THE SOUTHERN CROSS; THE END OF CTC CRUISES

The Southern Cross

The Southern Cross

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.

Artwork for the Southern Cross. CTC seemed to have everything invested in this ship.

Artwork for the Southern Cross. CTC seemed to have everything invested in this ship.

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.

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12 comments

  1. A small correction: The Alexandr Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov & co were not built as partial car ferries and certainly were never used as such on the Baltic (they did, of course, sail on a liner service from Leningrad to Montreal/New York). You are perhaps confusing with the Belorussiya-class ferries, that were originally designed for car ferry service in the Black Sea (not the Baltic) but were also used for cruising, including CTC charters.

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  2. Hi Kalle,

    I didn’t realise that I had defined the Lermontov/Pushkin series as car ferries. The article actually shows that those ships were not the same as the white sisters (Belorussiya class) and certainly not car ferries on any level.

    Best, Anthony

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  3. I read your review and it is a very accurate description of the old girl. I was one of the British security officers on board in 1994/5 I joined her in Birkenhead in drydock and was on board during her re-commissioning trials then on to two log cruises I remember taking on passengers in Tilbury Liverpool Greenock we sailed to places far and wide.arctic Nassau Panama etcetc the crew where mainly Ukrainian and a mix of European entertainment staff most of the galley crew where from Philippines and all but a few worked extremely my hard to get the ship habitable for its maiden voyage 🙂

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  4. I loved the CTC Baltic cruises in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Never more than 500 guests, excellent facilities.
    Often wondered what became of CTC Lines.

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  5. There is a suggestion that the SS ALEXANDER PUSKIN berthed at PORT KEMBLA NSW AUSTRALIA. Can anybody confirm this. I would appreciate it if I get a response.

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  6. I did a south pacific cruise on her the catering was by vships monaco and an italian maitred
    First time for ctc food was better than normal
    Ship was untouched from big red ship day even door numbers still had former stickers
    Dining room all ukranian 90 % women
    Didnt really like this ship no promenade area
    And we used open lifeboats as tenders

    Also we stopped at casy island in new caledonia to the best of my knowledge anybody know why no one has stopped there since

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  7. I sailed on her last voyage for CTC from Sydney to Tilbury in 1996 (I think). Her sister ship was holed up in Noumea at the same time for non payment of port taxes I think.
    We were told she was being sold to some other company and a greek chap came onboard to do a pre purchase audit.
    No more than 330 passengers throughout the voyage and we got to know all the entertainers by cruises end.
    I had 3 small sons wife and mother in law with me and we had a great time. 6 weeks of smooth seas no rain but a pea soup fog as we came up the English channel so couldn’t see the white cliffs.
    An italian maitre d, a ukrainian waiter named Viktor who always got the kids cherry pie when they joined us for dinner after leaving kids club.
    Fantastic ports, overnight in Acapulco, and an early evening transfer the Panama Canal. Funchal in Madeira was our last port of call.
    Years of great memories but great to see the ship is still in service.

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