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Delivered as Spirit of London in October, 1972, she has sailed worldwide under different companies and names and in February 1997 she became Flamenco for Festival Cruises
by Arturo Paniagua Mazorra (19 Oct., 1999)
The ship was laid down as yard no.290 by Cantieri Navali del Tirreno e Riuniti S.p.A. of Genoa, the second of a two cruise ship order for Klosters Rederi A/S, on behalf of Norwegian Caribbean Lines.
However, in the second half of 1970 the shipyard encountered financial difficulties and was taken over by the Italian Government (IRI group).
As it was believed that this order would result in heavy losses, IRI cancelled the contract.
Protest by the Norwegian Governement meant only one of the ship order being cancelled.
But later developments resulted in the second ship being also built, and in the first months of 1970 she became ready for sale and P&O bought the partially completed liner on 30 March, 1971.
The "Spirit of London"
She was sent down the slipway on the 11 May, 1972 and she was delivered as "Spirit of London" on 11 October, 1972 becoming the first diesel powered P&O's liner.
By purchasing into an advanced newbuilding program, P&O was able to dramatically reduce the necessary time to introduce new tonnage of its own into the market place, at a time when demand and competition dictate the introduction of new tonnage without delay.
The Sun Princess
For two years she cruised to Canada and Alaska in the summer, to Mexico in the winter as a P&O ship.
After a charter to West Line in the summer of 1974, and following the aquisition of Princess Cruises by P&O in August that year, Spirit of London was transferred to the Princess fleet, and renamed Sun Princess.
The Love Boat Fleet
That year P&O also purchased two cruise ships, the Norwegian owned Sea Venture and Island Venture.
They were soon renamed Pacific Princess and Island Princess and form, with the Sun Princess, the Love Boat fleet, the germ of the third cruise company today.
Her Original Design
The vessel was designed by Knud E. Hansen, a well known Danish naval architect that had worked before on the three previous Kloster's cruise ships.
The Spirit of London was a typical first generation cruise ship, designed to carry 874 passengers in one class, though she normally transports only 750 in 381 cabins, and 323 crew.
Accommodation is in single, double and some four berth cabins, each with private facilities, and shower or bath.
They are also provided with air conditioning, radio, telephone and TV, ideal for week long voyages.
P&O decided to dedicate this vessel to the American tourists on the theme of its name "Spirit of London".
For this reason, all public rooms and passenger spaces have been allocated London names, and the interior design and decor (designed by Neville Ward) have been used to accentuate the theme.
The Spirit of London was a vessel of striking appearance, with a clipper stem, cruiser stern, and a straight funnel, and presented some very interesting novelties:
1. She was the first P&O's passenger ship built for short cruise holidays. She was also their first diesel powered passenger ship and her first uni-fuel ship.
2. The lifeboats were located in two-deck high side recesses. This arrangement means that life boats are nearer the water line and this allows more valuable upper deck space. To protect passengers from the wind over these decks glass wind deflectors have been strategically located.
3. On this ship, P&O installed her first on board incinerator. Refuse is fed to the incinerator by a system of trunking extending through all decks. She was one of the first "green" installation, today common to all cruise ships.
The End of her Princess Days
For more than fourteen years, Sun Princess cruised the Caribbean, the Mexican Riviera and the cold waters of Alaska.
But in July 1988, P&O bought SITMAR. The $210 million deal, headed by the P&O Chairman, Lord Sterling, was acknowledged as a considerable bargain which immediately strengthened Princess Cruises with three ships, which were soon renamed Fair Princess, Dawn Princess and Sky Princess.
The main interest of P&O in the purchase was the newbuilding program of SITMAR.
P&O had not ordered any fourth generation cruise ship, while their principal rivals, Carnival, RCCL, were already operating new units of 70,000 grt and 1,000 cabins.
The only option for P&O to stay within the big cruiseship owners was to merge with one of their competitors.
These three SITMAR newbuildings were somewhat better than its existing fleet mates, and clearly compatible with the P&O fleet.
The Sun Princess, with her first generation cabins became surplus to requirements.
The Starship Majestic
So, on 22 September, 1988 the Sun Princess was sold to Noel Shipping Ltd., a Bahamian subsidiary of Premier Cruise Line.
She was renamed "Majestic", but after a $6 million refit in Lloyd Werft shipyard, she was renamed Starship Majestic.
The ship was fitted with additional twin folding bunk beds in many cabins, as Premier was a family oriented cruise line.
In early 1989 she began her new role as a short cruise ship from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas.
In Ukranian Hands
In the firts months of 1994, the British based, Ukranian owned operator, CTC Cruise Lines looked for an additional cruise ship to cover the increasing demand for their competitively-priced cruises.
The Starship Majestic, which in those days was based in Tampa, met all their requirements and in July a bare boat charter was signed with Premier Cruise Lines, with the delivery planned the following year.
The Southern Cross
In February 1995, the ship sailed from the Caribbean to Birkenhead in order to be refitted by Coast Line.
Her casino was reduced in size to create a new Verandah Lounge, a library and a bar.
On 7 March she was renamed Southern Cross in Tilbury by Gloria Hunniford and later she sailed her maiden cruise, a 38-day voyage to the Caribbean.
All her 1995 summer cruises were based in Tilbury, but in September she made several cruises from other British ports, such as Greenock, Liverpool and Bristol.
Late in autumn she sailed to Australia.
On 10 May 1996, the Southern Cross began her repositioning cruise back to Britain.
In Australia the ship received an inadequate or non existent maintenance.
CTC disappeared in the fall of that year, affected by the crisis of her former Soviet owners, as well as by the presence of new cruise operators such as Airtours, Thomson, Direct Cruises, etc. in the British market.
The Third Festival Ship
On 19 December 1996, Premier Cruises sold the ship to Bowyers Maritime Corporation but she was resold as early as 15 January 1997 to her present owner, Festival Cruises, for $25 million, with delivery late that year.
In February, this Greek company announced that she will be renamed Flamenco.
The technical condition of the ship was very bad, and the Southern Cross due to problem in the fuel tanks was stopped in Bergen on 6 June 1996 by the Authority.
After her third CTC summer European season, she was delivered in Genoa on 16 October, 1997.
Immediately she sailed to Piraeus to begin a $9 million 45 day refit to meet the Festival standard.
Festival Cruises, marketed as First European Cruises in USA, is a Greek owned company founded in 1993, but has her origin in the 50 - year old Poulides group.
The Flameco was very compatible in capacity, speed and installation with the two other ships of the Festival fleet.
They were also two first generation converted cruise ferries: "The Azur" and the "Bolero".
All three are cruise ships with 15,000 TRB, 700 passengers and approximately 350 cabins. The Ukrainians didn't spend almost no money on the ship and the work to be done was very important.
The overall responsibility for the Festival's refit was given to A&M Katzourakis, the well know Greek architect, so Festival ensured a design continuity in her fleet.
The result was excellent, and the ship recovered the standard and look of her Princess days.
Starting from the top of the ship, at Sun deck level, there is the Starlight Lounge, a disco with blue and black decoration, with extensive use of reflective ceilings and mirrored tables.
This is the ship's main night club and has an open stage aft, with a painted floor.
Forward is the Observatory, a large open deck, a sun deck for games and sunbathing, which also offers impressive scenery - trips such as Norwegian Fjords.
The ship has a reasonable amount of open deck space for her size. But she also showes age signs like rust, although the overall cleanliness is good.
All deck furniture and fitting are plastic made.
One deck below there is the Lido deck, with the Satelite Cafe' with its wicker forniture and ceramic floor, which opens into a large open deck in teak.
It also doubles as a buffet in the morning and at midnight, and passengers have an option of enjoying their meals outside, around the pool seated at round tables with brown umbrellas.
The adjacent pool facility remains unchanged from the Princess's time, with the pool in front of the funnel, and an exterior bar called Neptune Bar.
This deck is protected from the wind by plexiglass screens. The teak area was refurbished in the 1997 refitting, and provides a great space for outdoor activities.
There is more open deck space aft of the lounge deck, and a sports deck is in the poop of the Galaxy deck, but in both cases the floor is plastic.
The deck below is the Lounge deck where the main passenger space is the full beam Universe Lounge, which can seat 400 passengers and is the hub of the ship's social activities, with particular emphasis on evening entertainment.
In the morning, this space is used for drinks and aperitifs and has deep glass windows for sighseeing.
There is a bar with all-round seating aft and a stage with a dance floor forward with highly sophisticated lighting.
This room has three levels, with two tiered terraces running port and starboard.
The lower terrace is 0.60 meters above the dance floor and is composed of a series of stages, each seating up to 12 people.
There are only six pillars, and the overall views are always good. Carpeting and chairs are in brown tones, with reflecting ceiling, and the entertainment and night shows are nice for a small ship.
Running aft on the upper gallery level there are a variety of smaller public rooms, which were entirely refitted in 1997, and this become the best decorated spaces on board.
The casino, located aft port, is unusually big for a European ship. It is nicely decorated, with mahogamy laminated bulkhead and indirect lighting.
The piano bar is decorated in violet tones, with rounded seats and golden ceilings, and is the most intimate room on board.
The Junior Mariners Club, for teenagers, the fitness and health center, and the beauty salon are also located in this area.
The two sitting Galaxy Restaurant is on the Galaxy deck and can seat 404 persons. Aft of this space is the main galley.
It's a charming dining room with red carpet and new soft bulkhead cover, although the reflecting ceiling and the old fashion bulb lighting are sometimes irritating.
There are tables for eight passengers port and starboard, close to the round windows, and tables for four persons on the inner side of the restaurant.
The service is superb, with a big team of waiter although the tables are too close.
The food is good but the portions are a bit on the small side, but the passengers compensate for this by ordering seconds.
The price of wine is also very reasonable.
The air condititioning is not too high as in other ships, a very welcome news for her European guests. Furthermore it is a non smoking room.
The deck below is Premier deck which is where passengers embark.
The lobby, which includes the information desk, decorated in grey tones, and the purser office, leads aft to the Shopping Gallery, with duty free and gift shops.
This area was also rebuilt in 1997, and is also a common meeting place on board.
Today the theatre, located amidships over the Alpha and Beta decks, is not utilised for passenger use but only for meetings for the crew .
I found the public rooms of the Flamenco quite nice and well maintained.
There are four passenger lifts and three stairwells which enable the passenger to move around efficiently.
The 381 cabins are of compact size, with good drawer space and well equipped with mirror, TV and radio. 68% of the cabins are outside.
The sound insulation is good.
One can't hear normal conversation from one cabin to the next, but you certainly could hear loud sounds.
All the carpets, upholstery, curtains and bedspreads were renovated in 1997.
The bathrooms are small, but have a lot of shelf space.
The four suites are spacious, but lack verandas, a feature of the modern cruise ships.
Her First Season With Festival
After the refitting, Festival planned to operate the ship in the Caribbean in winter so she sailed from Savona, on her first voyage as Flamenco on 3 December 1997, for a 17-day transatlantic cruise to the island of Santo Domingo. There the Flamenco was chartered for four months by the Canadian tour operator Regent Holidays, which also chartered the ship and her fleet mate Bolero in the 1998-99 winter Caribbean season.
In the spring of 1998, the Flamenco was back in the Mediterranean directly operated by Festival.
In the summer, she opened a new market for her owner: the North European.
Voyages were heavily booked, also by American passengers.
The Flamenco made 11 departures from the German port of Kiel alternating a one week Baltic itinerary with a one week Norwegian fjords voyage.
The vessel repeated this year the same program and was based in Kiel from 12 of June to the 28 August.
Then in the early autumn, she comes back to the Mediterranean to make some singular voyages: the longest is a 17 day cruise Genoa-Dakar-Genoa, but also sails to new cruise ports in the Mediterranean, such as Tartus and Beirut.
The Flamenco is claimed to be one of the finest of the first generation of cruise ships which are sailing the European waters.
I think so as well, and that she will be improved thanks to the Festival maintenance and onboard service.
Her interior design and decor are also just suited for European tastes like the nautical environment that one can breath on board far different from the floating hotel experience on the bigger cruise ships.
She is a good ship for families, and Festival is marketing her as a destination oriented cruise ship with very actractive itineraries.
So with a superb crew and well planned itineraries the Flamenco isn't only a perfect mate for the Bolero and The Azur, but she is also a quality cruise experience, with excellent value for money.
Festival has now a heterogeneous fleet, with new brand ship such as the Mistral (and two planned for the next years) together with other thirty year old vessels.
To keep a high standard in the fleet, the investments in the old ships must be important.
If they mantains the Flamenco's standard high, I think that Festival Cruises will continue in the leadership of the European market well into the next century.
For further information: Festival Cruises