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| Ocean Countess 2010
The Ocean Countess and her History
The Countess started life one of the first two of a series of eight ships planned by MGM to diversify into cruising. She and her sister ship were taken over and completed by Cunard to their specifications whilst the others were never completed. The Countess was constructed in Copenhagen and launched in September 1974, and in May 1975 she was towed to La Spezia, Italy for fitting out. She was completed in July 1976 when she was sailed to San Juan in Puerto Rico for her maiden voyage on 14th August. The Cunard Princess followed shortly afterwards. Like all Cunard ships they were both registered in Southampton. Cunard Countess was painted completely white until she received her traditional Cunard red funnel in 1980. For almost all her life she did the same double loop cruise passing through San Juan once a week that we did. During the revolution in Grenada (from 1979 to 1983) she was one of the few ships to regularly visit the island, and when we were on board in the 1990s space was always found for her to moor at their only wharf. In 1982 she was requisitioned for the Falklands like her big sister the QE2 and in her case served as a troop transport between Ascension Island and Port Stanley for 6 months after the main conflict was over. She was converted back for service as a cruise ship in Malta Dry Dock and was back in operation by July 1983 primarily cruising in the Caribbean until 1996. She was then sold to Awani Modern Hotels, Indonesia for far Eastern cruises under the name Awani Dream II. The next change was in 1998 when she was purchased by Royal Olympic Cruises for service mainly in the Mediterranean as Olympic Countess. The name was changed to Olympia Countess following pressure from the International Olympic Committee. In 2004 she was bought by her present owners, Majestic International Cruises and became the Ocean Countess although she had several temporary names during short charters. She rarely entered British waters during this period. Now she is firmly back to being the Ocean Countess and looking forwards to a further long and happy career sailing from the UK under long term charter to Cruise and Maritime Voyages. They also operate the Marco Polo.
After all these changes we were not sure what to expect but we were pleasantly surprised. The livery is different with a classic dark blue hull and white upper-works and dark blue funnel. The hull looks in surprisingly good condition as does the metal on the topside, both appear better than was that of our own favourite the QE2 at the same age. Many of the teak decks seem to be original although those that have been changed are, to be kind, not up to the standard of everything else. Inside there are far less changes than we had expected and she still looks like a scaled down QE2 in many respects with the shiny ceilings and original style chairs in many of the public rooms. Modern lighting tends to make the atmosphere even more dramatic. Many of the glass doors still have the old Cunard Lion Rampant, and there are Cunard-commissioned paintings in the cabins and some old Cunard posters on the stairwells. We still have our original Cunard pins from that period with the Lion Rampart which we wore to the Captain’s cocktail party but nobody recognised them!
We brought with us some of the old brochures and layouts from the 1990s and have spent time comparing the past and present. Regrettably we could not afford the weight to bring our albums or videos to complete the comparison but from what we have with us and our memories, the changes to the layout have been small. The central area round the purser’s office was changed in 1982 and slightly updated since, the Indoor -Outdoor centre is virtually the same although renamed to the Hampton’s, the small Casino has moved, as has the library allowing the buffet area to be extended. The decks have all been renumbered. Strangely there seemed to be less passenger cabins at the back of what is now deck 3 but, on inspection, they now seem to contain dancers and other staff. We have taken lots of pictures but will have to wait till we are home to compare them to our old film.
We booked at the last minute and were only offered tables for 4, 6 or 8 – we opted for a table for 8 thinking it would be safest but it was long thin table and we rapidly tired of a conversation solely dedicated to football so our views of dinner in the restaurant are somewhat biased. The menu was fairly straightforward with a simple presentation but with a large number of courses, most of the table opted for 5 or 6 courses – we tended to be slightly more restrained. Vegetables were properly cooked rather than overdone. It was difficult to find fault with the service which was quick but it was not to White Star standards, for example you were not asked how a steak should be done and one definitely had to request the Pepper grinder or mustard the first time and sorbets and ssometimes ice-cream tended to be liquid before they reached one. On the other hand as soon as a need was recognised response was quick and once you had asked for something you got it and our waiter in particular had a good memory.
The purser’s office was very efficient and helpful. - we had brought some Cholesterol reducing yoghurts and they immediately offered use of their own fridge and we collected a couple every morning.
The cabins were exactly as we remembered them from 20 years ago and the only significant difference was a TV with a small selection of channels and 3 well chosen films every day.
More information on specific areas may be added and also a couple of paragraphs on the technical Specification is needed.