SS EMPRESS OF BRITAIN
Having been launched by a queen and later named for a queen, the majestic THE TOPAZ was a rare survivor of the great postwar British shipbuilding era. Throughout five decades of service, she evolved from a cold weather transatlantic liner to a full-time cruise ship.
On 22 June, 1955, HM Queen Elizabeth sent the hull of the Canadian Pacific Steamship Co's first all new post war liner EMPRESS OF BRITAIN down the ways at the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering yard at Glasgow, Scotland. The first of three handsome liners built for the Liverpool-Montreal run, she entered service in April of 1956.
CP's third EMPRESS OF BRITAIN measured 25,516 gross tons, and was 640 by 85.3 feet, with a draft of 29 feet. Her two sets of double reduction geared Fairfield Pametrada turbines were designed to achieve a combined output of 27,000 SHP (30,000 max) to drive her twin screws at a service speed of 20 knots (21 maximum). She was built to carry 160 first and 894 tourist class passengers and 464 crew.
In November of 1964, the EMPRESS OF BRITAIN ended her CPR service and sailed to Genoa's Marriotti Yard to be refitted for her new owners, Greek Line. Her stern area was enlarged to incorporate four outdoor pools and a lido that stretched all the way aft, and her capacity was increased by 200. Underneath the expanded lido, a large nightclub was built aft of the Cinema, wrapping around the stern in a fashion outwardly similar to the 1960 ORIANA's Stern Gallery.
She was renamed QUEEN ANNA MARIA, after the second monarch to christen her, in March of 1965. Her new passenger capacity of 1,313 was divided accordingly for crossings: 109 first, 59 interchangeable, and 1145 tourist. On cruises, she carried 742 passengers in one class. The newly-measured 21,716 GRT ship was used for the New York-to-Mediterranean service (Piraeus, Palermo, Naples, Lisbon, Halifax, New York, returnng via Boston, Lisbon, Naples, Palermo, Piraeus, Limassol, and Haifa) and off-season cruises, being fully diverted to cruises by the 1970's. In 1975, Greek Line fell deeply into debt, and QUEEN ANNA MARIA abandoned her New York cruise program, fleeing to Greece for lay-up at Perama, where she was arrested.
The rust-streaked QUEEN ANNA MARIA was purchased, pulled from mothballs, sent to Newport News,VA for a refurbishment, and delivered to Carnival Cruises as the CARNIVALE in February of 1976.
Although her refit entailed little structural change, the CARNIVALE's tonnage was officially listed at 18,952 GRT according to Panamanian standards. Despite this, Carnival advertised her as "27,250 tons of fun," and placed her on weekly Miami service. The former part-time two class ship was permanently transformed into a one class cruise ship with a new capacity of 1,297 passengers. Some of the rich wood paneling, brass fixtures, etched glass panels, and linoleum decking were covered in shiny wallpaper or hidden underneath festive carpeting. Carnival did not have the funds to completely restyle a somewhat dated looking ocean liner, so she was "tarted" up in certain cosmetic respects.
In 1990, CARNIVALE was given a major refit that sadly saw the removal of most of the polished woods and nickel in her public rooms and cabins. It was as if the company had done everything they could to hide the fact that CARNIVALE was 35 years old. Museum quality fittings and fixtures were covered up or disposed of, and the warm wood veneers were replaced with acres of magenta and violet Formica surfacing crisscrossed by flashing lights and neon.
With an increasing number of newbuilds joining the fleet, Carnival finally opted to divest itself of the former EMPRESS. In a bold move, the company formed a new Latin-themed subsidiary, Fiesta Marina Cruises, and took the redundant CARNIVALE to Miami for a re christening as the FIESTA MARINA in October of 1993.
After a mere three months, she was withdrawn. Meanwhile, a planned merger with Mediterranean-based Epirotiki Cruises (in order to strengthen Carnival's "Euro" presence) was fizzling. In a concessionary move, Carnival traded the FIESTA MARINA to the Greek company and withdrew from the deal.
FIESTA MARINA quietly sailed for Perama and the waters from which she was retrieved by Carnival eighteen years earlier. In the handsome livery of Epirotiki, she emerged in the spring of 1995 as the OLYMPIC for that company's Aegean-based cruise program. The largest ship in the fleet to date, and with her deep draft, she was not without her maneuvering difficulties (an incident where she collided with the pier at Kusadasi in the summer of 1997 would be testament to that fact), but she was beautifully maintained and loved by her passengers. Her crew was especially proud of the ship's heritage, and for a time, the old liner was once again "queen" of the Greek fleet.
The OLYMPIC was remeasured at 31,500 gross tons and carried 950 passengers and 470 crew. She was slightly "toned down" from the splashy interior look rendered by the 1990 Carnival refit. In 1996, Epirotiki Lines merged with longtime competitor, Sun Lines, to form Royal Olympic Cruises. At this time, their ships adapted a new funnel logo, which was a combination of Epirotiki's Byzantine Cross and Sun Line's "shining sun" emblems.
She was sold to Kyma Shipmanagement in 1997 and as THE TOPAZ, she was sent to the Eleusis Shipyard in December of 1997, where a $20 million refit saw the installation of more cabins on forward Upper Deck, the addition of a buffet-style restaurant on aft Verandah Deck, and numerous interior revisions. With a new tonnage of 32,327 and capacity of 1050, THE TOPAZ returned to service on a bare boat charter to Thomson Holidays in the spring of 1998.
She was the "darling" of the fleet, offering an "all-inclusive" cruising experience (meaning liquor was also covered in the fare) to a mostly UK-based clientele. THE TOPAZ' dining areas were fitted out with performance spaces and her Cinema was even transformed into a dinner theater.
She sailed under The Thomson banner until mid-2003, when she was chartered to the Japanese-based Peaceboat organization to circumnavigate the globe until being sold for scrap on April 13, 2008. The venerable liner completed her final Peace Boat voyage on April 28 in Yokohama and proceed from there to Singapore where she was struck by another ship whilst in the anchorage, then sailed onward to Alang for scrapping as TOPAZ.
EMPRESS OF CANADA ENCHANTED ISLE EUGENIO C FEDOR SHALYAPIN FESTIVALE FIESTA MARINA FRANCONIA ISLANDBREEZE IVERNIA IVORY JEAN MERMOZ LURLINE MADAGASCAR MARDI GRAS MARGARITA L MARIANNA VI MARIANNA 9 MAYAN EMPRESS MERMOZ MONARCH STAR MONTEREY MS PHILIPPINES OLYMPIA OLYMPIC PRINCIPE PERFEITO PRINCESA VICTORIA REGAL EMPRESS RENAISSANCE RHAPSODY REGENT STAR S. A. VAAL SAPPHO SERENADE SHOTA RUSTAVELI SPERO STATENDAM STELLA MARIS II STELLA OCEANIS STELLA SOLARIS TAHITIEN THE BIG RED BOAT II