New Plan for the SS United States: Have it Sail Again

Crystal Cruises will spend nine months studying the feasibility of making the SS United States a luxury cruise liner. It was last in active service in 1969.

Restored SS United States - rendering

Rendering of the restored SS United States from Crystal Cruises

The SS United States may sail again after all.

At a press conference today in Manhattan, SS United States Conservancy director Susan Gibbs and Crystal Cruise president Edie Rodriguez announced a proposed $700-plus million restoration and modernization of the SS United States, after which the 990-foot long ship will return to active cruise service. The news was first reported by The New York Times this morning.

There were not concrete details today. Rodriguez said all the decisions on the ship’s future would be ironed out in the feasibility study. There is no decision on where the ship will be docked, though Gibbs said she’d like it to be New York. Either way, the ship is likely headed out of Philadelphia.

“I’d like to thank the City of Philadelphia for so warmly hosting the SS United States,” Gibbs said. “Together, we beat the odds. And together, we refused to give up.”

SS United States - rendering

A drawing of what a renovated SS United States could look like. (Image via SS United States Conservancy)

The ship has not been in active service since 1969. There have been plans to turn it into a luxury cruise liner in the last 20 years. That’s how it ended up in Philadelphia in 1996, as its then-owners studied a $200 million plan to renovate it at the Navy Yard. Norwegian Cruise Lines studied a $500 million renovation in the 2000s.

Crystal Cruises, per the Times will cover the $60,000-a-month docking fee at Pier 82 on Delaware Avenue in South Philly during a nine-month feasibility study. It has signed a purchase-option on the ship. Crystal Cruises presented drawings of what the ship could look like, but Rodriguez stressed they were just “possibilities.” Slight alterations, including a balcony, are in some of the drawings.

“We wanted the SS United States to make some real big waves,” Gibbs said. “We wanted to make sure that America’s Flagship was not just relegated to history books or video clips. We wanted to save her.”

The SS United States at Pier 82 in Philadelphia in October 2015.

Photo | Dan McQuade

Crystal Cruises’ parent company, Genting Hong Kong, also owns 28 percent of Norwegian Cruise Lines. That company owned the ship from 2003 to 2010. Norwegian was also interested in the SS United States in the late 70s, but instead it purchased the SS France. That ship was turned into a cruise liner, the SS Norway, but Norwegian scrapped it in 2006.

The most recent plans saw the ship staying docked. Conversions were proposed for casinos (both in Philadelphia and Atlantic City) or multi-use complexes including offices, a museum, a hotel or other attractions. In 2014, competing plans saw the ship moving to Brooklyn or Chester. Just last October, concrete magnate John Quadrozzi Jr. pitched a multi-use complex in Brooklyn.

“It is our ultimate goal that the SS United States reemerge as a modern luxury vessel,” Rodriguez said. “In order to see this become reality, extensive exploration of the technical feasibility in the most responsible manner to bring her up to code must be done.”

Rodriguez said EPA regulations would be the only thing that would prevent the ship’s restoration. She told the Times some engineering equipment on the ship, which was completed in 1952, contains toxic PCBs.

The feasibility study is expected to take about nine months.

An video of this morning’s press conference is available here.