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The FESTIVALE at St. Thomas on 2 September 1982. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 1982.


When Carnival Cruise Line's 35,000 gt FESTIVALE was introduced in Caribbean cruise service from Miami in 1978, she was by far the largest passenger ship based in Florida and one of the largest cruise ships in the world. Unlike her prior fleetmates, MARDI GRAS (ex EMPRESS OF CANADA) and CARNIVALE (ex EMPRESS OF BRITAIN, etc.), she was vastly rebuilt and completely redecorated, introducing the original stylings of Carnival architect/designer Joseph Farcus to the industry. FESTIVALE sported vibrant reds, eye-popping neon and shiny chrome interiors, a wedding cake-like forward superstructure and a rebuilt lido with acres of games spaces and swimming pools. She was a huge success and steamed on for Carnival well into 1996, when she was chartered to Dolphin Cruise Lines to become the SS ISLANDBREEZE. By that time, she had been eclipsed by dozens of boxy new ships well over twice her size.

Her story began in 1961, when she was commissioned as the RMS TRANSVAAL CASTLE for Union-Castle Line's Southampton to Durban service. Similar in size and architecture to the 1960-built flagship WINDSOR CASTLE, she was more modern with a flared, curved, bulbous bow and more streamlined superstructure. The 32,697 gt TRANSVAAL CASTLE was UCL's first all one class liner and was called "The Hotel Ship" in company literature. Like the WINDSOR CASTLE, she was fast, and could achieve a service speed of 22.5 knots, completing the passage in 13.5 days. Quite sadly, she was the last passenger mail ship built for Union-Castle.

In 1966, she was transferred to U.C.L.'s South African affiliate, Safmarine, and renamed S.A. VAAL. She continued in the same service (but now in white instead of lavendar hull livery) until the passenger services were closed in 1977. The S.A. VAAL was sold to Carnival Cruise Lines who sent her to Kobe, Japan for a complete rebuilding into their new FESTIVALE. In the process of her transformation, the ship's 1960s decor was completely gutted for Joseph Farcus' glitzy 1970s stylings. However, in the officers' spaces, the old Union-Castle liner with John Brown and Co. Clydebank fittings remained quite original.

After FESTIVALE became ISLANDBREEZE, she began catering once again to her old U.K. clientele during annual summer charters to Thomson Holidays. In the winter, she was based in the Caribbean with her Dolphin fleetmates SEABREEZE I (ex FEDERICO C) and OCEANBREEZE (ex SOUTHERN CROSS). In 1998, when Dolphin, Seawind, and Premier Cruise Lines merged to form Premier Cruises, Inc., she was purchased outright from Carnival holdings. In 2000, she was painted red and given the name THE BIG RED BOAT III for Texas-based cruising. The new Premier venture was a disaster and by the end of that year, she was laid up at Freeport following the collapse of the company. She sat until 2003, when scrap prices made it worth the effort to fire up her neglected boilers for the final voyage to Alang. When she was beached that summer, she was the largest passenger ship to date to be scrapped in India. Ironically, her record was not broken until 2005, when the still slightly larger RITA (ex WINDSOR CASTLE) arrived.


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