ways to pass the time.

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Courtesy of Cunard

They played this weird game with rings…

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Courtesy of Cunard

…engaged in a round of tug of war…

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Courtesy of Cunard

…and set up boxing matches.

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Courtesy of Cunard

They even had egg and spoon races.

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Getty / J. B. Helsby

To pass the time even further, dinners were long, drawn out events.

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Flickr/1950s Unlimited

And dining halls were fit for a king.

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Courtesy of Cunard

They had detailed murals…

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Wikipedia

…incredible skylights…

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Courtesy of Cunard

…and intricate carvings.

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Courtesy of Cunard

They almost looked more like opera houses than cruise ship cafeterias.

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Courtesy of Cunard

Accordingly, people got really dressed up.

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Courtesy of Cunard

Of course, everyone drank a lot too (because what else was there to do?).

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Courtesy of Cunard

They do say champagne is good for seasickness.

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Courtesy of Cunard

There was dancing…

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Courtesy of Cunard

… and live music.

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Courtesy of Cunard

But mostly there was a whole lot of lounging around.

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Courtesy of Cunard

Be it on the decks…

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Courtesy of Cunard

… in elegant lounge areas …

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Courtesy of Cunard

…or in cozy reading rooms.

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Courtesy of Cunard

Despite being in the middle of the ocean, cruise ships offered all the amenities of the mainland.

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Courtesy of Cunard

Passengers could call home…

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Courtesy of Cunard

…get their laundry done…

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Courtesy of Cunard

…and even pick up prescriptions at the onboard pharmacy.

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Courtesy of Cunard

Kids could be pawned off in the (somewhat terrifying) playrooms.

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Courtesy of Cunard

Bedrooms were cozy.

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Courtesy of Cunard

But surprisingly spacious.

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Courtesy of Cunard

Single beds were the norm, even for married couples.

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Courtesy of Cunard

Even the less expensive rooms were nice.

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Courtesy of Cunard

Back then, cruise ships were more than just floating malls.

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Courtesy of Cunard

Celebs like Mae West were regulars.

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Courtesy of Cunard

And Cary Grant…

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Courtesy of Cunard

…Jackie O…

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Courtesy of Cunard

…Elizabeth Taylor…

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Courtesy of Cunard

…and Ginger Rogers.

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Courtesy of Cunard

Maybe ocean travel is the reason there’s the old adage of the journey being the destination.

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Flickr/1950s Unlimited