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Louis Aura

The beginnings of Norwegian Cruise Line were a little like a coincidence. As Klosters Rederi, the Norwegian company wanted to start up a cruise and ferryservice between the south of England to Gibraltar and the south of Spain in the middle of the 1960's. Spain became a little more popular as a country for holidays and it would also be a direct link from England to the English colony of Gibraltar. But Kloster suffered severe problems, when he had launched the ship that was built under the name Sunward. Spain, a fascist country headed by General Franco, closed the border between Spain and Gibraltar so Kloster was unable to sail the route.

Louis Aura is seen sailing past the Velsen ferry at the Northsea Canal passage from Amsterdam to the sea. Built in 1968, she is an early example of a ship designed for the Caribbean cruisetrade. This picture is dated the 12th of july 2014, clearly in the last years of her services. She also is one of the last classic cruiseships still in normal cruiseservice.

At the other end of the world, there was another problem. A man named Ted Arison had a service between Miami and several Caribbean ports with a chartered ship from Pan American Cruises that was owned by Edward Stephan, later chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Pan American was declared bankrupt, so Arison had a route but no ship. Ed Stephan made contact with Kloster, but they did not agree on terms. Instead, Kloster and Arison teamed up and created Norwegian Caribbean Lines, in which Kloster provided the ship and Arison took care of the passengers. On the 16th of december 1966, Sunward sailed her first cruise, by many named the start of the big Caribbean cruise trade. She was a big success, so a second ship was ordered from the West-German AG Weser Werk Seebeck werft at Bremerhaven. This ship also was designed like the Sunward, so it was still a car ferry with room for 220 cars. It seemed that the early NCL could have been a short venue when things didn't go as they did and the ships could still be used as ferries after the collapse of Caribbean cruising. As we all know, Caribbean cruising boomed in the early 1970's so a thirth ship was ordered to the same design, but she had lost the cardeck in total.

At the 18th of june 2015, Louis Aura had already lost her Louis Cruise Lines name at her sides. Although she is now seen as a ship of Celestyal Cruises, she will probably not be renamed as such.

The second ship was launched under the name of Starward when at the 27th of april 1968 the aft part of the ship was launched. An aft part is not enough, so the rest of the ship joined and at the 21st of june the total ship floated out. She had been built under yardnumber 935 and joined Sunward in Caribbean cruiseservice out of Miami. At the time, Miami still was a small port mostly known for its crime and drugrunners, but thanks to the growing cruise-industry, the town grew and is nowadays the cruisecapital of North America and the Caribbean. Starward measured 12.949 tons and she was 160,13 meters long and 22,81 meters wide. Next to the cardeck for 220 cars, the ship couls sail with up to 540 passengers and 225 crewmembers. The ship was driven by two propellers powered by two 16-cylinder diesel engines designed by MAN. She was delivered to Norwegian Caribbean Lines at the 29th of november 1968 and at the 21st of december she started her first cruise. At the thirth of january 1970, the thirth ship and the first true cruiseship built for Caribbean cruising came into service as Skyward and Norwegian Caribbean Lines prosperred. Soon, other companies followed to the likes of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, the new toy of Edward Stephan, Royal Viking Line and Carnival Cruise Lines, started up by Arison after a disagreement with Kloster. His first ship Mardi Gras went onto the rocks during her first cruise and all others laughed. That was then...

This rather awkward deckhouse was built around the swimmingpool to protect it from sea breezes. Within it, also a terrace is built overlooking the (rather small) pool. All early Norwegian Caribbean ships had this feature.

I think also Kloster laughed, his company itself was doing very well. Also Hollywood recognized this, starring Starward in the 1975 movie 'Peeper', next to Natalie Wood and Michael Caine. In september and october of 1976, Skyward was rebuilt in Jacksonville and now she lost her cardeck to extra cabins, 114 in all. She now could sail with up to 736 passengers and the ferrybusiness was of no interest anymore to Kloster. Four years later, he outclassed all competition by buying the laid-up Atlantic Liner France, formerly of the Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, and took her in service from 1980 onwards as Norway. With close to 70.000 tons, the ship was three times bigger then any other cruiseship in service and started the big boom as well as the growth in ships themselves. Carnival launched their first own designed newbuilt around the same time, the 23.000 ton Tropicale, comparing with competition... 

Below, a picture postcard from my collection when she was the Festival Cruises ship Bolero is shown.

In 1985, another rebuilding in Jacksonville, with workers from the Lloyd Werft at Bremerhaven, again increased her passengercapcity. Now, the total number of passengers that could be carried was 928. Also, the ship recieved a ducktail for better stability. Three years later, in 1988, the ships registry was changed to the Bahamas with her new homeport being Nassau. Untill then, the ships of Kloster were registered in Oslo in the homecountry of Norway.

Meanwhile, the cruiseboom that really started off in the middle of the 1980's continued and NCL took delivery of a 42.000 ton newbuilt in 1988 with the name of Seaward. Almost double the size of Starward and Skyward, Sunward had already been sold, she offered many more feautures to her passengers. To keep up with competition, NCL also had to modernize their fleet and in 1992 and 1993 two 40.000 ton ships came into service under the names Dreamward and Windward. In 1995, just before the order came for the almost 80.000 ton Norwegian Sun and the later Star class, Starward was sold to Festival Cruises to sail the European market. For Festival, the ship was renamed Bolero. Also Festival Cruises was modernizing their fleet of older second-hand tonnage near the year 2000, with their first newbuilt Mistral and the European Vision class, so Bolero was chartered to Spanish Cruise Line for European cruises from the spring of 2001 onwards. She was chartered out for a period of three years and just before her charter ended in 2004, Festival Cruises was declared bankrupt and Bolero was laid-up at Gibraltar from january 2004 onwards.

Louis Aura on her way to the locks of IJmuiden in 2014.

It was not the end for the ship, though. Although she was already 36 years old at the time, in november of 2004 she was bought by the Abu Merhi Cruises, originally a company from Libanon but registered in Panama. For them, she recieved the name of Orient Queen and after a slight rebuilt she was refitted for Mediterranean cruising. In november of 2005, the ship was used for a series of cruises in the Persian Gulf sailing from Dubai, but those were not successfull so for the 2006 season she again was sailing the Mediterranean from Beirut. It was announced that she would be sailing Caribbean cruises again for Paradise Caribbean Cruise Line in the winter of 2006-2007, but this was abandonned. In july of that same year, because of the conflict between Lebanon and Israel, the ship was used to evacuate US citizens from Beirut and for this, she was escorted by the USS Gonzalez and the USS Barry from the US Navy to Lanarca, Cyprus.

In august of 2006, the ship was sold to Louis Cruise Lines of Cyprus who used her under the same name for several years. For one world cruise from Delphin Seereisen, the ship was chartered in the spring of 2007 because their Delphin Voyager was delayed in her delivery to the German firm. Because her speed was slower then the originally planned vessel, several ports had to be skipped to come home on time. When Louis Cruise Lines restyled itself as Louis Cruises in 2013, the ships recieved a new livery as well as new names. Orient Queen became Louis Aura and next to her cruises in the Mediterranean, she was also to be seen in western Europe from the summer of 2014 onwards.          

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