Cruising, Vintage Style
Jennifer takes a look back at the golden age of cruising in the 1920s, when those with the means to do so escaped winter in warm and sunny ports of call.
In writing and publishing news, I have a historical romance novella called “Undercover Logger” coming out February first in a four-author collection from Barbour Publishing. The title of the collection is “Lumberjacks and Ladies,” and the other authors besides yours truly are Pegg Thomas, Naomi Musch, and Candice Sue Patterson. Each of us wrote a romantic novella featuring a lumberjack, set in different time periods and geographic locations around North America. My story, “Undercover Logger” is set in northern Idaho in the 1890s. Lumberjacks and Ladies is now available for pre-order on Amazon.
I’m also in the final stretch of writing the third book in the Windy City Hearts series. This one is called Love’s Grand Sweet Song and the main character is a small-town waitress who becomes a star of grand opera. Love’s Grand Sweet Song will release later this spring, and I’ll have more to say about it in upcoming episodes.
As I mentioned, it’s January in North Idaho, when the entire world turns various shades of black, white, and gray. On rare days, we also add the blue of the sky and the pinks of sunrise and sunset–but those are uncommon days. We’re much more likely to see gray upon gray this time of year, which looks even grayer when the Christmas lights and decorations have come down.
That’s why, every January, after I take down my Christmas tree, I put up my cardinals. Over the years I’ve curated a collection of cardinal artifacts, some carved from wood, some made of glass, some painted onto a plate or embroidered onto fabric. As I place these cardinals around my home, their cheerful scarlet color relieves all the endless gray and beige and gives me something pretty to look at on dreary days. We don’t get to see cardinals in the wild here in northern Idaho, and I miss them from my childhood in Illinois. Cardinals in winter and fireflies in summer–I miss them both.
But today I’m not here to talk to you about cardinals. The real reason I bring up the dreariness of the weather is that this is the time of year I most wish I could take a cruise to someplace sunny and warm. I have never taken a cruise. Well, that’s not true. I took at overnight cruise once across the Baltic Sea between Stockholm and Helsinki as a teenager. It was interesting and fun, but it was neither sunny nor warm. When I say I’ve never taken a cruise, I’m talking about the old Love Boat kind of cruise, sipping umbrella drinks from a deck chair as a ship carries me to sun-drenched, tropical ports of call.
I understand that this is not the year to take such a cruise, if I were so inclined. Dire articles warn of the dangers of shipboard viruses running rampant on even the most fastidious of cruise lines, and international travel still has too many potential dangers, lockdowns, mandates, red tape and restrictions to seem even remotely appealing to me at the moment.
Even so, the idea of cruising as it was in the olden days, what are euphemistically being called the “before times,” has me daydreaming this month. Recently I was leafing through a vintage copy of National Geographic from January 1927 and saw a delicious ad from the Raymond and Whitcomb Company, who were headquartered in Boston. The ad described the Raymond-Whitcomb Round South American Cruise. Just listen to this:
“See ALL South America. Inca towns of unknown antiquity and brilliant twentieth-century capitals–Indians in gaudy ponchos and black-eyed Spanish-Americans in Paris gowns–snowy Andes and green jumbles–vast pampas and narrow fjords–Lima, Santiago, Valparaiso, and Valdivia; the Straits of Magellan; Buenos Aires, Monevideo, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo.
Two months of luxurious travel. The Cunard liner “Laconia”–large and luxurious–specially chartered by Raymond-Whitcomb, will make the entire cruise from New York back to New York in two months. There will be no changing of ships, no delays or wasted time, no continual packing and unpacking; but instead a carefully planned voyage on a single splendid steamship with visits to the famous historic places and great cities of South America and a rich program of sightseeing ashore. Rates beginning at $975. (Granted in 1927, $975 was a WHOLE lotta money. But still. Two months cruising South America? Count me in.)
At the same time, The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company was offering a Mediterranean cruise, sailing from New York aboard the Orca. This cruise promised “enchanting North Africa, the Holy Land, Mysterious Egypt, Constantinople, the ancient splendor of glorious Greek islands, Dalmatia’s romantic beauty, Venice, Naples, and the Riviera. This seventy-day cruise (that’s seventy-day, not seven-day), all inclusive, was a relative bargain at $879.
The French Line steamship company invited cruisers to spend the winter amongst flowers and sunshine. “Tired of winter’s cold? The Longest Gangplank in the World will take you the flowery lands of magic and delight. The moment you step aboard you are in France. That inimitable cuisine, that gracious service, the brilliancy of life aboard ship. It is the very atmosphere of Paris, at once. You’d cruise from New York to Plymouth, England, and from there to Paris, then overnight to the Riviera–a pageant of floral splendour and social distinction. Then, one day across the Mediterranean to North Africa. Glamorous. Exotic. Flaming colour in the sun, or mystic moon-pale beauty. This trip, all inclusive, cost $1350. But you’re worth it, right? To be honest, I don’t know if “The Longest Gangplank in the World” would be a selling point for me. Gangplanks make me think of shiver-me-timbers and walking the plank. But I could probably get used to a pageant of floral splendour or mystic moon-pale beauty. How about you?
I should mention that this particular issue of National Geographic in January 1927 also contained in-depth articles on parts of Jamaica, the Caribbean, and the Florida Keys, as well as a detailed biography of Captain James Cook, explorer of the South Seas. Apparently the editors were really trying to get their readers to think warm thoughts.
And if travel was on your mind in 1927, but you were an American wanting to stay closer to home, you might choose St. Petersburg, Florida. An ad sponsored by the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce reads, “Oceans of fun. Enjoy life this winter in the greatest playground of the Florida Gulf Coast. The entire Tampa Bay region is a wonderful playground and St. Petersburg is its center. The Sunshine City offers boating, bathing, fishing, golf, tennis, roque, lawn bowling, and every kind of sport.”
I had to stop and look up “roque,” which I’d never heard of before. Turns out it’s a variation of “croquet,” played on a hard surfaced court with a raised border, whereas croquet is typically played on a grassy lawn with no borders, meaning you might tap the ball straight into the lake or into the neighbors’ reflecting pool.
But I digress. We were talking about travel. Not to be outdone by the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, the Orlando Chamber of Commerce ad reads, “A home ‘mid groves and gardens. Nearly everyone dreams of a beautiful home amid orange groves and gardens in a land of eternal spring-time. In Orlando, “the City Beautiful,” these dreams come true. Here every home, whether cottage or palace, can have its orange and grapefuit trees, guavas, bananas, papayas, palms and flowering shrubs and vines growing all year. Play outdoors all winter. Splendid entertainment and accommodations and genuine hospitality.” Imagine that–Orlando, Florida, and not one mention of the Giant Mouse.
Back to cruising: In 1927, readers on a budget might enjoy a quick 11-day jaunt down to Puerto Rico aboard the S. S. Lorenzo or the S. S. Cozmo for a mere $150. Or cruise to Havana “o’er summer seas to a scintillating foreign capital. Modern sports and recreations against the charming background of Spanish ways and manners.”
Honestly, Sparklers, there were far too many enticing options for cruising in 1927 for me to list them all. If you had the money and you had the time, you could escape winter at any number of enchanting destinations.
And should you be so fortunate, what would you have packed in your coordinated luggage? For advice on this I consulted Marianne Mead’s delightful book, Charm and Personality. She writes, “On shipboard a woman generally wears sport clothes all day, the color and material depending upon the season of the year and where she is going. During the day she wears low-heeled walking shoes, a small, close-fitting hat, and perhaps a sport coat. She need not wear a hat at lunch unless she wishes to. A man may wear a sport costume such as slacks, soft-collared shirt and sweater, with a cap if he wishes. A woman wears a dinner dress at dinner.[Well, that seems logical.] On the evening of the Captain’s Dinner, women usually wear more formal evening gowns, the men dinner jackets. It is not considered good taste to wear much jewelry on shipboard. On a cruise it is wise to take long an ample supply of play clothes for sports and lounging on deck. If the ship has a pool, remember to take along a bathing suit. A cruise also calls for a supply of informal dancing dresses. Avoid clothes decorated with ships, anchors, etc., as they mark your clothes too obviously as having been bought especially for a cruise.
Miss Meade goes on to say, “Etiquette on shipboard is rather informal, and passengers may go about making friends and having a good time without worrying too much about formal introductions. One should be cordial and friendly, but should not force himself on anyone who seems to prefer being left alone. If your table companions show an inclination to chat, you must of course hold up your end of the conversation. You may also talk to the persons in neighboring deck chairs, unless they prefer to read or commune with themselves. If you are invited to join in a game of deck tennis or some other game, you may do so and feel no obligation to continue the acquaintance unless it is mutually agreeable. But whether you actually make friends with the other passengers or not, you are expected to greet the ones with whom you come in daily contact. All this, however, does not mean you may discard all caution and reserve. You women, especially, should not become too friendly with men they meet in this informal manner, and they should be particularly wary of passengers who are over-friendly or who force their company on others. Late at night, when other passengers are sleeping, the well bred person will avoid making unnecessary noise, and will not indulge in boisterous laughter or conversation and loud singing. Stewards and other members of the ship’s staff must be treated with courtesy. They should be requested to do things, not curtly ordered to do them.
And finally, one more practical bit of advice from Miss Mead: “If you become seasick, try to be as unobtrusive as possible and don’t monopolize the services of the steward or the doctor. Of course, it is preferable to try to avoid seasickness, rather than to try to be dignified when you are seasick. First of all, don’t think about the possibility of your becoming ill, and don’t eat very much during the first day out. If you begin to feel ill or if the sea gets a little rough, go to your cabin, let as much air circulate in the room as possible, and lie flat on your back without even a pillow under your head. Do not try to resist the motion of the waves, but try to make yourself a part of the swaying rhythm. When you feel better, or when the weather is more calm, go to your deck chair and rest. Do not let a temporary feeling of relief tempt you into the dining salon until you are sure you have recovered.”
And there you have it, Sparklers: Our Sparkling Vintage Life cruise into cruising. Have you ever been on a cruise, and what did you think of it? Tell us about it in the Comments section. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a rating or review at Apple or Google or Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Reviews are very valuable for helping other like-minded kindred spirits find our quirky little podcast. As always, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or look for me on Facebook or Pinterest. Meanwhile, thank you for listening, and I look forwarding to talking with you again soon on another episode of A Sparkling Vintage Life.