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The Golden Age of Travel


Greta Garbo and director Mauritz Stiller on the SS Drottingholm in 1926

Greta Garbo and director Mauritz Stiller on the SS Drottingholm in 1926

Friday 9th & Saturday 10th March

Evoking the era of luxury liners—the Art Deco dream of gleaming speed, the adventure of travel, the romance of shipboard life and the opulence of First Class, in an age when the journey itself, recreationally and socially, could be as important as the destination.

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Travel posters emphasised the size, modernity and luxury of the ships themselves

The birth of the ocean liner coincided with a rush of emigration across the Atlantic. Early efforts were more about speed than comfort, but soon wealthy shipping magnates competed to fit out their ships with grand staircases and Louis XVI furnishings. Titanic featured such innovations as refrigerators and electric lifts plus running water in every cabin, not to mention three dining rooms, an à la carte restaurant and a Parisian café. Germany's Imperator even hired Georges Escoffier—perhaps the most famous chef in the world at the time—to run the galley.

Yes, these swimming baths are on board a ship

Yes, these swimming baths are on board a ship

But it was in the 1920s and 1930s that the opulence peaked. By now the ships were aimed squarely at the wealthy—especially monied Americans fleeing Prohibition for some drink-soaked fun in Europe.

The Normandie offered a swimming pool, gym, shooting gallery, nightclub, shopping mall, Byzantine chapel, children's playroom complete with merry-go-round and a cinema showing films before general release. A passenger could have his own four-room apartment with dining room and servants' quarters, furnished with tapestries and a grand piano. Passengers could even accessorise with an Hermés clutch bag in the shape of the ship. For the rich and famous it was the only way to travel. Every trip came with a printed  passenger list so movers and shakers could see who else was on board, and the piers around the passenger terminals were lined with autograph hunters.

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The special Normandie clutch bag, complete with funnels and anchor, that was a free gift to First Class passengers on the ship's maiden voyage

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We can't quite match the opulence of the dining room on the Normandie, but we'll have Champagne and nautical cocktails and an optional three course dinner to pre-order. And no ship's biscuits, honest.

On board the good ship Candlelight there will be portholes, deck chairs, quoits and dancing to live jazz from the ship's  buoyant band the Silver Ghosts, plus cabaret from Champagne Charlie and vintage vinyl spun by DJ Auntie Maureen.

The famous chorus line the Tiller Girls taking a turn about the deck of the Berengaria in 1926

The famous chorus line the Tiller Girls taking a turn about the deck of the Berengaria in 1926

For more inspiration check out the V&A Museum's exhibition Ocean Liners: Speed and Style

Experience the raw exhilaration that is deck quoits. The quoits themselves are circles of rope which, unlike a ball, are unlikely to roll off into the sea

Experience the raw exhilaration that is deck quoits. The quoits themselves are circles of rope which, unlike a ball, are unlikely to roll off into the sea

Earlier Event: February 10
Valentine's Ball
Later Event: April 6
Sakura in Old Tokyo