- Short, reasonably priced, port-intensive itineraries
- Sails the Greek Isles, Cyprus, the Mediterranean and the Dalmatian coast
- Charters one ship for round-Cuba itineraries
- Cruises attract a wide, multilingual spectrum of passengers
Celestyal's mainly short, port-intensive itineraries don't leave much time for onboard activities, but they stick as closely as possible to the traditional cruise format. Dinner is held in two seatings, while breakfast and lunch are open-seating, either in the dining room or the buffet.
Production shows are geared toward an international audience, and there's plenty of live music in the bars and lounges. In the case of the Cuba Cruise charter on Celestyal Cristal, performers and musicians hail from Cuba. The ships also have pool decks, small spa/gym complexes, casinos and shops for sundry items.
There's no doubt that the ships are getting on in age -- in some cases more than 30 years old -- and although they are regularly refurbished (which, in the case of the Thomson Cruises' charters, includes adding balconies), they're showing signs of wear. When the company rebranded two of its ships as Celestyal in 2014-2015, the vessels received extensive renovations in the public areas and cabins.
About Celestyal Cruises
Celestyal Cruises is better known as the former Louis Cruise Lines (which is still the name of the company's charter organizations). A subsidy of the huge Cyprus-based travel and tourism group Louis plc, founded in 1935, Louis Cruise Lines has operated since 1986.
In 2014, the line decided to rebrand its cruise ships under the Celestyal banner. The move was designed to evoke a "divine, Greek experience." These ships also renamed their restaurants, bars and theaters after Greek mythology, implemented Greek touches like language and dancing lessons, and overhauled the menu to focus on Greek food and wine.
In late 2013, Cristal was chartered to a new Canada-based line, Cuba Cruise, and operated round-Cuba sailings for four months before returning to the Mediterranean. During those sailings, the ship was rebranded with Cuban-inspired decor.
Celestyal Cruises Fleet
The Louis fleet consists of six ships; it operates three under the Celestyal Cruises brand, one as a Louis Cruises charter and two as Thomson Cruises charters.
The flagship is the 1982-built 1,664-passenger Celestyal Olympia, which was previously under charter (until 2012) as Thomson Destiny (originally Royal Caribbean's Song of America). A large refurbishment took place in 2014, with upgrades to cabins and public areas.
The 1,200-passenger Celestyal Cristal entered service in July 2007. This 1,096-passenger ship was built in 1992 and is probably best known to Americans as Norwegian Cruise Line's former Leeward. The second-largest ship in the fleet, Celestyal Cristal has a far wider range of public rooms and cabins than most of the fleet.
The line added a third Celestyal ship in late 2014, Celestyal Odyssey. Formerly known as Olympia Explorer, it carries 836 passengers and will dock in smaller Eastern Mediterranean ports.
The fleet's final ship is 912- passenger Aura, built in 1968 as Starward and formerly known as Orient Queen. A previous owner lavished large amounts of money on the vessel, so the ship has much more modern interiors than its age would suggest, as well as a large number of suites (built by combining original standard cabins), an amenity not found on many other ships in the fleet. Aura retains the Louis name for charters.
Despite the varying sizes, ages and level of amenities, all the ships in the fleet are clean and well maintained. And, while most lack the latest features (such as balconies and alternative restaurants), all the basics are there. Celestyal Cruises' focus is on the destinations, and the ship is more like a floating hotel, rather than the focal point of the cruise experience.
In addition to its own ships, Louis also charters two of its ships to Thomson Cruises -- 1983-built 1,210-passenger Thomson Spirit (originally Holland America Line's Nieuw Amsterdam) and 1992-built 1,462-passenger Thomson Majesty.
The passengers on each ship vary widely from cruise to cruise. Short, Cyprus-based cruises usually attract passengers from the U.K. and Northern Europe, who are adding a quick cruise to a resort holiday in Cyprus. Greek Isles cruises mainly attract package tourists from all over the world (typically Europe and North America); the nationalities will depend on which tour groups are booked on each particular cruise. Finally, Western Mediterranean cruises from Marseille and Genoa attract independent travelers from all over Europe.
The three-month charter of Celestyal Cristal to Canada-based operator Cuba Cruise attracts a completely different crowd: mainly Canadians and Scandinavians with the odd Brit, as well as American educational groups. Passengers tend to be ages 55 to 65 years old.
When it sails in the Med, Celestyal Cruises attracts a wide age range of travellers, from people in their 20s to those in their mid-70s. As a rule, shorter three- and four-night Greek Islands itineraries tend to attract a younger crowd. Children are welcome onboard but tend to be more in evidence on Mediterranean itineraries during the summer season.
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