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Some Notable Early Cruise Ships from Miami

Port of Miami : The Car Ferries


6,448 tons; length 419 ft., width 61 ft., draft 17 ft, 20 knots; 172 cabins; 524 passengers; diesel, twin screw; built 1964, scrapped 2001.

mv Bilu - Somerfin Passenger Lines Go to mv Bilu brochure

mv Bilu swimmimg pool Somerfin Lines, based in land-locked Switzerland, placed their new mv Bilu in service from Israel to Italy and France in 1964. She was a novel vessel advertised in Europe as a "boatel". Passengers paid a basic passage fare plus a charge for a berth on a sliding scale of privacy. Double occupancy in a mv Bilu typical stateroom two-berth cabin with private facilities came to US$75 per person. Food was served cafeteria style and was not included in the fare. Cars could be carried in a drive-on drive-off garage from only US$45.

After her first summer season, mv Bilu repositioned to Miami to spend the winter of 1964/1965 as a cruise ship on 3 and 4-day trips to the Bahamas including all meals.

mv Bilu brochure effective Dec. 14, 1964
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There were five passenger decks with public areas including the Tivoli Lounge, Lido Grill, Rendezvous Bar, Continental Dining Room, a reading/writing room and shops. Except for a Penthouse Suite, all staterooms were inside on Mont Blanc and Alpine Deck, with the Garage Deck for 120 cars in between. There were 78 two-berth, 6 three-berth and 87 four-berth cabins, all with upper/lower berths and private facilities.

mv Bilu returned to Europe in the spring of 1965 and did not repeat the Miami deployment. In 1967, she was renamed mv Dan and sold to Zim Lines of Israel to continue in Mediterranean ferry service.


7,851 tons; length 450 ft., width 62 ft., draft 17 ft., 20 knots; 269 cabins; 544 passengers; diesel, twin screw; built 1965, scrapped 1981.

mv Nili - Somerfin Passenger Lines Go to mv Nili brochure

mv Nili brochure effective March, 1966
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Somerfin completed mv Nili in 1965 as a companion for mv Bilu, though with disappointing bookings it was intended to place her in ferry service between Southampton and Spain. However, the political dispute over Gibraltar put an end to that, and instead she was chartered as a ferry in the Baltic Sea. Two of the late shipowner F. Leslie Fraser's sons, Lewis and Stephen, set up Pan American Cruise Line and secured a contract to charter the mv Nili. In the fall of 1965, she was sent to Miami for short cruises to the Bahamas.

mv Nili Spanish Dining Room mv Nili had five passenger decks with public areas including the main lounge, entrance foyer, shop, reading/writing room and dining room on Main Deck. Above on Promenade Deck were the Lido Lounge, a small theater and the swimming pool.

mv Nili The only outside staterooms were on Promenade Deck including eight deluxe and six standard cabins plus the Owner's and Governor's Suites. The small inside staterooms on A and B Decks each accommodated two passengers in upper and lower berths. 117 had private facilities and 136 adjoining cabins shared shower and toilet. The garage deck for 120 cars was between A and B decks and a night club was below.

mv Nili The Fraser brothers' operation caught the attention of Ted Arison, who was intrigued by the idea of cruises from Miami. When the brothers encountered financial difficulties in 1966, Somerfin cancelled the charter and Arison stepped in to take over. Within a few months of Arison Shipping Company taking over the mv Nili charter,

mv Jamaica Queen
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Somerfin entered bankruptcy and the ship was arrested by the Israeli government.

She was sold to new owners, who chartered her to Continental Cruise Lines in 1967 and renamed her mv Jamaica Queen. She was placed in 4 and 5-day cruise service from Miami to Jamaica and the Bahamas carrying passengers and cars. She was sold again as mv Nili in 1969 and returned to Europe for several owners and deployments before being severely damaged by a terrorist bomb in Haifa in 1981.


8,666 tons; length 457 ft., width 68 ft., draft 17 ft., 20 knots; 212 cabins; 558 passengers; diesel, twin screw; built 1966, scrapped 2004.

ms Sunward Go to ms Sunward brochure

ms Sunward brochure cover
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In 1966, Ted Arison found himself with no ship but with reservations for future cruises on the mv Nili. He read a story in Travel Weekly about a Norwegian shipping tycoon, Knut Kloster, whose sleek new cruise ferry could not operate the route it was built for between the UK and Spain due to the aforementioned political dispute. Arison contacted Kloster and an agreement was reached for ms Sunward to come to Miami and for Arison Shipping Company to handle sales and reservations.

ms Sunward departed on her first cruise from Miami to Nassau on December 19, 1966. ms Sunward She was slightly larger and better suited as a cruise ship than the mv Bilu or mv Nili. She was an instant success in an industry of otherwise converted ocean liners and old repurposed coastal steamers.

There were six passenger decks. Public areas included a unique Sky Lounge at the top, the Main Lounge, Blue Moon Night Club, Jupiter and Pollux Restaurants, Spanish Garden Cafe and swimming pool. ms Sunward Cabins were on A and B-Decks including 8 suites, 4 deluxe staterooms, 73 outside cabins with two lower beds (plus two folding upper berths) and 119 inside and 8 outside upper/lower berth cabins for two. All passenger cabins had private bathrooms. Additionally, there was space for 170 cars below on the garage deck which was not used.

ms Sunward Arison's formula was working. ms Sunward sales skyrocketed, business boomed and Kloster ordered additional new, larger ships. Kloster and Arison formed Norwegian Caribbean Lines (NCL), which was later renamed Norwegian Cruise Line. In 1973, having been outclassed by the newbuildings, ms Sunward was sold.


10,448 tons; length 441 ft., width 70 ft., draft 18 ft., 20 knots; 280 cabins; 690 passengers; diesel, twin screw; built 1968; scrapped 2012.

mv Freeport Go to mv Freeport brochure

mv Freeport
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mv Freeport was really a car ferry, however her first assignment was running daily round-trip cruises from Miami to Freeport effective December 7, 1968. Her cabins were very small, either 75 sq. ft or 95 sq ft, except for six "suites" of 123 sq ft. Roundtrip fares started at US$25, which included a stateroom, plus US$7 to add dinner and breakfast. There were 214 outside cabins and 66 inside plus a garage for 170 cars.

mv Freeport Soon, some of the Freeport cruises were expanded to two nights including Nassau, but in 1973, she was sold and repositioned to Europe as a car ferry. Then she was back again in 1976 as ms Caribe for Commodore Cruise line doing weekly cruises from Miami in the winter season. In the summer she was a cruise ferry between Portland, Maine and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Finally, in 1981, she became a full-time day cruise ship sailing from Port Everglades under the names Scandinavian Sun and later Discovery Sun.