LOUIS GROUP BUYS OUT CUBA CRUISES (Updated)

A spokesman for Cuba Cruises, the Canadian based tour operator which has chartered the Celestyal Cristal for the last two seasons, has confirmed that the Louis Group are now what is described as ‘significant majority shareholders’ in the operation.

The Greek operator has provided the use of the 24,000 ton ship for two years now, allowing Cuba Cruises to operate a very lucrative, weekly programme of voyages around Cuba for a predominantly Canadian and Scandinavaian market. Louis Group has also been active in selling cabins on board the ship for European passengers.

It appears that a joint plan by Louis and Cuba Cruise to extend a third, 2015-16 season by a month fell through, hence the move by Louis Group to take over the run full time. There was speculation last year the the Celestyal brand of Louis might also add a second ship for that season, though nothing so far has been confirmed from the company head office.

It’s a move that makes sense, and a product ideally sized and suited for the embryonic Cuban cruise scene. I’ve sailed on the Celestyal Cristal a couple of times on her summer cruises around the Greek Islands and Turkey, and she is a unique combination of homely intimacy and genuine Greek hospitality- the perfect style of ship for destination intensive cruising, such as around Cuba.

Interesting times, for sure. As ever, stay tuned.

May 8th update:

A Greek source at Louis Group has officially denied that the compnay has bought out Cuba Cruises. What has happened is that the Celestyal Cruises brand will now market the sales of both Cuba Cruises and Celestyal’s sailings in the Adriatic and Aegean areas- a logical bit of symmetry.

The 2015-16 season itself has been extended to include three additional, week long, round Cuba cruises.

Covered pool area on the Celestyal Cristal

Covered pool area on the Celestyal Cristal

C’EST CELESTYAL- LOUIS AIMS FOR THE STARS

See gorgeous Santorini on a Louis cruise

See gorgeous Santorini on a Louis cruise

Louis Cruises will expand its cultural and culinary horizons next month with the launch of a new brand called Celstyal Cruises. The new line will put the emphasis firmly on Greek culture and local cuisine, as well as local wine, history, and music. Full details are expected to be rolled out in September.

The core product will be built around the two ships currently sailing out of Piraeus and Lavrion respectively, namely the Louis Olympia and Louis Cristal. The two ships will lose the ‘Louis’ prefix from their name, sailing simply as Olympia and Cristal.

At present, Louis Olympia is sailing the line’s very popular programme of three and four night cruises from Piraeus, while the smaller Louis Cristal is sailing a more all embracing series of seven night, round trip cruises from Lavrion, just south of Athens near Cape Sounion. I’ll be on the Louis Cristal next month, and there will be a full report from on board posted here soon after.

There is no word yet how the smaller, veteran Louis Aura of 1968 will fit into the Louis schedule for 2015. The ship operated a successful French charter earlier this year, and is currently sailing short cruises out of Limassol. The French charter has apparently been renewed for next year.

In related news, Louis Cruises is also said to be close to completing a deal for another ship for it’s fleet. The line is said to be considering both the laid up Gemini and the slightly larger Aegean Paradise. The latter has a fair number of balcony cabins, which would be a first for the company if they do take that option.

The central fountain in Rhode old town

The central fountain in Rhode old town

For the 2014 season that runs through until November, Louis added a series of new destinations to the Aegean portfolio, including Bodrum and Cesme in Turkey, and smaller, less visited Greek islands such as Chios and tiny, picture perfect Symi.

For those travelling from the USA and perhaps further, it is worth knowing that Louis Cruises has a tie in with several luxury hotels across Greece and the islands, as part of the larger Louis Group portfolio.

Many will remember the Louis Olympia as the former Song Of America, the first mid sized new build for Royal Caribbean back in 1982. The Louis Cristal will be familiar to many as the angular, popular Leeward of Norwegian Cruise Line.

Over this winter, the Louis Cristal will head for a second season of popular, round Cuba sailings for a Canadian charter company. Embarkation is possible from both Havana and Montego Bay, Jamaica. Though primarily aimed at the Canadian market, the cruises are also on sail to Europeans, via Louis.

As ever, stay tuned.

THOMSON CRUISES RENEWS THREE YEAR CONTRACT WITH LOUIS CRUISES

Thomson cruises; promising platinum

Thomson cruises; promising platinum

The Cyprus Mail newspaper is reporting today that Thomson Cruises has inked a second, three year charter renewal of two ships with the Cyprus based Louis Cruises.

According to a source in Limassol, Thomson has renewed charters of the 1983 built Thomson Spirit and the 1992 built Thomson Majesty through until November of 2017. The two vessels form part of the five ship Thomson UK operation.

The other ships- Thomson Celebration (the twin sister of Spirit), Thomson Dream and the Island Escape, are owned outright by the company.

The relationship between Thomson and Louis goes back to as far as 1996, when Thomson began chartering ships from the Cypriot operator in a bid to compete with the new, highly successful budget operation of its major rival, Airtours.

 By one of those quirky accidents of fate, the biggest of the Airtours ships now sails for Louis as the Louis Olympia, and was even chartered out to Thomson itself for several successful seasons.

This is a good deal for both lines; Louis has traditionally chartered out several of its vessels to various operators in both the UK and France. Thomson Majesty was originally built as the Royal Majesty for Majesty Cruise Lines in 1992, with Liza Minnelli acting as godmother.

She was for many years a staple of the summertime Boston to Bermuda run, a role she continued after her purchase and lengthening by Norwegian Cruise Line in 1999. She went to Louis in 2009, and has been under charter to Thomson since 2012.

The Thomson Spirit began life as the Nieuw Amsterdam for Holland America in 1983, coming to Louis Cruises after a short, ill fated attempt to revive US flagged cruising out of Hawaii.

  Both ships were recently upgraded with the addition of balconies to the higher priced cabins and suites on board. Marketed to the Thomson UK market and served by flights coming in from several UK airports, both ships sail these days on predominantly seven night, destination intensive itineraries.

With on board food and entertainment tailored to suit their British clientele, the Thomson ships have been very successful. Though the entertainment programme and cruise staff are supplied by Thomson, the ships are still owned, staffed and provisioned by Louis Cruises. 

Typically, both ships spend spring, summer and autumn in the Eastern Mediterranean (Majesty) and the Baltic (Spirit) and, while Thomson Spirit usually spends the winter season on the Red Sea, the Thomson Majesty will be running Canary Island cruises this coming winter.

SECOND CUBA CRUISE SEASON FOR LOUIS CRISTAL

The Louis Cristal docked at Patmos

The Louis Cristal docked at Patmos

After the success of the 2013/14 winter season, Cuba Cruises and Louis Cruises will once again co-manage the popular, 24,000 ton Louis Cristal on a programme of seven night, Caribbean cruises, centered mainly on ports in and around Cuba itself.

The joint Greek-Canadian venture is on sale in both Canada and Europe, and offers the possibility of embarkation in either Havana or Montego Bay, Jamaica. Ports of call visited on the week long circuits include Havana, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos, Punta Frances,  and Montego Bay. The first sailing is on December 22nd, the last on March 30th, 2015.

The fifteen cruises all feature Monday departures from Havana. For Canadian passengers, the Calgary based Cuba Cruises is arranging charter flights. While no such arrangements exist for European passengers, Air France operates daily flights between Paris and Havana.

At present, the four star Louis Cristal is operating a seven night, Greek Island schedule from both Piraeus (Athens) and Istanbul. I’ll be back aboard her at the end of September, and an updated blog will be on here soon afterwards. But here’s some of what you can expect to find on board;

Louis Cristal has a central swimming pool, covered by a sliding glass roof with plenty of sun bathing space. At the stern, several attractive, tiered decks include an outdoor buffet venue, and a hot tub overlooking the ship’s wake.

Lido deck, Louis Cristal

Lido deck, Louis Cristal

There are two main restaurants, a casino, a forward facing show lounge, several bars and lounges, and a very attractive, upper deck sky lounge cantilevered around the funnel. With angled floor to ceiling glass windows, this converts into the ship’s disco each night.

Service on board is friendly and efficient, with good food, slanted towards Greek favourites on Mediterranean cruises. For the Cuba itineraries, most provisioning is from Canada. Expect the bacon and the maple syrup to be very good.

Cabin wise, there is a handful of upper deck midships rooms that have small, V shaped balconies. Many of the inside rooms are small- get your travel agent to check exact dimensions before you book a specific room.

At the top end of the scale, there is a pair of forward facing penthouse suites on the bow below the bridge, with expansive terraces, each including a hot tub. For a good buy, the outside de luxe cabins come in at around 170 square feet, have a big picture window, and a small, comfortable sitting area.

Just as with the inaugural season last year, I expect these cruises to be very popular.

Aft terraces on the Louis Cristal

Aft terraces on the Louis Cristal

LOUIS CRUISES GREEK ISLAND ITINERARIES FOR 2014

Symi is on the Louis schedules in 2014

Symi is on the Louis schedules in 2014

Louis Cruises has gone official with a dedicated brochure aimed squarely at the UK market, offering voyages on two ships on a cruise only basis.

The season begins on March 14h, when the line’s largest ship, the 38,000 ton Louis Olympia, embarks on the first of some thirty three, three night sailings, leaving from Athens on a Friday morning, with calls at Mykonos, Kusadasi, Patmos, Heraklion and Santorini. The last sailing is on October 24th.

Monday morning sailings on the Louis Olympia cover a four night itinerary to the same ports, with the added extra of a wednesday arrival in Rhodes. With a first departure on March 17th, the ship will make some thirty three of these circuits, with the final voyage beginning on October 27th.

The Louis Olympia carries around 1600 passengers in a mix of inside and outside cabins, plus a handful of upper deck balcony suites right forward. People might remember her in her former incarnations as the Song Of America and, in the UK, as the Sunbird and Thomson Destiny. She’s a comfortable, well run ship, with plenty of deck space and  a couple of decent sized outdoor pools, perfect for enjoying the balmy Greek evenings alfresco.

Summertime on Mykonos

Summertime on Mykonos

I’ve said before that these are fun, really destination intensive cruises that pass at a rapid rate of knots. To get a better feel (and a better return on your air fare) why not combine the two cruises to make a full week? It will give you more choices in ports where you spend a few hours per day.

Or, as an alternative, you could consider the seven night itineraries on offer on the slightly smaller Louis Cristal.

Returning from her winter Cuba charter, the Louis Cristal is operating  a superb seven nighter through July and August. Again, this is based on combining a three night friday departure from Athens, with a four night departure on the monday. Separately, they break down like this;

The three night cruises begin on friday, July 4th, and call in to Mykonos, Kusadasi, Samos and Milos, before returning to the port of Lavrion, just outside Athens.

A four night itinerary then departs from Lavrion on the monday, and this one visits Syros, Cesme, overnights in Bodrum, and continues on to Kos, Ios, and Santorini.

These can be combined to form some really tempting seven night cruises, without repeating the same ports of call. Options include departing on either a friday or, instead, a monday.

Lido pool on the Louis Cristal

Lido pool on the Louis Cristal

Lavrion is a ferry port, located approximately sixty kilometres from Piraeus, and apparently better suited for direct access from Athens International airport.

A second, full seven night round trip from Lavrion on the Louis Cristal begins on April 25th. There are eighteen sailings, running through until October 24th, and all take in the highlights of Istanbul, Kusadasi, Santorini, Crete, Rhodes, Symi, and a final call at Mykonos.

The Louis Cristal carries around 1200 passengers, and weighs around 24,000 tons. Particularly nice is the midships poo areal, with it’s sliding glass roof, and a stern facing Jacuzzi that overlooks the ship’s wake. There’s a glass walled observation lounge, cantilevered around the funnel, that offers wonderful views out over the horizon. At night, this doubles up as a late night disco.

Cabin wise, the Louis Cristal has insides, some decent sized upper deck outsides, and a handful of upper deck cabins with unusual, v-shaped balconies. There’s also a couple of forward facing balcony suites at the base of the superstructure, each with its own hot tub, that have one of the best locations of any ship afloat.

Both Louis Olympia and Louis Cristal are intimate, welcoming, and serve dinner in two main sittings each evening. Quite at home in these waters, the Louis Cruise ships are an absolutely perfect way to see the islands and resort highlights of Greece and Turkey from a safe, good value vantage point.

Rhodes Town

Rhodes Town

All told, this is a new and varied programme that cherishes all the old favourites, while at the same time folding in some new, very tempting options. For instance, you have the flexibility to combine a three, four or seven night cruise with a stay in Athens, or even a few days on one of the major islands, such as Mykonos.

One that is definitely worth considering for 2014, I think.

LOUIS CRUISES- NEW FOUR NIGHT CRUISES FOR 2014

Lido pool on the Louis Cristal

Lido deck on the Louis Cristal

Greek specialist operator Louis Cruises has introduced an alternative, quite appealing itinerary in the shape of a new, four day cruise for summer 2014.

Sailing from Athens’ port of Lavrion, these four night voyages will be operated by the 24,000 ton Louis Cristal after her return from a winter charter offering Cuba cruises.

Departing at 1430 in the afternoon- a complete change to the normal 1100 departures- the Louis Cristal arrives in Syros at 1900 for a four hour run ashore. Next day, the ship arrives at the Turkish resort of Cesme at 0700 for a six hour stay, before sailing on to the popular resort of Bodrum that same evening for an overnight stay, departing at five the following morning.

An 0700 arrival in Kos gives a full day on the island, with departure at 1800. Next day features a morning call on Ios, and a final afternoon call at Santorini before arriving back in Athens the next morning.

All things considered, this is a great little run to some of the lesser known gems of the Greek Islands, combined with an opportunity to sample the overnight nightlife ashore in the party capital of the summertime Turkish riviera.  And, with Santorini as a stunning finale, it packs in a huge amount into a short space of time indeed.

Santorini is a fabulous finale

Santorini is a fabulous finale

The Louis Cristal is a good choice for a short cruise; compact enough to get into the smaller, more appealing yacht harbours in the islands, she offers an intimate, comfortable ambience with good sized cabins- a handful of them have small balconies- and the warm hospitality that typifies the Louis product.

The ship has a small central pool, covered by a sliding glass roof, that also showcases a bar and buffet area. There are several other bars featuring live entertainment, and a forward facing show lounge for evening entertainment. The ship also features a casino, internet centre, and a shop for souvenirs and essential sundries.

A series of terraced aft decks offer fantastic views out over the wake, as well as a sublime, aft facing hot tub ideal for lounging in and watching the horizon.

Most impressive of all the facilities on board the Louis Cristal is a spectacular, glass walled disco cantilevered around the funnel. inward sloping, floor to ceiling glass affords spellbinding views out over the sea in three directions. It works just as well as a cool, shady observation lounge during the day, and as a vibrant, late night focal point for partying late into the night.

Combining several small, enchanting little islands with the style, warmth and intimacy of the Louis Cristal makes for an invigorating little break. It neatly side steps the often overcrowded ‘greatest hits’ ports of the Greek Islands, and offers an appealing new take on what has always been a classic, affordable mini cruise. Definitely recommended.

A NORWEGIAN ‘WHERE ARE THEY NOW’- SHIPS YOU LOVED AND THOUGHT YOU’D LOST (Updated)

Louis Aura is still instantly recognisable as the old Starward

Louis Aura is still instantly recognisable as the old Starward

In the legion of seemingly lost and vanished ships, few companies can equal the turnover of Norwegian Cruise Line. And yet, again, you would be surprised how many of their smaller, mid sized ships still survive to this day, and exactly what they are up to now.

So, here we go; a Norwegian edition of ‘where are they now’. If an old particular favourite isn’t listed, then apologies in advance, but the likelihood is that the ship in question has been scrapped. Sorry.

When Knut Kloster started his barnstorming, revolutionary Caribbean cruise line in 1968, it was known simply as Norwegian Caribbean Line, or NCL. Kloster fired the starting gun with a quartet of white hulled, racy little dream boats that were space age at the time. And, incredibly, some of these are still doing the rounds today.

His funky little Sunward II actually began life sailing for Cunard, as the Cunard Adventurer. Bought by Norwegian in 1977, the Sunward II spent many years on the short, three and four day cruise runs from Miami to Nassau, and the company’s private island of Great Stirrup Cay.

She’s still in service with Louis Cruises, as the Coral, but will be renamed as Louis Rhea next year for a full programme of Mediterranean cruises. Externally, she’s almost as she was in her Norwegian days.

Louis Cristal is the former Leeward

Louis Cristal is the former Leeward

Several of her fleet mates have made the trek over to Louis Cruises, to such an extent that the Louis fleet is almost an NCL Part Two. The Starward, built in 1968, is still sailing as the Orient Queen. Shortly due to be renamed Louis Aura, the veteran ship is off to Brazil over the winter to operate a series of three to seven night cruises for a local tour operator.

Louis also has the Louis Cristal, at one time the Leeward. She was the successor to the Sunward II on the short cruises from Miami and now, by a supreme irony, she is part of the same fleet. This winter, she is off to operate a series of ground breaking Caribbean cruises from Havana, in Cuba, under charter to a Canadian tour operator.

Last for now in the Louis beauty pageant is the Thomson Majesty, chartered by the UK based Thomson Cruises, but still owned by Louis. The ship, fondly remembered by many as the Norwegian Majesty, sailed for many years on the Boston to Bermuda run, and she also offered winter cruises out of Charleston. Like her fleet mates, she is essentially unchanged from her Norwegian days.

The other great beneficiary of old Norwegian Cruise Line tonnage has been parent company, Star Cruises. Back in the early nineties, Norwegian built a pair of more or less identical sisters, the Dreamward and the Windward (they were nicknamed ‘Forward’ and ‘Backward’ by industry wags). Later, after being lengthened, these two ships were restyled as Norwegian Dream and Norwegian Wind, respectively.

Thomson Majesty still betrays her Norwegian Cruise Line interiors

Thomson Majesty still betrays her Norwegian Cruise Line interiors

Norwegian Wind was transferred to Star Cruises and renamed Superstar Aquarius. Slated to go to Louis, Norwegian Dream was declined, and spent five years in warm lay up, before finally re-entering service for Star Cruises this year as the Superstar Gemini.

Another Norwegian stalwart found her way to an unlikely new life with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. Their feisty little Braemar actually spent a long period as the Norwegian Dynasty, a ship that sailed summer itineraries in Alaska, and winter Caribbean cruises.

And the current flagship of the Fred. Olsen fleet is yet another ex-Norwegian stalwart. Although originally built in 1988 for Royal Cruise Line as the stunning Crown Odyssey, Balmoral spent two full decades as part of the extended Norwegian ‘family’, including two spells with the now defunct Orient Lines. Stretched during the course of her 2008 conversion, many of her interiors are still instantly recognisable from her early days.

So, there you go. And if some of your fondly remembered favourites are in this list, now you know where they are. And if you’re hankering to renew old acquaintances, now you have what amounts to an absolutely perfect excuse. Have fun, and happy sailing.

OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS- COMING UP IN THE CRUISE WORLD

Carnival heading for New Orleans

Carnival heading for New Orleans

Quite a few things worth noting here, actually, as we begin the long, slow slide into winter. A possible new build. maybe a new cruise line, a big refurb, and some big shifts in deployment are all here in the mix;

AIN’T NO SUNSHINE

After an initially troubled start up following her unprecedented, bow to stern refit, Carnival Sunshine (the former Carnival Destiny) will leave Barcelona on November 1st for a sixteen night transatlantic crossing to New Orleans. With her goes the last deployment of any of the ‘Fun Ships’ in any European cruising region until at least 2015.

Carnival Sunshine will operate seven night Western Caribbean itineraries from New Orleans through April 2014, when she comes around to Port Canaveral to offer six and eight night round trip Eastern Caribbean itineraries.

SERVING UP INDIAN…..

Word is circulating about the likely start up of a new, Indian based cruise line, aimed at tapping the potentially huge local domestic market. Royal Asian Cruise Lines is said to have already bought the laid up Gemini, last used as an accommodation ship at the 2012 London Olympics. The line is also said to be in the market for up to four more, second hand ships of a similar size and vintage.

Final financing arrangements were due to take place in Barcelona this month. The cruise line will initially operate in the Indian Ocean, including the waters around Sri Lanka.

SEABOURN’S FAB FOUR?

Ultra luxury Seabourn Cruise Line is said to be on the cusp of ordering a fourth vessel in the highly successful, 32,000 ton Sojourn class. If so, it will give the line a consistency across the fleet, and a potential depth of world wide deployment that is going to be hard to match. Meanwhile, first of the initial trio, Seabourn Pride, will leave the fleet to join new owners, Windstar, in April next year, with the other two smaller sisters completing the transition in 2015.

Midships pool on the Louis Aura

Midships pool on the Louis Aura

LOUIS SWINGS SOUTH

With the season for short Aegean and Greek Islands cruises coming rapidly to a close (the last few sailings are in early November)  Louis Cruises is sending two of its ships across the Atlantic on full winter charters.

Louis Aura, currently sailing as the Orient Queen, will be heading for Brazil, to operate a series of itineraries varying in range from between three to seven nights, concentrating mainly on the north east coast of Brazil.

Louis Cristal (familiar to many as Norwegian Cruise Lines’ former Leeward) is off to begin a series of pioneering, seven night fly cruises from Havana, Cuba to the Caribbean. The Louis Cristal is under charter to a Canadian tour operator. Embarkation is also going to be possible for these cruises in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

NOW, VOYAGER

Regent Seven Seas’ Seven Seas Voyager will enter dry dock in Marseille on October 14th  for an eight day refit that will see full refurbishment of the Horizon and Observation lounges with new carpetings, furnishings, and a new bar in each. All penthouse suites will also get a comprehensive makeover.

In addition, all balconies will receive new teak decking, and outdoor relaxation areas will be enhanced with new deck furniture. The Constellation theatre and the atrium will be refurbished with new soft fittings, and marble enhancements.

Carpeting throughout the 708 guest all balcony, all inclusive Voyager will be replaced, and new art works added right throughout the ship.

Seven Seas Voyager is due to resume service on October 23rd, with a ten night sailing from Rome to Venice.

I’ll be on board for that, so expect a more comprehensive appraisal soon after. Stay tuned.

LOUIS GOES SAMBA- LOUIS AURA TO SOUTH AMERICA FOR THE WINTER

Indoor promenade

Indoor promenade

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.

Sitting area of one of two penthouses

Sitting area of one of two penthouses

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.

The Mermaid Restaurant

The Mermaid Restaurant

Side view of the solarium

Side view of the solarium

Main pool area

Main pool area

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.

Solarium seating area

Solarium seating area

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.

Pool area at night

Pool area at night

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.

Small ship means ease of access to smaller places

Small ship means ease of access to smaller places

Aft deck of the Orient Queen

Aft deck of the Orient Queen

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.

LOUIS CRUISES- LOOKING AHEAD

CNV00158Louis Cruises has settled into 2013 with an upgraded programme of three, four and seven day cruises in their home waters around the Greek islands and Turkey. But it is the itineraries for next winter that really mark out a different strategy for the Hellenic mainstay line.

The main programme of three and four day cruises operates out of Athens until November, with the Louis Olympia and Orient Queen taking pride of place. Each Friday, both ships set out on a mid morning departure that takes them to Mykonos that same evening, before arriving in Kusadasi on Saturday. The next morning finds them in Heraklion, Crete, during the morning, with a late afternoon, five hour stay over in Santorini. Both ships return to Athens on the Monday morning,; for these cruises, embarkation is also possible in Kusadasi as well.

The four day cruises depart on Monday morning, and again call in at Mykonos that same evening. Tuesday morning is spent in Kusadasi, and the afternoon and early evening showcases a call at Patmos.

Wednesday allows for a full day in Rhodes, and Thursday once again features a morning in Heraklion, and the evening in Santorini, before returning to Athens early on Friday morning. Once again, embarkation is possible in Kusadasi, as well as in Rhodes.

CNV00018Louis is also offering a few seven night cruises on the Orient Queen next month, also from Athens. These basically extend the four night trip by adding a welcome overnight stay in Mykonos, and a call in to sultry Istanbul. These itineraries can also be booked as round trips  from Istanbul as well.

Orient Queen then moves over to Cyprus, from where she will operate a series of two to five day cruises around the Greek Islands from Limassol.

But the really big splash comes this winter when, in association with Canada-based Cuba Cruises, Louis will send the Louis Cristal out to Cuba, to begin a series of seven night, round trip Caribbean fly cruises from December through April. Embarkation will be possible both in Havana, and in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Though the cruises are chartered, and mainly for the Canadian market, Louis will also be selling cabin space on board.

Even more surprising is the news that Orient Queen- soon to be renamed Louis Aura- will be sent to South America over the winter, to operate a series of cruises there. This represents a welcome contrast in a cruising arena that has been the sole preserve of the mega ships up until now. Having sailed on the ship last year, I can vouch for the fact that she is a perfect size for getting into the smaller, more secluded ports that the big ‘floating resorts’ have to bypass because of their size.

CNV00145Other welcome news is that next year will see the return of the popular Coral, under the new name of Louis Rhea. At present, she is expected to sail alongside the much larger Louis Olympia on the three and four day ‘greatest hits’ cruises of the Greek islands and Turkey.

I’ll be providing a more detailed look at the experience of cruising with Louis in the near future.