Bill Miller's Top 25 Ocean Liners of All Time

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I just received this magazine called Seaport which is the membership magazine of the South Street Seaport Museum.One article in this magazine is titled The greatest Monarchs of the Sea which are the top 25 ocean liners of all time and this article is written by Maritime Historian Bill Miller and here is the list of the ships and the year that they entered service and there are Cunard Ships in this list.

25-Conte di Savoia(1932).
24-Ile de France(1927).
23-Voyager of the Seas(1999).
22-Andrea Doria(1953).
21-Nieuw Amsterdam(1938).
20-Empress of Britain(1931).
19-Haiser Wilhelm der Grosse(1899 or 1900).
12-Queen Elizabeth(1940).
9-Queen Mary 2(2004).
4-Queen Elizabeth 2(1969).
2-United States(1952).

And now the Number 1 of all the great passenger ships is...
Queen Mary(1936).

Does anyone reading this agree or disagree with Bill Miller?

[Moderator's Note: This message, originally posted to another subtopic, has been moved to this subtopic addressing the same subject. It has also been renamed and restructured. MAB]

Timothy Trower

Former Member
Sure; why is the Titanic listed, but the Olympic not? The Olympic class ships were great, but either include all of 'em or at least the first (I notice that the Lusitania class are all listed ... why are they all better than the Olympic class?).

I'll toss one other in there. The Oceanic I of the White Star Line may not have been the largest, fastest or most opulent, but it certainly was one of the ships that set the pace for the rest of the 19th Century. In fact, the total lack of ships (bar maybe one) from the 1800s total ignores the contribution that these ships made (the Great Britain, for instance).

Seems that Bill has only gone after the sexy, largest, fastest or most tragic ships of the 20th Century and has failed to acknowledge the best of the best.
By what standard did he measure "greatness?" The Titanic represented a great tragedy, but her service life was so brief that it is impossible to judge her as a ship. By all standards other than tragedy The Olympic was a far greater ship. As Mr. Trouwer said, she should have been included.

Likewise, the Empress of Britain was a colossal commercial failure with some great interiors and some truly atrocious ones. By what standard did she end up ahead of the commercially and artistically successful Nieuw Amsterdam? And, the Ile de France despite her rather outre interiors, enjoyed a service record and passenger loyalty (not to mention passenger totals)that the Normandie never came close to matching, during her pre-war years alone. The Normandie, snidely referred to at the time as "The Ultimate 1925 dream ship" (in 1935) should, by rights, be closer to her on the list.

And so it goes.....

Mark Baber

Staff member
By what standard did he measure "greatness?"

That's the real question here, isn't it? By at least one measure, that being its lasting impact on the world's consciousness, Titanic is (probably by far) the greatest liner ever, but I entirely agree with Timothy's implying that in all other regards (such as length of service, contribution to the war effort in 1914-1918, maintaining the prestige of the line she sailed for, etc.) Olympic was a far greater ship than her younger sister. By those measures, too, I think it's too early to include either QM2 or Voyager of the Seas (if those two---and QE2, for that matter---can in fact be considered liners in the same sense as most of the others) and I probably wouldn't include Andrea Doria, another ship whose short career, like Titanic's, is mostly remembered for how it ended.

the total lack of ships (bar maybe one) from the 1800s

That's interesting, too, isn't it. When I saw this list I wondered if Bill had deliberately limited it to 1900 and later, given the omission of Oceanic I, Brunel's ships and any number of other worthy candidates from the 19th century.

Jerry, does the article say how Bill defined "greatness" or whether he consciously chose 1900 as the start date?
>I probably wouldn't include Andrea Doria

Another odd choice. Her sister ship Cristoforo Colombo, and her younger, larger, companion vessel Leonardo da Vinci, were among the last major liners to maintain decent passenger totals as operations began shutting down in the early 1970s (figures available in Kohler's Lido Fleet book)and the da Vinci had- arguably- the best interiors of any postwar liner. Despite the Doria's ultra-1950's flair and well photographed death, at least one of her Italia consorts belongs on the list ahead of her.

Adding the term "Greatest" to a title always invites questions. Perhaps "My 20 Favorite Liners" is a safer choice.
I guess I should have written more about this article.At the beginning of the article Bill Miller wrote "This is a daunting task:Select the top 25 ocean liners of all time.Over the years, I have heard the arguments for many candidates and listened to many debates.More recently,however,I encountered a university doctoral candidate whose thesis was a study of ocean liner history.In the course of compiling surveys of more than 70 passenger ship enthusiasts,maritime authors and nautical historians,the doctoral candidate-who shall remain nameless at his request-had produced a list of the 25 greatest ocean liners of all time based on the votes of the group.The criteria were varied:historic notation,innovation,place in history,success and,finally,demise.Invariably,almost every devotee of the great liners will disagree with some part or indeed the entirety of the rankings on the pages that follow.Favorite ships may appear to be ranked inappropriately or possibly omitted entirely.The Normandie and the Titanic,as examples,have small legions of fans,some of whom cannot bear to think of any other ship.Inevitably,the whole matter lends itself to endless discussion and unlimited debate.However-drum roll now please!-with some slight adjustments-made with the approval of our doctoral candidate-herewith are the results,listed in ascending order". Then the article listed the ships in the ascending order.Since I only listed the ships without writting the describtions of each ship I will now write the describtions of each ship. 25-Conte di Savoia(1932)Very good looking running mate to the Rex,Italian super liners of the 1930s,glorius interiors highlighted by Colonna Lounge,highly sucessful,innovative pool and Lido decks,introduced early stabilization,tragic loss by fire in 1943 and ruins later scrapped. 24-Ile de France(1927)Highle innovative 3 stacker that introduced Art Deco decor to the high seas in 1927,Inspired decoration on numerous other liners including Normandie,noted for splendid food and service and great onboard ambiance,wartime trooper,remained popular in the 1950s,sentimental loss when sold for scrap in 1959. 23-Voyager of the Seas(1999)First of Royal Caribbean's 5 Voyager Class cruise liners,the largest afloat 1999-2004, 140,000 tons and carrying 3,600 passengers,innovative and highly sucessful interiors including horizontal lobby,3-deck-high restaurant,800 seat ice arena,rock climbing wall and complete 1950s diner.Prototype for even larger 160,000 ton Ultra Voyager class due in 2006. 22-Andrea Doria(1953)Italy's post war tour de force of design and decoration,great symbol of rebirth following the devastation of the Second World War,immortalized because of her tragic sinking in July,1956 after colliding with Sweden's Stockholm. 21-Nieuw Amsterdam(1938)Holland's "ship of state" for the 1930s,Art Deco dreamboat with superb exterior,beloved and extremely popular,heroic troopship from 1940 to 1946 and great symbol to the Dutch of post war liberation,last Holland America Line transatlantic liner until 1971,longed career when scrapped in 1974. 20-Empress of Britain(1931)Splendid looking ship,a true ocean liner of the 1930s,with 3 oversizes "gas tank" funnels,handsome all-white exterior,lavish often high Art Deco interiors,dual purpose transatlantic and winter world cruising,sunk in 1940 when only 9 years old. 19-Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse(1899 or 1900)First of German "super liners",first of the 4 stackers,Blue Riband champion,her distinctions stunned the rival British lines,ornate quarters,tragically lost in the First World War. 18-Caronia(1948)Very good looking,post Second World War Cunarder of 1948,smaller cousins of sorts to Queen Elizabeth of 1940.Painted in distinctive shades of green and so dubbed the "Green Goddess".Said to be the most luxurious liner of her time,certainly the grandest cruise ship.Finished her days in deepening decay,however,as Greek owned Caribia and later wrecked in the Pacific. 17-Rex(1932)Italy's greatest transatlantic liner,their largest liner of the 1930s,Blue Riband holder,great symbol to Mussolini's era, sad,early ending when bombed and sunk in 1944. 16-Bremen(1929)German record breaker of 1929 that symbolized national rebirth just 11 years after the defeat of the First World War,Blue Riband holder,modern interiors,another tragedy of war being destroyed in 1941. 15-Aquitania(1914)Called the "Ship Beautiful",very handsome 4 of the great floating palaces with lavish interiors,served in 2 world wars,prelude and something of an inspiration to Queen Mary of the 1930s,last 4-stacker,exceptional career 1914-1949. 14-Canberra(1961)Good looking,rather timeless modern liner and the largest ever created for the traditional 2-class U.K.-Australia and around the world trades.Revolutionary to those services for her modernity,long career serving 1961-1997,very popular British based cruise ship in later years. 13-Rotterdam(1959)Innovative,somewhat revolutionary liner of 1959,Holland's "ship of state" but also the last of Holland America's Atlantic ships,cherished 1950s interiors,favored cruise ship to many,might become a hotel and museum in Rotterdam harbor. 12-Queen Elizabeth(1940)Extremely handsome ruuning mate to the popular Queen Mary,slightly larger being the logest liner of all 1940-1996,wartime maiden voyage,great North Atlantic favorite,sad ending as an unsuccessful Florida tourist attraction and then finishing in tragedy by burning in Hong Kong harbor in 1972. 11-Europa/Liberte(1930)Record breaking German liner of 1930 with sleek greyhound like exterior,modern interiors,revived after World War 2 with French Line grandeur,style and cooking as the Liberte,a great favorite on the Atlantic in the 1950s. 10-Imperator/Berengaria(1913)World's largest liner when completed in 1913,luxurious interiors,Imperator took on a second,quite different life after the First World War as Cunard flagship Berengaria. 9-Queen Mary 2(2004)Most publicized ship of modern times,thoroughly record-breaking,including being the largest,longest and most expensive liner to date,successor to the earlier Cunard Queens,continues traditional transatlantic crossings,large spacious often lavish interiors. 8-Mauretania(1907)Beloved,venerable,the great veteran,Blue Riband champion for 22 years 1907-1929,sleek 4-stacker with Edwardian interiors,finished her days as a white-hulled cruise ship. 7-Lusitania(1907)Great Cunard 4-stacker,one of the largest and fastest of her time (1907),cruelly sunk in May 1915 at the beginning of the First World War,with more than 1,100 casualties. 6-Titanic(1912)Record-breaking liner said to be unsinkable,lost on maiden voyage with over 1,500 casualties,demise has become an unending obsession that has included numerous books,societies and organizations devoted to her history and sinking,inspiration for a Broadway musical and major films including James Cameron's recent $1 billion epic production. 5-Normandie(1935)Adored by many as the most stunningly luxurious ocean liner of all time,advanced design,exceptional 3-funnel profile,revolutionary art deco interiors,Blue Riband champion,sailed for little more than 4 years 1935-1939,tragic ending by fire at her New York pier in 1942. 4-Queen Elizabeth 2(1969)Said to be the last of the great Atlantic liners but lately succeeded by the Queen Mary 2; a great sentimental favorite,beloved and cherished by many since 1969,sailing for 37 years while covering more miles than any other big liner in history,numerous refits and changes. 3-France/Norway(1962)Last of the great French Line passenger ships and a latter-day successor to the Normandie.Eye catching funnels topping handsome exteriors,noted for exceptional food and service and pure glamour of ocean travel.Sailed on transatlantic crossings 1962-1974,revived for second highly sucessful career as the tropical cruise ship Norway.Great symbol of adaptation to change in ocean liner travel. 2-United States(1952)Largest American liner of her time,tour de force of American design,engineering and construction.Great symbol of post war transatlantic revival,last Blue Riband champion.making up to 43 knots on trials and even 20 knots in full reverse.Concluded U.S.flag liner service on the North Atlantic in 1969;long lay-up and saddening neglect 1969-present. 1-Queen Mary(1936)Beloved Cunarder; Blue Riband champion 1938-1952;heroic World War 2 trooper 1939-1946;carried 16,683 passengers and crew on a crossing in 1943,the greatest number ever carried on any vessel;last of the great 3-stackers.Since 1967 Queen Mary has been permamently enshrined as a museum and hotel in Southern California. End of article.
Does anyone attach any significance to the fact that every one of the top four on that list is still in existence? Granted, only one is operational (as a ship which actually moves) and one is busy looking for a place to die, but it seems just a bit too much of a coincidence to me.

Yet, if longevity was an important criterion, how does the shortest-lived of the lot come in as high as no.6? It seems to me that the criteria used to make the list are a bit muddled and even a bit contradictory.

Historical significance would suggest that Ile de France, as the heroine of the Andrea Doria affair, deserves to rate a lot closer to the top than 24. And I agree that if a successful career was an important consideration then it is plain daft to overlook Olympic, whose record in both war and peace speaks for itself.

There seems to be no real consistency to the way the list was selected, but of course such an exercise will always be highly subjective. And with so many fine vessels to choose from, somebody's favourite will inevitably be left out of a list of 25. I would agree, though, that "Favourite" rather than "Greatest" Liners would have been a more appropriate heading.
I agree that 'favourite' is perhaps a better heading. Otherwise, the list would be in an entirely different order according to 'success', longevity, style, popularity, speed, dimensions, etc.

However, the great thing about lists such as the above is that they generate so much interesting debate. I have really enjoyed reading through all these posts. Thanks in particular to Jim and Jerry for such detailed and thought provoking responses. I'm looking forward to seeing how this pans out!

Brent Holt

Mr. Miller is not a big fan of Olympic. In the "Floating Palaces" TV special years ago he said the following about her: (roughly)
"The Olympic, sister to the Titanic,.........was rather forgotten in those days. She was a wonderful, comfortable, reliable ship, but didn't have that certain Mauretania/Aquitania quality."

That statement is certainly open to debate. In the 1920s and 30s, the Olympic beat the Mauretania in passenger carryings on a regular basis. (Although the Aquitania was more popular than Olympic, this can be expected to a certain degree she she was designed to exceed Olympic in passenger accommodations. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.)

Although I enjoy his books very much, Mr. Miller makes many mistakes in them. He obviously knows very little about Titanic because he repeats many of the same myths over and over about the disaster. He also, surprisingly, describes the Leviathan as one of the least popular liners of her day when the opposite was true. The reason I say surprising is because his fellow author Frank Braynard wrote a 6 volume series on her. Mr. Miller must not have read them!

Timothy Trower

Former Member
This may be a sweeping charge, and isn't intended as such, but Bill Miller shouldn't rely on "votes of the group" as source material for his list.

This may be heresy to some, but I don't think that the Titanic should have been on the list at all, nor the Lusitania or Aquitania. Honors for the two trios should have gone to Mauretania and Olympic; the Queen Elizabeth and France (1963) were merely refinements of the Queen Mary and Normandie and shouldn't be included.

To ignore the Oceanic I, the Great Britain and even the City of Paris and others from the 19th Century seems odd and wasteful. Too many popular ships with short pedigrees fill Miller's list at the expense of others that were ground breakers and leaders in design and construction.

If the Voyager of the Seas is included, then why also the Queen Mary 2, another floating passenger barge? The QE2 is worth having on the list, but merely as a successor to her earlier sisters, not on her own merits, and surely not at number four.

We all have our favorites, and I like top ten lists and such, but either limit your list to a certain decade or half century -- either that, or truly include ALL steam or diesel powered passenger liners from the Great Britain to the present.

Equally important, ships should be judged on their merits alone, not popularity or notoriety. Even then, some will quibble with the choices, but we will be debating the ship, her design and construction -- not longevity or popularity.
I agree with the earlier comments regarding Olympic and Titanic. Olympic was the pioneer and she deserves a mention more than her sister. Despite the improvements or changes to Olympic's sisters, Olympic is the one ship of the trio that I think merits inclusion. She was the first liner to exceed 800 feet, 45,000 gross tons, and set the luxury over speed standard that Cunard and HAPAG copied.

I'm torn on Lusitania or Mauretania. Mauretania was long-lived in comparison, and faster as the famed Blue Ribband speedster...but Lusitania's life was cut short. And Lusitania was the first into service, so strictly speaking she was the technological pioneering wonder.

I agree that Miller's list seems to diss Olympic. It's true that Aquitania and the HAPAG trio had the clear edge by the 1920s, yet that was to be expected. The larger differences could be found in second and third class...Olympic's first class lists held up much better in comparison and in several years she was level-pegging with the best. Best estimates put the number of paying passengers Olympic carried during her career as 430-440,000+ and I think her service record shows she built up a solid degree of popularity.


I don't think that the Titanic should have been on the list at all, nor the Lusitania or Aquitania

I agree with Titanic...not so sure about Lusitania. Surprisingly, I might agree with you about Aquitania. A gorgeous vessel...yet she largely followed the 'Olympic' model and was very different to Lusitania and Mauretania. She was long-lived and beloved, but in all frankness had Mauretania or Majestic lived to see 1939-40 I think they would have been capable of sterling war service. She was more of an evolutionary liner than a revolution like Lusitania.

Speaking of Majestic, she didn't live that long. She had some revolutionary features such as the split funnel uptakes, yet her elder sister Leviathan led the way in that regard. Nevertheless, she was the most popular liner afloat in the 1920s by many measures and deserves far more attention.

Best wishes,

I did realise that I didn't comment on the Queen Elizabeth. She's perhaps my personal favourite of the two Queens...there seems to be a great deal of myth that she was less popular than her elder sister. Problem is, from the 1948-49, and 1956-68 passenger figures I've seen, the Queen Elizabeth seems to have had a clear edge on her sister in terms of popularity. I did put a brief summary of the figures on my website.

I suppose I agree that the Queen Elizabeth was in many ways a refinement of her sister, yet it seems to me that her post-1940 service was just as illustrious. It's a shame she met such a sad end.

Best wishes,

Hi Tim,

No worries, I'm fuzzy as to their in-service dates myself. I didn't actually read your post that way, in truth...I read it as if you were commenting on Olympic and Mauretania as the survivors rather than the elder sisters (or not in the Mauretania's case). Looks like we were both a bit confused, LOL!

Best wishes,


Zack Wyatt

Former Member
This is my list:
1. America
2. Andrea Doria
3. Aquitania
4. Bremen
5. Britannic
6. Californian
7. Caronia (1905)
8. Carpathia
9. Deutschland
10. Egypt
11. Empress of Britain
12. Empress of Ireland
13. Europa
14. France
15. Ile De France
16. Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse
17. Leviathan
18. Lusitania
19. Majestic (1890)
20. Mauretania
21. Morro Castle
22. Normandie
23. Olympic
24. Queen Elizabeth
25. QE2
26. Queen Mary
27. Republic
28. Rex
29. Titanic
30. United States
31. Wilhelm Gustloff
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