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Commodore Cruises CARIBE I with the grilled crescent funnel. Peter Knego collection.



MV REGAL EMPRESS at Alang, September 1, 2009. Photo copyright MidShipCentury.


Although the REGAL EMPRESS (former CARIBE I, OLYMPIA) enjoyed a career few other ships can match, her departure from the seas still is hard to accept. She was a true survivor and enjoyed a loyal following all the way to the end. Nothing was better than a delicious meal in the Caribbean Dining Room in the golden glow of that Scottish-built woodwork, those nickel sconces, etched mirrors and moody William Ware paintings.

After a remarkable career spanning 56 years, the REGAL EMPRESS was beached at Alang for scrapping in August of 2009. She was built by Alexander Stephen and Sons of Glasgow, Scotland for Greek Line as the 17,362 gt SS OLYMPIA in 1953. The handsome ship was the first transatlantic newbuild for a Greek company, sporting a rather dashing and modern hull form, curvaceous superstructure and a streamlined, cone-shaped funnel. She was a two clas ship with a capacity of 138 first and 1,169 tourist passengers and a number of interchangeable cabins. For her first two years, the OLYMPIA operated between New York and Bremerhaven with occasional winter cruise service. In 1955, she began crossings from New York to Piraeus. extending the service to Haifa and Alexandria in 1961. OLYMPIA became a full time cruise ship in 1970 with a revised capacity of 1,030 passengers. In 1974, she was laid up at Piraeus, a victim of the fuel crisis.

After six years of deferred maintenance and with her outmoded and expensive steam turbine propulsion, it was largely presumed the OLYMPIA would be joining most of her contemporaries in a Taiwanese scrap yard but she cheated the breakers for an unexpected new career in cruising.

Sally Shipping bought her in 1981 for their Commodore Cruises division and sent her to Germany where her turbines were replaced with diesels and she was given the name CARIBE (later CARIBE I). Although many of the ship's public spaces were left basically intact, her cabins were largely rebuilt and she was given a more modern profile with a strange new funnel in a grilled crescent shape (replaced with a more shapely stack in 1987). But quite wonderfully, the ship retained teak decks, lustrous paneling, etched glass mirrors, marquetry and original paintings by renowned British artist William Ware.

CARIBE I sailed for Commodore in seven day Caribbean cruise service from Miami until 1993 when she was sold to newly-formed Regal Cruises and renamed REGAL EMPRESS. REGAL EMPRESS was based in New York in the summer and Port Manatee, FL in the winter and managed to attract a loyal following of cruisers who appreciated her old world charms. Balconied cabins were carved out of her forward promenade in a refit in 1997 when the ship was upgraded to conform to new SOLAS regulations.

In 2003, the REGAL EMPRESS was sold to Imperial Majesty Cruises who placed the ship on two night cruises to the Bahamas from Fort Lauderdale. The ship remained in their service until 2009 when a replacement vessel was bought. Unable to conform to new 2010 SOLAS regulations, the ship was sold for scrap in March and sailed off to Alang, where she arrived that August. By March of 2010, the former OLYMPIA had ceased to exist.


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