In a move that has surprised many in the cruise industry, Louis Cruises has announced that it’s 1968-built Orient Queen, formerly the pioneering NCL Starward, will go on charter to South America this year. Itineraries have yet to be made public.
Like her Cuba bound fleet mate, Louis Cristal, the Orient Queen usually goes into warm lay up over the winter after her season of cruises around the Greek islands. The new South American charter marks the first winter deployment of the ship for several years. She will be renamed Louis Aura to coincide with it.
The renamed ship will be a welcome contrast to the mega ships of Costa and MSC which traditionally dominate the winter South America trade. At just under 16,000 tons, she has eight decks, with a lower capacity of 820 passengers accommodated in some 355 staterooms, and served by a crew of 337.
That smaller size should allow the Louis Aura to provide a diverse range of itineraries to smaller ports. The downside for some might be the fact that the ship has no balcony cabins. Insides in particular are quite small, with little storage space but, as the ship is quite informal, dressing up is not a big thing, and packing fairly lightly is the order of the day.
Louis Aura offers passengers a main dining room that operates in two sittings for dinner, plus an aft facing outdoor buffet that serves breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. Most of the public rooms are set along the length of one deck, from the forward facing show room to a couple of lounges, and the main restaurant at the stern. This has a lovely wall of glass windows looking out over the ship’s wake.
There are shopping facilities, plus hairdressing and styling services. Uniquely, she also features a windowless, two level casino, wrought out of the space that was once the original cinema. There is also a quartet of small elevators.
There are two pools, one partly covered by a triple-tiered, glass enclosed solarium that doubles up as a late night music venue and disco. An upper deck, Balinese themed spa has an indoor Jacuzzi, available at a small charge.
On the European cruises, cabin breakfast is available for a small surcharge. Whether the dining options might be tweaked to suit the tastes of a much more late night, predominantly Latin crowd remains to be seen.
The Louis Aura is scheduled to finish up her current series of Greek Island cruises the second week in November. No one has yet announced whether the transatlantic crossing from Athens to South America will be carrying passengers, but it would certainly make for a fascinating proposition.
This is definitely one to keep an eye on. I enjoyed a short cruise out of Limassol on the ship last year (see previous blogs), and I think she might be a feisty little contender for the South American trade. Stay tuned for itinerary updates as they become available.