Following the introduction of the EMPRESS OF BRITAIN in 1956, the Canadian Pacific Steamship Line followed up on a second liner, the EMPRESS OF ENGLAND. Plans were drawn for a third and what would ultimately be final transatlantic liner for the company. The first keel plates were laid down in January 1959 at Vickers and Armstrong of Newcastle taking place at the same slip that the "ENGLAND" had been built and upon completion was the largest ship built on the Tyne in over fifty years since the MAURETANIA of 1907. With the Queen and Lady Eden performing the launching ceremonies on the previous two sister ships, Mrs John Diefenbaker, the wife of the Canadian Prime Minister took the honor of sending yard number 171 towards her element on May 10, 1960. On April 24, 1961 she left Liverpool on her maiden voyage bound for Canada completing her successful trials the previous week. Measuring 27,300 gross tons, she was certainly an attractive liner, boasting a graceful profile with a clipper stem, cruiser stern, and streamlined foremast. The superstructure between the wheelhouse and funnel was physically different than her sister ships. While her funnel was still decorated with the company’s red and white chequered house flag, the shape was slightly different, and below the waterline there was a bulbous bow, and Denny Brown stabilizers to reduce roll as she sliced through the water. To propel this 650 feet long new building, Vickers-Armstrong Engineers Limited incorporated double-reduction geared turbines producing a maximum output of 30,000 HP. Overall the machinery arrangement was similar to that of the previous ships, with the boiler breakdown consisting of 2 superheat Foster Wheeler and one Foster Wheel reheat boiler placed slightly forward of amidships, followed by the auxiliary machinery room, switchboard and so forth. Although she was designed to carry 192 in First Class and another 856 passengers in Tourist class the public rooms were not designated as two class, and instead were given mainly Canadian names. In contrast to the other two EMPRESS’ and their British décor, aboard the EMPRESS OF CANADA her interiors echoed North American comfort and elegance. The result was a vibrant, exciting and yet modern look that helped create a ship with great style, grace and individuality.
In 1968, the CANADA received a new livery scheme. Rob O'Brien collection
The EMPRESS OF CANADA being launched at the Vickers Armstrong's Newcastle yard on May 10th, 1960.Rob O'Brien collection
Air travel was becoming the preferred means of crossing the Atlantic and liners much like the EMPRESS OF CANADA were a dying breed. This was especially true since 1958 was the 1st year that saw more people making the journey by air rather than by sea. In fact, Canadian Pacific decided to operate transatlantic only during the summer months by the time they had introduced their third new building. The rest of the year she would be employed on cruise duties with the first Caribbean cruise departing New York in December 1961. The shipping line was struggling financially like most during that time and had already sold off the EMPRESS OF BRITAIN to the Greek Line. By 1968 the "ENGLAND" and "CANADA" both received a change in livery consisting of a new logo and paint scheme, especially evident on the funnel and the side of the hull. A year later in 1969, the number of crossing was further reduced to just seven, and by 1970, the "CANADA" was the sole survivor of the fleet as the EMPRESS OF ENGLAND found new life as the OCEAN MONARCH. Upon completing the 121st Atlantic crossing in November 1971, the owners of the EMPRESS OF CANADA could no longer support itself due to dwindling passenger loads and the last white Empress was placed on the market. Shaw Savil line had originally planned to pair her up with the OCEAN MONARCH, with the proposed name DOMINION MONARCH. Due to the lengthy conversion of the OCEAN MONARCH from her EMPRESS OF ENGLAND incarnation, this plan fell though. Home Lines also took interest in the laid up Empress, in so far as also preparing a detailed conversion proposal. But, like the previous operator, the plan was shelved. The ten year old liner did not stay unemployed for long as she would soon peak the interest of a business man name Ted Arison, son of the owner of one of the largest shipping companies in Israel. Mr. Arison had already looked at the idling Cunard liners CARMANIA and FRANCONIA but could not afford the asking price tag. Naval Architect Jacob Victor pointed him in the direction of a ship that was laid up in Tilbury, England. Upon inspection of the idle EMPRESS OF CANADA, he saw great potential in her use as his first cruise ship in a company that was called Carnival Cruise Line, with the other half of ownership by A.I.T.S. (American International Travel Services.) In February 1972 the former Canadian flagship was sold and on the 21st of that same month, the ship was renamed, MARDI GRAS. On February 26, she departed Tilbury on an Atlantic crossing bound for Miami.
The brillant EMPRESS OF CANADA in New York, 12/9/1967. Photo from the collection of Rich Turnwald
The MARDI GRAS, the Godmother of the Carnival Cruise Line fleet. Photo & Copyright Ron Baker
The MARDI GRAS at Fort Lauderdale in 1990
Photo: Richard I. Weiss
The QUEEN ANNA MARIA at New York sometime in the 1970s. Photo: J. Fred Rodriguez
The same ship under CARNIVALE colors in Miami sometime in 1990. Photo: Richard I. Weiss
The brilliant FESTIVALE at Miami in 1981. Photo: Richard I. Weiss
The TRANSVAAL CASTLE at Southampton, aft is her sister, the WINDSOR CASTLE. Photo and Copyright: Ron Baker
Closeup of the funnel for CARNIVALE. Photo: Richard I Weiss
The handsome MARDI GRAS at Nassau. Photo: Richard I. Weiss
Two wonderful images of MARDI GRAS in what is possibly Nassau in November 1983. Photos: Ernie Arroyo / Rob O'Brien collection.
The last of the Canadian Pacific liners built as seen at the Gladstone Pier. Photo & Copyright Ron Baker
The EMPRESS OF CANADA in her final colors, sometime in 1969 at the New York pier. Photo: William H. Miller Collection
A Category 12 Cabin aboard MARDI GRAS. All brochure pictures, Rob OBrien collection
A Category 1 Cabin on board the first Carnival ship. Note all the paneling.
A Category 5 Cabin with lower and upper berths.
The APOLLON at Newcastle, June 1998. Photo: Hilton Davis. Simplon Postcard, Rob OBrien collection
The APOLLON as she appeared in April 1999 arriving at Southampton, England. Photo and Copyright SeapixOnline.com
The EDINBURGH CASTLE arrives in Southampton, England on October 14, 1998 for repairs to alleviate her numerous operational breakdowns. Photo & Copyright SeapixOnline.com
With special thanks to the great photographer Richard I. Weiss, "Mr Ocean Liner," William H. Miller , the kindness of Rich Turnwald and all his photos, the expertise of maritime photographer/historian J. Fred Rodriguez, and for the generosity to the following: SeaPixOnline.com photos, Ron Baker photos, Michael Hipler photos, Mike Tedstone photos as well to the generosity of Peter Knego and the excellent maritimematters site.
A color-coded cross-section view from an early brochure, Rob OBrien collection
The duties laid upon MARDI GRAS and CARNIVALE seemed little more than focus on short cruises to Freeport, and Nassau while steaming not much more than twelve knots with very little entertainment aside from keeping her slot machines and casinos open. This location certainly made it convenient for the line to avoid clashing with the new 70,000 tin FANTASY that came on line in January 1990. Nevertheless, the pair made such an impact in the Port Canaveral market that Premier Cruise Line, one of their biggest competitors in this area had to revise their pricing due to the presence of these now vintage liners. At which point, Carnival made plans to acquire Premier with the idea to operate out of California using their popular MARDI GRAS. This $372 million dollar deal failed to materialize, but in January 1989, the plan to buy the respected Holland America Line did not. Expansion ideas continued with a joint operation with the Club Med Company as it was thought of moving either of the two white ships in the fleet to the Mediterranean in the Spring of 1993. When this plan came to pass, attention was re-focused on the intent to take control over Premier’s role of 'official cruise line of Walt Disney World.' In fact, it seems this was the very reason MARDI GRAS and CARNIVALE were repositioned to Port Canaveral in the first place. In the end, Disney was looking to enter the cruise industry itself, appearing in the market following the introduction of its first ship in 1998.
Rumors began surfacing at this point that two oldest ships in the fleet were getting old and tired and Carnival was looking to rid themselves of the pair, hence more ideas of operating them elsewhere, including the Orient. With the CARNIVALE, renamed FIESTA MARINA, and about to start a series of Spanish operated cruises, there was the expectation that the MARDI GRAS and FESTIVALE would join her. By this time a deal was stricken with the Greek shipping company, Epirotiki Cruise Line and the small Dolphin Cruise Line to join forces and operate the two vessels together in the Eastern Mediterranean. Following some refit work, she was to begin her new career as OLYMPIC after her last voyage with Carnival on the 5th of September, 1993. However, by the latter part of that year this joint venture between Carnival, Dolphin and Epirotiki somehow dissolved. Nevertheless, Carnival was so determined to expand into the European market that eventually a plan emerged revealing a 43% controlling stock of Epirotiki in exchange for Greek control of MARDI GRAS and the former CARNIVALE. With the plans to depart for Greece under the name OLYMPIC collapsed, a charter deal for the 32 year old ship was announced. It was revealed on September 30, 1993 that Gold Star Cruises would operate ten voyages, consisting of four six hour cruises, and six nighttime cruises. Sailing under the new name of STAR OF TEXAS, “she would be the world’s largest and most beautifully appointed day cruise ship that would usher in a new era for Galveston as a passenger ship destination," according to Peter J. Catalano, chairman of the line. Eleven months after departing Galveston for the first time it soon became clear that operations in Texas took a nose dive. As a result, the ship was forced to move from Galveston to Miami as Gold Star Cruises had lost over $45 million in finances. With STAR OF TEXAS still painted on her stern, she operated on twelve sailings a week under the name LUCKY STAR.
Her future did not look so bright compared to her Carnival glory days, but a few companies expressed charter interest including Royal Venture Cruises, and a Canadian firm. Both however came to pass as the cost to restore her was overwhelming and there were liens against her back in the states. When the U.K. operator Direct Cruises come online with the former EUGENIO COSTA and reintroduced her under the new EDINBURGH CASTLE, she virtually sold out most of her cruises from April 1998 to October of that same year. Since a second ship was obviously essential, in December 1997 Direct Cruises announced a five year charter had been made with Royal Olympic Cruises. In direct response to the overwhelming demand from the bookings made on the EDINBURGH CASTLE, the lease was for the laid up APOLLON. When she re-emerged from a much needed $20 million repair and refurbishment from the prolonged Eleusis Bay anchorage, rumors surfaced that she would be renamed STIRLING CASTLE. This proved to be unfounded and work on APOLLON was actually carried out at Avonmouth following reported boiler damage. Complications arose even further as the refurbishment work, being carried out on the voyage was bought to a halt as workers became ill as a result of stormy conditions encountered along the route to Britain. This meant that several of her cruises were canceled in order for all the work to be carried out.
Her first cruise to Liverpool and indeed her return to the River Mersey in over twenty five years finally took place on May 30, 1999. It was during this time that the public, in addition to the passengers, time traveled to witness a virtually unchanged external profile and a nostalgic return to a long departed shipping company, namely the Canadian Pacific line. The first cruise for APOLLON from the Mersey had her navigating to Cadiz, Casablanca, and the Canary Islands. The end of this cruise, and certainly the high point consisted the return to her birthplace, forty nine years before at Newcastle on the Tyne. Unfortunately, the EDINBURGH CASTLE was constantly plagued with problems ranging from electrical failures and an alleged small disease aboard one of her cruises. The British operators suffered bad publicity as a result and by 1999 the former Costa built liner was under arrest for unpaid debts and her charter was soon canceled while receiving a much needed refit.
With the EDINBURGH CASTLE out of the fleet, APOLLON was the sole ship sailing for Direct Cruises as a replacement would have been difficult to locate. Hence the repeat of the routes she followed the year before including the Atlantic Islands, North Africa, and the Western Mediterranean. Surely the two cruises that called for a Northerly route were her most remarkable. One of these voyages was a picturesque route following the Norwegian Coast up the North Cape with the majestic Norwegian Fjords serving as the background. No where in her lifetime had she visited this region of the world, and it can be seen that this was certainly a highlight of her long career. In fact, the second momentous cruise was a journey to the Baltic region with a first time port call at St. Petersburg and Oslo, as she made revisits to Stockholm, Helsinki and Copenhagen. It was at the capital of Oslo that the APOLLON received a tugboat welcome while at the same time sharing the port with the SS NORWAY, both moments unquestionably the highlight of that voyage.
As good as things might have appeared for Direct Cruises, it was not too continue as they announced in the early part of 2000 not just the cancellation of their entire program, but also the charter that was expected to continue for a few more years. This unfavorable circumstance placed her in lay-up with a drydock visit in May 2000 consisting of routine maintenance in hopes to attract prospecting charters as to her overall good condition. Among the eight ships in the Royal Olympic fleet in 2001, APOLLON was to be employed on four and five day cruises to the Aegean.
Rumors began surfacing that she would join the U.K. based Thompson Cruises fleet and once again be reunited with the former EMPRESS OF BRITAIN which was sailing successfully as their TOPAZ. This proved to be untrue and with a new blue hull, APOLLON looked splendid as ever on her May 2001 arrival in Piraeus for the start of her Aegean cruises. A small break in her normal schedule at that time was meet with her participation in the illustrious G8 summit which was held in Genoa from the 20th to the 23rd of July. She in fact, joined many other vintage ships including PRINCESA VICTORIA, SERENADE, OCEAN EXPLORER and ATALANTE. With this summit and meeting of the world’s most influential nations came media attention of all sorts. At the conclusion of this event came the return of most of the ships to their regular service, especially APOLLON. This continuation included her four and five day cruises until the 17 of August, 2001.
A wonderful shot of the STAR OF TEXAS entering Miami on December 16, 1994. Photo: Rich Turnwald
An impressive view of the stern and mighty bow of the MARDI GRAS as seen in drydock at Norfolk, Virginia in October 1985. Photos: Rich Turnwald
In contrast to her previous role as Miami’s most popular ship, she ultimately continued operating as a gambling vessel with some cruises even priced at just $19.95. In tandem with being too large for day cruises and not returning until 3am on a few weekend cruises, LUCKY STAR had gotten what was considered an unlucky start as a tropical storm disrupted the initial voyage. This operation was completely shut down by December 30, as Lucky Star in addition to Gold Star could not continue to pay the $600,000 monthly price for the ship and her crew. At this point Epirotiki took ownership of their vessel and by December 1994 they made an agreement with Sun Line, another popular Greek operator, to merge into one company under the new name, Royal Olympic Cruises. With the vessel owing debts in excess of a quarter of a million dollars, Royal Olympic transferred her from her failing Caribbean days to the Mediterranean, arriving in Piraeus on May 10, 1995. As the case may be, things were no different there either as it was obvious that she was largely worn out from her gambling charters and in need of a major refit. While she lay in Eleusis Bay, name suggestions came to light including HOMERIC and even going so far with the choice, OLYMPIC 2004 painted on her bows- until finally settling with the name APOLLON. (OLYMPIC actually became a more befitting name for her fleet mate CARNIVALE when she joined the Epirotiki fleet in 1995.)
Former Canadian Pacific fleetmates together again under the Carnival flag for over 15 years as seen in this 1980 reunion at Miami. Photo: Rich Turnwald
The builders plate of the EMPRESS OF CANADA/MARDI GRAS located below the wheelhouse on the forward superstructure. Photo: Rich Turnwald
The bridge onboard MARDI GRAS looking starboard. Notice the compass dome is not covering the Binnacle, exposing the compass card. Photo: Rich Turnwald
A wonderful image of APOLLON in blue livery on her last voyage in August 2001. Photo & Copyright Michael Hipler http://liners.gmxhome.de/
On her last voyage, this impressive view from the APOLLON looking upon the 3/4 stern of fleetmate STELLA SOLARIS at Santorini. Photo & Copyright Michael Hipler http://liners.gmxhome.de/
The APOLLON at Eleusis, Greece in November 2003 not long after she would depart for Alang dismantling. The magnificent STELLA SOLARIS, her fleetmate looms behind, also destined for the same place. Photo & Copyright Peter Knegowww.maritimematters.com
Despite a rocky start, and one that actually began with her grounding in Miami on her Carnival maiden voyage, she would prove not also to be the most popular cruise ship in the American market, but form the success story of the Carnival Cruise Line dynasty. As their 1st cruise ship, she helped create what is said to be the best run cruise operator in the world, encompassing a fleet of over 40 ships to date, and owning stock from much traditional ship lines of Holland America, Cunard and Costa. The early years of this company were not as vibrant as it very financially weak, and overhead had to kept at bay to ensure they would remain afloat. In fact, there were not enough funds to hire someone to design a logo for their new ship. As a result, they adapted the Canadian Pacific logo multi-mark that was actually welded onto the funnel, which ironically was too costly to remove. All that was altered was changing the colors of green and white to red, white and blue with the angles of the mark softened more into curves. The green band encompassing the hull was changed to a more suitable red color.
With the exception of the two forward cargo booms, all cargo handling equipment was removed as her role as a full time cruise ship no longer required them. While this job was eventually taken on sometime after she had sailed many Carnival miles there were also some modifications made to her funnel markings. At the request of the Canadian Pacific line, and the very similar likings of their logo, Carnival reduced the thickness of the white section. While the "C" of the company was backwards at certain angles, the changes made at that time reflect the current “crescent” markings on all present day Carnival ship. Despite the MARDI GRAS might have been seen as an informal cruise ship, this would soon prove not to be the case. Internally, the company made refurbishments to distract that idea including covering the acres of wood paneling with metallic foil wallpaper, and changing public room names. One of the biggest changes came with replacing the former 1st class dining room with cabins, done so in order to alleviate the resentment from passengers who were assigned to dine in the former Tourist Class restaurant. The overall result to these refurbishments generated a somewhat fun and relaxed image, especially since in the eye of public, cruises were viewed as stuffy and made only for the older folks. Remember, these were the days before the world was introduced to the popularLove Boatseries which would further propel the face of cruising to new heights.Despite rising fuel costs, MARDI GRAS was sailing with admirable passenger loads in 1974. The company A.I.T.S. still had a 50% stack in the operation, and they were looking to part ways with the $5 million dollar debt that loomed over both them and Ted Arison. In order to weather these difficult financial times, Arison approached the struggling Greek Like with the idea of pairing up their QUEEN ANNA MARIA with MARDI GRAS. This proposal, along with the same type made to another well established Greek operator called Sun Line, was also turned down. By November 1974, Carnival Corporation became the new holding name as A.I.T.S. had caved in and sold their interests to Arison. Carnival evidently also dropped the flamboyant image of “flagship of the Golden Fleet” and drew upon the image of “fun ship” as this concept was more befitting to what the crew and passengers agreed was a happy ship. Despite having to compete with the purpose built cruise ships, the “fun ship” image became nothing short of effective and has proven successful to this day. By 1975, Ted Arison knew a running mate had to be found, in order to further the image, as MARDI GRAS was ranked as the number one cruise ship sailing on the Caribbean.The dwindling passenger trade over the North Atlantic caused many lines to go under throughout the 1970s. The Greek Line became one of those victims in early 1975, forcing fleet mates OLYMPIA and QUEEN ANNA MARIA to be laid up in Perama, Greece. Ted Arison overlooked the two vessels with the determination that while OLYMPIA was in a better state, the severely rusted QUEEN ANNA MARIA was seen as a more ideal running mate. OLYMPIA on the other hand would spend seven fore long years in neglect and in the end would make one of the largest comebacks in cruise liner history.
At the very least, Carnival managed to gain a 2nd ship at a lesser price as a result of Greek Line's refusal to enter a joint operation of the two near sister ships. With the purchase completed by December 1975, the announcement came that the new addition to the fleet would be named CARNIVALE. From Greece, to Miami, to Newport News dry docking for repairs, cleaning and livery change, the new ship was ready to enter service with the conclusion from the public being positive.For the next year, the former "Empresses" were together again, albeit sailing under different company flags, but proving so popular on the “fun ship” formula that the two set occupancy records beyond the range of 100%. In reality, they went from being mild successes under the changing conditions of travel that the Canadian Pacific experienced, to proving so popular as full time cruise ships that paid for themselves shortly after their introductions. In fact, Arison had enough capital that he began searching for a third ship in which to extend the fun ship fleet.The liners employed under the Union-Castle and its venture with Safmarine contained vast cargo holds. These British built ships employed on the UK to South America run were able to weather the rising fuel prices, and competition from the airlines a bit longer than most of the numerous lines of the 1960s and 70s. Containerization would ultimately put them under as their larger than normal cargo holds is what they relied upon rather than purely passenger loads. By 1976, all ships in their fleet were out of work, but one in particular, the former TRANSVAAL CASTLE ( renamed S.A. VAAL in 1966) found new life as the third addition to the Carnival fleet with the name, FESTIVALE.
With the space formerly occupied by revenue producing cargo, and in contrast to her new fleet mates, the cruise line had more options in which to design a configuration of space that best suited them. In fact- without Arison even looking at the ship himself, the ship received her new name and officially joined the fleet in 1978. As a result of FESTIVALE becoming the third ship in the fleet came itinerary changes, with the MARDI GRAS cruising northward in August 1979, and even receiving a fire boat reception in Montreal after a eight year absence in very familiar waters under the Canadian flag. It marked a proud occasion that was again repeated in 1980 as she sailed on a five and four day cruise via the St. Lawrence visiting Quebec and on through Boston. It sadly would prove to be her last visit, the MARDI GRAS never entered Canadian waters again.
Click here to add text.When the FESTIVALE returned from her refit in Japan she measured in at 38,125 tons, allowing her new operators to promote her as the largest ship cruising out of Miami. It comes as no surprise that the sixth largest cruise ship in the world was an instant success, proving that the fun fleet was a force to reckon with. While the former trio of British liners for the Carnival fleet were the fore-fathers that formed the concept of cruising, trouble lay ahead for Carnival as cruising was about to be introduced to something so big that it would influence the cruise industry for the next twenty years, and beyond. Knut Kloster, chairmen of chief rival Norwegian Caribbean Cruise Line (NCCL) made ready former North Atlantic greyhound S.S. FRANCE into the cruise going S.S. NORWAY. When the NORWAY began her maiden voyage in April 1980, it was the beginning of nothing short of legendary, so much so that the cruise line industry has never been the same. Eight years later her influence had sparked the dawn of the mega cruise ship that is seen the world over. In order to compete with the ever growing market and fierce competition as reflected by NCCL and new Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL) tonnage, Carnival began looking to add former TRANSVAAL CASTLE sister ship, the WINDSOR CASTLE. When that ship was unattainable, there was no choice but to look at building new purpose built tonnage of there own. Riding on the success of the Carnival trio, the 23,000 TROPICALE was delivered in October, 1980. A few years later, MARDI GRAS received a rather extensive refit, of which most of this was internal as her outward appearance remained the same. Most of the changes involved glitzening her up to match the décor of glass, flashy lights and more open area of her new running mate. Change also came in the form of new ports of call, including visits to Bermuda, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, then to the Western Caribbean at Cozumel and Grand Cayman. MARDI GRAS eventually saw redeployment to Fort Lauderdale and shorter duties on three and four day cruises as well as a further refurbishment by 1985. By this time, MARDI GRAS was being flawlessly maintained as the line added three more new buildings, each measuring 46,000 tons, they included the HOLIDAY, JUBILEE, and CELEBRATION. Before joining her longtime fleet mate CARNIVALE in the growing market of Port Canaveral, MARDI GRAS received yet another modification sometime in 1990. The most telling of these involved a slight return to her glory days with the removal of the silver foil wallpaper in select areas. To increase her manoeuvrability, a bow thruster was installer, lessening her tug dependence in various ports.
Click hDue to the dire financial position of the Carnival, it was deemed necessary that she should immediately begin making money for the cruise line. After a $1 million bond had been paid, and a mere six weeks after her purchase, on March 11, 1972, the MARDI GRAS departed Miami on her first cruise with 300 travel agency members among the passengers. The grounding was a result of both her deep draft and Miami’s Government Cut early days depth of 30 feet. Along with the rudder command from pilot to helmsman - that was either misunderstood or inaccurate -had resulted in her touching bottom. The so called “Mardi Gras on the Rocks,” something of amusement and an actual cocktail on competitors vessels turned out something more serious as there was 75% damage to her hull plating and underwater segments, of which was repaired in a later refit. Due to time constraints and financial positions, the early days of MARDI GRAS involved sectioning off certain areas of the ship for slight refurbishment and redecoration. In many ways, the ship was still the EMPRESS OF CANADA as the line could not dry dock her and make the appropriate changes that best suited them. Internally, the major changes included ensuring all cabins were fitted with a shower and toilet.e
EMPRESS OF CANADA maiden arrival in N.Y. harbor on December 19, 1961. Photo: Rich Turnwald collection
The EMPRESS as seen in Malta enjoying a cruise in March 1962 on a 62-day voyage out of N.Y. Photo: Rich Turnwald collection
A fine stern view of the ship sometime in 1970. Photo: Rich Turnwald collection
The MARDI GRAS departing Florida in January 1993, her last year in service under the Carnival banner. Photo: William J Donall
Looking as striking as ever, two great images of APOLLON at anchor as seen in Patmos, Greece on 19 June of 2001. Photos & Copyright: Mike Tedstone
The cruise market for Royal Olympic was not robust enough to fill the 914 passenger APOLLON, nor their former OLYMPIC -which they also had in their fleet and was eventually sold off to Thompson Cruises- since both ships were almost twice the capacity of the other ships in the fleet. Nevermind some of the crew and officers who preferred the smaller ships of the line so it came as no surprise that her final cruise had been a four night trip around the Cycladic Islands. A few charter possibilities came up at that time, one was a proposed hotel ship for a Libyan summit and the other for her use as a accommodation vessel for a NATO conference in Naples that was planned for the 26th and 27th of September 2001. This conference was moved to Brussels following the aftermath of the September 11 attacks that took place in the United States.
Due to these chain of events, tourism in the Mediterranean was very stagnant and APOLLON once again found herself laid up. First in the Bay of Naples, and by October was in Piraeus and then again in Eleusis, Greece. As a result of her inactivity, the former MARDI GRAS began showing signs of fading and it was noted that her decks were developing cracks as well. By 2002, it was realized that in order to restore the ship for service, over five weeks of intensive maintenance work would be required. Not so wise to carry out on a ship that the company thought was too large for their market to begin with. In the end, she lay anchored, along with the beautifully appointed Royal Olympic fleet mate, STELLA SOLARIS in Eleusis Bay. Both vessels, among the most celebrated ships of their time, appeared to have no futures -even the static role possibilities seemed nothing more than ideas. In that same year, the EDINBURGH CASTLE, which saw brief work as the BIG RED BOAT 2 for Premier Cruise Line was torn apart for her steal on the shores of Alang, India. Duplicating the same reasoning for cashing in the steal on laid-up liners, Royal Olympic sold the STELLA SOLARIS and her small, but vividly splendid counterpart, the STELLA OCEANIS as well as APOLLON to Indian breakers in the neighborhood of $5 million.
While still giving the distinction that she could sail anytime with passengers, it was on November 12, 2003 that she left for her final voyage. It was a long and sad voyage sailing through the Suez Canal and arriving at her final destination of Alang on December 4. The ship that started it all for Carnival, indeed the very last of the Canadian Pacific liners was forgotten about as she lay at anchor waiting to be hauled up on the beach. After 42 years of service to the transatlantic and cruising world, the ship that helped paved the way for the cruise ship era was to be cut-up piece by piece. Sometime in 2004, the former EMPRESS OF CANADA was no longer with us but she unquestionably lives on in the minds of many for being a pioneer to the cruise ship industry and surely a magnificent ship for the history books to remember.
A rare and nostalgic image of the CARNIVALE in the foreground and MARDI GRAS alongside. Rob O'Brien collection
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A Liverpool dockside view of the ship, looking very much like she did during MARDI GRAS days. Photo: Copyright Ron Baker, portholeproductions
A port side view of APOLLON at the Langton Lock. Photo: Copyright Ron Baker, portholeproductions
Fitting out is progressing, with the addition of lifeboats not yet installed.