Is The Classic Cruise Ship Era Approaching Its Swansong?

With reports this week regarding the former Saga Ruby (now called Oasia) being sold to Indian shipbreakers, is the time for classic cruise ships of her ilk to be entering their swansongs too?

Saga Ruby departing Southampton in 2013. Image: Cruisemarsh.
Saga Ruby departing Southampton in 2013. Image: Cruisemarsh.

It may seem enivitable that with the evolution of modern day cruising, the need and demand for older, more classic cruise ships will have waned.  With demographics of cruising changing, there is a steady amount of younger passengers cruising for the first time and with that, their demands and needs have changed say from an older generation.

Yet, amongst all the large behemoths, there are still a few classic gems to be found cruising the seas. In particular, Astoria for Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) Originally built in 1948 for Swedish America Line (SAL) for Transatlantic service, she was named Stockholm.  Her most infamous moment came on the evening of 25th July 1956. In heavy fog, she collided with the Italian liner, Andrea Doria and completed crumpled her bows. Andrea Doria was however not so lucky and she sank with the loss of 51 people out of 1660. Since the infamous incident, Stockholm has been rebuilt and has passed through several owners. However after being purchased by Italian interests in the late 1980’s, she was completely rebuilt as a functioning cruise ship. She has operated for different cruise lines since then including, Festival Cruises as Caribe and Classic International Cruises as Athena.  In 2014 she was purchased by Portuguese Cruise Line, Portucscale and renmaed Azores. 2015 saw Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) charter the ship. After intially sailing as Azores, she was then re-named Astoria and was  then sub-charted to French firm, Rivages Du Monde but she is now currently back in the Cruise and Martime Voyages roster for this year and next. CMV have recently made a u-turn on the future of the ship, extending her season with them until 2018 after initially making 2017 her final season with company.

Azores (now Astoria) in Dublin, August 2015. Image: Cruisemarsh.


Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) also have another gem in their fleet and that’s the venerable Marco Polo. Orginally constructed for the Soviet Union as the Aleksandr Pushkin in 1965 for the Baltic Shipping Company.  She was then sold to Orient Lines in 1991 and after an extenisve refurbishment, which included reconditioning of engines and structural changes both exterior and interior, she emerged as Marco Polo.  After being purchased by Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) in 2000, Marco Polo had a fleetmate in the shape of Crown Odyssey  (now Fred Olsen’s Balmoral) but the two ship operation was short lived and in 2003, Crown Odyssey left the fleet and re-joined NCL as Norwegian Crown.  Marco Polo was then sold by Norwegian Cruise Line in 2007 and Orient Lines ceased to operate with no ships. Transocean of Germany chartered Marco Polo and she would sail with them until 2010 when it was announced her current operators (CMV) would be chartering the ship.  She still currently is very popular and the schedule for next year, 2018/19 firmly has her in there too.

Marco Polo in Hull, May 2016. Image: Cruisemarsh
Marco Polo in Hull, May 2016. Image: Cruisemarsh




Another success story could be Boudicca and Black Watch for Fred Olsen Cruise Lines. Built in the early 1970s for Royal Viking Cruises, they were orginally built for long distance cruises. With their sleek profiles and QE2-esq funnels, they are now considered a dying breed within the cruise industry. They have another sister, Albatros which sails for Phoenix Reisen, a German cruise company.  Whilst all three ships have had long careers and with different owners, their appeal to passengers doesn’t seem to waning at all. All three ships have undergone expensive refits and significant upgrades in order for their short to medium term future is secure with their cruise lines. For Fred Olsen, to have the two sister ships is something of a jewel in the crown for them. At just under the 30,000grt ton mark and carrying around 900 passengers, they are an ideal size for a company that prides themselves on cruising to destinations where the larger ships can’t venture to.

Black Watch in Southampton, January 2016. Image: Cruisemarsh
Black Watch in Southampton, January 2016. Image: Cruisemars


To conter-balance the success stories, there has been some recent failure stories too. For instance. the 1961 built Funchal of Portuscale Cruises is now laid up in Lisbon alongside her fleet mate, Porto after the collapse of the cruise line. Both ships have had long careers and again both have been under numerous ownerships. Portuscale had completed an ambitious refurbishement of their four ship fleet in 2013, included Funchal whom shone like a new penny when completed.   Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any interested buyers in both ships and they now languish,  only what appears to be marking time, waiting for the inevitable to happen.

Porto (inside) and Funchal (outside) laid up in Lisbon, November 2016. Image: Cruisemarsh
Porto (inside) and Funchal (outside) laid up in Lisbon, November 2016. Image: Cruisemarsh


Perhaps the most famous of all the classic liners to have had an uncertain future recently has been that of the former Cunard flagship, Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) in Dubai. With all the pomp and ceremony of her departing Southampton in November 2008, she has since been sitting there and what to many assume is gathering dust.  Her current owners, Istithmar, in turned owned by Dubai World,  would appear are still committed to turning the ship into a floating hotel, museum and conference centre. Her initial stay in Dubai saw her drydocked and repainted and in a state of ‘warm-lay up’ with her engines being turned over. However, things have changed since then and with different people looking after the ship and according to The QE2 Story  the ship was taken control by Dubai Dry Docks World and in January 2013 she was briefly dry docked again. There was plans to send QE2 to the Far East as a a floating hotel but these plans have long since folded. 2016 though saw things begin to stir on QE2, with the crew cleaning down the outside of the ship and rightly or wrongly, the ships lifeboats and davits were removed. There does seem to be activity happening but nothing has been announced from her owners again about the future of the ship.  So again, a waiting game.



QE2 in Dubai. December 2015: Image: Jordan Bailey
QE2 in Dubai,  December 2015: Image: Jordan Bailey


For some, the idea of a cruise on a classic ship is a romantic one. It reminds them of what cruising used to be like in the past. Not everyone wants to travel on an all singing, all dancing, brand new cruise ship.  For those that weren’t as keen on the sea, classic cruise ships and liners represented more stablitiy and percieved sea-worthiness. Whilst the new ships are completely safe and comfortable, sailing on a classic ship such as Marco Polo maybe more comfortable in heavy seas as that’s what she was designed for. New cruise ships are designed very much differently from the classic ships of the past and to many are buiilt as ‘floating resorts’ and not as ‘proper ships’. Nonetheless, they provide more activities and accomodation choices than the older ships and are more likely to attract a more diverse market and age group.  In an ever changing world, choice is important for the traveller and with modern cruising continuing to grow, more ships are being built which means far greater choice for passengers and thus meaning the days of the older ships are numbered.

With classic ships offering and conveying an air of history and prestige, a drawback is that they are falling foul to the updated Safety Of lives At Sea (SOLAS) regulations which require certain specifications to be met if they are to continue sailing. For some cruise lines and ships, this is far too expensive for them to rectify and thus are almost forced to sell the ships either to other cruise lines or to the scrapyards.  Fuel efficiency and awareness for the environment is another factor against classic ships and with more and more cruise lines looking to more environmentally friendly ways to fuel their ships, i.e Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), the chances of classic ships having a long term future becomes more and more bleak as the cost of upgrading their engines and propulsion systems to tackle emissions skyrocket.

Whilst in an ideal world, there should be a mix of both classic and modern ships, the reality of it is that this will soon become a thing of the past. The evolution of the cruise ship will win at the end of the day , so whilst we have the classic ships such as Astoria and Marco Polo, it’s best to enjoy them for as long as possible as it looks increasingly likely that they are entering what would be classified as their ‘final swansong’.


Source for QE2: The QE2 Story

QE2 Image: Jordan Bailey.



  1. No mention of the former Vistafjord, later called Cardona. Is she still around? A great ship in her day.


    1. We did mention her at the beginning of the article. She is currently Oasia and is in the Far East. There are reports she has been sold for Scrap to Indian shipbreakers.


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