130 days took the first voyage of a merchant ship around the world 100 years ago.. What is told about it?

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — On March 30, 1923, 100 years ago, the first cruise ship returned to New York City, after completing a 130-day round-the-world voyage.

This was the first voyage of its kind, which paved the way for today’s world cruises!

And I went to destinations such as Japan, Singapore, Egypt, India, and through the Suez Canal, and Panama.

The voyage was accomplished on board the SS Laconia, a Cunard-owned passenger vessel chartered by American Express for this adventure.

Two sisters in their twenties were on the flight.

Eleanor and Claudia Phelps were excited when they left the ship’s port on November 21, 1922.

The sisters took pictures, collected souvenirs, and took notes in a diary, which is now owned by the University of South Carolina’s Moving Image Research Collections.

On the last page of her diary, Eleanor attempts to summarize the experience as a whole, saying, “How does one come to a conclusion or express an opinion about a world I’ve seen in 130 days?”

Image reflected inside one of the passenger cabins of the SS Laconia.
Credit: Cunard

A new era of travel

While Laconia was built to carry about 2,200 passengers, American Express limited the number of passengers on the 1922-1923 world tour to only 450.

The goal was to create a luxurious experience, setting a new standard for travel for those with the means.

In her diaries, Claudia wrote of the beauty of the smoking room, decorated with charming black oak, and the dining room, resplendent with silver and gleaming glass.

Eleanor, in turn, wrote about the fun activities on the flight, including the ‘Camera Club’, which is perfect for the two sisters due to their interest in photography, costume parties, classical music and more.

Claudia and Eleanor’s diaries focus mainly on the countries they visit, with descriptions of sunsets and sunrises.

These photos were taken by Eleanor Phelps in Japan.
Credit: University of South Carolina MIRC

Crossing the Panama Canal

Laconia hasn’t visited every place on Earth, it didn’t reach Australian waters for example, but it was a different journey than any before it.

In November 1923, the Laconia was the first ocean liner to pass through the Panama Canal.

Eleanor then got up early in the morning so as not to miss the moment of crossing.

In her diary she pasted an information booklet, dated November 1922, describing the process of building the Panama Canal, and the distances offered by ships when they took this route.

An image of Darjeeling, India.
Credit: University of South Carolina MIRC

At each port, American Express offered the ship’s passengers guided excursions and tours, hotel stays, and the chance to learn about local cultures.

Image reflecting the title page of Eleanor Phelps’ book.
Credit: University of South Carolina MIRC

The trip came just a few years after the world closed its borders due to World War I.

Laconia was entering a new era, prompting other passenger ships to follow suit and schedule global voyages later.

However, less than 20 years later, passenger flights were halted at the outbreak of the Second High War.

The SS Laconia was captured for the British war effort, and sunk off the coast of West Africa in 1942.

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