By all accounts, many of the famous transatlantic ocean liners that operated in the early 1900’s and beyond had their interiors modelled on some of the grand hotels in the UK and Europe, hence the ‘Floating Palaces’ phrase related to certain ocean liners from that period.
That compliment was returned when certain hotels of a later period incorporated certain features within their properties, of original fittings acquired directly from the breaker’s yards when former famous liners were dismantled at the end of their illustrious life afloat.
That isn’t the only connection linking the two sectors. Certain shipping companies, during their heyday, built their own land based ‘floating places’ which often played host to their passengers prior to the commencement of a voyage that could have been across the Atlantic or even to the colonies and beyond!
A limited number of these “Ocean Liner Hotels” still exist, however three that are still with us deserve a mention. All of them, understandably, are located in port cities, frequently very close to where passengers embarked. They also share a presence that immediately transports you to an earlier era, regal, luxuriously comfortable and undoubtedly gracious.
One such property is The Empress in Victoria, British Columbia. In close proximity to the waterfront and where the liners used to dock, but today however, silently waiting for liners that will never again arrive at their doorstep.
A former guest Lola Owen, recalled her experience related to a stay at the Empress Hotel. “We flew in there on a seaplane from Vancouver in 1983. Such an awesome experience. Exquisite hotel and you literally step out of the plane into a little tender and then up the steps into the arms of the majestic Empress.“
While Victoria still attracts calls from Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and other major cruise lines, the vessels all now dock a few miles to the south of Victoria’s main harbour.
The Empress, built in 1904, was owned and operated by Canadian Pacific, a company that at one time operated a transcontinental railway and liners on two oceans. Today, I believe the Empress still attracts an appreciable number of pre or post cruise passenger/guests, even though the ships aren’t berthed at their front door as in the past!
The second property is in Cape Town, South Africa. The Mount Nelson was purchased in 1890 by shipping magnate Sir Donald Currie, owner of the Castle Shipping Line. It was his dream to build a hotel in Cape Town as stylish and elegant as London’s most fashionable hotels, to cater exclusively for the Castle Line’s wellheeled First Class passengers. His dreams were realised.
Certainly in the 1960s and 1970s right until the operations ceased in 1977, Union-Castle Mail ships that arrived during January each year carried many first class passengers who transferred directly to the Mount Nelson. They would rejoin the vessel that brought them to South Africa on it’s return down coast from Durban for the return voyage to Southampton, having swapped the English winter for a South African summer. The Mount Nelson’s interior decor has many links with it’s former Union-Castle parentage and today this hotel, which nestles in the shadow of Table Mountain, is recognised as one of the leading hotels, certainly in Africa, if not the world.