When many observers think of life aboard the SS United States, they think of celebrities and heads of state, glamorous parties, and the talented and hardworking crew who helped the ship earn the coveted “Blue Riband” on her very first voyage.
What doesn’t necessarily come to mind are all the younger passengers, whose time on the ship would affect and inspire them for decades to come. Though Robert Schmid was but a small boy when he stepped aboard America’s Flagship, he still recalls his journey vividly.
“Each of the seven days on board was an experience,” he says. “We could go swimming, play shuffleboard or table tennis.”
A view from the deck of the SS United States in 1961. Photo courtesy of Robert Schmid.
As with so many other passengers of the SS United States, when the time came to visit relatives across the Atlantic, Schmid and his family called upon the reliable vessel. It was the summer of 1961 when young Robert, his sister, and their mother all stepped aboard the Big U, which whisked them off to see Schmid’s uncle — an Austrian native who’d become a naturalized American citizen in 1949.
“We took the train from Vienna to Bremen and boarded the SS United States on June 15, 1961, in Bremerhaven,” Schmid remembers. “Our cabin was B89. With a stopover in Southampton, we headed off towards New York.”
Robert Schmid, age 7, on board the SS United States. Photo courtesy of Robert Schmid.
Despite his young age at the time, Schmid clearly remembers two things: the food on board was delicious, and the crew was very accommodating.
“One of my favorite things to do was ride the elevator up and down,” he says. “In between, I got a ‘pill for seasick’ from a steward — a very tasty chewing gum.”
“[Another] daily highlight was the ‘Bell Boy,’ who called us to dinner with his glockenspiel,” Schmid recalls. “The children were also allowed to play on his instrument!”
The hospitality of the crew also meant an unexpected, though completely necessary stop.
“Towards the end of the journey, a sick passenger was picked up from another ship and brought back to New York,” Schmid remembers. “[This] delayed the journey by a few hours, but hopefully helped the sick man.”
After arriving in New York, Schmid visited with family for most of the summer. He celebrated his eighth birthday with his relatives and “new friends” in America, before once again boarding the SS United States that September — making the journey from New York to Le Havre and then, by train, back home to Austria.
Nearly six decades later, Robert Schmid still holds a special place in his heart for his time aboard the ship.
“Although I was only 7 years old, I have a lot of memories of the wonderful cruise on the Big U.”
The SS United States has created unforgettable memories for countless former passengers and crew. We can save this magnificent vessel for future generations, but we need your help.
Do you have memories of your time aboard America’s Flagship? Send us an email at email@example.com.
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