For many years from the 60’s onwards, CTC was a regular player in the UK cruise market. Operating mainly with a constantly changing roster of the ‘white sisters’ that were built to operate as partial car ferries in the Baltic, and such stalwarts as the Mikhail Lermontov (which sank off New Zealand in 1986) and the Alexsandr Pushkin, still going strong as the Marco Polo, it introduced generations of British passengers to budget cruising.
It was, in fact, the Airtours of it’s day; more downmarket and, for many, more homely than the likes of P&O and Cunard. CTC was a valuable source of foreign currency revenue for the Soviet Union and, for a few decades, it did good enough business.
The CTC ships used to sail predominantly from Tilbury, and sometimes from Liverpool in season. But when the line acquired the Southern Cross in 1994, it introduced what amounted to the first real programme of regional sailings ever seen in the UK.
Built in 1971 as the original Sun Princess, the Southern Cross was sold to CTC by Premier Cruises, for whom she had been operating in the Bahamas as the Starship Majestic. CTC was intending to follow it’s traditional programme; sailing the ship to Scandinavia, the Mediterranean and the Canaries during summer, and sending her on a line voyage to and from Australia each autumn and spring respectively.
The company did very little to her by way of change; even her deep red, ‘coke tin’ Premier paint scheme was left intact. At 17,000 tons, the Southern Cross was a good fit size wise for the average CTC passenger. She had small cabins, and a centrally located pool that was not much bigger than a postage stamp. Still, she was to prove initially popular.
What was different was that you could board her in several UK ports; Liverpool, Greenock, Tilbury, and even Bristol were all on the menu, In effect, she introduced what the Americans would subsequently call ‘homeland cruising’ many years before 9/11. Both Fred. Olsen and Cruise And Maritime now follow a programme that was actually initiated by this ex- Russian import.
Often as not, the Southern Cross would reposition between two ports, such as Liverpool and Greenock. These trips would be offered as two night party cruises, and they were very popular. It was in this guise that I first sailed on her in August of 1995.
She was a trim, tidy little ship, with passable food and entertainment and, like her predecessors, she offered outstanding value for money. Then, after a couple of seasons, she- and CTC- were suddenly gone. The line quite simply sank without trace.
I caught up with her again a few years later, when she was sailing for Festival Cruises as the Flamenco. By then, her hull had been painted white, with a blue and yellow stripe at the top. Internally, she was almost exactly as I remembered her from the CTC era. However, they had kicked the food service up by quite a notch. I spent a very enjoyable week sailing the Baltic on her. She remained a very pleasant and appealing little ship even then.
Incredibly, she is still going strong, now apparently working as a cruise ship for the Chinese market, but she must surely be on borrowed time now. Like her contemporaries such as the Cunard Adventurer, Song Of Norway and, of course, the Pacific Princess, a sad end is probably not too far away for her.
Still, this diminutive little lady was the ship that premiered regional sailings from UK ports. Small and largely unsung, she left behind a legacy that continues on to this day. She should be remembered for that alone.