Louis Cristal has had a colorful life: It started off as a passenger ferry in 1980 before being converted into a cruise ship in 1986. It was destroyed by fire in 1990 and completely rebuilt; partially sunk in 1994 and rebuilt again; renamed five times; and owned by five different lines, including Norwegian Cruise Line (where it sailed as MS Leeward), before ending up with its current owners in 2007. Past passengers include Sweden's Royal Couple, who stayed onboard during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and President George H. W. Bush, who stayed onboard in November 1995.
It's a small ship by modern standards, but it has a big-ship feel. Holding 1,200 passengers on 10 decks, it has everything you would expect on a big ship, but it's scaled down. You'll find a casino, kids facilities, a library, a spa and gym, a pool and hot tub, three bars, a main dining room, a self-service buffet and two specialty restaurants. It's just all in miniature -- except, that is, for the main theater, which could rival that found on any big ship in terms of atmosphere and design.
Louis Cristal harkens back to an earlier age of cruising. The corridors are wide, as are the cabin doors, which are solid and aluminum-clad. There are 12 cabin types, and all have a distinct style, as opposed to a modern cookie-cutter one. The ship boasts large picture windows with huge screws and thick metal frames; triangular-shaped balconies cut from the superstructure, rather than jutting out; and lots of polished mahogany decks and banisters.
It's the second-largest ship in the Louis Cruises' fleet of three, and it spent the whole of 2012 out of service before being chartered by Canada-based Cuba Cruise to start the first-ever round-Cuba cruise service. Launched in December 2013, Cuba Cruise spends December to March operating seven-day Havana-to-Havana itineraries, stopping at five Cuban ports and Montego Bay, Jamaica.
The ship spends the rest of the year in the Mediterranean, offering seven-day and four-day itineraries in and around the Greek islands.
While chartered to Cuba Cruise, the hull is repainted to reflect where it is, and restaurants reflect the Cuban itineraries.