This little beauty entered service as Stockholm for Swedish America Line on the 21st February 1948, setting sail from Gothenburg to New York. She came to international attention in July 1956 when she and the Andrea Doria collided off Nantucket, resulting in the latter sinking and bow of Stockholm being ripped off. She made it back to New York. It is one maritime disaster which can cause division over who was to blame but the crew on the bridge both made mistakes.
She was eventually sold to the East German government in 1960 and became Völkerfreundschaft, which she remained as until 1985, then reduced to Volker. She was laid up in Southampton, as seen here in photos by John Kennedy, before beoming accommodation in Norway for asylum seekers as Fridtjof Nansen.
Big changes were afoot in 1989 when she was sold once again and completely rebuilt from the hull upwards to her current profile in Genoa, home of the Andrea Doria. She was given a few names during this period – Italia I, Italia Prima and Valtur Prima (which is still visible on her bow). She was seen back in Southampton as Italian Prima, captured again by John Kennedy.
After another lay-up in Cuba 2001, she became Caribe for Festival Cruises, continuing to sail in Cuba.
Classic International Cruises acquired her in 2005, renaming her Athena. This was the name I first saw her under anchored off Madeira in 2007 then Tenerife in 2008.
Athena came to Southampton yet again in 2009 during a brief charter with German operator, Phoenix Reisen.
CIC went bust in 2012 and their five ships were up for grabs after being arrested. Portuscale Cruises in Portugal bought four, including Athena. She had been arrested in Marseille and that was where she underwent dry docking, emerging officially as Azores on the 10th March 2014. She was chartered by the German firm Ambiente Kreuzfahrten but there were delays due to a safety certificate, having been scheduled to begin the cruise season from Bremerhaven on the 16th March. Ambiente Kreuzfahrten already had their fingers burnt by CIC’s bankruptcy, losing Princess Daphne for the 2013 season. They gave up the cruise business on the 5th September 2014.
All was not lost. While her Portuscale fleet mates were struggling to get charters and Lisboa (ex-Princess Danae) went to the breakers, another cruise line came in.
Cruise and Maritime Voyages lost Discovery in October 2014 when she was withdrawn by her owners All Leisure Group and sold to breakers, so were looking for another ship.
She entered service for them in January 2015 and was successful. The following year, she was renamed Astoria and they shared her with the French company, Rivages du Monde, who chartered her between May and November. She called into Southampton that year.
In June that year, CMV announced her final season for them would be between the 9th March and 27th April 2017. Eight months later, they changed their minds, adding another spring season in 2018 between 8th March and 5th May, when she will once again head to Rivages du Monde for summer. It was because of their original plans I finally got to travel on her and experience all her quirks.
A further announcement came in April 2017 about an autumn season commencing from Poole on the 31st August 2018 before moving to Portsmouth from the 16th September until 31st October. Another spring season commences from Poole on the 7th March 2019.
We are very lucky to still have these old girls with us. I wish major cruise lines would realise not everyone wants mega monsters with thousands of passengers and umpteen gimmicks. A lot of people just want a smaller ship to relax. Astoria has had a lucky life since the Andrea Doria incident. She has become a firm favourite. I just adore her and cannot wait to go back in March.
Happy birthday Astoria. Here’s to many more years at sea.