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SAPPHIRE Decked!, A Top To Bottom History and Tour Of Louis Cruise Lines’ MV SAPPHIRE
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Updated: September 13, 2008
Monday, September 1, 2008
SAPPHIRE from IVORY.
MV SAPPHIRE at Limassol.
Day one embarkation sign.
We left IVORY just before 1:00 PM today and lugged our bags over to the Limassol passenger terminal. Thanks to lovely Louis agent, Ileana Marangou, we were cleared for boarding SAPPHIRE quickly, providing just enough time to explore and document the ship before she began to fill with passengers at 2:00 PM.
Midcentury mod/Pulitzer portal.
Totally random, off the wall carpet shot.
I worked my way through a maze of companionways to cover a wide variety of cabins from vintage inside singles to modular outside doubles added in the most recent structural refit. SAPPHIRE has quite a variety of public spaces but unlike IVORY’s simple layout with most rooms concentrated on one deck, hers are located throughout the ship. They begin at the top with the Cafe de Paris, which has both indoor and outdoor dining areas near the pool on Lido (6) Deck.
Harry’s Bar, facing forward.
Marco Polo Lounge, facing forward.
Starboard Marco Polo Lounge, facing aft. Note canted windows.
The inviting Harry’s Bar adjoins the Rendezvous Square and a Duty Free Shop at the foot of a still very Italian-style stairtower on Riviera Deck (5). The sweep of public rooms on this level continues with the large, very beige Marco Polo Lounge (main showroom with tapestry focal points), a wonderful Winter Garden on the aft/port side (with canted windows a la OCEANIC’s promenade) and its starboard counterpart, the ship’s gym. A finite promenade encircles the Monte Carlo Casino (which contains a small card room and internet station) at the aft end of Riviera Deck. On Promenade Deck (4), there is the handsome Four Seasons Restaurant, while the Main Lobby is located on Pacific Deck (3), and, finally, way down on Cinema Deck, there is the ship’s dedicated movie theater.
Please note, a full history and photo tour of SAPPHIRE is featured in the Decked! blog series. Link at top of this page
SAPPHIRE’s shapely shark fin.
SAPPHIRE’s exquisite Italian design is most striking in the aft/upper deck areas where her unique funnel converges into a finely tapered, finlike edge. There is an observation platform under the bridge on Deck 5, which leads aft to the Cafe de Paris and Lido area. Just forward of the pool, there is a strange, domed grillwork added in recent years that, when covered in canvas, presumably provides shade and shelter for the Cafe de Paris. At the aft end of the funnel casing, there is another large sunning area overlooking the stern.
Cabin 436, facing starboard.
Ocean Cruise Lines logo on tap in Cabin 436 w/c.
Our extremely spacious (deluxe outside) Category K cabin, 436, is
located on starboard Promenade Deck just forward of the restaurant. It has two picture windows and a view partially obscured by the tenders. There are two twin beds separated by a dresser, a wardrobe, a long counter with plenty of drawers and vanity area as well as a sitting area with settee, cocktail table and chair. The stateroom has individually-controlled air conditioning, a telephone, flat screen television and a w/c with full bath, bidet and toilet.
At 3:15, we were on aft Deck 5 to watch as IVORY (see previous blog posting) cast her lines and, with the aid of two tugs, was pulled stern first into the turning basin, giving us a most striking 3/4 bow view of the last traditionally designed, active, Italian built liner. The exquisite ship looked utterly glorious in her element and took her sweet time to back all the way to the end of the harbor before slowly turning about, exhaling a blast of Bunker C, and then steaming proudly south-eastward out of Limassol for Port Said (In 1989, Louis pioneered these popular two night voyages from Cyprus to Egypt, which feature excursions that visit Giza, the Cairo Museum and even a mini-cruise down the Nile).
SAPPHIRE left at 5:00 PM, turning north-westward after rounding the tip of Cyprus on a course bound for Kos. With second seating dinner at 9:00 PM and no buffet offerings, we ordered turkey sandwiches (6 Euros each) from the room service menu, unpacked, and went to the English-speaking briefing in the Cafe de Paris.
Bulgarian singer/dancer Trifon from AEGEAN tWO returns to the blogspot as SAPPHIRE’s host.
A familiar face from last year’s cruise on AEGEAN tWO, SAPPHIRE’s friendly Bulgarian host Trifon, was on hand to provide some tips about life on board, in addition to some recommendations for good beaches at our upcoming ports of call.
Off to dinner…
I’ll take two of these…
Hearty fish dish.
Entering shortly after 9:00, we were given a nice table for two in the aft section of the dining room. The menu was familiar but welcome, with virtually the same Greek night offerings from the IVORY. Bread plate doused in pungent olive oil, I ordered the avgolemono, two Greek salads, fresh perch in a marinara sauce, and baklava.
It takes a village. Festive folkloric dancing in the wee hours on board MV SAPPHIRE.
SAPPHIRE was at full capacity (well over 600 passengers on this cruise), so we headed to the Marco Polo Lounge, where a huge queue gathered for the second seating show. The program was identical in content to the first night on IVORY but with a completely different execution. One male singer, three female singers, a trio of female dancers (one, Irena, looks like a young Hedy Lamarr) and a pair of male dancers covered everything from “Padam, Padam” to “Proud Mary” and “New York, New York”, then stuck around for Greek folkloric song and dance with accompanying bouzouki player and band. As Trifon told us, Louis is very keen on not having pre-recorded performances, eschewing the big Broadway favorites for live, cabaret-style shows.
The decks were very windy, so we returned to the cabin for some rest at 1:00 AM.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Boat drill at 9:30 punctuated our first morning aboard SAPPHIRE as she hummed her way along the coast of Asia Minor. We began the day with an excellent cappuccino in Harry’s Bar followed by some Greek salad in the Cafe de Paris buffet. At approximately 1:00 PM, Rhodes appeared on our port side as SAPPHIRE turned northward toward Kos. This would be my first visit to the 25 mile long island with a population of 30,000.
A good Kos ahead with lifering sheer.
Kos is supposedly where Hippocrates was born. It is home to the International Hippocratic Institute and Hippocratic Museum. The main town, also named Kos, was founded in 366 BC and was ruled by the Athenian Federation, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Venetians before being sold to the Knight
s of St. John of Rhodes, who built a fortress at the harbor entrance in 1315. The Turks invaded shortly thereafter and held on to the island until 1912, when it was handed over to the Italians. During the second world war, it was taken over by the Germans, then ceded to Britain in 1945 before becoming part of Greece in 1947.
MV SAPPHIRE at Kos.
SAPPHIRE berthed adjacent to the ancient fortress at 3:00 PM. Stelios Ioannou’s EASY CRUISE LIFE (ex LEV TOLSTOY, NATASHA, PALMIRA, THE JASMINE) was on the other side of the terminal. Somehow, in her black and orange livery, this 1981 built 9,878 gt vessel actually looked smart and well proportioned, an amazing feat for what was once widely dismissed as an utterly ungainly, boxy ship.
Gangway at Kos.
We found momentary internet access at a cafe near the terminal, then walked along the charming marina to find another connection while also enjoying a Greek yogurt with honey and another cappuccino at the Dehaven Cafe. The colorful, gullet and yacht-lined waterfront was traversed with boatloads of tourists coming from and going to Bodrum, Turkey, a few short sea miles away.
Easy Cruises’ MV EASY CRUISE LIFE at Kos.
I finished my posting and took a walk around the harbor for a nice vantage of the EASY CRUISE LIFE and a hotel-fringed beach that stretched along the coast. Across the channel, a Seabourn ship was departing Bodrum and turning northward toward the Dardanelles. Somewhere in these waters, White Star Line’s RMS BRITANNIC, sister to the TITANIC, was torpedoed and sunk during the first world war.
Minaret at Kos.
Kos archaeological site.
On our way back to SAPPHIRE, we walked through part of the fortress, past a Roman archaeological site, a Byzantine mosque and through a park to the waterfront. Once back on board, I gave the ellipticals a twenty five minute run before heading out on deck to watch as our ship swung around and sailed off into the darkness for the island of Lesbos.
Second night spread in the dining room.
Buffets were offered in the dining room and up at Cafe de Paris, where we settled in for a wind-whipped meal featuring more Greek salad and a delicious marinated eggplant as well as various meats, rice, and potatoes.
One of two talented Bulgarian singers on board, Nataly, Cher-s a song in the Marco Polo Lounge.
The Greek night show in the Marco Polo Lounge was similarly structured to the one we saw on IVORY with two tables set up on either side of the stage to mimic a Greek taverna. SAPPHIRE’s cast hung around after the show to sing and dance with the bouzouki player and band well into the early morning hours. Another singer appeared to perform traditional Greek folk songs, filling the dance floor to capacity long after we finally called it a night.
September 3, 2008
Fin over Mytilene.
We were awakened by the crew boat drill at 9:30, my alarm having failed to go off at its set time of 8:30. SAPPHIRE was securely berthed at the town of Mytilene, on the east coast of the island of Lesbos, within view of the Turkish coast. Most of our fellow passengers were already off on tour or exploring the island on their own.
Mytilene has a handsome circular harbor, visited daily by rakish blue and white ferries of NEL Lines but its most prominent feature is a huge fortress built on a hill towards the north side of the town, which is surrounded by pine and olive forests.
SAPPHIRE Start Up: Harry’s Bar cappuccinos.
Aft from fo’c’sle.
Well rounded self portrait with fin.
Sapphire deck overhang.
After what has now become our morning SAPPHIRE start-up routine, a cappuccino
in Harry’s Bar, I took the opportunity to get some more photos of the now empty ship before we headed off in search of an internet cafe.
Agios Therapon cathedral, Mytilene.
An hour or so of uploading photos and text at the friendly Sponda Billiard and Internet Center allowed a quick return to the ship for buffet lunch in the dining room before we ventured out to find a taxi to take us some five kilometers to Vigla Beach.
Vigla Beach to SAPPHIRE seas.
MV SAPPHIRE at Mytilene.
With SAPPHIRE on the horizon beyond the crystal clear waters, we indulged in a rejuvenating swim and sun session (despite some rather painful rocks) before walking back to the ship via an interesting assortment of villas, the busy crescent of the marina, and the quaint shopping area.
Al fresco portion of Cafe de Paris, facing aft.
Writing time in the cabin was followed by an alfresco buffet dinner at Cafe de Paris, where a nostalgic soundtrack of late 1970’s and early 1980’s disco music was played, with a range of familiar hits by the Village People and the Bee Gees mixed in with some less mainstream numbers like “Born To Be Alive” by Patrick Hernandez.
“Arabian Nights” was the featured show in the Marco Polo Lounge, where the tiny but powerful Bulgarian vocalist, Aliona, gave Cristina Aguilera a run for her money. Colorful costumes and a blue tent-like prop kept the dancers nimbly and skillfully on their toes throughout the high energy spectacle. Afterwards, the bouzouki player and band kept the Marco Polo in motion, presumably long after we, hoping to get a good chunk of rest before our early mornign call at Tinos, adjourned.
September 4, 2008, part one
Half Moon SAPPHIRE at Tinos.
Waxing Moon SAPPHIRE at Tinos.
Full Moon SAPPHIRE at Tinos.
We were painfully awake at 7:30, just in time for breakfast in the dining room, where the gracious wait staff were attentively on hand to carry our plates to a empty table, serve coffee (we’ve noticed the mainly Cypriot passengers do not seem to take coffee with their meals), and bring over juice. SAPPHIRE was just berthing at Tinos Town on the large Cycladic island of the same name. This handsome hamlet is within view of Mykonos, Delos and Syros and a mere 86 nautical miles from Piraeus. I was last here on now defunct Paradise Cruises’ MV ATALANTE (ex TAHITIEN) in 2003.
Morning sweep in sleepy Tinos Town.
Fittingly, Tinos is the legendary home of Aeolus, the god of the winds, and today he is in full glory, whipping the deep blue seas into a white-capped frenzy. Our early arrival found the waking town nearly deserted but it is now coming vividly to life as I sit at the charming .lecafe with my second cappuccino of the day and a view of the bobbing boats in the harbor.
The Ionians first inhabited Tinos in 1000 BC, then in the 6th Century BC, it was ruled by Eretria before being conquered by the Persians. At one point, a temple honoring Poseidon and Amphritrite was built at Kionia. In the 13th Century, it was ruled by the Venetians, then the Turks in the 18th Century, before going Greek in 1821. In 1822, the Blessed Virgin was seen in a dream by a nun in the Kechrovouni convent and is worshipped today at the Saint Pelagia of Tinos monastery overlooking the town.
1972-built MV PENELOPE A (ex HORSA, STENA HORSA, EXPRESS PENELOPE) inbound at Tinos.
MV PENELOPE A outbound.
SUPERFERRY II at Tinos.
MV BLUE STAR ITHAKI at Tinos.
Back on board by 11:30 AM, we took a ringside seat at Cafe de Paris to watch the procession of ferries arrive and depart from the jetty adjacent to SAPPHIRE with seem
ing easy. One by one, at a good clip, they would whistle as they entered the harbor, then swing around to bring stern to berth, aft door open. Throngs of people would disgorge and others would hurtle on board and within minutes, the vessel was off on her way to the next port of call, listing into the ferocious wind and stirring up a neon blue wake, plume overhead.
SAPPHIRE’s Maitre d’hotel, Gregory Constantinou.
Finally, at close to 1:00 PM, SAPPHIRE edged away from Tinos, spinning around with the aid of her thrusters and a large tug, to brave the short crossing to Syros. With a strong list to starboard, she plunged ahead as I helped myself to two servings of Greek salad and some tasty green beans cooked with fresh tomatoes and onions. SAPPHIRE’s friendly maitre’d, Gregory Constantinou, visited with me for a few minutes to reminisce about Sun Line, the glorious STELLAs, and the VASCO DA GAMA (ex INFANTE DOM HENRIQUE), all of which he served on board before joining Louis and the handsome little PRINCESA AMOROSA (ex SCOTTISH COAST) in 1989.
Captain Fokas maneuvers SAPPHIRE into Syros.
Syros from SAPPHIRE.
SAPPHIRE from Syros.
MV HERAKLES imposes over Syros.
After a short respite in the cabin, I emerged to find Captain Fokas on the wing, giving orders as SAPPHIRE pulled alongside at Syros. Soon, we were off in a cab to nearby Azolemos Beach, a wonderful little hideaway on the other side of the peninsula bordering Syros harbor. Syros, itself, is a strange combination of Greek Island beauty (with its churches and stucco buildings spreading across a steep hilside, brilliant blue waters and colorful sailboats) and Greek Industrial (with its huge drydock facility and large LPG, LNG and other types of tankers alongside).
Azolemos Beach, Syros.
Blogger with birthstone ship.
Nothing is more invigorating than a good Aegean swim, and that is what we both enjoyed at Azolemos Beach. Free deck chairs are available at the friendly convenience store/hut to the left side of the beach and access to the water can be had via the rocky cove, a short sandy beach, or via little concrete jetties that have ladders descending into the water. Time went all too quickly before our cab driver dutifully returned to deliver us to the port.
Poster to save MV GIORGIOS EXPRESS in Syros travel agency.
There was just enough time to grab the iBook and find a local cafe to update this blog. Enroute, I found a poster for the “Save The GIORGIOS EXPRESS” (ex ROI BADOUIN) campaign in a local travel agency. Kudos to the people behind the effort to preserve this handsome Belgian-built ferry!
Gotta run back to SAPPHIRE now. Tonight, more food and another show. Tomorrow, it’s Rhodes for another beach and possibly an update. Saturday, it ends in Limassol.
September 5, 2008
MV THE CALYPSO at Rhodes.
Musta cost a fortune — MV COSTA FORTUNA at Rhodes.
Up at 7:15, I felt my way through the passageways and onto forward Deck 6 where the wind was rather furious. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been to Rhodes since my first visit on the MV STELLA OCEANIS in 1992, but I’ve never tired of the place.
SAPPHIRE was hove to in Rhodes roads, awaiting the pilot, who was delivered by the local pilot boat after some 30 minutes. Moments after the little craft made its way back to the harbor, SAPPHIRE picked up speed and aimed for a slot at the jetty directly behind her fleetmate, the 1968-built THE CALYPSO (ex CANGURO VERDE, REGENT JEWEL, REGENT CALYPSO) and across from the behemoth hulk of COSTA FORTUNA, a common platform CARNIVAL CONQUEST class ship distinguished by Costa’s smart yellow and blue livery with a generously endowed, retro “chimney pot” funnel. In just a few years, unless cruise lines and marine architects get more imaginative, every cruise ship will be just another “unit” from the assembly line.
MV SAPPHIRE at Rhodes.
SAPPHIRE berthed quickly and seemingly effortlessly, especially with the howling wind to negotiate. I headed back to the cabin for some more sleep, managing to sta
y unconscious for another couple hours until Christopher returned from an internet run in Rhodes town.
SAPPHIRE’s wheelhouse, facing starboard.
St Nicholas in the SAPPHIRE’s wheelhouse.
SAPPHIRE’s helmsman and Captain Andreas in the wheelhouse.
Faliraki Beach, Rhodes.
After a cappuccino, a bit of Greek salad and a nice visit to the bridge (thanks to Captain Fokas and Captain Andreas), we were off in a taxi to Faliraki Beach (on the eastern side of the island, some 15 kilometers away from the port). Faliraki has sand to cushion weary feet from the painful pebbles and rocks one finds at most Greek beaches. We made the most of our hour by swimming in the soothing water before the taxi brought us back into Rhodes. There was just enough time for a quick return to the infamous Red Rose Cafe for its internet connection, grab a quick chicken gyro and then sprint back to SAPPHIRE by 4:30.
Chef Nychos Anargyros demonstrates a shrimp and feta dish at the Cafe de Paris.
SAPPHIRE sunset, part two.
SAPPHIRE sunset, part three.
SAPPHIRE funnel to crescent moonrise.
Up on deck, the wind was back up to its morning fury but apparently not enough to hinder our departure, which was precisely at 5:00 PM. Within moments, we had spun around and arced our way eastward toward Cyprus. As the chef led a cooking demonstration at the Cafe de Paris, SAPPHIRE rolled noticeably for the first time, settling into a gentle rhythm she maintained for the greater part of the evening.
Engine room, facing forward.
A rare treat (thanks to kind Chief Engineer Ioannis and Captain Fokas) was a visit to the spruce engine room for a look at the ship’s CRDA Sulzer diesels. The chief indicated the ship is in excellent mechanical condition and can pr
obably sail for many more years without costly upgrades or repairs. His first passenger ship was the THOMSON SPIRIT (ex NIEUW AMSTERDAM, PATRIOT), which he brought over from HAL before joining the SAPPHIRE four years ago.
Our waiter, Ahmed El Samek, from Dumieta, a town near Port Said, Egypt.
“Buster Poindexter” with Baked Alaska on parade.
A full sit down dinner was served in the Four Seasons Restaurant. Attentive and efficient waiter Ahmed El Zamek and maitre’d Gregory did their best to spoil us through several courses, including a gratinated “tour” of vegetables, trachanas soup (a Cypriot specialty with cream, cheese and couscous), roasted rosemary chicken supreme and Baked Alaska on parade.
The Marco Polo Lounge show was comprised of Cypriot folkloric music, costumes, and dancing, continuing well past the midnight hour.
I placed my suitcase outside the cabin at about 1:20.
September 6, 2008
SAPPHIRE face from forward Deck 4.
Irinia, our excellent Ukrainian room stewardess.
As SAPPHIRE rounded the southern tip of Cyprus for her approach to Limassol, there was time to wander her decks one last time, check to see if any other passenger ships were nearby (none), drink a final cappuccino in Cafe de Paris, grab a small bite of melon and a bowl of cereal and say good bye to our wonderful cabin stewardess, Irinia.
Limassol was back to its usual scorching self as we entered the harbor and maneuvered port side to the terminal.
Gian Troiani, whose Ocean Photo Service runs the photo concession on thirteen vessels, including MAXIM GORKIY, PRINCESS DAPHNE, AMADEA, MONA LISA and MINERVA, came aboard for a visit as we awaited disembarkation. Finally, at 11:45, the ship was cleared and some 600 fellow passengers scrambled off with us in a rather chaotic hurdle to gather our luggage, which was randomly piled in the ill-equipped shoreside facility. Gian kindly took us to lunch in old town Limassol near the castle before a cab came to transport us to Larnaca Airport, some 60 plus kilometers away.
Special thanks to: Captain Andreas, Martin Cox, Nicholas Fillipidas, Captain Fokas, Chief Engineer Klironomos Ioannis, Christopher Kyte, Katja Makaveeva, Iliana Marangou, Marlene Oliver, Stephanie Pavlidou, Gian Troiani, Maria Villarrubia
Finalized: September 13, 2008
Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
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