Empress of Canada
Star of Texas/Lucky Star/Apollon
1961 - 2003
great merchant fleets suffered heavy losses during World War II. In the
six years of the conflict, mines, torpedoes and bombs had destroyed thousands
of ships. The largest allied loss during the war was the sinking of Canadian
Pacific’s 42,348-ton Empress of Britain in 1940, while she was serving
as a troop transport.
the Armistice in 1945, the shipping lines could start looking into the
task of rebuilding their fleets. But it wasn’t that easy. The war had brought
on a shortage of raw material, not to mention labour. It would take time
and great efforts to heal the economy of the badly crippled Europe. But
through the aid of the Marshall-plan, European finances had nearly recuperated
by the mid-1950s, and things were finally looking brighter again.
Pacific Railway Co. was one of the shipping lines that now set out to refresh
their fleet with new ships. In 1956, their new Empress of Britain
entered service on the Canadian run – she was the company’s first newbuild
since 1931! The following year,
in 1957, she was followed by
a sister ship – the Empress of England. With these two 25,000-tonners,
Canadian Pacific had a splendid pair of ships operating on the Liverpool-Quebec-Montreal
|The Empress of Canada
sporting her original Canadian Pacific livery.
of the two new Empresses opted for a third ship of similar size
and style to be built. Ordered from the shipbuilding firm of Vickers-Armstrong
of Newcastle, yard no. 171 was launched on May 10th, 1960. Mrs.
Diefenbaker, the wife of Canada’s Prime Minister, had been selected to
christen the new liner. The name chosen was Empress of Canada. It
was the third time in the company’s history that a ship was given that
the ship had been fitted out, she was soon ready to enter service for her
owners. On March 7th 1961, she set out on her sea trials. She
performed satisfactory, and was handed over to Canadian Pacific on March
29th. A little less than a month later, on April 24th
1961, the Empress of Canada set out on her maiden voyage from Liverpool
to Montreal, thereby joining her slightly older running mates Empress
of Britain and Empress of England on the Canadian run.
of Canada’s stylish looks and amenities quickly earned her a very good
reputation among the travelling public. As her two running mates, she was
a very modern ship and was fitted with stabilisers and complete air-conditioning.
Being the newest ship though, she was distinguished by her bulbous bow
and more streamlined superstructure. For the greater part of the year,
she and her consorts served on the Liverpool-Montreal run, using the 1,000-mile
route along the St. Lawrence River to reach her turnaround port. With the
St. Lawrence being a hazardous waterway, the new Empresses were
able to answer the helm at only five knots. During the winters, the ships
either terminated their sailings at Saint John, or sent off on Caribbean
cruises out of New York.
world was rapidly changing, and there was exception for the ocean liners
of the world. Ever since the Second World War, military advances in flight
had been adopted for commercial purposes and by now the aeroplane was rapidly
changing the concept of travel. Passengers could now cross the Atlantic
on a plane with a speed of 500 knots, instead of sailing across at less
than a tenth of that speed. Although many were reluctant to travel by air
at first and stayed with the comforts and safety of ships, the aeroplane
had soon gained a great popularity. As a consequence, the shipping companies
would have to find new duties for their ships.
the 1960s, the passenger shipping across the North Atlantic
was steadily losing clientele to the air traffic. The Empresses were
spending more and more time doing cruises instead of crossings, and the
situation was not improved when the Boeing 707 was introduced in 1964.
Canadian Pacific announced that they would reduce their involvement in
the North Atlantic competition, and the Empress of Britain was sold
late that year to become the Greek Queen Anna Maria.
Pacific was a going through many changes, and this was reflected in 1968
when they adopted new company colours.
The deep-sea fleet was given
green funnels with a white semi-circle, with an incut dark green triangle.
The pattern was meant to represent the letter ‘C’. The new colour scheme
was not well received by the public – traditionalists said it was ‘too
modern’ – but it soon became recognised as a very fine livery.
|A wonderful aerial view
of Carnival Cruise Lines' very first ship, the Mardi Gras.
the Empress of Canada became the last Canadian Pacific ocean liner
in service, when the Empress of England was sold to Shaw, Savill
& Albion and renamed Ocean Monarch. Being the sole liner of
the company, Empress of Canada only did 13 summer crossings per
year – the rest of the time she spent cruising.
Pacific could not retain its business much longer, and on November 23rd
1971 the Empress of Canada arrived at Liverpool at the end of her
last voyage for the company. With that, the North Atlantic service of Canadian
Pacific ceased after 68 years. The Empress of Canada was put up for sale.
there were still people who saw great potential in the Empress.
In January 1972 she was sold to Ted Arison’s newly founded Carnival Cruise
Lines Inc. to become their first ship. Renamed Mardi Gras, the ship
was refitted for her new purposes. Externally, she retained her beautiful
profile, with the exception of the removal of some of her cargo cranes
– those would not be needed in her new role as a full-time cruise ship.
Her funnel was repainted, but it still kept much of its looks. Carnival
decided to create their funnel livery with the old Canadian Pacific pattern
as a base. The funnel was painted red, but the white semi-circle was kept
on. The incut triangle was replaced with a blue incut semi-circle, thereby
keeping – but slightly altering – the ‘letter C’-look.
the ship did not have a very auspicious start with her new owners. On her
maiden voyage, she ran aground. Although she managed to come off undamaged,
there was still trouble ahead. During the first one and a half years, Carnival
recorded a loss of about $8,000,000. The Mardi Gras had been marketed
as "The Flagship of the Golden Fleet". Critics meant that it was not at
all golden, and that there was no fleet – Mardi Gras was an only
tide was about to change. In 1973, Carnival progressively introduced the
‘Fun Ship’ concept. $10,000,000 was spent over eighteen months on converting
the Mardi Gras. But, in order to keep business rolling, the ship
was kept in service while the work was being done. During the voyages,
those areas that were being rebuilt were closed off to the passengers,
and this resulted in the ship
being able to carry only 60%
of her usual capacity.
|The Carousel Lounge on
board the Mardi Gras.
the ship went through a complete facelift. She was given vivid colours
and bright lights, and several discos and casinos were added. Carnival
now offered some of the cheapest cruises available in the Caribbean, and
the indicators were soon pointing upwards. In 1974, the Mardi Gras was
being marketed nation-wide in the US and Canada, and she was quickly becoming
a very popular ship, often sailing with a full compliment of passengers.
By the mid-1970s, Carnival was enjoying immense success, and
they were soon looking for a second ship to expand their fleet. In December
of 1975, Carnival purchased the Queen Anna Maria (ex-Empress
of Britain) and renamed her Carnivale. Through this quirk of
fate, the two former Empresses were again serving the same company.
The duo was transformed into a trio in 1977, when the S.A. Vaal
– originally Union-Castle’s Transvaal Castle – was bought and restyled
as the Festivale.
this original trio of ships, Carnival now had its ‘Golden Fleet’. The company
was making big money, and they soon announced the construction of their
very first newbuild – the Tropicale. She entered service in 1982,
and was followed by three successive ships - the Holiday in 1985,
the Jubilee in 1986 and the Celebration in 1987. Carnival’s
fleet, as well as its might, was growing at a steady pace. But the three
original ships were still a very important part of the fleet, and they
were thus kept at very high standards. In the 1980s, Mardi
Gras went through two overhauls during which the ship was modernised
and had more cabins added. The company had soon gained the well-earned
reputation of always keeping their ships spotless.
as the cruise marked continued to grow, so did Carnival Cruise Lines. In
1990, the new 70,000-ton Fantasy entered service. Carnival had by
now established themselves as the largest cruising company in the world,
and their financial situation now gave them the opportunity to seriously
upgrade their fleet. Astonishingly, the Fantasy would become the
first ship of a total eight to be built from the same basic design. These
state-of-the art cruise ships made the original trio Mardi Gras,
Carnivale and Festivale obsolete, and it was clear that they
would soon leave the company.
fall of 1993, the Mardi Gras was transferred to the Greek operator
Epirotiki Lines, after a proposed merger between Carnival and Epirotiki
had failed to materialise. However, the future duties for the Mardi
Gras were unclear. It was proposed that she was to be renamed Olympic,
but as Epirotiki was already operating another ship with that name, some
suggested that she should be given the name Homeric instead. As
it was, neither of these names was used. Instead, the ship was soon chartered
to Galveston-based Gold Star Cruises. With this company, she was renamed
Star of Texas and was employed doing short gambling cruises in the
Mexican Gulf. But the venture was unsuccessful, and the company folded
within a matter of months. The ship was then re-deployed to Miami, and
continued doing gambling cruises, although marketed as Lucky Star.
But the bad luck continued and also this stint became a
very short one, lasting only
a few weeks.
the one-time Empress of Canada today sports the funnel colours of
Royal Olympic Cruises. (Photograph courtesy of Aleksi Lindström)
creditors, the ship first fled to Freeport and was then sent to Eleusis
to be laid up in Greek waters. What now awaited her were a few years in
uncertain limbo. The ship was still under Epirotiki ownership, but they
did not see much interest in operating her. Then, late in 1995, Epirotiki
merged with Sun Lines to form the new company Royal Olympic Cruises. However,
the former Empress remained laid up, and was soon very run down.
Rumours at the time said that the ship would re-enter service as either
Homeric or Olympic 2004, but any such plans fell through.
During the lay-up, her name was instead changed to Apollon.
in late 1997, things started to look a lot brighter. Apollon was
moved to Piraeus to be refurbished in order to meet the latest SOLAS (Safety
of Life at Sea) requirements. Much of her original traditional British
fittings, such as rich wood panelling and brass, were still intact and
Royal Olympic were careful not to spoil this atmosphere when they refurbished
Apollon returned to service, she was chartered to the company Direct
Cruises, based in the United Kingdom, for the 1999 season. Here she was
employed doing UK cruises, and with that she now returned to her native
waters almost 40 years after her birth. This meant a welcome reunion
for many British ship enthusiasts, however it would not last very long. Although Direct Cruises was
doing very well on the British Market at the time, the company was soon
acquired by the financially stronger competitor Airtours. They initially
announced that Direct Cruises would continue operating separately, but this never happened
and the charter of Apollon that was to have included the 2000 season was
cancelled and the ship went back to her owners.
Royal Olympic still
did not have any interest in operating the Apollon within their own fleet,
and she was therefore sent back to Piraeus to be laid up again. Surprisingly though,
Royal Olympic Cruises’ catalogue for the 2001 season included the Apollon,
as she was employed doing short 3-4 day cruises out of Piraeus from March through
November, due to delays in the delivery of the Olympic Explorer. She
operated in tandem with the Olympic Countess for a while, but was ultimately
sold for scrap in 2003. With that ended a long and distinguished career in maritime
|The Empress of Canada/Mardi
Gras/Star of Texas/Lucky Star/Apollon - Specifications:
||650 feet (198.6 m)
||86.6 feet (26.5 m)
||27,284 gross tons
||Parsons geared turbines
turning two propellers.
||Originally 1,048 people,
increased to 1,240 when refitted for Carnival.