Social media feeds have recently been filled with nostalgic goodbyes to an iconic cruise ship. Princess Cruises selling off its ‘Love Boat’, went a typical headline.
To a generation that has so many entertainment sources, it’s tough to explain just how huge The Love Boat series was. From 1977 to 1986, when there were just three major networks to choose from on a Saturday night, the show’s weekly slate of guest stars gave half of Old Hollywood one last chance to shine.
Today, a retired star craving attention can simply trawl for likes on Instagram, but back then, the faded survivors of the studio system jockeyed for an invitation on The Love Boat, where they could get their fancy gowns out of storage, get their hair done, and preen for a national audience in a flimsy plotline written to flatter their talents.
If a teenager asks you who was important to culture from the ’40s to the ’60s, point that youngster to CBS All Access, where the entire series is streaming, and take note of the elderly performers that resurfaced in the show’s 250 episodes.
Of course, there will be much you will be unable to explain about The Love Boat, including why there’s a laugh track on a ship, how the inept crew managed to retain their jobs, and exactly how such sexist horndog hokum managed to rank among the highest-rated TV programs during the Reagan years.
In that period, the Pacific Princess sailed from Long Beach and San Diego, California, to the west coast of Mexico, and the popularity of the show helped make cruising a mainstream activity for young and old alike. Anyone who works in cruises will tell you that The Love Boat was a turning point for the industry.
And now that glorious ship has been retired!
Well, no. It’s actually been gone for nearly 20 years.
The real Love Boat, the one used in the show’s establishing shots, was indeed the Pacific Princess. Built in 1971, it came from a humbler age. Unlike on today’s ships, the staterooms lacked balconies, and in total the Pacific Princess could carry just 600 passengers—practically a yacht by today’s standards.
Photo: The original Pacific Princess in the end credits of The Love Boat‘s first season in 1977
That’s the ship that appeared in most episodes. As many as seven other vessels, including sister ship the Island Princess (broken up in 2015), were used across the life of the series whenever episodes were set in other destinations, such as England or Australia.
Depending on the season, interior scenes were mostly shot at the Twentieth Century-Fox lot in west Los Angeles or at what’s now called Sunset Bronson Studios (home of Judge Judy and a growing slate of Netflix shows).
Because of the old-fashioned size and structure of the Pacific Princess, Princess Cruises retired the ship way back in 2002, and it was finally sold for scrap in Turkey in 2012.
In 1998, a little-watched revival of The Love Boat dropped anchor for one season on the now-failed UPN network, but that show was associated with the Sun Princess, which now sails as the Pacific World with the Japan-based Peace Boat world tour line.
The ship that Princess Cruises has just sold, meanwhile, never appeared on The Love Boat—neither the original run nor the reboot. So how could anyone call the ship the Love Boat?
Because of publicity. The vessel (pictured above), which held around 1,500 passengers at capacity, was acquired by Princess Cruises in 2002, and the company slapped the “Love Boat” honorarium on it to maintain continuity as the original Pacific Princess sailed to new owners.
Former cast members from the TV show did come aboard the imposter Love Boat for paid appearances, but that’s nothing special; they’ve shown up on other modern Princess ships, too. The core cast even christened the Regal Princess in 2014.
Despite the name switch, lots of news outlets led readers to believe the original Love Boat was just removed from service. (The most accurate headline we’ve seen actually came from Fox Business: Princess Cruises sells ship once boarded by ‘Love Boat’ cast. But so was the Regal Princess, and that’s still in the Princess fleet.)
The just-retired Pacific Princess ended its service in April, when Covid-19 forced the suspension of a world tour. The ship goes to the Azamara cruise brand, which itself was just purchased by a private equity firm. The ship will begin sailing in Europe under the Azamara flag in 2022.