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|Vistafjord farewell |
She was designed and built for a dual role and so her classic lines reflect the best of the transatlantic liners' evolution
by Arturo Paniagua Mazorra (June 27, 2000)
Norwegian America Line, the Concept
When the British shipbuilder Shaw Hunter delivered the Vistafjord to Norwegian America Line in 1973, many people thought that she was the last real passenger liner.
Just like the Queen Elizabeth 2 she was designed and built for a dual role and so her classic lines reflected the best of the transatlantic liners' evolution, combined with an emphasis on the image of a floating resort. I saw the Vistafjord first time in Malaga in 1979, when I was only 17, and instantly I was captivated with her majestic size and design, and today, when I imagine my ideal cruise ship I always think of the Vistafjord.
An Evolution in Design
The Vistafjord is French built Sagafjord's sister ship that was delivered in 1965.
So, her hull was almost the same and no tank test were carried out, and she was also propelled with the same two stroke direct coupled engines.
But there were some differences between them: a new passenger ship's stability and damage control regulation come into effect which meant that new internal design work was necessary.
The Vistafjord, for example, was built entirely with inflammable materials.
The massive use of aluminium in her superstructure meant that the Vistafjord had one deck more than her sister, and this together with a superstructure extended fore and aft, meant that one thousand more passenger could be carried.
The main dining room was located one deck higher than in the Sagafjord, on the lower deck of the superstructure.
Due to the lack of natural light, in the Sagafjord's dining room, the feeling of space was obtained using the two deck depths.
But in the Vistafjord's dining room large side picture windows were opened and the natural light gave a big sense of spaciousness.
On 15th May 1973, more than four months ahead of schedule, the Vistafjord was delivered to Norwegian America Line.
After a naming ceremony in Oslo, she initiated her first transatlantic crossing to New York on 22nd May and later that year begun to make long distance cruise for the NAL loyal clientele, together with her sister.
The Vistafjord was a vessel of balanced and unmistakable appearance.
Her shape is far from the square block fashion of today cruise ships !
She features a clipper bow, together with a marvellous semi circular shape at the forward end of the superstructure, gives her an impressive forward view.
Aft, her decks form terraces and finish in a cruise stern.
Her classical funnel crowns the whole design. Inside, the ship had some interesting details as well.
Her main forward stairway was particularly attractive, because its upper levels formed an oval shaped atrium, one of the first found in a passenger ship.
It had also a very interesting solid teak handrail above a transparent balustrade.
Today, this space feels spacious and airy, almost thirty years after being designed.
On the technical side, the co-operation between Norwegian America Line and Sulzer meant that the Vistafjord was one of the first cruise ship fitted with the control of the main engines from the bridge.
Also, prefabrication of cabins was extensively used for the first time in a large passenger ship.
Norwegian America Cruises
After her delivery, the Vistafjord, along with her sister Sagafjord, were engaged entirely for cruises.
The only transatlantic crossing available on her were positioning cruises between the European and the Caribbean seasons.
Those years were a period of increased competition in the luxury cruise sector from other Norwegian owners (Royal Viking), and also from foreign operators, just during a dramatic recession.
As a result, there were merger talks with Royal Viking in 1980, without any result.
That year, the two Norwegian America Line cruise vessels were transferred to a new company, Norwegian America Cruises A/S (NAC), a joint venture on a 50/50 basis with Leif Hoegh & Co.
In 1983, Norwegian America Cruises was bought by Cunard.
At first, these ships were marketed as Cunard-NAC, but later they were put under Cunard's main umbrella, but the English owner kept the name, crew and character of both ships.
In 1984, shortly after the Cunard purchase, the Vistafjord was heavily rebuilt in Malta.
The First Refitting
The main alteration was the building of a 90 tns. aluminium structure, that was later installed in the old Viking Club and on the shuffle board deck to form a new luxury two level night-club, with a large double glazed skylight and automatic door from where one can move into two screened balconies covered with teak decking.
The casino and the library were also transferred to other locations and the main dining room was enlarged.
Some cabins on the Sun deck were fitted with balconies, whereas thirteen more cabins were built.
The Second Refitting
Ten years later, the Vistafjord was also sent to Malta to undergo a much needed $15 million refitting.
Two two-level suites were built on Bridge deck, and more cabins on the Sun deck were fitted with balconies.
Also, almost cabins of the lower decks were rebuilt and fitted with new furniture and baths.
The upper level of the Club Viking was rebuilt as an alternative dining room.
In May 1996, Kvaerner ASA bought Trafalgar Corp., the Cunard's parent company, for £904 million.
Kvaerner showed small interest in cruise shipping and put Cunard on the sales list.
On April 6th 1997, in a Vistafjord's transatlantic cruise, a fire was detected in a laundry store and all passengers were asked to don life jackets and proceed immediately to her muster stations.
A steward died of smoke inhalation, nevertheless the fire was extinguished by the crew and the ship safely docked in Freeport.
The cruise was cancelled and all the passenger were sent home or to their intended destination at the owner's expense, with full fares refunded, together with a $1,000 credit for a future cruise.
In 1998, Carnival Corporation purchased Cunard form Kvaerner ASA, and appointed Larry Pimentel as CEO of Cunard Line.
Knowing more about the shipping business, he restored Cunard's classic heritage and tradition, which were lost in the last twenty years.
So, he planned that the Vistafjord, after a refitting, would be renamed Caronia in December 1999, exactly 50 years after the first voyage of the Cunard's famous Green Goddess.
If there is any ship that can take the Caronia's glory, this ship is the Vistafjord.
The Vistafjord has nine passenger decks for passenger use, with horizontal separation, because all public spaces, with the exception of both dining rooms, are situated on the Verandah deck.
The Vistafjord main architect was Njal Eide, as in the former Sagafjord, together with other Scandinavian designers.
The generalised use of wood or wood treated decoration and carpeting in all public spaces is one element that unifies the ship, as well as the use of art works.
The result is a traditional ship, with a sophisticated, formal atmosphere, well suited to European tastes.
All the decoration elements, as well as the rest of the ship, are in pristine condition, and the Vistafjord looks new.
The vertical movement is satisfied by means of three wide stair towers each fitted with two elevators.
The horizontal movement is certainly difficult on some decks, because the differences in height, but it is very well planned on the promenade deck, with no sense of crowding anywhere.
The Vistafjord has some small disadvantages:
1st, the ship has smaller cabins than the modern cruise ships which she competes with.
2nd, she has few cabins with balcony.
3rd, she hasn't real teen and children facilities, because the ship isn't marketed for the families.
So, the Vistafjord-Caronia is ideally fitted for passengers who are looking for a relaxing ambience and an elegant and refined style.
Vista Dining Room
On the Upper deck (deck 5), we find amidships the impressive Vista Dining Room, which can cater for the entire passenger load in one sitting, with a seating capacity of 680.
The tables are for 2, 4, 6 and 8 people, fitted with chairs with armrests, plate, cutlery and natural flowers.
They are well distributed, with adequate space between them to facilitate the waiter's work, as well as ten pantries.
A large cold buffet table is located in the centre of the room, where passengers can either help themselves or be served by a waiter.
This full width dining room is well lit by large windows on both sides which provide a spaciousness that is seldom found on cruise vessels.
Walls are white, with furniture of fine woods and green upholstery, whereas carpeting is mainly green.
The ceiling has more height in the centre, with large glass lights and a lot of slender pillars (18).
In this immense room, the guests are served by 79 impeccably dressed and well-trained waiters, which also guide passengers through the evening's specials and assure a superb service.
The main galley is also positioned amidships, but one deck below and two Otis elevators, installed in a service area behind wine showcases, are used by the waiters.
This room is very quiet, this is a marvellous detail.
The passengers embark through side doors located on this deck, forward the dining room.
This area also houses the reception room, the purser office and the shore excursion's office.
The Garden Lounge
The semicircular shape of the deckhouse front, combined with the shape of the ship gives a great effect to the Garden Lounge, which was designed by Kay Korbing and it is definitely one of the most attractive public rooms afloat.
The lounge has big picture windows on the outer side and has two levels, with an upper terrace running on the outside and a marble circular dance floor in the centre, with a circular dome above it which has a big glass in the center.
In between there is a curved area filled with green plants with a glass and wood screen.
The carpeting and furniture is in soft green and grey tones, with the original coffee tables, each with an original theme, along with big chairs.
A piano is located aft the dance floor, and the acousitc of this space is excellent.
Amidships, aft the Garden Room, is located the Cinema, seating 235 people , which hasn't the technical equipment to double as a modern Conference Center.
It's fitted with a small stage and a lighted bridge which could be used for shows and lectures, but it is used mainly to watch movies.
It has the original light-grey decoration, with all the Kaare Haug's taste.
The Library and the Card and Writing Room
The Library, located starboard side, is fitted with big green sofas and several beautiful showcases, and a large globe of the world with the moon above.
Between the Library and the Garden Room is located the Card and Writing Room, which also doubles as bussines room, with pcs for passenger use.
All these spaces have a pleasant blue carpeting, whereas the walls are decorated with paintings that the passengers can purchase on board, with home delivery.
The North Cape Bar and the Casino
Opposite the Library is located the North Cape Bar, a nautical ambience bar with a wood covered ceiling with marble floor forward and a seating section aft, with grey furniture and blue carpeting.
Immediately aft is located the Casino, small for the American standards, but we shouldn't forget the fact that the Vistafjord has a big percentage of European passengers.
There are no more than 28 machines and three tables, in a green and red decorated ambience.
Its ceiling decoration is also magnificent.
The Grand Ball Room
Aft of midship is the great Grand Ball Room, which covers an area of 780 square metres and has a maximum height of 4.5 metres.
All the passengers can also be seated here, with excellent sightlines: it has only four small pillars that don't block the view and two floor levels, with tiered terraces running port and starboard.
This full-width space also doubles as a pleasant lounge during the day, and some passengers use it as the natural Lido Cafe' extension and also to take their afternoon tea.
The square stage and dance floor are well forward, with a small bar located aft in the port side.
The passenger sit in sofas and armchairs with geometric green and pastel upholstery, combined with circular glass tables fitted with stainless steel pedestal.
The garnet and pink carpet, combined with the wood wall covering, gives this room a classical ambiance, emphasised by the indirect lighting and the grey and golden ceiling, decorated with circles.
Large windows are provided to give a fine view, while the Ball Room ends aft in a wide glass screen facing the outdoor facilities.
The entertainment tends to be conservative and classically oriented, with a very professional team.
The Lido Cafe'
The very popular Lido Cafe', the casual indoor/outdoor dining area, is located between the Ball Room and the outside pool.
It has a teak floor, because it is created as an inside extension of the deck facilities.
The decoration is nautical, with a lot of natural plants and wicker imitation seats, with blue pads, and the waiters are dressed as sailors too.
I think it's small, and seems overcrowded.
There is only one buffet line in the port side, with a dessert table opposite.
The fully glazed back wall provides splendid views of the poop, and shelters the passengers from the sun and wind.
The ample teak decked outside section, which offers over 1,000 square metres and encloses a salt water pool, the Lido Bar and a small ice-cream parlor, is ample and well planned, and provides a pleasant effect in these days of plasticised deck covering.
Green ceramic floor is used only around the pool, which has a circular recess in the surrounding deck to avoid splashing on to the lido area.
The mosaic-tiled pool can also be heated and lighted.
The furniture is the same as in the Lido Cafe', with black cushions and black and white umbrellas.
The Lido Bar has a nautical wood decoration and offers a so called 'day drink', well popular among the passengers.
The Gymnasium Area
On rainy days, the passengers could use the internal swimming pool, tiled in mosaic, which is situated in the gymnasium area forward of the engine-room on deck C.
A sauna, aerobics room, massage rooms and a jacuzzi are also located here and give a complete fitness facility in an attractive combination, with extensive use of glass and mirrors.
A jogging track around promenade deck is also avaible for joggers.
The Tivoli Restaurant
In her early days, only the small Club Viking night club was located on the after end of the promenade deck above the main ball room.
But in the 1984 refitting, this space was completely stripped down and a new luxury two-level night club was built.
Ten years later, the upper deck of this space was converted in a second alternative restaurant, called Tivoli, serving Italian cuisine from a separate galley.
This intimate and elegant space, designed by Robert Tilberg, which seats only 40 passengers, gives a marvellous view of the stars and the shape of the ship.
It's decorated and furnished in fine wood and dark grey, with a lot of Hollywood stars portraits in her bulkheads.
It doubles as a meeting room.
The lower deck , in its former role as a night club, has a small wood dance floor, and live music.
The aft bulkhead was formed by specially glazed aluminium doors, which can be opened into two screened balconies covered with teak decking, and form an excellent outside/inside area.
The Vistafjord is equipped with 569 outside (with 52 suites with balcony) and 320 inside cabins.
Room service is available 24 hours and includes the full lunch and dinner menus.
In her 1994 refitting two new duplex suites were added.
Her lower level contains a bedroom and bathroom with jacuzzi, whereas her upper level has a living room, a bathroom with sauna, and a large balcony with jacuzzi.
All others cabins were also remodeled that year, with new toilets and furnishings.
The 32 balcony cabins are located on bridge and sun decks.
They are spacious (22 square metres), and tastefully decorated with sitting area and adeguate closet space, good sized marble bath and the usual range of amenities: safe, VCR and TV, etc.
And not to forget her excellent Scandinavian stewardesses.
The standard cabins are well planned, but fairly small, with good sound insulation and storage space.
All of them have a marble bathrooms, but some have only showers.
When delivered, the Vistafjord housed an unusually high number of single cabins, which later were converted to double cabins.
So, these cabins are too small for today's standards, and are difficult to sell. But after the 1994 refitting, all of them are beautifully furnished with new marble bathrooms and two lower beds, plus desk/dresser, adeguate closet space, TV, etc.
The Vistafjord becomes the Caronia
When Carnival purchased Cunard, they immediately perceived the synergies between the two luxury branches: Seabourn and Cunard.
So Carnival planned to arrange them in two separate divisions: one Norwegian themed, the Seabourn fleet and the second Cunard Line, with a British heritage, to rebuild the former glory of the transatlantic liners' days.
This clear division is much less confusing than Cunard's previous years when her fleet sailed under no less than four different funnel colours.
The traditional shape of the Vistafjord meets the transatlantic liner image that Cunard Line wish to offer and so it was decided to convert her into a British liner.
The first step was a $5 million refitting at Lloyd Werft shipyard, which lasted from 20 November 99 to 9 December 99, under the direction of Tilberg Design, which was also in charge of the 1995 refitting.
The work carried out on the Vistafjord were mainly a new physical identification of some public spaces (the Viking Club became the Picadilly Club, the North Cape Bar became the Golden Lion Pub, and the restaurant was rechristened Franconia dining room), the relocation of other public spaces (a new business center was built forward of the reception desk, and the Regent Shops were now located in the former Card Room) and the fitting of new carpets and wall coverings in the cabins.
Her hull was painted dark blue, as the former Cunard liners.
The Renaming Ceremony
Later, she was renamed Caronia in Liverpool on 14th December 1999.
She was berthed at the Pier Head in front of the original Cunard building, which flew the Cunard flag again for the first time in many years.
During the ceremony, the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, a former Cunard employee, announced the reflagging, in the near future, of the Caronia under the British Register as a result of the government's new tonnage tax.
He also requested Micky Arison, head of Carnival Corporation, to revitalise Cunard.
A Carnival executive, Pam Conover, became the new godmother of the Caronia.
The ceremony, where hundreds of people were present ended with a firework display.
After this event, the ship sailed to Southampton to begin her first cruise on December 18, a Caribbean Millennium voyage that lasted until January 11, with calls at Azores, St. Kitts, Dominica, St.Lucia, Barbados and Madeira.
She anchored with QE2 off Bridgetown on December 31 for the new year's eve party and fireworks.
Later, she made some liner voyages to South Africa, prior to beginning her Mediterranean season.
The Vistafjord/Caronia is a great ship.
She has a great personality, she has a great nautical tradition and has a loyal crew.
She isn't as huge as the latest standard ships, but she sails like a liner, stable, smooth, quiet... and she doesn't look like a building.
The Vistafjord/Caronia looks splendid, with her classic liner's proportions, her elegant single stack and her high style interior, plenty of spaciousness.
Also, I was amazed at how clean the ship was and also about her continuous maintenance.
I mainly enjoyed her Garden Lounge. It's the most beautiful and impressive room on the ship. The passengers really enjoy reading or chatting near her large windows, whereas the service and live music is sophisticated.
The Vistafjord/Caronia will be the best running mate for the Queen Elizabeth 2 and offers a supreme experience for her privileged passengers.
This pair will be the forerunner of the Queen Mary project, the biggest ship in the world when she will be delivered in the first years of the 21st century.
Naval architects and engineers are designing the Queen Mary with the QE2 and the Vistafjord/Caronia in mind and she will undoubtedly be a splendid ship both outside and inside as well.
For further information: Cunard Line