The Best Ship of 2013 – Other Cruise News: Changes In Expedition Ship Operations – 100 Years Ago: The Alsatian

by Kevin Griffin

The year 2013 has seen the arrival of the best new ship to join the world cruise fleet in some time, one that immediately achieved the top score in the Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships. This week we therefore bring you a brief photo essay of the Europa 2, taken on one of this year’s pre-inaugural cruises from Southampton. Elsewhere, we look at recent changes in the world of expedition cruising and we have a historical look at the introduction of the Allan Line’s turbine-powered cruiser-stern Alsatian one hundred years ago next month.


The Best Ship of 2013

While the media, cruise lines, Congress and cruise web sites in North America all distract themselves with issues of safety, regulation and bad publicity, let’s have a look at the best cruise ship to have been introduced in 2013.

Beyond a doubt, the top prize-winner is Hapag-Lloyd Cruises new Europa 2, completed by STX France at St Nazaire and introduced in May this year. In order to give readers an idea of what this ship is like on board, from a purely visual point of view, here is a small photo essay showing some of her public areas:

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises new Europa 2: a small photo essay showing some of her public areas

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises new Europa 2: a small photo essay showing some of her public areas



Changes In Expedition Ships And Small Ships

The last year or two has seen changes in the operation of the 111-berth Sea Explorer and 114-berth Sea Spirit, both members of the fleet of the Danish-owned Clipper Cruises. Expedition ships managed by International Shipping Partners of Miami, these wonderful little all-suite vessels comprise two of a set of four sister ships that were built in Italy for Renaissance Cruises in the early 1990s.

The Corinthian II for Travel Dynamics International is currently the Sea Explorer

The Corinthian II for Travel Dynamics International is currently the Sea Explorer

Although various changes have been made to all four over the years, the other two sisters now operate for Noble Caledonia as the Island Sky and Caledonian Sky (ex-Hebridean Spirit).

The Sea Explorer, which previously operated as the Corinthian II for Travel Dynamics International, is now operating Antarctic cruises under the auspices of US-based Polar Latitudes (operated by former executives of Quark Expeditions) and Russian-based Poseidon Expeditions (best known for its cruises to the North Pole in Russian nuclear icebreakers). Polar Latitudes and Poseidon Expeditions share the ship in the Antarctic, each having its own allocations and departures. In the summertime, she operates for Quark in the Arctic

For Polar Latitudes, the Sea Explorer replaces the 68-berth Ocean Nova, which is now operating for Antarctica XXI. At the moment, Sea Explorer is operating a series of Antarctica departures from Ushuaia, where she had previously spent nine years operating for Travel Dynamics as Corinthian II.

The Corinthian II in turn has been replaced at Travel Dynamics by the Corinthian (no numerals), a ship that had previously operated as the Orion II for Orion Expeditions and before that as the Clelia II for Travel Dynamics. The Corinthian is one of a second set of four Italian-built ex-Renaissance ships, two of which are now private yachts.

Clelia II for Travel Dynamics. Later Orion II and Corinthian

Sea Explorer’s sister ship Sea Spirit was operated for several years by the now-defunct Cruise West as Spirit of Oceanus, but has operated in recent years for Quark Expeditions. From May 2015, however, she will be operated by Poseidon Expeditions.

After delivery in May 2015, Sea Spirit will sail from Portsmouth and/or Amsterdam (IJmuiden) via Scotland, the Shetlands, Orkney and the Faroes to Iceland. Once in Iceland she will then circumnavigate that island, and this will be followed by a voyage to Svalbard. Two voyages will follow around Svalbard and then three from Svalbard to Franz Josef Land.

After these three first-time voyages, she will undertake one more Svalbard departure and then return via East Greenland and Iceland back south to Antarctica, where she will start a new season in November 2015.

100 Years Ago: The Alsatian

Over the next year we have some interesting centenary celebrations coming up. In 1914, continuing along the lines of its own 31,550-ton Lusitania and 31,938-ton Mauretania (1907), White Star Line’s 46,358-ton Olympic (1911) and Hamburg-America Line’s 52,117-ton Imperator (1913) Cunard Line introduced the 45,647-ton Aquitania. And in the same month, Hamburg-America Line introduced its 54,282-ton Vaterland, a ship that would later become United States Lines’ Leviathan. We will come back to those significant ships of a century ago later in 2014.

Allan Line's The Alsatian

Allan Line’s The Alsatian

Meanwhile, further north, in January 1914, Glasgow’s Allan Line, a very innovative company that was among the first to stretch many of its passenger liners by adding new midsections in the 19th Century, was preparing to introduce two new trend-setting ships to the North Atlantic in 1914. The first of these, the 18,481-ton Alsatian, was built by William Beardmore & Sons in Glasgow, while the 17,515-ton Calgarian was completed by the Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd of nearby Govan.

Ordered as quadruple-screw turbine-propelled vessels, these ships had advanced turbine propulsion for their time and were the first on the North Atlantic to be equipped with the new warship-like cruiser stern instead of the traditional counter stern. With a capacity for 1,750, of whom 250 travelled in first class, 500 in second and 1,000 in third, they were the largest liners yet built for the Canadian route between Liverpool, Quebec and Montreal, with winter service to Halifax and Saint John when the St Lawrence was closed by ice.

An Allan Line publicity piece described the ships while they were being built: “The fittings of the general rooms, which occupy the entire structure on A Deck, harmoniously blend luxury and comfort, the decorations being entrusted to firms whose names are world-famous. The public rooms comprise the Lounge, Library and Reading Room, the Card Room, and the Smoke Room. On the Upper Promenade Deck there is a Cafe, Smoke Room and Gymnasium. The promenade decks – which constitute a special feature of the ships – are of great length and spaciousness, with extensive closed-in Promenade for recreation in all kinds of weather.”

The Alsatian departed Liverpool on her maiden voyage on January 17, 1914, for Halifax and Saint John, while the Calgarian would follow on May 22 to Quebec. But their initial service to Canada was but brief.

That summer, with the onset of the Great War, both ships were requisitioned by the Royal Navy for use as armed merchant cruisers. Regrettably, the Calgarian was sunk by a U-Boat off the cost of Northern Ireland on March 1, 1918. This ship had been at the scene of the Halifax Explosion on December 6, 1917, when her crew had assisted in the rescue and medical relief after the French ship Mont Blanc, loaded with explosives, and the Norwegian ship Imo were in collision in the harbour there. More than 2,000 people died in the resulting explosion.

During the conflict, the Allan Line was taken over by Canadian Pacific and in 1919 the Alsatian was rebuilt as an Atlantic Empress, taking on the new name of Empress of France. Her maiden voyage as an Empress left Liverpool on September 26, 1919, for Quebec. In 1923, she became one of four ships to circumnavigate the world from New York, following Cunard Line’s 19,695-ton Laconia by only a few weeks. The Empress of France made a number of world cruises in the 1920s, as did her fleetmate, the 24,581-ton Empress of Scotland.

In May 1922, the Empress of France became one of the first Canadian Pacific ships to serve Southampton, when her route was changed from Liverpool to sail between Southampton and Quebec via Cherbourg, to which the port of Hamburg was soon added, before Southampton.

Empress of France in Vancouver - Photograph by Walter E. Frost

Empress of France in Vancouver – Photograph by Walter E. Frost

As well as seeing the Pacific on her world cruises, the Empress of France spent a year in the Trans-Pacific trade when in October 1928, she sailed from Southampton for Suez, Hong Kong and Vancouver. There, she substituted for the 1922-built 21,517-ton Empress of Canada, first of the name, which was sent to Fairfield’s to be re-engined for more speed. The Empress of France sailed Trans-Pacific until October 1929, when she left Hong Kong again for Liverpool.

In September 1931, Empress of France made her final voyage from Southampton to Cherbourg and Quebec.  Having been displaced by the new 42,348-ton Empress of Britain, she was laid up in the Clyde and finally scrapped at Dalmuir three years later. In all, the first Empress of France had a career that spanned twenty years, which in addition to her war service included ninety-nine Trans-Atlantic voyages, five Trans-Pacific voyages, and eight cruises.

(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)

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