The Hindenburg, Nazis, and the most interesting cruise ever conceived. It’s all in the Virgin Islands Daily News.

I never really knew much about St. Thomas history. I never really cared much to be honest. I knew it was a typical busy Caribbean cruise port loaded with ships of every line disgorging eight to twenty thousand tourists a day depending on how many ships are in. I also knew it had a good Chinese food restaurant close to the pier. That’s all I needed to know.

In short; St. Thomas is an efficient tourist machine that can handle all of our cruise industry needs for tourist and crew member alike quickly and easily (and with a smile).

But why is that? Why can they? How did this come to be? This is what I had never cared about; the how’s and why’s. Then by accident I happened across an old newspaper page in the news archive of the Virgin Islands Daily News.

It was a full page advertisement for “the most interesting cruise ever conceived” posted by Cyril E. Daniel; his phone number was 174 and also 175 (he must have been very successful to have two phone numbers). As you can see the ad was for the S.S. Macoris, a French cruise ship departing round trip from St. Thomas in August of 1933. And don’t forget “NO PASSPORT REQUIRED”. This was, after all, a cruise that took place seventy seven years ago.

Seeing this interesting ad made me start thinking about St. Thomas and its cruising history. I started reading through the archives of the VIDN. Reading about some of the most interesting history of the world while at the same time learning about St. Thomas and how it became the cruise hub of the Caribbean. I was fascinated by it. The scans of actual newspapers made it feel more like being there. It made the history feel “more genuine” than a text book. I would read the old articles and get such a deep feeling of the time.

I learned that St. Thomas didn’t just happen to become the most popular Caribbean cruise port in the Caribbean by chance. No, there were many, many factors that lead to it. Not the least of which was the desire of the population of St. Thomas to BE the number one cruise destination in the Virgin Islands. They have always studied the rankings. Look at this snippet of “where they stand” from September 8, 1961.

Of course St. Thomas had a rich and long history and was a major port for trade before cruising became chic. But around 1860, with the development of steam ships and the ability of countries to import directly without stopping in St. Thomas, things began a slow downturn.
Eventually, the grand American and European flagged transatlantic ships began making stops in St. Thomas in the 20’s and 30’s. This made things look bright for the small Island, but not for long. The war in Europe broke out, and all the grand liners were converted to troop carrying ships and this immediately put the breaks on what could have been prosperity for St. Thomas. An excerpt from the Governors report of 1940 printed in the February 1, 1941 edition of the VIDN points this out.

I found it amazing to see an small story for the newest American “dealer of destruction”, the B-26 bomber, on the same page. This means that St. Thomas was analyzing the cruise industry and how they could capitalize on it even while the world was at war!

One very small snippet of world news, before it happened, also caught my eye in the archive. It is a small mention that another type of cruise ship, the dirigible Hindenburg, was on its way to New York. Printed almost a year to the day it would explode in Lakehurst. There are several mentions in the archive of when the Hindenburg is making trips around the world. Perhaps the USVI had their eye on trying to capture some of that cruise traffic before the tragedy on May 6, 1937.

Of all the articles I read in the VIDN, one short article on the cruise industry stood out more than the others. It was probably written by the editor and manager of the VIDN at the time, Mr. Melchior. It was published in the May 28, 1946 edition. It is a brief and succinct point of view piece on “The tourist trade”. You could also consider it a fifty six year old state of the industry speech.

Probably unnoticed at the time, this small piece is visionary. It sums up exactly what St. Thomas needed to do, and did do (for the most part), to become the Caribbean king of cruise ports. Well done Mr. Melchoir (or whoever else wrote it), and well done Virgin Islands Daily News for helping St. Thomas remember over the past eighty years that cruise ships, and cruise ship passengers, do not have to come to St. Thomas. They choose to come. What was said in this article sixty three years ago is still as true as ever today. It leaves no doubt that St. Thomas was very concerned for the future of its tourist business, mainly the cruise ships, and is definitely at least partially responsible for the number of modern cruise ships sailing the waters of the USVI today.

The article is a bit big to post so I will leave the link instead. I encourage you to read it. It is very insightful. I have left several other links to items I found of interest in the archives of the Virgin Islands Daily News. I hope you enjoy reading through the past as much as I did. Thanks to the Virgin Islands Daily News, I am looking forward to returning to St. Thomas, one day, and appreciating a little more deeply what it is they have built (and also having a good Chinese…and buying a good camera…).

The tourist trade. It is May 28, 1946. The first cruise ship since the end of the war is coming to St. Thomas. The Stella Polaris. What can St. Thomas do to ensure the growth of this valuable and essential industry? Are they ready?,2979351&dq=cruises

May 24, 1941. Hitler and the Suez! An article reporting on Hitler’s plans to take the Suez and the battles over many of the now popular cruise routes like the Dardanelles.,4368280&dq=nazi

August 29, 1947. A good season ahead. This article talks about the return to cruising of many of the converted troop ships, and mentions the very first cruise ship sunk by the Germans in the war, a Cunard ship.,1251748&dq=cruises

January 3, 1951. Good news for the cruise business. Furness agrees to extend the ships time in port so more people can shop and visit.,81546&dq=cruise+ship+entertainment

March 9, 1956. Ashes of cruise director strewn in harbor entrance.,1203487&dq=cruise

January 5, 1965. Drugs found onboard the S.S. France in St. Thomas! Heroin.,174690&dq=cruise+ship

October 16, 1967. 11 ships to call in October! Bringing more than 7000 tourists! This includes the Queen Elizabeth carrying 1200 passengers. Of course today, it would only take two or three ships to make seven thousand tourists. Very soon, with Oasis Of The Seas, one ship by itself will bring five thousand.,3062707&dq=cruise

August 27, 1969. Just when, how and why did Florida become the centre of gravity for cruise ships? Blend the new jet airlines with cruises into a cruise flight package.,4132102&dq=cruise

May 28, 1974. Jump forward in time seven years, and 326 ships are due over the summer.,2898037&dq=cruise

November 7, 1980. Jump forward another seven years and 571 ships are due to arrive. The constant efforts of St. Thomas to become the leader in the Caribbean over the past thirty five years have paid off.,1016866&dq=cruise

May 28, 1980. The largest cruise ship ever to resume calling in St. Thomas.,4165578&dq=cruise

To search through more of the VIDN archive, it is easy to use google. Go to:

Under “find results” type in a word like ‘cruise” or “war” or etc.
Under “date” type in a year range like 1930 – 1950
Under “source” type in “virgin islands”
2 Responses
  1. Helen A. Says:

    Wow! Who would have thought cruise history could be fun?

  2. Holland24 Says:

    $75.00!!! That's $1200.00 in 2009. That's not bad really, considering.

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