The Early Days of Princess Cruises

Otto I. Eovaldi

Based in Santa Clarita, California, this British-American cruise line is one of eleven cruise brands owned by the huge Carnival Corporation. The line became part of the American-based Corporation in 2003.

But the Princess line began life as a small, unpretentious cruise company when in the autumn of 1966 Stanley McDonald chartered a cruise ship, the Princess Patricia for a winter cruise from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera. This seemed like an ideal arrangement as the Patricia would normally have been out of service in the winter, but McDonald soon realised that he may have made a mistake by hiring a ship that wasn’t equipped for tropical cruising – she had no air conditioning.

That wasn’t the only hiccup. Because the Patricia was such a small ship, there was no onboard laundry room. This problem was overcome when the ship docked at Acapulco. There was a 24 hour port visit, which enabled the passenger’s laundry to be done locally. Unfortunately the laundry came back as a single delivery with several hundred items all mixed together. There was nothing for it but to set up tables in the lobby and ask everyone to identify and collect there own clothes.

After this sharp learning curve, rather than being discouraged, Stanley McDonald made plans to purchase his own purpose built cruiser. The success of the Princess Patricia Acapulco cruise made him realise that there was a growing market for American West Coast cruise holidays.

He soon found his perfect ship – a cruise liner being built in Italy. The builders had gone bankrupt, so after some negotiations with the bank, McDonald took it on a long-term charter. When it was completed it was named the Princess Italia, and sailed back to the West Coast to begin cruising under the company name of ‘Princess Cruises’.

Italia was a sleek, modern cruise ship, and McDonald was keen to capitalise on her up-to-the-minute reputation by adding innovative ideas, such as having a gym on board – something which is standard on cruise ships today. Princess cruises were also the first American line to introduce slot machines, on a Florida to LA cruise.

Ten years after the first Italia cruises the company received some of the best publicity a commercial company could hope for – a request from the Spelling Organisation to film a TV series onboard. Princess Cruises had allowed various film companies to use their ships as locations, but at first the request was thought, from previous experience, to be more trouble than it was worth. Eventually the directors were persuaded, and subsequently the Pacific Princess and the Island Princess were, for ten years, to be the stars of the massively popular ‘Love Boat’.

Although the company had to carry the huge production crew at cost, Stanley McDonald had to admit later that the show was a brilliant promotion, not just for Princess Cruises but for the whole of the US cruise industry.

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