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Liners to the Sun

A Book Review

by Lisa Plotnick

Liners to the SunIf you are looking for a gift for the cruise enthusiast in your life, you cannot go wrong with Liners to the Sun, a written documentary of cruising’s past and how it continues to influence shipboard life today. This 500+ page volume by respected maritime historian John Maxtone-Graham contains something for everyone, covering topics such as shipbuilding, class distinctions, crossing vs. cruising, and the future of the cruise industry.

The author’s intent was for the reader to gain a better appreciation of what today’s cruises have to offer by studying their origins on earlier cruises and crossings. He accomplishes this through delightful, engaging accounts of actual voyages, as seen by the passengers and crew who experienced them.

Endure a storm on the Friesland in 1895, chronicled in a passenger-run newspaper, and attend a passenger reunion on land one year later. Join the Ochs family on the Victoria Luise in 1913 to explore the nearly completed Panama Canal, and call on Caribbean ports via a convoy of the ship’s lifeboats. Journey from New York to Rio on the legendary Normandie in 1938, and revel in the antics of the crossing-the-line ceremony. Relive several of the author’s own cruises of the 1980s, including a trip to the Caribbean on the Norway during her inaugural season, the Far East portion of a Rotterdam world cruise, Alaska on Fairsea, and a transatlantic repositioning cruise via the North Cape on Royal Viking Sea.

Observe what goes on behind the scenes of a cruise ship. Spend a day with a cabin steward, and see the precursors of today’s popular "towel animals." Learn the origins of the Captain’s Dinner. Witness the camaraderie that exists at sea, as Sea Venture (today’s Pacific Princess) was called upon to rescue passengers stranded during a power outage on QE2.

Shipbuilding fans will enjoy visiting the shipyards to observe the construction of Song of America in 1981 and the lengthening of Royal Viking Star several months later. Those interested in the architecture of cruise ships will enjoy learning how ships were converted from "indoor" transatlantic liners to "outdoor" cruising vessels.


Mr. Maxtone-Graham’s text is enhanced by numerous photographs taken over a 90-year period. Images of swimming pools and promenade decks are especially appealing, as are the many pictures that show off the ships’ profiles.

Liners to the Sun was originally published in 1985, and was reissued in 2000 with an up-to-date introduction by the author. However, all of the cruises depicted in the current edition took place before the book’s original publication date. While consistent with the intent of the author, I would have liked to have also read Mr. Maxtone-Graham’s firsthand impressions of today’s megaships and the trend towards more casual, individualized cruising.

Still, Liners to the Sun is an excellent work, and should certainly enhance the future cruising experiences of its readers. I highly recommend it to anyone who agrees with the author that "the best islands in the Caribbean have propellers."



Lisa lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Neil, and their young son. They became cruise addicts in 1990, and have since enjoyed 2- to 10-night vacations on several lines, including Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival, and Premier. Lisa may be reached for questions or comments at lisa@sealetter.com

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