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   Cruise Travel - Cruise Ships


Club Valtur

MS Valtur Prima

Rating:Four Stars
Submit your review hereSubmit your review
Operator: Greta Cruise Lines
Year Built / Last Refurbished: 1948 / 1994
Length / Tonnage: 525 / 15,614
Number of Cabins / Passengers: 260 / 500
Officers / Crew: Italian / European & Italian
Operating Area: Caribbean

Review by Mark H. Goldberg, TravelPage.com, Cruise Editor

Her booklets for the British Market claim “Cruising Premier Class” and it is no idle boast....This ship is MAGNIFICENT and her cruises are absolutely first rate without being overpriced! Curiously ungainly without, her interiors are nothing less than a TRIUMPH and to be aboard this ship is to understand what that tired old phrase “the finer things in life” REALLY means...She IS luxury, she IS class, she IS refinement and sophisticated living at sea!

All right, so in a former life this was the STOCKHOLM, the Swedish ship that killed the fabulously beautiful Italian Line flagship ANDREA DORIA in a collision in fog off Nantucket on July 25, 1956 ...in the years since, this old timer has certainly atoned for that misdeed, going in 1960 to the East German merchant marine to become the workers’ cruise ship VÖLKERFREUNDSCHAFT under the management of the VEB Deutsche Seerederei of Rostock, German Democratic Republic . Few were her exploits under Communist control though she occasionally made news in Western newspapers when some of her crew or passengers jumped ship (in some cases LITERALLY) in their bids to avoid returning home to the East German “workers’ paradise”. Under a reorganization of state shipping in 1974 this old charmer was transferred to the ownership of VEB Deutfracht/Seerederei. One of her moore interesting trips in that era was a 33 day Caribbean cruise under charter to Sweden’s Stena Line...one of the few purposely organized to operate from Sweden to transport a shipload of lucky Swedes out of Sweden’s notoriously cold and dreary winter to the southern sun. Well, even ships owned by Communist governments have expenses to meet and by 1984 this one’s operators could no longer cover her mounting losses...and in 1985 the ship was transferred to the Panamanian flag company Neptunus Rex Enterprises...a shadow company if ever there was one. Renamed VOLKER, the end of that year found her laid up at Southampton, UK. There she sat for a year being ogled by the curious who knew who she REALLY was...then she was renamed FRIDTJOF NANSEN and was towed to Oslo where she served as a barracks ship for refugees seeking asylum in Norway.

Next to buy the ship was Star Lauro of Naples...which wanted her for her hull alone...From Oslo she was towed to Genoa whose newspapers greeted her arrival with less than familiar hospitality.. One bold headline read “È ARRIVATA LA NAVE DELLA MORTE”... “The ship of death has arrived” a not too discreet reference to her encounter with Genoa’s own ANDREA DORIA some 33 years earlier...Next stop for the 41 year old ship was lay up through 1992 when her reconstruction began in earnest...photos of her reduced to a bare hull exist, so it IS true that everything above the hull is new...and so is most everything within for that matter...1993 brought her the name ITALIA and the following year saw her come under the ownership of a new line, NINA Cia. Di Navigazione which renamed the ship ITALIA PRIMA. After a massive and somewhat mysterious renovation at the Varco Chiapella yards at Genoa...perhaps the most successful rebuild of a ship since Charalambos Keusseoglou transformed the French CAMBODGE into Greece’s smart cruise ship STELLA SOLARIS, Nina Cruises transformed the STOCKHOLM of 1948 into the ITALIA PRIMA...as splendid a swan as ever rode the water! (Note: ITALIA PRIMA has been sailing as VALTUR PRIMA for Club Valtur since November 1999).

Germany’s Neckermann und Reisen, a very popular tour and charter cruise operator took the ship under a five year charter in 1995, but this arrangement does not seem to be exclusive because when we were on her, quite a few passengers from outside Germany had arranged their presence aboard with no thanks to Neckermann (the ship DOES fly the Neckerman flag, though)...Confusing, yes...but throw in that crown device on her funnel...you know...the one with the curved bottom...Except for that rounded line that crown is a dead ringer for the crown device worn for forty years by the ship of the Home Lines...and guess what? It IS the Home Lines crown in altered form because the forces behind Nina Cruise Line and those behind Home Lines are linked closely enough that it is NO stretch to call Nina the successor to that well loved and much missed cruise line...Look for me to be aboard this ship whenever I get the chance...she ranks way up there with my favorites...and shows every indication of heading to the tippy top of the list!

Public Areas
Not a single photo of any public room aboard the ITALIA PRIMA does any justice at all! You really do have to see them for yourself...because it’s not just the visual aspect that works so well...I felt a special feeling throughout this ship and every public room, every lobby, ever area of the ship has or contributes to it...the forces that worked together to create the ITALIA PRIMA truly succeeded and forged a masterpiece of layout, design, decor and ambience. Everything here is top drawer and finished with materials of the highest quality. This ship’s interiors look wonderful and give her that warm, gentle, welcoming atmosphere savvy travelers so love...

Modest in size that she is, her entrance hall...stunning in marble and chrome...rises two decks around the stairs...friendly and welcoming is the staff and with your first breaths aboard you know you are somewhere special! Take the curving stairs up a deck and head forward on either side...If you go on portside you first pass the Via Condotti, like the original in Rome, a place to shop....you then reach Le Maschere Lounge....the ship’s combination main and show lounge - do you NEED to know what colors predominate in here? OK...warm reds, brass, glass and marble..good sight lines to the stage and great views of the sea through big windows on both sides...pass through and head aft on starboard past the library and the next door card room...stop for a drink in the Panorama Bar...VERY reminiscent of the Wooden Horse Bar in the old GOLDEN ODYSSEY...Because the crowd is not the fast action bunch of a seven night Caribbean cruise there is no need for a big casino...and next to the Panorama is a small gaming room...underused, its staff moan...

Across the ship is my favorite shipboard Piano Bar...the “Duetto”...yes, that’s right...the “Duet”....intimate, cozy and warm..comfortable...especially comfortable...the curving bar is to starboard, the music to port...Then aft is Il Giardino where buffets are set up and enjoyed in a room quite successfully decorated with a garden ambiance... out aft is covered deck...set up like the after deck of a big private yacht...there’s a bar here, too..and just when you thought they’d run out of ship, there’s an opening in the deck above to provide sun over the outdoor swimming pool. Most ships would make do with THIS particular range of public rooms...but NOT the ITALIA PRIMA. Go upstairs...okay, I KNOW we sailors should say...go above....where a night club/disco...hey..how about we call it a boite de nuit? It gives out aft onto a rounded open passage overlooking the pool..and a deck chair here is a dandy place to take sun...Forward of the disco is the Forum...a 400 seat auditorium where concerts, lectures and movies are given....VERY comfortable..and very welcome...This deck also has the ship’s open promenade...while two decks higher is the Fitness Deck highlighted by a serviceable gym, spa facilities, beauty salon, deck games and about a thousand deck chairs.. I exaggerate... maybe NOT a THOUSAND deck chairs but a LOT of ‘em...and in my years on ships I have learned that a lot of people think sunbathing is an ideal leisure time activity...they may be right but I don’t have that kind of patience! There are SO many places to go aboard this ship..though only 15,200 tons, she has all the facilities a giant liner offers yet none of the crowds nor the gnawing anxiety of anonymity...

Another thing I like about the ITALIA PRIMA is her single sitting dining at a reserved table in the Grand Italia restaurant. It’s a big room...actually it’s two rooms opening into each other...but the space it all takes up allows that prized single sitting...All those things you read in cruise brochures are used in all of the brochures printed to sell cruises in this ship...and every word is true...”Highly skilled master chefs...” ...”You will be pampered with friendly, highly attentive, and yet unobtrusive, service”... and my old favorites...”elegant surroundings, exquisitely set tables and fine furnishings.” Old cynic that I am... I really did not believe the brochure, remained convinced that they could not pull it off until I got my first whiff of the wonderful aroma of lunch in the dining room...

The first clue that the food is good is that it smells good...and it really does smell good....Under a master chef talented cooks love what they do and strive to outdo themselves at every turn, producing memorable repasts day after day...You will eat well here! I did! Since there are Germans involved in this Italian ship, can you be surprised that the food is some of the best at sea? The Germans demand the best for their money and the Italians know nothing less than the best! Menus are printed in German or Italian as well as in French or English if there are English or French speakers aboard...very popular item on lunch menus was always an item from the crew kitchen...I especially liked a Tyrolean style beef in sauerkraut served with a fried egg sauce.... it tasted a lot better than it reads...and in any language there is one simple word for the food here: YUMMY!!! Don’t look for typical American dishes very often...unless you realize that much American cooking traces its roots to other continents...ENJOY the food here...and wait til you get home to munch on burgers...

A further note...since this is a mainly European operation and few Americans are ever on board (and let me tell my fellow American...you don’t know what you’re missing...) You might be concerned that you will be daunted by a wine list full of labels unfamiliar...FEAR not...selections familiar on these shores include Champagnes by Moët, Pommery and the WIDOW...Veuve Clicquot....sparkling whites like Henkell Trocken and Asti Spumante (pardon me while I retch on THAT one...too many memories of too many college age drunk days I guess...no WONDER I don’t drink)...then there are other whites like Bernkasteler Riesling, Niersteiner Domtal, Verdicchio, Soave (at about $10.00 a bottle!!!!) and Pouilly Fuissé...Reds like Valpolicella and Chiantis and a Duboeuf Beaujolais...in short all the German, Italian, French and Portuguese labels you know ..Mineral waters and beers familiar are here too... And ALL at prices better than almost anything in the US market!!!! and speaking of bar prices (they are listed in German Marks, by the way, but since you leave your credit card impression with the Purser’s Office to settle your accounts....don’t sweat the conversion....it’s all done for you)...the bar list includes almost every spirit and cocktail you’ve heard of as well as some you haven’t...HERE’s the place to give some of the unknowns a try! What does cost more are cigarettes...American and English brands will set you back DM4.10 per pack...at current rates of exchange that’s about US$2.50...EXPENSIVE for a tax free shipboard price...MAYBE YOU SHOULDN’T SMOKE...

WONDROUS are her 260 cabins - all but 32 of them are outsides...Of COURSE all of them are fitted with private facilities...every last one of them has, so I am told (NO I DID NOT go into each and look)...a bathtub and hair dryer...every cabin has radio, satellite telephone, TV, safe and refrigerator...the eight suites on Sun Deck boast sitting areas, balconies and bathrooms with jacuzzi tubs... there are 33 junior suites located on Taormina Deck, the lowest passenger deck, Portofino Deck, just forward and aft of reception, and a lone one stuck up by itself on Sun Deck...and they also have and comfy sitting areas and bathrooms equipped with jacuzzis...But there’s nothing wrong with any of the standard cabins! They are beauties and not one of them has that familiar air of a just built standard American hotel room...The storage space is good... for the ITALIA PRIMA was conceived to be able to do round the world cruises and she does one a year...a LONG one for anyone who does the full cruise...and with storage space so important in a cabin, you will likely have enough room for your belongings..I don’t know the exact conversion to feet and inches but the eight suites measure 32 square meters, the juniors about 20....and 21 square meters is 226 square feet...so take it from there...the cabins are generously proportioned...

Who Goes
You won’t find much of a young, swinging, noisy crowd here...you will find wonderfully elegant ladies and a number of distinguished gentlemen...primarily Germans and Italians all of a certain income and educational level...this is not the place for the freakish nor for the conspicuous boozer or loudmouth...though every ship gets some of them...they are...well...less tolerated here...German passengers, in particular, retain a high degree of dignity and cordiality and are very apt to know your name and use it! They also have no qualms about complaining about rude behavior. This is a classy ship for classy people...she is NOT the ship for those people, who, believe, like a certain member of the Texas state legislature that “if the English language was good enough for Jesus Christ, it should be good enough for everybody”...if you don’t like announcements and conversations in languages other than English, if you are not comfortable amid European cultures...STAY AWAY...the ITALIA PRIMA is not for you. If your idea of a cruise is to drink all day, party and drink all night I wouldn’t recommend this one to YOU, either. But if your tastes run towards the refined, if you instinctively know which restaurants to enter while abroad and which dishes to order...WELCOME ABOARD....this is YOUR SHIP!

She is currently offering 7 day cruises from Montego Bay, Jamaica. Under charter to West Indies Cruising Ltd of Canada, she is the first cruise ship to visit Cuba in quite some time. The itinerary includes stops at Georgetown (Grand Cayman), Havana - 2 days (Cuba), Calica - 2 days (Mexico), and Isle of Youth (Cuba)

Can you tell that I am VERY impressed by this lady? Those little touches that separate a truly great cruise liner from a very good one...a bathrobe waiting for you in your cabin, minibar (OK so I don’t drink and don’t like the prices...I appreciate that it’s there!)...one sitting...in cabin meals should you wish...plenty of activities and venues... If I have not convinced you by now that this is a great ship...I never will so stop reading now...I’ve stopped writing about the ITALIA PRIMA...at least for now.

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