ASTOR: Australia’s latest cruise ship. By: Chris Frame.
For decades, the FAIRSTAR dominated cruising in Australia. Casual and fun, the former Sitmar (and later P&O-Holidays) ship was the mainstay of the Aussie cruising scene, operating South Pacific voyages out of Sydney.
Today, a very different scene exists. FAIRSTAR is long gone, and Australia plays host to a variety of ships. Aside from P&O Cruises’ three large ships based ‘down under’ year round (PACIFIC JEWEL, PACIFIC DAWN and PACIFIC PEARL), many other lines base vessels in Australian ports during the year.
One such ship is the CMV’s ASTOR, which is based in Fremantle, Western Australia for an extended season during the Australian summer. The ship, built in Germany in 1987 by Howaldtswerke – Deutsche Werft GmbH, has a low and unimposing profile, and her age may suggest her interiors would feel dated.
However, thanks to an A$18.6 million dollar refurbishment in 2010, and rigorous upkeep since then, ASTOR was a surprisingly pleasant ship with some beautiful public rooms, spacious cabins and a very welcoming ambiance.
Embarkation occurs through a gangway to the boat deck where passengers are greeted by friendly staff. The deck is teakwood and it’s spacious and wide given the ship’s relatively small 21,000 grt size.
Despite a long stay in the Australian market, her primary role for CMV is in the German market. As such, the ship’s interior signage and deck plans are primarily in German. However, her small size makes walking around a breeze, and it is quite difficult to get lost aboard.
At the forward end of the embarkation deck (called “Boots Deck” which is German for “Boat Deck”) are the largest and most luxurious suites aboard. These rooms are excellent, and include a bedroom, dining room, lounge area, balcony and an enormous bathroom. The rooms, regardless of grade, have all been fully upgraded and present very well, while the passenger corridors are wide (albeit the head-height is a bit lower than that found on larger ships).
Aft of the passenger cabins is a promenade area, which leads to the outdoor alfresco area and the Obersee Bar. For this cruise, the bar was serving Australian beers including the Western Australian classic, Swan Draught. There’s plenty of deck space here, with ample sun lounges for those passengers wishing to take in the sun – very popular in Australian waters!
One deck up on “Brucken Deck” is another small bar, the gymnasium and a jogging track. One deck down, on “Promenaden Deck” you’ll find the main passenger areas for this ship.
The hub of shipboard life aboard Astor, here is where passengers can enjoy shopping in the Promenade, meals and shows, all of which were surprisingly good.
The main restaurant aboard, The Waldorf, is at the aft end of the vessel. Spanning the entire 23.6m width, the restaurant offers a double seating on the Australian voyages due largely to the near 100% occupancy aboard.
The food, created under the watchful eye of Executive Chef “Twinkle” (though don’t make references to Little Stars as he has heard it all before), is excellent and there are many choices each day. A typical luncheon might consist of warm breads, smoked salmon, delicious tomato soup with truffle oil, snapper with potato and herbs and to finish the mean, a large slice of cheesecake. Aussies typically enjoy eating, drinking and partying when on a cruise, and this restaurant certainly catered well.
The restaurant also includes two smaller ‘alternative’ dining alcoves. The Romantic Restaurant specialises in ‘tables for two’, while on the opposite side of the ship there is an Italian restaurant for those craving pizzas, pasta, and antipasti. There is also a casual alfresco restaurant aboard which is almost always full.
The service offered in the restaurants is friendly, and while it lacks the finesse of silver service, it was fast, efficient and pleasant. In fact, the whole ship’s company were extremely pleasant. The feeling aboard this ship is that of a happy family.
Forward of The Waldorf, you’ll find The Captains Club, which is a very pleasant bar and lounge centrally located and widely used. This popular venue is home to morning coffee catch ups, afternoon cocktails, pre dinner drinks and evening entertainment such as live bands and karaoke. It’s a warm, friendly place where crew and senior officers are often seen mingling with passengers, such is the charm of small ship cruising!
Outside The Captains Club an Internet Café, large shop and causal sitting area can be found. These areas have amazing views out of large windows. In fact, the interior of the ship may reminds you a bit of the great Ocean Liners of days gone by. Outer promenades with floor to ceiling windows, such as those found on the glorious QE2 of ROTTERDAM are aplenty aboard ASTOR, making her feel spacious and airy, despite her true size – which just exceeds 176 metres in length!
At the forward end of the ship is the show lounge. A large space aboard the ship, it’s a classic cabaret lounge with seating grouped together, a bar and small stage. The quality of the entertainment here was extremely good, equal to if not better than that seen aboard some of the highest rated ships afloat! This was another nice surprise, and the varied entertainment offering included a Chinese dragon show, a solo violinist and a production piece complete with feather clad, Vegas style dancers. It was all under the direction of a cruise director who had worked on 5-star liners such as the Cunard Queens!
Several decks down on Caribic Deck is the spa offering. It consists of an indoor pool, sauna area, heated seating, deck chairs, massage area and beauty salon. The space was also reminiscent of the ocean liners, and had a feel very similar to the Six Deck Spa aboard QE2.
Despite her small size and rather modest reputation, the refurbished and revitalised ASTOR was a charming experience. Sailing on sold-out voyages from Fremantle, the vessel is offering a series of cruise itineraries. Destinations include ports as close as Albany, Western Australia to some as far away as Bali in Indonesia with durations varying from three nights to twenty-one nights.
In fact, so popular is the ship that her 2014/15 season is already on sale, and space on some voyages is becoming limited! It appears that ASTOR has found her niche in the developing Australian cruise market.
The ASTOR was originally built to operate line voyages for a revitalised Safmarine passenger service, but the ship would never see South African service. Rather, she commenced operations for Marlan Corporation in 1987. However ASTOR was quickly sold to the Black Sea Shipping Company of the former Soviet Union. Here, she was operated as FEDOR DOSTOEVSKIY until 1991, when ownership was moved into a separate line called Fredor Dostoevskiy Shipping Company.
Leaving Russian ownership in 1996, she was transferred to Astor Shipping Co., while Transocean Tours took on the role as the vessel’s operator. Renamed ASTOR, the liner operated for Transocean Tours until late 2013, when she was chartered by Cruise and Maritime Voyages who operate her today.