Often referred to as a miniature OCEANIC, the ITALIA was the last ship designed by the brilliant Gustavo Pulitzer-Finale and helped firmly establish Princess Cruises as a leading force in the cruise industry. She went on to enjoy many other successful careers, ending her days with Cyprus-based Louis Cruises as the SAPPHIRE before being broken up at Alang under the name ASPIRE in 2012.
SAPPHIRE Remembered and Decked! — A Deck By Deck Tour Of Louis Cruises recently scrapped MV SAPPHIRE (ex ITALIA, PRINCESS ITALIA, OCEAN PRINCESS) by Peter Knego
Built 1967 12,263 gt 489 by 67.9 feet (149.78 by 21.5 meters) 22.3 foot draft (10.5 meters) 706 passengers (maximum) 240 crew 16.5 knots (17 maximum) Fully air conditioned and stabilized Propulsion Machinery: Two nine cylinder Sulzer CRDA diesels (14,800 BHP), twin screws Builders: Cantieri Navale Felszegi, Trieste (hull #76) Registry: Majuro, Marshall Islands
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2008 unless otherwise noted.
Louis Cruise Line’s SAPPHIRE was built as the 12,083 gross ton, 452 passenger ITALIA by the Trieste-based shipyard, Cantieri Navale Fesigli (hull number 76) for Crociere d’Oltremare as the first of two planned sister ships, the second of which was never realized. Upon completion that September, she was chartered by Costa Lines for three shakedown cruises to the Mediterranean. Costa then subchartered the ship to Stanley MacDonald’s U.S.-based Princess Cruises for Mexican Riviera sailings from Los Angeles (during which she was marketed and promoted as PRINCESS ITALIA).
With American film icon Susan Hayward on board, ITALIA’s delivery voyage from Trieste to California via the Bahamas and Acapulco was noted for premiering the now camp classic film, “Valley Of The Dolls”, in the ship’s cinema. A 48 minute television feature, “Valley Of The Dolls: A World Premiere Voyage”, was shot on board with Bill Burrud and Armey Archerd interviewing members of the film’s cast.
ITALIA was the first newbuild dedicated to full time U.S. West Coast-based cruising and although referred to as PRINCESS ITALIA, she was officially registered as ITALIA. In 1969, after the introduction of her running mate, the (PRINCESS) CARLA (ex FLANDRE), the ITALIA became the second ship to have ever sported the Princess Cruises “sea witch” logo on her ultra-stylish funnel.
ITALIA was further distinguished as the last ship designed by Gustavo Pulitzer-Finale in collaboration with Romano Boico. Pulitzer was one of the three great Italian masters (along with Gio Ponti and Nino Zoncada) who fashioned some of the most exquisite liners and cruise ships of the 20th Century.
In appearance, the handsome vessel was very much a miniature version of Home Lines’ OCEANIC (general profile and angled, grilled windows) with elements of P&O’s CANBERRA (an exquisitely tapered funnel designed by Trieste-based sculptor Ugo Cara, inboard lifeboats and knuckled bow).
ITALIA had eight passenger decks, in descending order: Sun Deck (7), Lido Deck (6), Riviera Deck (5), Promenade Deck (4), Pacific Deck (3), Belvedere Deck (2), Capri Deck (1), and Cinema Deck.
Sun Deck housed the bridge, chart room and captain’s quarters as well as a radio room on the port side. A sunning terrace was located aft of the deck house.
Lido Deck began with a crescent-shaped observation area with narrow promenades leading via the mosaic-bedecked pool and Lido area at the base of the funnel to a terrace overlooking the stern. Internally, it housed officers’ accommodation and the very stylish Veranda. In the port side base of the funnel, there was a small gymnasium.
Riviera Deck was originally devoted entirely to public rooms, but at some point in the ship’s early Princess career, a suite of cabins was added in front of the Observation Lounge (the lounge, itself, was replaced with cabins during ITALIA’s Costa career). Aft of the forward Riviera Deck vestibule, there was a small card room and boutique on the port side (altered in later years) and the very handsome Bar on the starboard side, leading to the chic but very brown Grand Salon, with its angled bulkheads, chairs and ceiling recesses.
Finite promenades sheltered by the angled, grated steel bulkheads led to a small terrace at the stern. Inside, just beyond the aft vestibule, there was the ship’s Night Club, which sported a bar at the forward starboard entrance and oversized “porthole” windows.
Promenade Deck began at the fo’c’sle level with accommodation, the ship’s large suites, and the delightful Dining Room with its moulded ceiling recess. The Dining Room was served by a galley, just aft, which was followed by crew accommodation at the stern. The entire deck was encircled by a narrow promenade, the mid portion of which passed under the recessed lifeboats.
Pacific Deck consisted of accommodation and the Main Lobby with purser’s office and beauty salon. Belvedere and Capri Decks contained accommodation.
All the way down, the 174-seat Cinema was built atop ITALIA’s midship tanks.
The suites featured full bath with shower/tub and extremely spacious wardrobe areas. The sitting area contained a couch, chairs, and table ensemble. Located on Promenade Deck, they had two large picture windows but the views were obscured by lifeboats.
The next most luxurious ITALIA accommodations were the Deluxe Staterooms, which featured “wrinkle-proof” wardrobe closets.
Outside staterooms ranged from singles to triples.
ITALIA was built with 213 luxury cabins, all with radio, telephone, closed circuit television and individually-controlled air conditioning, features taken for granted today but considered quite forward-thinking at the time.
The ITALIA introduced Princess Cruises to Alaska in 1969, when her home port was relocated to San Francisco. Her subcharter to Princess lasted until October of 1973, when she joined the Costa fleet for cruises out of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Costa “spiced” the ship up with their yellow and blue funnel colors, brighter soft fittings, and some slight modifications, although she remained mostly as built throughout her ten year tenure with the Genoa-based company, which outright purchased her in 1977. ITALIA cruised the Caribbean from San Juan and Ft. Lauderdale, later venturing to South America and the Mediterranean.
Costa’s advertising usually included bikini-clad women enjoying life on deck or by the pool.
The shopping area on Riviera Deck was slightly reconfigured to include a card room, which at times was used as a chapel.
Costa added these ladies to its featured brochure image of the stylish Bar.
The Grand Salon was refitted with smaller furniture to accommodate more passengers for Costa’s lively shows.
If the brochure illustrations are any indication, ITALIA was definitely more of a “party” ship in her Costa heyday than she was with Princess.
Note the “brightened” soft fittings, typical of the stylish Costa decor found on ships such as EUGENIO C, CARLA C, and FEDERICO C.
In 1983, a lengthening was considered but apparently dropped, according to Italian historians, Maurizio Eliseo and Paolo Piccione, whose detailed and beautifully written “The Costa Liners” (Carmania Press) was a tremendous reference in compiling this webpage.
Surprisingly, since she was one of the most modern and popular members of the Costa fleet, ITALIA was sold to Ocean Cruise Lines in 1983. She became OCEAN PRINCESS after a Piraeus-based refit by Greek design firm, AMK, which introduced highly polished brass and brushed steel surfaces, harsh lighting and tapestries on bulkheads and in stairtowers.
Metal and glass windscreens were added to the midships Sun and Lido Decks, altering the ship’s external appearance. Internally, the overall layout of public rooms was tweaked but remained generally intact, albeit with a completely new look that for the most part remains unaltered today.
On Lido Deck, ten cabins replaced the officers’ accommodation and the Verandah was replaced with the larger Cafe de Paris.
On Riviera Deck, the forward vestibule became the Rendezvous Square. The Bar on the starboard side was reconfigured completely and renamed Harry’s Bar, while the Card Room and Chapel on the port side were replaced with the Monte Carlo Casino. The Grand Salon became the Marco Polo Lounge and the Night Club became Raffles Piano Bar and Discotheque.
The Dining Room was renamed the Four Seasons Restaurant and most cabins were reconfigured with new layouts, furniture and soft fittings.
With an expanded capacity of 500 passengers, OCEAN PRINCESS was a highly regarded pioneer of destination-oriented “adventure” cruises to off-the-beaten-track places worldwide. In 1990, Ocean Cruise Lines was purchased by Paquet Cruises. Shortly thereafter, her funnel livery switched from yellow and blue to white and blue.
On 1 March 1993, during one of her cruises up the Amazon, OCEAN PRINCESS hit a submerged object at Belem, breaching her hull, and gradually sinking up to what is now her Pacific (3) Deck. She was raised three weeks later but a survey determined the ship a total constructive loss. Sold to Ellis Marine of Piraeus, she was renamed SEA PRINCE and towed to Greece for repairs. SEA PRINCE was to begin Greek-based cruises in 1995 for newly-formed Sunshine Cruise Line but a fire on 26 May that year put an end to that. In September 2005, she was sold to Louis Cruise Lines of Cyprus, who renamed her PRINCESA OCEANICA.
Louis gave the ship a major refurbishment and, favoring its new “jewel”-inspired nomenclature, renamed her SAPPHIRE. She was chartered to British-based Thomson Holidays in 1995, but mechanical issues quickly intervened. The vessel was repaired at Perama, during which time the forward superstructure was extended with modular cabins (it was further extended with a platform to accommodate two tenders). SAPPHIRE began cruising for Thomson in 1996 and in more recent years, had been chartered to French based Croisieurs Francaises, before joining the Louis fleet. With an increased capacity of 680 (706 maximum), she is currently based at Limassol and caters to an almost exclusively Cyprus-based clientele on cruises to Egypt, Israel, Syria, Lebanon and the Greek Islands.
In 2007, an unusual framework of steel and canvas was added to shelter SAPPHIRE’s Lido Deck and Cafe de Paris from high winds.
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."