BREVARD HISTORY: Premier Cruise Line Pioneered the Industry at Port Canaveral in the 1980s
By Space Coast Daily // May 21, 2021
Premier Cruise Line was forerunner of multi-day cruising out of Port Canaveral
BREVARD COUNTY PORT CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – Premier Cruise Line was headquartered in Port Canaveral and pioneered multi-day cruising out of the port to destinations in the Caribbean and was at one time licensed as the official cruise line of Walt Disney World.
Premier Cruise Line was formed in 1983 by two cruise veterans – Bjornar Hermansen, a long-time Brevard County resident, and Bruce Nierenberg – under a licensing agreement with the Walt Disney World Resort, and was the direct predecessor to the Disney Cruise Line.
Starting in 1985, Premier partnered with Walt Disney World to provide seven-night land and sea vacations on “The Big Red Boat.”
Premier was licensed to provide Disney characters on its ships until the relationship ended and Disney started its own cruise ship line in 1995, also out of Port Canaveral.
The Premier ships also operated three- and four-day Bahamas trips out of Port Canaveral and the company earned more than $20 million annually on gross revenue of $100 million during the 1980s.
The company successfully served the family niche – especially attractive to grandparents sailing with their children and grandchildren.
In 1992, The Walt Disney Company decided to establish its own cruise line and terminated its licensing agreements with the company.
Premier then entered into a similar licensing agreement with Warner Bros. and featured the Looney Tunes characters in order to maintain its family-friendly image.
The line continued to operate offering land-sea vacation packages, including visits to Disney World and Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando and was returned to profitability under the direction of 20-year cruise veteran Jim Naik.
Aging Ships, Increased Competition
Unfortunately, the company had an aging fleet of Italian-designed ships competing with newer and larger liners and the company was later bought by Dial Corporation of Dial soap fame, which then also owned the Greyhound Bus Company.
Dial sold the company after posting profits for 1995, 1996 and 1997. New owners and new leadership followed, with Larry Magnum as president in 1998.
The older ships were designed before the current disability acts, requiring reasonable access for persons with physical disabilities, were even envisioned, let alone enacted into law.
Much later, after 1997, Premier was sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act for not making accommodations for people with disabilities.
Premier ships included the Majestic (the former Sun Princess of Princess Cruise Lines), the former Home Lines flagship Oceanic, the Atlantic (another former Home Lines ship), and the Royale, a former Costa Cruises liner known then as the Frederico C.
The original four ships had the prefix “Star/Ship” before their names. During Premier’s reorganization in the mid-1990s all but the Oceanic, “Big Red Boat I,” were sold off.
Premier then became an amalgamation of Dolphin and Seawind Cruises. Later, the Rembrandt, formerly the Rotterdam of Holland America Lines, was added to the line.
Now Second Busiest Cruise Port
The SS Oceanic (Big Red Boat I) was still sailing until 2012 when she was sailed to Yokohama for scrapping.
The Big Red Boat II, formerly Eugenio Costa, was put up for sale and was laid up in Freeport, Bahamas. She had no potential buyers and remained there until 2005, eventually being sold to the breakers and was scrapped in Alang, India in late 2005.
The Big Red Boat III, formerly Carnival Cruise Line’s Festivale, was also sold for scrap. The former Frederico C (called the Seabreeze I) was to be scrapped at India but instead sank in a storm 220 nautical miles off the Virginia coast.
Lastly, the Rembrandt, formerly the Rotterdam, was purchased by the city of Rotterdam, The Netherlands to be restored and kept as a historic landmark.
Thanks in large part to the efforts of the founders of Premier Cruise Line, Port Canaveral is now the second busiest cruise port in the world with 4.5 million cruise passengers passing through annually, as an average of ten ships enters the port each day. This includes ships from Carnival, Disney, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and more.