Louis Cruise Lines
OnboardLouis' mainly short, port-intensive itineraries don't have 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 not as elaborate as on larger ships, but there's plenty of live music in the bars and lounges, and in the case of the Cuba Cruise charter on Louis 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 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 are showing their age.
About Louis Cruise LinesLouis Cruise Lines is the cruise subsidy of the huge, Cyprus-based travel and tourism group Louis plc, whose story begins back in 1935 when the young Cypriot entrepreneur Louis Loizou founded the first travel agency in the then-British colony of Cyprus. By the time he died in 1971, his Louis Group was the dominant travel firm on Cyprus, serving major tour operators and airlines from around the world and operating travel agencies, hotels and resorts.
Still family-run, now by the founder's son, Costakis Loizou, Louis' foray into the cruise industry began with the charter of ferries for short cruises from Cyprus. The success of this operation resulted in the founding of the group's own cruise line in 1986, and Louis Cruise Lines was born. Its first ship, the former Finnish cruise ferry Princess Marissa, operated from its Cypriot homeport of Limassol to the Greek Islands, Israel and Egypt. By 1993, three more ships had been added (though Princess Marissa has long since been scrapped), and the short-cruise business from Cyprus was thriving.
Then came the next big step: in 1995 and 1996, two more ships, Sapphire and The Emerald, were purchased and chartered to the British tour operator Thomson Holidays.
At the end of the decade came Ausonia, chartered to U.K. tour operator (and Thomson competitor) First Choice, plus Serenade, another new addition to Louis' Cyprus-based fleet. By that time, the Louis fleet numbered eight -- five of the company's own ships and three chartered to leading tour operators in the U.K.
Another key step in the company's development came in 1999 with the purchase of a large stake in the leading Greek cruise line, Royal Olympic Cruises. Already dealing with an aging fleet, high labour costs and increased foreign competition, 9/11 dealt a fatal blow to Royal Olympic, and by December 2003, it began a slow collapse with the loss of its only two newly built ships, Olympia Voyager and Olympia Explorer. The company struggled on through the summer of 2004 before finally collapsing for good that autumn. Louis declined to save the company, instead preferring to start its own new entrant into the Greek cruise market, Louis Hellenic Cruises. The company acquired two of Royal Olympic's former ships, Triton (renamed Coral) and Seawing (renamed Perla) at bargain prices and, by the spring of 2005, Louis Hellenic was welcoming its first passengers aboard for Greek Isles cruises from Piraeus.
Louis Hellenic also marked Louis' first foray into the North American market. Many American tour operators had included Royal Olympic cruises in their package tours of Greece, Turkey and sometimes Italy, and Louis Hellenic eagerly took up this place in the market. While it still did very little selling of its own in North America, the company's cruises were widely distributed by some of the biggest names in package tours.
Meanwhile, the rest of the company continued to expand and modernise. In 2000, The Calypso joined the Louis fleet, increasing it to nine in number. In 2003, the company chartered the former Nieuw Amsterdam (briefly United States Lines' Patriot) from Holland America and turned it into Thomson Spirit, replacing a ship Thomson had chartered from another company. Meanwhile, Sapphire and Ausonia returned from their charters and entered Louis' own fleet, allowing the line to progressively sell off its oldest ships. First to go were Princesa Amorosa, Princesa Cypria and Princesa Victoria, all sold for scrap.
Even more expansion was the order of the day when, in 2004, Louis acquired the ships of the ailing My Travel Group, whose Sun Cruises brand was instrumental in introducing mass-market cruising in the U.K. One was resold, but two stayed with Louis; the first, Sunbird (originally Royal Caribbean's Song of America), was immediately chartered to Thomson as Thomson Destiny, while Carousel (originally Song of Norway) became Louis' own Aquamarine.
In 2006 came even more ships: Orient Queen, originally NCL's Starward, and Sea Diamond, previously the Baltic cruise ferry Birka Princess, and now Aura. All told, Louis' fleet would number 13 by its 20th anniversary. With new charters to Thomson for The Calypso and to German operator Transocean Tours for Aquamarine (renamed Arielle), the company had five ships chartered to major tour operators and eight that it operated on its own.
The company also entered into a franchise agreement to operate ships in the Eastern Mediterranean on behalf of easyCruise. Going into 2007, the future for Louis had never looked brighter.
Then, on April 5, 2007, tragedy struck. Louis Hellenic Cruises' Sea Diamond -- the largest and newest ship in the fleet -- hit a reef off of Santorini on the first cruise of its season. All passengers and crew, save two missing French passengers, were safely evacuated long before the ship sank in the early hours of April 6. News of the accident flashed across televisions all over the world. In Britain, one of its key markets, the Louis Group had already made headlines when, in 2006, two British children were killed by carbon monoxide from a faulty boiler at a deluxe Louis resort in Corfu. The Sea Diamond accident was another blow to Louis' reputation. Nevertheless, the 75-year-old company remains one of the biggest and most respected names in tourism across the Eastern Mediterranean.
A year later, Louis blamed a faulty map for the grounding and subsequent sinking of Sea Diamond off Santorini, and new evidence has emerged to support that claim.
Following the Sea Diamond tragedy, Louis' rapid expansion had to be put on hold while the company attempted to find a ship at short notice to replace the sunken vessel. Initially, its itineraries were taken over by other members of the fleet, such as Thomson Spirit and The Emerald, whose summer charters hadn't yet come into effect.
Pullmantur Cruises' Oceanic II (itself on lease from a Greek owner) was also chartered for a few cruises, while Monarch Classic Cruises' Ocean Countess, renamed Ruby by Louis, was chartered for the rest of that summer.
A permanent replacement came in the shape of Louis Cristal, the former NCL Leeward, similar in size to Sea Diamond, but a few years newer and with better facilities. Cristal is an example of the continuous modernisation of the Louis fleet. But, more was to follow in short order.
The advent of new SOLAS regulations, effective 2010, saw the company finally dispose of Ausonia. By then, its charters to Thomson included Thomson Celebration (ex-Noordam), its sister ship Thomson Spirit and Thomson Destiny.
There was a brief flirtation with short, India-based cruises with Aquamarine, before that ship rejoined its fleetmate Aegean Pearl (ex-Perla) for short cruises to the Greek Islands in spring 2010. Ocean Countess went on to a U.K.-based charter for Cruise & Maritime Voyages, effective April 2010.
But, the real splash came when the company purchased two larger ships from NCL, Norwegian Dream and Norwegian Majesty. The deal for Norwegian Dream fell through, but Majesty was duly delivered to Louis in November 2009 after an 18-month lease back to NCL.
With some deft tweaking for the European market, the ship re-entered service in December 2009 as Louis Majesty, the largest ship in the fleet and the first intended to cruise year-round in the Mediterranean. In 2012, it went to Thomson Cruises on a long-term charter, and renamed Thomson Majesty.
Louis has significantly scaled back its operations in the past few years, selling Sapphire, Emerald and The Calypso for scrap in May 2012, July 2012 and April 2013, respectively. It also no longer operates Coral, Aegean Pearl and Aquamarine, and the fleet today (2014) now consists of just five ships -- Louis Olympia, Louis Cristal and Aura -- as well as the two on charter to Thomson Cruises, Thomson Spirit and Thomson Majesty.
In late 2013, Louis Cristal was chartered to a new Canada-based line, Cuba Cruise, and operated round-Cuba sailings for four months, before returning to the Mediterranean. Cuba Cruise has confirmed a second season from December 2014-March 2015.
Louis Cruise Lines FleetThe Louis fleet consists of just five ships -- three which it operates under the Louis Cruises brand, and two which are chartered to Thomson Cruises.
Not so long ago the line operated a diverse collection of small- to mid-sized ships, built from the 1950s to the 1990s, all bought from other companies, predominantly Norwegian Cruise Line, but in recent years they have been sold for scrap.
The flagship is the 1982-built, 37,773-ton, 1,664-passenger Louis Olympia, which was previously under charter (up until 2012), as Thomson Destiny (originally Royal Caribbean's Song of America) .
The 1,200-passenger Louis Cristal became the permanent replacement for Sea Diamond, entering service in July 2007. This 25,611-ton, 1,096-passenger ship was built in 1992 as Sally Albatross and is probably best known to Americans as NCL's former Leeward. The second-largest ship in the fleet, Louis Cristal has a far wider range of public rooms and cabins than most of the fleet -- and 10 with balconies, a first in the Louis Cruises fleet.
The fleet's smallest ship is the 15,781-ton, 912- passenger Aura, built in 1968 as Starward and previously known as Orient Queen. A previous owner lavished large amounts of money on the then Orient Queen a few years ago, so that 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.
Despite the varying sizes, ages and level of amenities, all the ships in the Louis fleet are clean and well maintained. And, while most lack the latest features (such as balconies and alternative restaurants), all the basics are there. The focus on all Louis cruises is the destination, 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 operates several ships on charter to other lines, a lucrative business the company has cultivated in recent years, including two to Thomson Cruises -- the 1983-built, 33,930-ton, 1,210-passenger Thomson Spirit (originally Holland America Line's Nieuw Amsterdam); and the 1992-built, 40,000-ton, 1,462-passenger Thomson Majesty.
Occasionally, outside of their regular charter seasons, these ships undertake cruises marketed by Louis itself.
Fellow PassengersThis is one aspect of the Louis experience that can vary widely from cruise to cruise. The 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. The 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 that particular cruise. Finally, the Western Mediterranean cruises from Marseille and Genoa attract independent travellers from all over Europe.
The three-moth charter of Louis Cristal to Canada-based operator Cuba Cruise attracts a completely different crowd: mainly Canadians and Scandinavians, with the odd Brit and American educational groups, aged from between 55- to 65-years-old.
In terms of age, Louis Cruises attracts a wide age range of travellers when sailing in the Mediterranean, from people in their 20's to mid-70's, for its port-intensive cruises. 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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