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Ex-“Aidaaura” now traveling in the Greek islands

Last fall, the uncompleted sale of the German cruise ship “Aidaaura” to the Turkish shipping company Miray Cruises caused a lot of excitement in the cruise world. Following further conversion work, she is now sailing in Greek waters.

It was originally planned that the “Aidaaura” with the kissing mouth image on the bow would be handed over to the new owner at Columbuskaje in Bremerhaven at the end of September after the last cruise for Aida Cruises had been completed.

The latter wanted to take the 202-metre-long, now 21-year-old cruise ship on a three-year voyage around the world for its subsidiary Life at Sea Cruises. A down payment for the ship, which is estimated to have a market value of around €40m, was reportedly also made for this purpose. However, after the first new crew members and managers from the Turkish company boarded the ship at the end of September, they had to leave after just a few days as the full purchase price had not been paid. As a result, the world cruise could not take place and many complaints from travellers are likely to be pending.

The situation was equally unfortunate for Aida Cruises, as several hundred crew members had to remain on board for the time being. Some of whom wanted to go on vacation or were already scheduled to be deployed on other ships of the shipping company.

There was a threat of a long hangover, but at relatively short notice there was a new interested party and owner for the 1,200-passenger ship “Aidaaura”: the Greek shipping company Celestyal Cruises. The company had already flirted with purchasing the ship and shipping company representatives inspected the ship in the summer of 2023 to submit an offer. However, this was probably lower than that of Miray Cruises, meaning that Celestyal was initially not selected.

But then, in October last year, things went very quickly and after a takeover period of just two weeks in Bremerhaven, during which all former Aida references, including the ship’s name and the kissing mouth on the bow of the ship, had to be removed, the cruise ship then set course for the Mediterranean under its new name “Celestyal Discovery” on November 21 from the seaside city.

Since the end of March, following further modifications in Greece, the cruise ship has been operating 3 and 4-night cruises in the Aegean for the new owner with a new name, new exterior paint, new crew and a new concept – and doing so quite successfully.

The “Celestyal Discovery” departs from the small ferry port of Lavrion, just a 30-minute drive from Athens airport, to destinations in the Greek islands as well as to Kusadasi in Turkey, close to the ancient city of Ephesus, one of the most important cities of antiquity.

Many changes on board the former “Aidaaura”

An exciting itinerary awaits guests, with six destinations in four days, leaving little time to catch their breath on board. Unlike in the Aida days, these cruises are aimed at guests from all over the world. Up to 60 different nationalities are on board, including Greeks, Spaniards and French as well as many Chinese and Americans. German guests can still be counted on two hands. The choice of food now also reflects international tastes and not the previous German audience. You won’t find brown bread in the bread basket in the morning, but you will find lots of hearty, fried and egg dishes.

On board, all the former bar and restaurant names have been changed, as have the catering concepts. The former market restaurant is now called Taverna, and the buffet concept for the main meals has been retained. The former Calypso buffet restaurant has now been transformed into the Thalassa à la carte restaurant with daily changing dishes, some of which are subject to additional payment. The restaurant is very popular, so there are often long queues at the entrance. Water, beer and table wine are included with meals.

Although the previous beer dispenser in the Taverna buffet restaurant has been retained, the wine dispenser has been removed. Wine is now poured by a waiter at a separate table by the glass. The “free drinkers” that some guests used to complain about in Aida times, who used to confiscate the limited seating in the restaurants all evening when wine was included, are now history. Especially as this behavior is probably purely German and not a problem with international guests.

The ever-contentious issue of towel reservations on the sun loungers on the pool and sun deck does not exist on board the “Celestyal Discovery” either. On the one hand, there are only two half days at sea for sunbathing on deck. But even on these days, only a fraction of the outdoor loungers were occupied. Asian and American guests are obviously not as keen on sunbathing as the German passengers.

Captain with “German” experience

Captain Panagiotis Giaukoumatos, who worked for the Deilmann shipping company a few years ago and also supervised the construction of the Superfast ferries at HDW in Kiel, is already very positive about the shipping company’s new acquisition, as the former “Aidaaura” is in excellent technical condition.

Apart from a few cosmetic issues, the ship also makes a very good impression in the guest area. The public areas have been partially redesigned; for example, the former fitness studio has been converted into a casino with one-armed bandits and a roulette table. The international and always friendly crew goes to great lengths to fulfil guests’ wishes. Particularly worth mentioning here is the high proportion of Cuban service staff, whose calmness and Caribbean temperament will put a smile on the face of many a grumpy guest. The majority of the musicians and the show ensemble also come from the communist island state. The fact that so many Cuban crew members are on board also has to do with the many years of experience of the shipping company, which was one of the first shipping companies to offer cruises there around 10 years ago.

Last hints of Aida’s past

Old Aida cruisers miss the former kissing mouth on the now blue hull, but here and there they can still find old clues from the time under the flag of the Rostock-based company. The cabins, for example, have not been changed at all, apart from the canopies above the beds, which have been removed and are no longer in keeping with the times. In the elevator, the display for the decks still shows the names Aida-Bar or Markt-Restaurant.

This year’s trips on the “Celestyal Discovery” are already very well booked. A new routing is currently being considered for next year. During the winter break, the shipping company is planning further technical upgrades to the ship, and it is quite possible that a shipyard in Germany will be called in, according to Captain Giaukoumatos. The last major class docking of the ship was carried out at Lloyd Werft during the Aida era, so it is quite possible that the ship will be seen here again next winter. (CE)

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Copyright: Eckardt

Caption: "Celestyal Discovery" (ex "Aidaaura") and "Mein Schiff 2" in Kusadasi (© Eckardt)