Festival Cruises was formed in the year 1992 and started Europe-based cruising in 1994 with the former long-range ferry Eagle that was built in 1970 for General Steam Navigation Company, part of the P&O Group. The ship already sailed for a few years as a cruiseliner under the name Azur and for Festival she became The Azur. Two other older cruiseships were bought and their informal atmosphere and European style became very popular for European holidaymakers. In North America, the line was marketed as First European Cruises to indicate their style, that is also popular by North Americans in contradiction to the standard American cruiselines. The company understood that they also had to invest in more modern tonnage to keep up with the growing European cruiselines that sailed the Mediterranean, so when the French company Services et Transport was not able to finish the building of their new 47.000 ton cruiseliner that was built at the Chantiers de L'atlantique wharf in Saint Nazaire, France, Festival Cruises quickly stood up and took over the contract. The ship was finished as their first newbuilt Mistral. It combined the friendly European style of their older ships with modernities needed in the modern cruiseindustry.
In the year 2000, to be able to grow more rapidly with modern tonnage, Festival Cruises was about to merge into the great P&O Group, where they would be a part of under their own name. This plan was later abandonned because finances were not so sure at the time, so Festival had to invest in new ships on their own account. The Mistral design was the basis for these new ships, that were ordered from the yard that built the Mistral. There was an arrangement with the Italian company MSC, because it was cheaper to built more ships of the same design. Originally, Festival Cruises ordered a two-ship class with an option for two more. Due to Festival's financial situation at the time, the two optional ships were later completed for MSC Cruises, another company that was in the same situation as Festival Cruises and only sailed with older, secondhand tonnage in the same competitive market, the Mediterranean.
Below, MSC Armonia is shown while leaving IJmuiden harbour at the 22nd of may, 2008.
The first new ship of this class for Festival Cruises was named European Vision and she had been built as yardnumber V31 with a tonnage measurement of 58.174, quite a bit larger then Mistral. For Festival Cruises, she started a new naming strategy reflecting the European nature of the cruiseline. She is 251,25 meters long, 28,8 meters wide and her draft reaches 6,80 meters. She has nine decks available to 2163 passengers, when all berths are occupied, as well as 700 crewmembers. Her normal sailing speed is somewhere around 20,8 knots and she was homeported in Genoa, Italy. At the 22nd of june 2001, she was named and delivered to Festival Cruises before she set sail for her first season of Mediterranean cruises from the 1st of july onwards. In between, she sailed a sereis of short introduction voyages from Genoa.
Within her first month of service, the ship was already placed in the center of the world, being used as a hotelship for the leaders of the world during the 27th summit of the G8 countries in Genoa. The leaders, including Prime Minister Tony Blair of the UK, President Putin of Russia, Prime Minsister Berlusconi of Italy and Romano Prodi of the European Commission, came together traditionally as the leaders of the most wealthy countries in the world to debate about poverty in not so fortunate countries, but especially during the Genoa summit, also international terrorism was on their agenda. The official summit lasted between the 20th and 22nd of july, although the two days before, the foreign secretaries had already met. Of course, for so many important leaders a safe place to sleep had to be found and a ship was chosen because that is more easy to defend then an hotel ashore. To make this clearer, a whole ranch of anti-terrorism units was used as an extra protection of the ship, including helicopters and missile launchers. The American President Bush was not so sure, he rather stayed in a dockside hotel, having probably great views of the ship. During the summit, the town of Genoa was almost a battlefield in riots, which was kinda normal for G8 summits. So staying at a ship at sea wasn't such a bad idea overall...
MSC Armonia sailing the Northsea Canal passage from Amsterdam at the 17th of august 2008.
International terrorism came, though not in Genoa. On the 11th of september, Al Qaeda attacked the US using passenger planes. More then 3000 people died when both towers of the New York WTC, which were among the largest buildings in the world, were hit by those planes and collapsed. Also the Pentagon was hit and another plane crashed, probably on its way to the US Capitol or the White House. The world did change, this day, and international travels came to a standstill. Also the cruising industry was hit hard and the world started to slide into a financial depression. Writing this, it sounds like a hollywood action movie, but sadly this is not the case. For a company like Festival Cruises, this was the last blow and the company was declared bankrupt at the end of january 2004. European Vision ended her sailings at Bridgetown, Barbados and disembarked her passengers. She and her sister European Dream were bought by MSC Cruises in april of that same year. For MSC, European Vision was renamed MSC Armonia and European Dream became MSC Sinfonia.
For MSC, the ships were rebuilt slightly, the new tonnage for MSC Armonia became 58.625 and also her passengercapacity was slightly altered to 2087 maximum and 1554 as a number for only the lower berths. As still a very new ship, she was to retain her European style within the MSC fleet and also mostly sailed European cruises, as well as Caribbean in winter. This was not so big of a change from her days as a Festival Cruises ship. She did changwe her homeport, though. Now, the ship was to be registered in Panama with the port of Panama as her new homeport. Her first cruise for MSC departed from Venice at the 30th of may 2004.
In the picture below, you can clearly see the different aft decks in comparissement to the ships that were built for MSC, the MSC Opera and MSC Lirica.
For MSC, the ships carreer is largely uneventfull, meaning she is a steady ship within their fleet. In september 2014, MSC Armonia was lenghtened in a program called Renaissance, where-in the four ships of the Lirica class will be reborn. The ship was send to the Fincantieri Yards at Palermo, Italy, where she was cut in two before a new 2.200-ton midsection was inserted at the 10th of september. Within the new section, some 193 cabins are present, just like new youth facilities, an extended restaurant and a new buffet-area. Also, there will be an enriched MSC Aurea Spa and an additional library. The first cruise of the longer MSC Armonia departed from Genoa to the Canaries at the 19th of november 2014.