LOUIS AURA 3rd August 2014
Several months ago a few friends planned to sail on this little liner and I was happy to join them, for a second trip on the ship. The four night cruise was to sail out of Limassol in Cyprus, so it was a long flight of over four hours from the United Kingdom to reach our embarkation port.
Saturday 2nd August 2014
I caught an afternoon flight from the UK to Paphos in Cyprus, and immediately had to set my watch forward two hours to local time. By then it was dark and I was glad to be met by a pre-arranged local taxi driver to go straight to my hotel in Limassol. The air-conditioned taxi was a great relief after the tremendous heat outside. When I arrived at the hotel, it was very disappointing to discover that my friends’ rooms at the hotel had been over-booked and they had been moved to another establishment, some distance away. This was not the welcome and meeting that we were hoping to enjoy!
Sunday 3rd August 2014
Solitary breakfast was pleasant in the air-conditioned breakfast room beside a huge swimming pool. The shade cast by trees and shrubs outside was delightful, and all the smokers seemed to enjoy sitting at the tables there. I could see a Bar beside the pool and a tennis court beyond that. My friends were due to meet me here and I was soon re-packed and ready to head for the sea side with them.
We simply had to walk down the road to reach the glittering sunlit sea and wait for the sight of the LOUIS AURA as she sailed around the distant headland, heading for the port of Limassol. We found a comfortable café right on the water’s edge and happily spent some time there drinking coffee and later having a light lunch before we could head for the new cruise terminal. That was more like the cheerful start to this little trip we wanted!
Check in was easy and we were hardly aware that we were three of the 800 or so anticipated passengers coming on board in mid-afternoon. The first thing I noticed about the ship’s hull was the LOUIS CRUISES logo, along with a red and blue stripe next to it.
On board, my cabin this time is 5111 on Poseidon Deck, a twin berth inside for single use, and with a welcoming plate of fruit on the dressing table.
I first visited the ship as ORIENT QUEEN in Piraeus in July 2007 after she had been acquired by Abou Merhi Cruises and chartered to Louis Cruises, still as ORIENT QUEEN, and I can still recall my surprise at seeing her distinctive styling with the Venus Bar levels 1 and 2 up on Panoramic Deck.
I remember from my last trip on 14th September 2013 on LOUIS AURA that she had been built as STARWARD in 1968 in Bremerhaven for cruising for Norwegian Caribbean Cruise Line; in 1995 she was sold to Festival Cruises and became BOLERO. With the collapse of Festival in 2004 she was laid up before being bought by Abou Merhi Cruises in 2005 and renamed ORIENT QUEEN to sail to ports including Beirut, but that was abandoned and AMC chartered her to Louis Cruises; in fact she sailed again to Beirut under charter to rescue stranded Americans.
My diary back then in September 2013 noted that Louis Cruises had just renamed the ship as LOUIS AURA in keeping with Greek mythology and as their company had become the foremost Ambassador of Hellenic Cruising. I also noted that the ship had a charter to South America over the winter and imagined that this new name of LOUIS AURA would continue to promote the company’s image.
Since then the ship had been chartered by French company Rivages du Monde in Spring 2014, which ran several cruises for passengers from Marseilles, and visited many Baltic ports including Oslo, Copenhagen and St. Petersburg. A maritime journalist friend in Denmark was so delighted to see and visit the ship in Denmark that he wrote a piece about her, and used one of my photographs taken in Patmos, Greece, as an illustration to accompany the article.
Now she is back in Aegean waters and has been sailing out of Limassol from 22nd July on short cruises. Her tonnage is 15,781, with 364 passenger cabins with an 895 maximum passenger capacity, with eight passenger decks, so I was pleased to be on board her again.
Lifeboat drill was held and then we prepared to sail. We headed out of Limassol port aided by tug PRINIAS, passing AIDALUNA,
and then we saw an unexpected sight rushing towards us: it was a dark-hulled vessel now called DP GEZINA, but which we had last seen in Rotterdam in January (see NORWEGIAN GETAWAY January 2014). I remembered I had first seen and sailed on her in 2008 between Helsingor and Helsinborg in Denmark, when she was called SIMARA ACE.
Dinner was to be served in the Mermaid Restaurant between 7 and 9 p.m. so after a refreshing drink we were about to go to the Restaurant when an announcement was made. It seems that so many people had decided to go in for a meal at 7 p.m. that there was no more room and everyone else was requested to wait until 8.30 p.m. That was a bit of a surprise, as that meant waiting about an hour, but we did so and discovered that rather unappealing buffet food was all that was now available and laid out for us to collect. That was such a disappointment, as I had really enjoyed the food on my last trip on this ship, and had praised it to such an extent that my companions were really looking forward to their first meal.
We had all bought the drinks package so that rather came into use for the rest of the evening, and we were entertained by a band playing under the Venus Deck bar. It was very pleasant sitting in deck chairs under a dark sky, feeling comfortably warm as we sailed along.
Tomorrow we are due in Rhodes so we are all looking forward to that.
Ships seen: Aidaluna, Louis Aura, catamaran Sea Grace, tug Prinias, DP Gezina (ex Simara Ace)
To be continued....