Cruise For the S.S. United States, an arduous voyage ahead By Tom Stieghorst / February 09, 2016 Share 1 Crystal's rendering of a restored SS United States. -- Former Celebrity Cruises executive Art Sbarsky said that the SS United States looked decrepit when he last saw the ship about 10 years ago. Fast forward to last week, when Crystal Cruises unveiled an ambitious plan to restore the legendary ship into a modern sailing vessel that could become a unique showcase for the Crystal brand."It's going to take a lot of paint to cover up what the ship looks like now," said Sbarsky. "I can't imagine it has gotten any better."Launched in 1952, the SS United States could hold 1,928 passengers and was the fastest ship of its era (Crystal intends to refurbish it to accommodate 800 passengers). Built at Virginia's Newport News Shipbuilding, the 53,330-ton ship is U.S. flagged, which would allow for domestic itineraries off limits to other ships its size.But the liner, currently docked in Philadelphia, has deteriorated and has not sailed since 1969. The ship, which is a cause celebre among cruise history buffs, has nearly been scrapped several times. The S.S. United States Conservancy foundation currently maintains it.Speaking about the Crystal's plan last week, Susan Gibbs, the executive director of the conservancy, said, "Change is both exhilarating and challenging." The last serious attempt at restoring the United States came in 2003, when Norwegian Cruise Line bought it. After a technical review, it was pronounced sound, but Norwegian did not move forward with restoration.Norwegian was owned at the time by Genting Hong Kong, which last year bought Crystal. Genting retains a minority stake in Norwegian.Another attempt at restoring the ship was made in the early 1990s by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL), according to Rod McLeod, who was its senior sales executive at the time."The conclusion was, once you take away the history, you've got a cruise ship project," McLeod said.Essentially, that meant throwing out almost everything but the hull. "The engines, forget that, you can't use them," McLeod said. "You would basically have to gut it out and end up with a shell."Perhaps the biggest issue for RCCL, McLeod said, was that the original use of the ship dictated it be designed for speed. "The ship is built like a knife," he said. "It is long and narrow. That began to drive how you could do the rearrangement plan in a rational way. It was impractical."But, McLeod allowed, it has been 20 years, and Crystal may have a different view. "With a fresh set of eyes, who knows?" he said.Under Genting, Crystal's vision has been to extend its brand to a variety of luxury travel products, such as river cruise ships, a 60-passenger cruise yacht and packaged air tours. Restoring the SS United States and adding a storied liner to the mix could augment that effort.