top of page


Even Premier's red livery could not hide the fact that the SS BIG RED BOAT III had lovely lines. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2001.


Premier Cruises, Inc.'s SS THE BIG RED BOAT III began her career in 1961 as Union-Castle Line's RMS TRANSVAAL CASTLE. Built at the famous Clydebank, Scotland-based John Brown and Company, the vessel was commissioned for Southampton to Durban service. Similar in size and architecture to the 1960-built flagship WINDSOR CASTLE, she was more modern with a flared, curved, bulbous bow and streamlined superstructure. The 32,697 gt TRANSVAAL CASTLE was UCL's first all one class liner and was called "The Hotel Ship" in company literature. Like the WINDSOR CASTLE, she was fast, and could achieve a service speed of 22.5 knots, completing the passage in 13.5 days. Quite sadly, she was the last passenger mail ship built for Union-Castle.

In 1966, she was transferred to U.C.L.'s South African affiliate, Safmarine, and renamed S.A. VAAL. She continued in the same service (but now in white instead of lavendar hull livery) until the passenger services were closed in 1977. The S.A. VAAL was sold to Carnival Cruise Lines, who sent her to Kobe, Japan for a complete rebuilding into their new FESTIVALE. When the 35,000 gt "Fun Ship" was introduced to Caribbean cruise service in 1978, she was by far the largest passenger ship based in Florida and one of the largest cruise ships in the world. She was vastly rebuilt and completely redecorated and was really the first ship to sport the original stylings of Carnival architect/designer Joseph Farcus. Internally, FESTIVALE was drenched in vibrant reds, eye-popping neon and shiny chrome. Externally, she was fitted with a wedding cake-like forward superstructure and a rebuilt lido with acres of games spaces and swimming pools. However, in the officers' spaces, the old Union-Castle liner with John Brown and Co. Clydebank fittings remained quite original. She was a huge success and steamed on for Carnival well into 1996, when she was chartered to Dolphin Cruise Line to become the SS ISLANDBREEZE. By that time, she had been eclipsed by dozens of boxy new ships well over twice her size.

After FESTIVALE became ISLANDBREEZE, she began catering once again to her old U.K. clientele during annual summer charters to Thomson Holidays. In the winter, she was based in the Caribbean with her Dolphin fleetmates SEABREEZE I (ex FEDERICO C) and OCEANBREEZE (ex SOUTHERN CROSS). In 1998, when Dolphin, Seawind, and Premier Cruise Lines merged to form Premier Cruises, Inc., she was purchased outright from Carnival holdings. In 2000, she was painted red and given the name THE BIG RED BOAT III for Texas-based cruising. The new Premier venture was a disaster and by the end of that year, she was laid up at Freeport following the collapse of the company. She sat until 2003, when scrap prices made it worth the effort to fire up her neglected boilers for the final voyage to Alang. When she was beached that summer, she was the largest passenger ship to date to be scrapped in India. Ironically, her record was not broken until 2005, when the still slightly larger RITA (ex WINDSOR CASTLE) arrived.


bottom of page