19 August 2018

Azamara Journey interiors, 17 August 2018

As some of you are perhaps aware, I have been a long-time admirer of the R-Class ships, eight of which were delivered between 1998 and 2001 to the long-defunct Renaissance Cruises. But shockingly, I had never been onboard one until Friday when, thanks to the fine people at the Finnish cruise retailer Risteilykeskus, I had a chance to go onboard the Azamara Journey when she was in Helsinki. So, now I invite all of you to go on a little journey through the Azamara Journey with me, complete with some thoughts on what the ships I have long waited to actually go onboard were actually like.

Azamara Journey

IMO 9200940
Name history: R Six, Blue Dream, Azamara Journey
Built 2000, Chantiers de l'Atlantique St. Nazaire, France
Tonnage 30 277 GT
Length 181,00 m
Width 25,46 m
Draugth 5,80 m
690 passengers (lower berths)
826 passengers (maximum)
4 Wärtsilä diesels, combined 13 500 kW
2 propellers
2 bow thrusters
Speed 18 knots

For a brief history of the ship, feel free to take a look at my earlier entry on it. And now to the tour:

Deck 11 has sun decks forward, around the radar mast. The outer deck areas aft, around the funnel, are not passenger accessible, somewhat to my surprise.

Deck 10 has The Living Room observation lounge and the Card Room forward, followed by open decks, then aft there's The Drawing Room (actually a library) and the two extra-cost dining options, Aqualina and Prime C.

The Living Room has nice forward views thanks to the location.
The decor isn't bad either. I like the fact that Azamara have not been afraid to use some colour, of wood, in their interiors, whereas many lines towards the luxury end tend to go with grey with grey on grey these days.
In the aft bit around the funnel, we first have The Drawing Room, a library with views overlooking the pool.
Which also retains a lot of the Titanic-inspired original decor of the ship (bear in mid that these ships arrived just after James Cameron's film had made the famous ship very hip again).
Touches of the Titanic can also be seen in the stairwells.
Next, we have the italian-style Aqualina speciality restaurant on the port side.
For some reason, the aftmost bit of Aqualina had entirely different kind of seats.
Mirroring Aqualina on the starboard side is the other extra-cost restaurant, Prime C, which served steaks and seafood.
In both restaurants the layout was slightly strange, feeling almost like a corridor with some tables put in. It maximises the outside views, but the overall effect was not as pleasant as it could, and maybe should, have been.
Deck 9 has the very traditional pool deck layout, with the spa and gym forward, followed by the pool and an al fresco restaurant amidships, and the buffet aft around the funnel casing. There is also another open-air bar right aft.

Forward, there is an extra-cost spa terrace...
...followed by The Sanctum Spa. Here is one of the treatment rooms.
If you're showing Finns a cruise ship, you'd better also show them the sauna. And be prepared for complaints if it isn't a proper (i.e. Finnish) one. This one was Turkish. Okay, this is a actually the dressing room, since I figured you're not interested in pictures of mist.
I wouldn't mind having a chance to just lay there on the deck chairs reading a book for a day or two to be honest.
The pool looked mighty inviting, too!
Sheltered sitting area on the port side. The grey is mighty strong with this one!
The Patio outdoors restaurant on the starboard side.
The buffet restaurant Windows Café is next aft. Here, the layout and table placements again gave a bit of a corridor-like feeling to me for some reason.
Aft, accessible only though the buffet, is the Sunset Bar.
Decks 8, 7 and 6 are all given exclusively over to cabins, and as the ship was fully booked we didn't get to see any, alas.

Deck 5 is another public room deck, with the Cabaret Lounge forward, Casino, Spirits sports bar and shops amidships, Mosaic Café at the atrium, and the Discoveries main dining room, with its own aperitive bar, aft.

The Cabaret Lounge is obviously not a full-blown theatre like you find on many larger ships...
...not that this would be nescessarily a bad thing.
More Titanic-esque edwardiana: the access corridor to the Cabaret Lounge.
Spirits sports bar. I didn't photograph the Casino - if you've seen one Las Vegasian cruise ship casino, you've seen all of them (the same also goes for the ones drawing from Monaco).
The Atrium takes the Titanic theme quite far. Mosaic Café in the background.
Discoveries Bar. As the ship operates open seating, this place obviously has the function of giving a nice place to wait for a table to free is you come in on a busy time.
Discoveries restaurant, with the captain's table on the right.
As a wee bit of criticism, I must say that "Discoveries" isn't the most original name for a restaurant. In this bit the decor is also quite boring luxury grey again.
Deck 4 is the lowest passenger-accessible deck, with guest relations, excursions, etc desks grouped around the lower level of the atrium.

The Atrium as seen from the lower level.
From the setting you'd think this is a nice café, but it's actually just the shore excursions desk and some nice seating.
Closing remarks

So, what was the long-awaited first encounter with the R-Class like? In some ways, it was exactly as I expected, especially the Titanic-inspired Edwardian details – though I must say I really like the way they've added contemporary decor around the edwardiana, which makes the ship look like it's doing its own thing, rather than being the pastiche I understand it originally was.

The thing that I didn't expect was how small the ship feels. Sure, it is small by today's cruise ship standards, but in terms of gross tonnage the Azamara Journey is just a tad smaller than, say, Viking Line's Gabriella. Yet the Gabriella, despite carrying four times the number of passengers, doesn't feel as small. The constricted dimentions of the stairwells, the layouts of some of the public spaces etc make the Azamara Journey feel smaller than she is. Maybe this was intended is order to give her a more intimate feel, but I can't help thinking the people who designed the original interior layout should maybe have consulted someone on how to make the spaces feel less constricted.

One thing that I also maybe found slightly disappointing was the nomenclature of the public rooms. A lot of the names came across as being very uninspired and run-of-the-mill: Discoveries, Journey Shop, The Sanctum, The Patio, Windows Café, Prime C... these are not adventurous, expressive names that would fit the destination-intensive product Azamara offers, they are just bland. And while I would like to love The Living Room as a name, Stena Line also use the exact same name for a lounge on their ships, so the association isn't the refined informality Azamara were looking for. Also, calling the library The Drawing Room is nearly as bad as Crystal Cruises calling a café The Bistro.

But the big question of course is, would I sail on the Azamara Journey? Yes. In fact, I'm quite eagerly awaiting the special offer Risteilykeskus promised me on cruises with Azamara...

11 August 2018

Star in Helsinki, 5 August 2018

To follow up on last week's entry on the Princess Anastasia against impressive storm clouds, this time we'll look at the Star. Kind of high time, too, as it's apparently been over three years since that ship was last featured here.


IMO 9364722
Built 2007, Aker Finnyards Helsinki, Finland
Tonnage 36 250 GT
Length 186,00 m
Width 27,70 m
Draugth 6,50 m
Ice class 1A
1 900 passengers
520 berths
450 cars
1 981 lanemeters
4 MaK diesels, combined 48 000 kW
2 propellers
2 bow thrusters
1 stern thruster
Speed 27,7 knots

It seems that the history of the Star has never been covered in this blog before, I guess it's high time we look at it. Not that there would have been too many events during the history of the ship to date.

The ship that eventually became the Star was contracted from Aker Finnyards in August 2008. During the research process for Innovation and Specialisation – The Story of Shipbuilding in Finland, I discovered that the final design of the Star had been preceeded by various different proposals by the shipyard for a Helsinki-Tallinn ferry, none of which had been considered satisfactory by Tallink. In the end, a design based on the SeaFrance Rodin was acceptable (in part perhaps because it was cheaper to build a near-sister to an existing ship). Originally, the contract included an option of a sister ship, but this was never taken up and instead, the Star would be paired with the Fincantieri-built Superstar.

Although designed by Aker Finnyards' Rauma yard, the Star was built at the company's Helsinki facility, which at the time specialised in building ferries. The ship was delivered in April 2007, approximately one week late due to problem with one of the engines. Once in service, the Star pretty much revolutionised the Helsinki-Tallinn route, being the first ship to combine a high service speed with the onboard amenities of a large ferry. Incidentally, the ship's interiors – designed by the Finnish company Aprocos and the Estonian architect Pille Lausmäe – attracted much positive comment. The same cannot be said for the lime-green livery, also the work of Aprocos (I think it's quite fetching, to be honest).

Since April 2007, the Star has remained on the Helsinki-Tallinn line, almost without incident. In December 2013, the internal ramp leading to the upper car deck collapsed while the ship was about to start unloading in Helsinki. In the end, the ship has to sail back to Tallinn, where the upper car deck could be emptied using the floating ramp left there from the days when Tallink's three Superfast ferries served the port.

In winter 2017, coinciding with the arrival of the Megastar, the Star was rebuilt for twin-level loading and unloading (provisions for which had been there from the start), with a small alteration to the ship's bow in the process. Rumour has it that the ship was due to be lengthened in 2018, to bring its capacities closer to the Megastar. If such plans ever existed, they were clearly abandoned in favour of contracting a sister ship to the Megastar, which Tallink announced as their intention earlier this summer. This intention also indicates that the Star's time in the Tallink fleet is running to a close – as Tallink have not other routes for which the ship would be suitable, the arrival of a Megastar sister will surely mean the older ship's sale out of the fleet.

Anyway, onwards to the photos! The show the Star arriving in Helsinki Länsisatama (West Harbour) on the evening of 5 August 2018. Photographed, unusually, from the submerged isthmus linking Sisä-Hattu to Vattuniemi – I was leaving the island after the departure of the Princess Anastasia, without realising the Star was incoming. As per the usual, click on the images to see them in larger size.

Sisä-Hattu in the foreground. Yes, I was standing in the sea when I took these. There was a convinient stone there that I could put my backpack and shoes on.
The lighting was somehow hugely challenging for my camera, giving widely different hues for the storm clouds in the background for different frames.
Apparently, the ideal way of turning when arriving at the new Länsiterminaali 2 was tested in a model tank to discover the ideal way.
Interestingly, the Star still hasn't been painted with the new-style Tallink logos, instead retaining the old italic font. If the ship is to be replaced soon, it might be the text is never updated.
Notice the little bit of white railing missing from the top of the bow compared to the earlier pictures of the Star here – this was removed to allow the twin-level loading mentioned in the text above.
Next time: Azamara Journey interiors, if all goes to plan.

05 August 2018

Princess Anastasia in Helsinki, 5 August 2018

Today, I unexpectedly had some free time to go out for ship photographing purposes, and as my object I chose the Marella Discovery, which I have never encountered but which was in Helsinki today. But, much to my surprise, by the time I reached Vattuniemi in Lauttasaari, dark clouds had gathered and there was even a spot of rain. As this summer has been the warmest and sunniest in recorded history, this was unexpected to say at least. Thanks to the clouds, the photos of the Marella Discovery turned out far less well than expected. But then something magical happened: the rain front with the dark clouds passed around me, and by the time the Princess Anastasia departed, the views were extremely dramatic, as you can see below.

Princess Anastasia

IMO 8414582
Name history: Olympia, Pride of Bilbao, Bilbao, SPL Princess Anastasia, Princess Anastasia
Built 1986, Wärtsilä Turku New Shipyard, Finland
Tonnage 37 583 GT
Length 176,82 m
Width 28,40 m
Draught 6,71 m
Ice class 1A Super
2 500 passengers
2 447 berths
580 cars
1 115 lane metres
4 Wärtsilä diesels, combined 22 988 kW
2 propellers
2 bow thrusters
Speed 22 knots

Since it's been a while since the history of the Princess Anastasia was covered here, and there have been further developments, I guess this is as good a time as any to look at it again.

The Princess Anastasia was originally built as the Olympia for Rederi AB Slite for use on Viking Line's Helsinki-Stockholm service. Somewhat unusually Rederi AB Slite had purchased the plans of their fellow Viking Line member SF Line's Helsinki-Stockholm newbuilding Mariella instead of opting for a design of their own. The Olympia was delivered in April 1986 and replaced Rederi Ab Sally's Viking Saga on the Helsinki-Stockholm route (the Viking Saga survives today in drastically rebuilt form as Celestyal Cruises' Celestyal Crystal). The Mariella and Olympia served together on the capital cities service for seven years.

The plan for Slite was for the Olympia to be replaced by the new Europa in 1993, and the Olympia was chartered to P&O Ferries in preparation for this (a charter to Euroway, a company funded by the same bank as Slite was also considered, but never happened). However, just days later Rederi AB Slite was declared bankrupt (see this entry on Silja Europa for details on the bankruptcy). In May 1993, the ship was renamed Pride of Bilbao and placed on P&O Ferries' Portsmouth-Bilbao and Portmouth-Cherbourg services. Later during the year the ship was sold to Irish Ferries, who continued chartering her to P&O.

Pride of Bilbao remained on the Portsmouth-Bilbao -route until 2010, when P&O Ferries closed the service down. In September 2010 she was laid up at Falmouth and subsequently her name was shortened to Bilbao. In December of the same year she was then taken over by St. Peter Line on a sale/charter agreement. Between January and March 2011 the ship was rebuilt at Klaipeda and renamed SPL Princess Anastasia. Entering service with St. Peter Line in March 2011, the SPL Princess Anastasia was initially used on St. Petersburg-Stockholm and St. Petersburg-Stockholm-Tallinn-St. Petersburg -routes, but these were later altered to four-night St. Petersburg-Helsinki-Stockholm-Tallinn-St. Petersburg cruises.

St. Peter Line's services were not a tremendous long-run success, and in 2016 St. Peter Line begun a cooperation with Moby Lines. Moby took over both of the company's ships, with the Princess Maria tranferred to Moby's own route network, while the SPL Princess Anastasia stayed on the Baltic, but now under the Italian flag and her name changed to Princess Anastasia, without the unseemly prefix. Painted with a new, unusual combined Moby/SPL livery during a lengthy refit, the Princess Anastasia re-entered service in spring 2017, now sailing for Moby SPL, a joint venture between Moby and SPL, with both owning 50% of the company. The ship now has a somewhat complex weekly itinerary, combining the four-night cruises it did before with the two-night Helsinki-St. Petersburg cruises previously operated by the Princess Maria.

The photographs below show the Princess Anastasia departing Helsinki Länsisatama (West Harbour) on the evening of 5 August 2018. Photographed from Sisä-Hattu. As per the usual, click on the images to see them in larger size.

Big cloud, small ship.
A more close-up view, showing the livery with a Russian landscape of sorts. The other side has Moby markings and an Italian landscape in similar style.
Passing Pihlajasaari has never looked so dramatic.
The should repaint the back of the funnel. Maybe black, so they wouldn't need to repaint it again.
Although it doesn't look it from the photo, the weather was more than warm enough for SUP-boarding.
Next time: Unless I have a chance to go out for newer photos, the Star, photographed some minutes after the Princess Anastasia.