Morro Castle, Mohawk and the End of the Ward Line : Part One

3. Touring the Morro Castle and Oriente

The new ships, to be named Morro Castle and Oriente were designed to equal the Caronia with their public rooms, and surpass her with their cabins and suites. At 508 feet long by 78 feet wide, the new Ward Liners were smaller than their Cunard competitor, but with the elimination of third class, and the reduction of second class to fewer than 100 passengers carried in cabins that would be sold as minimum fare first class on most cruises, they offered passengers far more space than the Caronia could. The ships’ interior design was strictly pre-War and was, in short, everything a cruise passenger expected de luxe accommodation to be in 1930. The Morro Castle was launched first, in March 1930, and made her maiden voyage the following August. Her reception in New York was warm, with over 1000 official passes being distributed by AGWI to VIPS who wished to inspect the new American flagship.

AGWI Headquarters, Fifth Avenue

Her reception in Havana was enthusiastic, with President Machado and members of his staff attending a banquet on board, and to add to the festive mood, the ship had beat the previous in-house record for passage to Cuba, making the journey in less than 59 hours. The swiftest overall time to Havana was held, however, by the Mauretania -which had made the trip in fewer than fifty hours-so the best that Ward Line could claim was that the Morro Castle was the fastest regularly scheduled liner sailing between New York City and Cuba. The Oriente, which followed her into service that December, also did well but – in a pattern that would last for the next three and a half years – did not generate the same level or quality of publicity that the Morro Castle had.


Oriente Menu

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Morro Castle Publicity

A walk through the completed Morro Castle and Oriente would show a reviewer how successfully the Ward Line had been in creating vessels that managed to feel both pre-war and modern. It was as if, somehow the Caronia or Mauretania had been gutted of the two lower classes and nearly everything of first class other than the public rooms, and rebuilt to the standards of comfort prevailing in 1930. There were literally dozens of cabins in first class with private facilities, and all but seven of the first class cabins were outside.

Starting from the furthest point forward on the Boat Deck, Deck A, there were eight suites deluxe, each with two beds, sitting area and full tub bathrooms arranged in their own deckhouse. Aft of them were the forward grand staircase lobby and six two bed cabins with private facilities, arranged three two a side along the corridors that passed the funnel casing. The corridors terminated at the First Class Lounge mezzanine, where overstuffed couches and chairs were arranged along the port and starboard side of the lounge well. The well was surrounded by an elaborate iron railing that would be used again in that of the Dining Saloon. Beyond the mezzanine, a starboard corridor led past four two bed cabins, two with bathrooms and two without, the childrens’ playroom and the aft grand staircase lobby before ending by the gymnasium. The port corridor held two passenger cabins, with bathrooms, just aft of the lounge, and a block of rooms not identified on deck plans, that were presumably for crew use. Beyond the gymnasium there was a large open sports deck.

1-1934- Do you smell smoke

First Class Stateroom

Promenade Deck, Deck B, began as A Deck did, with another eight suites deluxe. Six of these were of comparable size to those on A Deck and two were considerably smaller to allow for an expanded grand staircase lobby. All eight of these cabins looked out onto the enclosed Promenade Deck, as did the Writing Room and Library, which were, respectively, on the port and starboard sides of the funnel casing. Each of these rooms opened, from their aft ends, into the two-deck First Class lounge.

1 1934 loungeThe lounge was, perhaps, the most Cunard-like room aboard the ships. The walls were paneled in medium-toned wood, with details picked out by gilt. Both levels of the lounge well were defined by gilt-topped Corinthian columns, and all four corners of the well curved outward into the room, suggesting pavilions. The panels along the walls were defined by Corinthian- capitaled pilasters, and those on the forward bulkhead contained inlay work- perhaps of mother of pearl. On the B Deck level, there was a piano forward, an elaborate fireplace with overmantle aft, and an abundance of chairs, tables, couches and potted snake plants in the stylistic mélange usually described with the cover-all term “Edwardian.” The effect was suitably grand, and completely pre-War.

1 1934 smoking room

Smoking Room

Aft of the lounge, and beyond the second casing, was the First Class smoking room. Again, the paneling was a medium-toned wood with gilt detailing. Along the forward bulkhead was a fireplace as elaborate as that in the lounge, and overhead the ceiling was vaulted, with leaded, colored class insets and American Colonial nautical- themed murals set within the vaults. B Deck’s public rooms ended with the Verandah Tea Room, which stood in its own deckhouse within the aft enclosed promenade deck. With its white woodwork, delicate detailing, and rose colored upholstery, the Verandah Tea Room was considerably lighter than the rest of the Promenade Deck public rooms and had a pronounced pre-war French Line feel to it. The Deck Ballroom which ended the B Deck suite of rooms contained one of the few notes of whimsy aboard the new flagships- the orchestra platform was contained within the bow of a Viking ship replica centered along the aft wall of the space. The ballroom itself spanned the ship, linking the port and starboard enclosed Promenade Decks like an enclosed sun porch.

PHIND morro31C Deck consisted of two blocks of first class cabins, one small and forward comprised of fourteen cabins, and one running the corresponding length of the Promenade Deck above made up of seventy-one cabins, and a deck house at the stern in which were six cabins that could be sold as second class, and a lounge and smoking room- never labeled on deck plans- that could serve for second class facilities on voyages where two classes were required. The ship’s office was located between the port and starboard corridors, in the small block of cabins forward of the Grand Foyer. The Grand Foyer had a floor of square marble-look linoleum tiles in light and dark shades, walls paneled in quarter-sawed wood, and columns and pilasters with fluted capitals defining the entry to the aft corridors. Close to amidships, between the forward and aft casings, was the dining room mezzanine, off which were located the four most expensive suites aboard the ship. Each of these suites was slightly smaller in size to those on A and B Decks, but could be expanded if needed to two rooms by the purchase of an adjoining outside cabin. These cabins cost a minimum of $170 on a six day cruise, but the addition of the second room would raise that an additional $125. The barber shop was located just aft of the second grand staircase, and the Doctor’s Office and cabin were located at the far aft end of the starboard side corridor and opened both into the corridor and onto the enclosed promenade deck outside of the second class lounge and smoke room. The only two “inside” cabins on C Deck were across from the Doctor’s office and actually looked out onto the promenade deck.

Forward on D Deck was a block of cabins corresponding in size to that on C Deck. In the place of the ship’s office, however, was a block of four inside cabins. Aft of the lobby were two blocks of six cabins, port and starboard, that lined the corridors leading back to the First Class Dining Saloon.

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Morro Castle Dining Room

The First Class Dining Saloon was similar in layout and design to those aboard the Siboney and Orizaba, but while those rooms were austere almost to the point of being minimalist, those of the new ships were elaborate. The dominant color was still white, but with gilt liberally applied. The composite-capital pilasters spanning both decks at the central well were gilded their entire height. The reeded moulding which defined the area between decks spanning the columns was gilded as well. A trio of arched top mirrors in gilt frames brightened the central aft bulkhead of the room, where they were set between panels of white painted woodwork with gilded highlights, and over an elaborate sideboard. The corresponding bulkhead forward featured what appears, from photos, to have been a framed seascape. There was a scattering of tables for two, and a cluster of tables set for six, eight and ten in the center of the room, but most passengers aboard the new liners would be seated at tables for four.

The aft section of D Deck was less logically laid out than any other part of the ships. The starboard corridor was lined with first class cabins, fourteen outside and two inside, and was linked to the port corridor by a transverse passageway that could be closed off. The port corridor led from a grouping of eight second class cabins opening on an enclosed deck at the stern, forward to the second class dining saloon, a small entirely inside room with thirteen tables. Lining the port corridor but not opening on to it, were three first class cabins in their own self-contained unit that could only be reached by a staircase from C Deck. On “one class” cruises (which the majority of Morro Castle and Oriente voyages were) the transverse corridor would be left open for free access to the entire deck.

E Deck consisted of sixteen second class cabins, eight outside and eight inside, at the very stern of the ship. These were the minimum fare accommodations and could be had for as little as $65 for 6 days.

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