In the early 1970's Cunard Line was in a bad shape. The linerservices they had also relied on had declined sharply and their venture into air-travel as Cunard Eagle Airways came to nothing because the transatlantic flights were not awarded to the company. The only way to stay in business was to really concentrate on cruises, as their containerservices were not really their main objective. The only good thing was that they had already replaced their aging elephants Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, that seemed to make a larger loss every minute and were unsuitable for cruising, although they had tried. The Queen Elizabeth 2 was their new stronghold and flagship and as the Canadian fleet of ships was also sold off, a new dawn had to come with new cruiseliners. A pair of two was built, Cunard Ambassador and Cunard Adventurer, but these smallish ships proved to be unsuccesfull. But Cunard Line got the chance to replace them without too many costs, when the Hollywood MGM studio's lost interest in their planned eight-ship cruisefleet of 17.000 tonners. Cunard took over the contracts and had the first two ships of the class finished. A strange way of building was already planned, because the hulls of the ships would be built in Denmark at the Burmeister & Wain shipyard at Copenhagen and then they would be towded over all the way to the Italian shipyard of Industrie Navali Mechaniche Affini at La Spezia for the finishing touches. The first ship was named Cunard Countess and inaugurated in august 1976.
The second ship of the pair was launched in december 1974 as Cunard Conquest, because all Cunarders at the time were named as 'Cunard' followed by a name starting with a 'c'. But when the ship was delivered to Cunard Line at the 30th of october 1975, the name had been changed to Cunard Princess. The 'Conquest'-name seemed not very favourable for a cruiseliner. On the 6th of november 1975, the ship reached La Spezia where her interiours were built into the hull. After she was really ready, she sailed for New York where she was to be named by Princess Grace of Monaco in march 1977. It was a unique moment in oceanliner history, because there never had been a ship-christening in New York before.
Cunard Princess as seen under the name Rhapsody at IJmuiden, sailing for Mediterranean Shipping Company. The picture is dated at the 12th of may 2005.
At the luncheon following the naming-ceremony, Cunard Line stated that they really believed that the cruise-industry had seen the expansion it could handle. Therefor, they said that Cunard Princess would probably be the very last cruiseliner to be built. Firstly this seemed to be true, because for a few years no cruiseships were built. But from 1980 onwards, several companies were building new ships and the cruise-industry did grow a little bit more in the following decades as we know. Cunard Line itself did take a while to introduce another ship though, their next order would be that of the Queen Mary 2 in 1998. But then this was the largest cruiseship in the world at the time she entered service, so it was something to wait that many years for. But it also shows in what state Cunard Line was during the 1980's and 1990's, not being able to built new ships for around 26 years.
When Cunard Countess and Cunard Princess entered service, the two older cruiseships were out of service. Cunard Ambassador had burned and Cunard Adventurer was sold to Norwegian Caribbean Lines. The new ships were successfull, luckily, they quickly settled in the Caribbean cruisefleet. Although Caribbean cruising was their main objective, they also sailed lucrative seven-day New York to Bermuda cruises as well as Mexican, Alaskan and Mediterranean cruises. In the 1980's, the ships sailed steadily without that many interruptions, but in 1990, Cunard Princess was suddenly placing herself in a long line of passengerships to be chartered for war-duties. It had been a long time that Cunard ships were involved in goverment-charters, the last time it was Queen Elizabeth 2 and Cunard Countess in 1982, that were chartered for the war at the Falklands for troop-transports. From the 24th of december 1990, Cunard Princess was used for US soldiers as a 'rest and recreation' ship during Operation Desert Storm, the first Gulf war. For this, she was on charter to the US Army. The ship never really saw dangers, as she was stationed in the safe port of Bahrein. Originally, it had been planned that the ship would sail short two-day cruises within the Gulf for the Army personell, but it was later dcided to just keep her in port. During her charter, she had welcomed around 50.000 US soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who could get some rest after their duties. When her charter to the US Army was finished, the ship was refurbished and overhauled at Malta and after that resumed her Mediterranean cruises. This time, it was not a very big deal that the Maltese shipyard was chosen... (see Ocean Countess).
Rhapsody seen at her berth in IJmuiden, not a regular one for cruiseships but used a few times before the new cruiseterminal had opened in 2012. At the other side of the Vissershaven the DFDS Seaways ferry Queen Of Scandinavia is shown, clearly giving away the massive size-difference between both ships. It also shows that around 1980 (Queen Of Scandinavia was built in 1980), ferries were often larger then cruiseships built in that same time, so the thought of the Cunard board at the time about the cruise-industry was not so far-fetched as it seems right now.
In 1993, Cunard had formed another venture, Cunard Crown Cruises, especially for the management of three ships from Commodore Cruise Lines. Also Cunard Princess was sailing for this company in these years, but she retained her name and livery. In 1995, Cunard Crown Cruises was discontinued and the ship was chartered out to StarLauro Cruises of Italy. It's interesting history can be found on the main page of Mediterranean Shipping Cruises. The charter was mainly put into action because the Lauro Line, the former name of the company, had just lost the flagship Achille Lauro in a fire in 1994. After this, the company was taken over by MSC. For a short while, she sailed for StarLauro under her Cunard-name, although she was planned to be renamed Harmony. Instead, when the ship was bought by MSC at the end of 1995, she was renamed Rhapsody and because of all problems that Lauro had faced in the past years, two fires and a hijack, the Lauro name disappeaered and the cruiseships were now operating under the banner of Mediterranean Shipping Company, a short while later as Mediterranean Shipping Cruises, to show the difference from the main MSC container-fleet. Later, this was again altered and the company became known as MSC Cruises.The ship was registered at Napels and mostly sailed Mediterranean cruises, as the name of the company suggested. But when the company had grown larger with new ships, they started to explore other cruise regions. Rhapsody also sailed in northern Europe right now and became the first MSC ship to dock in The Netherlands. But the new ships also started to offer their passengers a lot more then the older ships in the fleet, so it was no surprise that Rhapsody was leaving MSC in 2009. She was sold to the Israeli-based company Mano Maritime, and for them the ship was renamed Golden Iris. Her first cruise for her new owners started at Haifa on the 31st of may 2009.