S.S. AMERICA, S.S. UNITED STATES sailing on the 'All American' team to Europe

SS United States a three-class ship

When I was a kid sailing on the ship I could slip under the locked gates that separated the classes and explore. Unfortunately, the adults were not so fortunate. On this page, the gates are unlocked for a tour from the splendor of first-class to the austere comfort of tourists.

L Driscoll

SS United States, the sailing experience in First class, Cabin and tourist

It always strikes this tourist as a bit strange – the sudden disparity between first and cabin-class and tourist class facilities on a ship flying the flag of the United States, which is supposedly a land without sharp class distinction of the old world. Paul Friedlander, SS United States review, New York Times, June 29, 1952.

SS United States3.4 scale model

Today’s passenger ships are more democratic doing away with class rigid distinction and for the most part, set up as one class. However, in 1952 class division Titanic style still existed on the SS United States. Travelers on the SS United States found that class segregation had not changed much since the Titanic; locked gates segregate each group. Each of the passenger classes had its own deck space, barbershop, beauty parlor, public rooms, and children’s playroom.


First and Cabin theater
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obs tables 1
American Merchant Marine Academy Museum

In 1954, the minimum first-class fare from New York to Southampton on the SS United States was $365 ($3,783 in 2022). For that price, passengers sailed on a floating luxury resort offering the refinement, service, and conveniences of the finest American hotels. They enjoyed expansive deck space and elegant public rooms. First-class had the best location, amidship, away from the vibration of churning propellers and the impact of waves slamming into the bow. It was a wonderful way to travel, civilized, luxurious, entertaining, relaxing, and friendly.


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Lawrence Driscoll collection

Cabin class on the SS United States was the “Happy Medium”, offering high standards of comfort and service at reasonable rates; $230 in 1954, $2220 in 2022 equivalent for passage to Southampton. Typical travelers included vacationing clerics, professors, seniors, and families. With more space, comfort, and amenities passengers lived between the luxury of first-class and the tight accommodations of tourists. It was just the right mix for those who wanted more room and were put off by the perceived formality of First. Dressing up for dinner was optional, and a more informal atmosphere prevailed in the public rooms.

Cabin-class passengers enjoyed some of the first-class facilities such as the theatre and pool. The main kitchen prepared food for both first and cabin class so there was very little difference in the menu.


Dining 1
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smoking B&W MMA
American Merchant Marine Academy Museum

United States lines described tourist class on the SS United States as a “…Convenience to those who are economy-minded, and desire to obtain the best possible value in ocean travel, for a limited expenditure…” Value travelers frequently included students (Bill Clinton on his way to Oxford), immigrants on a limited budget, and families returning to visit the homeland. The fare in 1954 was $165, $1,712 or in $2022. The staterooms were small, simply furnished, and lacked private facilities. Public rooms were comfortable and received the same care and talent that went into decorating all public rooms in the ship.

As for the food, it was good, and there was plenty of it. A typical menu featured fried chicken Southern style, cream sauce, boiled potatoes or round tips sirloin of beef, and chocolate pudding for dessert.

The drawbacks of traveling tourist class were the lack of space and location. The cabins were in the less desirable bow section of the ship, where the pitching motion was more pronounced. Outside, on the bow, passengers shared the limited windswept spaces with the cargo hatches. A small strolling area was provided aft of the forward funnel.

For updates on the ship’s status visit the SS United States Conservancy

SS United States Home page