Miami Cruises

Disney Cruise History – The Big Red Boat and Premier Cruise Lines

This week we’re going to be taking a look at the origins of the Disney Cruise Line! But we’re not going to be talking about the Disney Dream or Fantasy or Wonder or Magic. No, we’re going to be talking about, that’s right, THE BIG RED BOAT.

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The Disney Cruise Line officially launched their first cruise in July of 1998, but in order to explore the full origins of these popular excursions, we first have to go back 14 years to 1984. At that point Disney was looking to get into the cruise industry. It was a market that was on the rise and it happened to be right in Disney’s backyard. With the Caribbean so close to Florida, more and more cruise ships were sailing out of Floridian ports, and rather than look at this as a competitive threat, Disney saw an opportunity to grow.

They chose to test the waters by partnering with not one, but two cruise lines. The first was a short partnership with Norwegian Caribbean Lines. Together they offered a one-week cruise in November of 1984 called “FantaSea” which sailed out of Miami on the SS Norway. It took guests to St. Thomas, Nassau, and Big Stirrup Cay. VP of Marketing for Disney at the time, James Garbar, promised that the cruise would have “all the magic that is Disney in a Magic Kingdom-sized way.” For prices ranging from $975 to $2710 per person the “FantaSea” cruise offered fireworks, a live performance of the ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, a Goofy themed Olympics, and all of the traditional cruise recreations such as pools, bars, and gambling. Embracing the all-inclusive model, the price even included round-trip airfare to and from Miami.

At the same time Disney was also partnering with Premiere Cruise Line. The two together worked with the official airline of Walt Disney World, Eastern Airlines, and offered the “Cruise and Walt Disney World Vacation Week”. The package included airfare to Florida, a 3-4 night cruise to the Bahamas on the SS Royale which sailed from Port Canaveral, and a 3-4 night stay at Walt Disney World.

Today the Disney Cruise Line is considered by many to be among the best the industry has to offer, and it is ripe with its own history that I no doubt plan to cover in a future video. I just think that it’s interesting that at a time where Disney’s MO was to dive head first into new industries to approach them the “Disney way”, it was a partnership that would eventually lead to the Disney Cruises we have today.

“Disney cruise operation could strengthen economy” – Florida Today (5/9/94)
“Disney, Premier separate” – Florida Today (11/2/93)
“Disney cruise is one Goofy voyage” – Palm Beach Daily News (11/3/92)
“Following in the wake of cruise line collapse” – The Seattle Times (10/1/00)
“Disney sets sail with cruises” – The Dispatch Sun (5/8/94)
“Royal Caribbean discusses possible deal with Disney” – The Orlando Sentinel (10/2/93)
“Disney cruise to the Caribbean” – The Orlando Sentinel (4/8/84)
“A Disney cruise in the Caribbean” – The Philadelphia Inquirer (7/15/84)
“Is Disney savior for family cruises?” – The Press Democrat (9/10/94)
“Cruise line, Disney offer vacation deal” – Florida Today (12/13/85)
“Premier shuts down, cuts cruises short” – Florida Today (9/15/00)
“Premier Cruises hoping relaunch makes waves” South Florida Sun (9/15/97)
“Cruise line now Premier” – South Florida Sun (9/10/97)



  1. I worked on the Oceanic when she first became part of Disney. I remember the Disney staff coming on board. They were great and it was one of my favorite ships.

  2. Premier: "I found a better deal elsewhere, I don't think I'll be renewing our contract."
    Disney: "So you have chosen… death."

  3. I had friends working on the Big Red Boat and when they went bankrupt all of the crewmembers were stranded in port in Nassau Bahamas.
    I was actually working on the Disney magic during this time and it was horrible seeing how upset these people were and how badly they were treated.

  4. FantsSea

  5. 4:43 the chungus cruise line

  6. My first cruise was on The Big Red Boat in 1992. We spent 3 nights at Disney World and 4 nights on the ship. The private island was on Abaco Island.

  7. I went on the big red boat in 91 or 92. It sad that I don’t remember the year. I can tell you that it was the first cruise after it came out of drydock because it caught fire. We were scheduled to go on the ship the cruise after it caught fire. I remember we had our bags packed. My brothers and I were so excited to go. Then the 11 PM news the night before we were set to board showed that the ship had caught fire and so our cruise had to be rescheduled.

    When we did sail on it, I really enjoyed my experience and to this day it was probably the best cruise I had been on. I loved that we spent all four days with access to the cruise lines private island. If you wanted to go to ports of call you took a little boat over to the Bahamas. My grandma who took us was like the ports are so blah. She had booked this particular cruise because we would be at the private island the entire time. At that time I did not realize how lovely it was there. Now I hope to see a cruise line offer that same set up. If Disney did a 4 day cruise to Castaway Cay I would be the first in line to sign up. I was 16 I think so I hung out at the kids club and after the club shut down all of us older teens would run in a pack (or agony which is the correct term for a group of teenagers) around the ship. We spent a lot of time in the movie theater watching movies. Hanging around the pool etc. I have some really fond memories of that cruise. Nearly 30 years later I am still friends with someone I met on that cruise.

    The food was so much better than some current cruise ships today. I was so underwhelmed by carnivals food that it really made me miss that experience on the big red boat. It may have been expensive but it was worth every penny.

  8. It’s a tale of people being betrayed then coming back stronger then the one who betrayed them

  9. SS Norway used to be the SS France, one of the last of the mighty Ocean Liners. Part of her bow was saved during her scrapping 🙁

    Pity Disney couldn’t of bought her and saved her.

  10. We did a Big Red Boat Disney Cruise. 4 days on the boat and 3 at WDW back when the Caribbean Beach resort was the cheapest hotel at WDW

  11. I have fond memories of the Big Red Boat. It was Spring Break 1994 and I was in my high school's jazz band, Breakaway. We went on tour every year….this was the first year it was a cruise. I actually still have my cruise card. I have some pics of the boat if anyone is interested. A very dear friend passed away from a brain tumor in 2008 and I will always have the memories of us running through the halls at 3:00 a.m. with him and 10 other half-drunk high school musicians!!!! Long live the Blue Star Brigade and Breakaway…… some of the best years of my life. Saxophone, I played alto saxophone, primarily.

  12. you need to do more research on Premier, they were in financial trouble at the time and eventually lost their founders. hey needed new boats and couldn't find anyone to fund them, they tried getting Carnival to buy them but that failed. Watch Bright Sun Films' video. You can't just gloss over them.


  14. Thanks for this – it warmed my heart. We took a Big Red Boat Disney Cruise on the SS Oceanic in 1986 – about 17 years after my parents took their honeymoon cruise on the same ship. At the time of my parents' trip, she was sailing under the Home Lines flag. My aunt, a professional ballroom dancer, also entertained aboard her for a few years in the late 60's. Oceanic was a truly magical ship. I was so sad when Premiere ended their Disney partnership. I later found out that after being seized in the Bahamas in 2000 when Premiere went under, she sailed for a Spanish cruise line out of Barcelona for a while and then sailed around the world as a Peace Boat – even to narrowly escape an attack by Yemenese pirates 2010. She ended her very full and nearly 50 year life in 2012 – Cruise ships just don't usually last that long – being scrapped in China. The news of her demise hit me as if I was hearing that the Millennium Falcon had been scrapped. There will never be another like her.

  15. Big red boat: Disney ur fired
    Disney: oh man
    1990s happen*
    Disney cruise line: happy with your choice?
    Big red boat: not at all

  16. I was on the big red boat cruise ship in 1988!

  17. Disney will go to space next Disney Planet there is already a Pizza Planet lolol

  18. Great documentary on the history of Disney's Cruiseline. Thank you

  19. I took a cruise with my family on the Big Red Boat in the mid 90s. It was a great Disney themed cruise, however, nothing near today's standards. We took a tender from Nassau to Salt Cay, Bahamas. It was a nice rustic island, the predecessor to Castaway Cay. Salt Cay is just NE of Nassau. CC is about 60 miles NNW of Salt Cay, near (west of) Great Abaco.

  20. I attended a corporate sponsored cruise on The Big Red Boat Oceanic in February of 1995. There were still people doing the Disney cruise/vacation deal then, but there were neither any Disney nor Looney Tunes characters affiliated with the cruise at the time. The company folded not too long (a few years) after that.

  21. Thanks Rob for a trip down memory lane. The Big Red Boat was our first family cruise. Still have the t-shirt we bought all those years ago.

  22. "with a luxury Fortnite cruise to the Bahamas"

  23. I remember going on the big red boat when Disney was used them it was fun.

  24. I went on the big red boat in 1992 and in 1996… the looney toons version was more fun to me as a kid!

  25. Sweet video! I was lucky enough to have been on the Disney version of The Big Red Boat three times as a tween and they were awesome experiences. If you ever want to be really good at ping pong, practice while on a boat.


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