Today Marks The 100th Anniversary Of The First Cruises From Florida


The original Evangeline, built on the Clyde in 1912 and owned by the Plant Line, offered the first cruises from Florida in 1913

One hundred years ago today, on January 7, 1913, not long after the completion of Henry Flagler’s Oversea Railway from Miami across the Florida keys to Key West,  the 3,786-ton Evangeline sailed from Key West on her inaugural cruise from Florida. She is shown here in a fine portrait by prolific Danish-American maritime artist Antonio Jacobsen (1850-1921). The Evangeline operated a season of eight 11-night cruises, the first such program to be operated from a Florida port. Priced from $110 per person, they were sold as “Winter Outings on Summer Seas“: – The s.s. Evangeline will leave Key West direct for Colon, Panama, remain at that port two days, and sail direct to Kingston, Jamaica, remain at that port for two days, thence sail for Key West, Fla, via Havana, Cuba. Persons desiring to stop in Havana may do so at will, and return to Key West on any of the P&O ships with no extra charge. These first Florida cruises were offered between January and April 1913 by the Jacksonville-based Peninsular & Occidental Steamship Company, a joint venture of the Plant Line and Henry Flagler. They were followed by seven similar 14-night cruises in the winter of 1914, but this time from Jacksonville, much closer to the main population centres, with fares from $125.  All these cruises included a visit to the Panama Canal, then still under construction, as well as calls at Kingston and Havana, but with the First World War, no cruises were offered in 1915. The Evangeline, first of the name, had been completed in October 1912 by the London & Glasgow Shipbuilding Company of Govan for the Canada Atlantic & Plant Steamship Co Ltd of Halifax. She was named for Longfellow’s epic poem of the same name, and like her predecessors cruised both in the north and in the south.  She succeeded a number of other ships owned by the Plant interests, which had routes both between Florida and the West Indies and between Canada and New England.

s.s. Olivette

The Plant Line’s Olivette of 1887 carried the Young Winston to Havana in 1895

One of these, the 1,611-ton Olivette, had carried a 20-year-old Winston Churchill on the event of his first visit to Cuba. On November 19, 1895, Churchill sailed in her from Tampa to Havana, where he developed a particular taste for Cuban cigars. The Olivette had been built in 1887 by the famous William Cramp & Sons shipyard in Philadelphia as the second ship in a new service between Tampa, Key West and Havana. The first had been the 884-ton Mascotte of 1886, which features today on the crest of the City of Tampa. Starting in July 1892 the Olivette joined the 1,738-ton Halifax in summer service between Boston, Halifax and Charlottetown PEI, and then the Halifax started coming south by winter to assist the Olivette.

HalifaxThe Halifax (left) had been built by the London & Glasgow Shipbuilding Company in 1888 for the Boston, Halifax and Charlottetown run. Early in her career, in March 1891, she had taken “an excursion of 185 Americans from Boston” to Jamaica. She also operated a series of experimental cruises from Tampa to Nassau and Jamaica in the winter of 1893. These ships had been joined briefly in 1899 by the 5,018-ton La Grande Duchesse, a white elephant that ended up being sold in 1901 to the Savannah Line, but that’s another story. Miami also had a Peninsular & Occidental ship to its name in the 1,741-ton Cramp-built Miami, introduced in 1898, but she operated essentially as a night boat, crossing to Nassau two or three times a week, depending on the season. Similarly, the 1,414-ton Prince Edward ran between Miami and Havana in 1901-03, as did the 1,619-ton City of Miami in 1921-23. Although new passenger services were started between Miami and Philadelphia in 1923 and  New York and Baltimore in 1924, it would be January 1927 before regular cruises began operating from Miami. Its first foreign cruise ship, Blue Star Line’s 15,501-ton Arandora Star, would arrive in February 1932 and in January 1935, the Miami-Nassau route would offer its first all-inclusive cruises.

Oceania's Riviera

Oceania Cruises’ Riviera offers some of the finest itineraries through the islands of the West Indies

But what could one think of today to reach something close to the original golden era of cruising? One needn’t look far. Oceania Cruises’ 66,084-ton Riviera is now conducting a series of 10-14-night cruises from Miami to “Sun Splashed Isles,” most of which are sold out.  One of the best of these leaves Miami for 14 nights on March 3, for two days at sea, Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire, Grenada, Barbados, St Vincent, Antigua and St Barts before two more days at sea on the way back to Miami. No San Juan, no St Thomas, no Cozumel, no Labadee, what could be better? The Riviera will be back in the Caribbean in 2014 sailing a series of ten similar 10-14-day cruises, so ask now while they are available. Please call Gay Scruton at The Cruise People Ltd in London on 020 7723 2450 or e-mail us at