The birth of leisure cruising dates back to the formation of the Peninsular & Oriental (P&O) Steam Navigation Company in 1822, named Wilcox and Anderson, a ship brokering firm for trading between England and the Iberian Peninsular countries of Spain and Portugal. P&O first introduced passenger cruising services in 1844, advertising sea tours to exotic destinations like Gibraltar, Malta and Athens, sailing from Southampton.
Some sources mention Francesco I, flying the flag of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Italy), as the first cruise ship. Built in 1831, she sailed from Naples in June 1833, preceded by an advertising campaign. Nobles, authorities, and royal princes from across Europe boarded this cruise ship, and in just over three months, the ship sailed to Taormina, Catania, Syracuse, Malta, Corfu, Patras, Delphi, Zante, Athens, Smyrna, and Constantinople, delighting passengers with excursions, guided tours, dancing, deck card tables and on-board parties. However, these privileges were restricted to the European aristocracy and it was not really a commercial endeavour. Today, no such restrictions apply – A luxury cruise trip is accessible to anyone who is able to afford it