The Rise & Fall of: Festival Cruises
Continuing our series on ‘The Rise & Fall of’ we are looking at Festival Cruises, whose collapse is the most recent, declaring bankruptcy in 2004. If you used to work for Festival Cruises or had been on a Festival Cruise please comment below, send us an email (Liam@Crociere.co.uk) or contact us on Twitter & Facebook.
In 1992 George Poulides founded Festival Cruises, it started services in 1994 with The Azur, which had been acquired from Chandris Cruises, This was followed by Bolero and with continued success the company added Flamenco to the fleet in 1998.
In 1999 the company added Mistral, its first new build, at a cost of $240 million. The ship was built at the same yard as the Normandie & Queen Mary 2, Chantiers de l’Atlantique in St.-Nazaire, France.
The ship was built as part of a strategy to locate the company in the middle of the cruise market, just above Royal Caribbean, but below Celebrity, with a distinctly European flavour, the company was not allowed to operate in the United States under the Festival name, as it was deemed to be too similar to Carnival, so the company traded as First European in America.
Following on from Mistral, two slightly larger improved sister ships were ordered for delivery in 2001 & 2002, to be known as European Stars and European Vision. These ships features more balcony cabins, but, like Mistral were never going to win a beauty contest!
This would give the company three large new ships, in the growing European market. Upon delivery the older ships in the fleet were chartered out, making sure the brand had a solid identity, two further options for Mistral class ships were passed on, later being picked up by MSC Cruises, becoming MSC Lirica and MSC Opera (We have toured MSC Opera here)
In May 2000 P&O announced plans to acquire Festival Cruises for $600Million, who would join P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Swan Hellenic and Aida as a European brand. However two months later the merger plan was dropped, due to the low value of cruise shares at that time.
Also joining in 2002 was ‘the ship that sank the Andria Doria’ the former Stockholm, now named Caribe, this ship is regulary forgotten as operating for the Festival fleet, she sailed out of Havana. Now this ship operates for Classic International Cruises as Athena, and is one of the oldest operating cruise ships in the world. This could surely have only confused the Festival cruises product.
During 2003, an interesting concept was launched between Festival and Hilton, where there would be 25 ‘Hilton Suites’ on its new builds, these would feature butlers who had been trained by Hilton, and the suites would contain Hilton branded amenities. The idea being that the line could use a trusted brand to expand further into the America market.
In 2004, Festival Cruises ships were arrested, and the battle lines were drawn for a complex bankruptcy, drawn out over five months. During this time Royal Caribbean, who had lost out to Carnival for P&O Princess PLC, were linked to takeover the company. The ships were arrested as Alstom (owners of the shipyard) claimed Festival had broken its
contractual financial obligations.
The company made a series of announcements that operations would restart, but slowly, one by one its offices were closed and the ships auctioned off. The company even attempted to relaunch with just its new ships, Mistral, European Stars & European Vision. In July 2004 MSC acquired European Stars & European Vision, to join sister ships MSC Lirica and MSC Opera. European Stars is now MSC Sinfonia. European Vision now operating as MSC Armonia. Mistral was sold to a group of French investors, who have chartered her to Ibero cruceros now named Grand Mistral.
The company, like a lot of cruise industry failures, went too big too fast. If acquired by P&O it is likely the company would still be operating. Of most cruise lines which declare bankruptcy, I think this one has probably gotten the closest to success due to its modern ships, ironically it was paying for these modern ships that caused their collapse.
– Our Facebook
– Our Twitter
– Festivals Fuzzy Future – News article during bankruptcy
– Postcards of the Festival Fleet
– Festival & Hilton News Article
– MSC Opera Visit
– P&O + Festival Merger cancellation