Cruise Industry Pioneer Knut Kloster Dies at 91

Knut Utstein Kloster, who founded Norwegian Cruise Line and was among a handful of ship operators to launch the modern cruise industry in the 1960s, died this past week at age 91.

Kloster effectively launched the present-day cruise industry by renaming a converted ferry from his family’s European shipping business Sunward and deploying the ship on short Caribbean cruises departing from Miami as the flagship of Norwegian Caribbean Lines.

Originally designed for long-haul ferry service between Europe and Africa, Kloster’s Sunward featured unusually luxurious accommodations for the period, including cabins with private baths, restaurants, bars, a nightclub, a theater, a shopping arcade and air-conditioning equipped for the tropics.

Kloster had partnered with a shipping agent named Ted Arison, who was looking for a ship to use for a series of Bahamas cruises he was marketing. Their “white ship” (as opposed to transatlantic ships with dark-colored hulls) was also known as a “happy ship” with a positive onboard environment for guests and crew.

On December 19, 1966, the Sunward sailed on her first Bahamas departure. The ship was “neither Miami’s first cruise ship nor the first in regular service to the Bahamas,” according to a Maritime Executive report, but “was an immediate success.” Arison would go on to launch Carnival Cruise Lines.

Norwegian Caribbean Line would eventually become Norwegian Cruise Line and debut many operational elements that have since become cruise industry standards, including private islands, western Caribbean itineraries, “air/sea” reservations and “mega” cruise ships.

The latter occurred in 1980 when Norwegian converted the former transatlantic liner France into the Norway, the original “world’s largest cruise ship,” extending the classic vessel’s life for years. Norway was a hit and featured elements that were ahead of their time for cruise ships, including a full-size theater for Broadway shows and glass-enclosed promenades with cafés, shops and performers and large outdoor sports areas.

Kloster later conceived a vision for a 250,000-ton 5,000-passenger vessel dubbed the Phoenix World City. While the project was regarded by many within the industry as fanciful and impractical and the vessel was never built, its scale mirrors Royal Caribbean International’s present-day Oasis-class ships.

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