I am returning with what I consider a public service announcement for all U.S.-based ocean liner enthusiasts. Starting in December of this year, U.K.-based Cruise and Maritime Voyages will be offering a unique opportunity to sail aboard the historic, 16,144-gt, 550-guest MV ASTORIA with a series of eleven night cruises to the Sea of Cortez and Mexican Riviera from Puerto Peñasco, which is a 3.6 hour coach transfer from Phoenix and Tuscon.
The ASTORIA, of course, was originally built in 1948 as Swedish American Line’s STOCKHOLM. The modest combi-liner became a household name when she collided with and sank the crack Italian liner ANDREA DORIA off Nantucket in July of 1956. STOCKHOLM continued in service for Swedish American Lines until 1960, when she was sold to the East German Government, who renamed her VOLKERFREUNDSCHAFT for cruising duties behind the Iron Curtain. In 1985, she was laid up until ultimately being rebuilt in Genoa in 1993 as Nina Cruises ITALIA PRIMA. In the process, she was scrapped to the hull and completely rebuilt with a new power plant and entirely new public areas and accommodations. In the intervening years, she has sailed as VALTUR PRIMA, CARIBE, ATHENA and AZORES before becoming ASTORIA in 2015.
Currently owned by Portuguese banking interests, the ship enjoys annual charters to U.K.-based Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV), for cruises in European waters. Several years ago, CMV announced that they would end their charter of the ASTORIA, to much hue and cry from the ship’s loyal following. Thankfully, CMV reconsidered and continues to operate this beautifully designed and maintained ship but with the company acquiring new tonnage, one can only wonder how much longer the ASTORIA will continue to fit with the other, much larger members of the CMV fleet.
Even in her rebuilt state, the ASTORIA is a magically traditional cruise ship. Her public rooms are well laid out and handsomely decorated (by Studio de Jorio of Milan).
ASTORIA has wonderful outdoor deck areas, including a full wrap-around promenade, large sections of which have changed little from her STOCKHOLM days.
ASTORIA boasts ample staterooms, mostly ocean views and all with a full bath.
The Sea of Cortez is a fascinating place with small ports and protected marine habits. In many respects, it resembles the Aegean Sea with its piercing blue waters and rugged landscapes that are not unlike the Cyclades Islands.
In addition to the less traveled ports in the Sea of Cortez, ASTORIA will also call at Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas.
Cruises start and end in Puerto Penasco, a resort town at the far northern end of the Sea of Cortez that is a 3.6 hour coach ride from Phoenix.
To have this historic ship operating within such a close range of the U.S. presents a unique opportunity for ship enthusiasts and people who enjoy cruises on intimately sized, traditional ships. This is not a cruise for those seeking mega ships with crazy distractions, multiple dining venues, casinos, water parks and 4,000 fellow guests.
Cruising on ASTORIA is an informal experience with a great value for the money. With fares being offered at $145 per person per day that include port taxes, gratuities and beer and wine with lunch and dinner, this is an unbeatable opportunity. Of course, this is not Seabourn or Silversea, so expectations should be tempered accordingly. For any reasonable cruiser who fondly remembers sailing in ships like the REGAL EMPRESS, DISCOVERY or even the SEABREEZE, a cruise on the ASTORIA may well be the last chance to enjoy such an experience.
I plan to join the January 9 cruise and if there is interest, will offer a presentation or two about the STOCKHOLM’s long, varied career and perhaps some other topics like Alang and the great Italian liners.
For more information, please contact your travel agent or CMV at www.cruiseandmaritime.com (MaritimeMatters) or 1-855-206-4897.
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."