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. The ships also have pool decks, small spa/gym complexes, casinos and shops for sundry items.
While these are not luxurious ships, they are run in a professional manner, and passengers -- who, for the most part, view them as floating hotels to get them to interesting places -- are usually satisfied with the onboard experience.
About Louis Cruise LinesUntil April of 2007, Louis Cruise Lines may have been the biggest cruise line you'd never heard of. Then, the company was thrust tragically into the worldwide spotlight when its newest ship, Sea Diamond, ran aground and sank off Santorini with the loss of two French passengers. But, despite its previously low profile, Louis has grown over the last 20-odd years from a tiny, one-ship operation to the fifth-largest cruise operator in the world. It has become the largest cruise line in Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean and, with the addition of new flagship Louis Majesty; the line now has a year-round presence in the Western Mediterranean, as well. Louis is also a leader in chartering ships to other cruise lines, most notably U.K.-based Thomson Cruise Lines.
Louis 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. 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. The charter of The Calypso ended and, as of winter 2010 - 2011, the ship will operate for Louis in the Red Sea on short three- and four-night cruises.
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, due for delivery in 2009. 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. As such, the ship represents a gentle but ongoing evolution for Louis, introducing the company's first a la carte restaurant into the mix.
With Cristal sailing out of Piraeus, both Orient Queen and Coral now operate on 10- to 14-night itineraries from Marseilles and Genoa, with the option to reach the port by rail from the U.K. and mainland Europe (as opposed to flying in). The recent expansion and evolution of Louis Cruises has sealed its place as a major player in the worldwide cruise industry.
Louis Cruise Lines FleetThe Louis fleet is a diverse collection of small- to mid-sized ships, built from the 1950's to the 1990's, all bought from other companies, predominantly Norwegian Cruise Line.
The fleet's smallest ship is 12,263-ton, 563-passenger Sapphire. This ship was built in 1967 as Costa's Italia and was popular in the 1980's and 1990's as Ocean Cruise Lines' Ocean Princess. (Ocean Cruise Line was a predecessor to Orient Lines and Discovery World Cruises.) The ship was extensively rebuilt in the 1980's, and with its small size and modern (albeit not luxurious) interiors, it is one of the best ships in the fleet.
In recent years, the company has built the backbone of its fleet on the first generation of modern, Caribbean-style cruise ships. These include 16,710-ton, 784- passenger Aegean Pearl, built in 1971 as NCL's Southward; 15,781-ton, 912- passenger Orient Queen, built in 1968 as Starward; and 13,995-ton, 676-passenger Coral, built in 1971 as Cunard Adventurer, but best known as the former Sunward II. Newly returned to the fold is the 1971-built, 23,149-ton, 1,200-passenger Aquamarine, formerly the Song of Norway, also well known as the former MyTravel Carousel.
Aquamarine, Aegean Pearl and Coral remain essentially in their original 1970's form, though with cosmetic refurbishments. A previous owner lavished large amounts of money on 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. Also on Coral, the former observation lounge on the top deck was converted into a number of larger cabins with better sea views.
The oldest ship in the fleet is the 1958-built, 26,428-ton, 1,200-passenger Emerald, which operates short two- and three-day cruises between Cyprus and Beirut. American passengers may well remember her as Grace Lines' Santa Rosa.
Also back in the Louis fold, as of winter 2010 - 2011, is The Calypso, an 11,162-ton, 740-passenger ship built in 1974. It will be offering three-, four- and seven-night cruises in the Red Sea from its base in Sagafa, Egypt.
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 even a few with balconies, a first in the Louis Cruises fleet.
The most recent and dramatic addition is the 40,876-ton, 1,462-passenger Louis Majesty, better known as NCL's Norwegian Majesty. Now the biggest ship in the fleet, the 1992-built ship was "stretched" in 1999 and has the first extra-tariff restaurant on any ship in the Louis fleet, together with a string of elegant public rooms and a large amount of open deck space. Louis Majesty was delivered to the fleet in December 2009.
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. Occasionally, outside of their regular charter seasons, these ships undertake cruises marketed by Louis itself. Louis ships chartered to Thomson Cruises include 1983-built, 33,930-ton, 1,210-passenger Thomson Spirit (originally Holland America Line's Nieuw Amsterdam); 1984-built, 33,390-ton, 1,210-passenger Thomson Celebration (formerly Holland America's Noordam); and 1982-built, 37,773-ton, 1,432-passenger Thomson Destiny (originally Royal Caribbean's Song of America).
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.
In terms of age, Louis Cruises attracts a wide age range of travellers, 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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