Sapphire Libya & Med cruise


I took an 8-day cruise to Libya and the Mediterranean aboard the MS Sapphire of Louis Hellenic Cruises (Athens, Greece) in April ’05. I booked it through Advantage Travel & Tours (Poway, CA; 800/882-2098 or e-mail advantaget@aol.com).

The brochure price was $1,499 for an inside cabin or $1,699, outside, and included air from New York. Since I needed airfare from Ft. Myers, Florida, I had to pay $200 extra. The single supplement was $500, but I opted to share with a stranger to save the extra charge and that worked out fine. We had to pay for the tours in Libya in advance to secure the necessary visas.

Embarkation was in Marseille, France, and the ports of call were Genoa and Civitavecchia (for Rome), Italy; Tunis, Tunisia; Tripoli, Libya (two days); Malta; Cagliari, Sardinia, and Genoa again, where we disembarked.

The MS Sapphire was built in 1967 and refurbished in 1996. Officers were Greek and the crew was international, mostly from Eastern European countries (Ukraine and Romania) plus some from Mauritius.

The ship is supposed to carry up to 650 passengers, but we had only 578, which was more than enough to fill the small common areas of the ship. The passengers were mostly French, with some Germans, Italians and Slovenians. All announcements were in several languages. The Slovenians were classified with the English-speaking passengers; there were only about 32 of us for whom English was the mother tongue.

I left Ft. Myers on April 21 and upon arrival in Marseille spent the night at the Holiday Inn, which was an extra cost (€94 for a single).

We boarded the Sapphire on April 23. Our cabin was classified as an outside, but it had a large oval window facing to the front of the ship, so there was no view. The cabin itself was adequate in space, with two nice-sized closets plus a large dresser separating the two single beds. The bathroom was small but adequate.

The shipboard life was quite hectic, as the common areas of the ship, like the lounges and the casino and shop area, were always crowded. My cabin was on the same level as the casino and Marco Polo Lounge and it was almost impossible to weed through the crowd to get to and from our cabin.

The entertainment in the Marco Polo Lounge was excellent. Every night there was a production show consisting of two male singers, two female singers and five dancers. They all were very talented, and the costumes and productions were par excellence.

On the downside, there were many unruly children on board unsupervised by their parents. Sometimes they would get on the stage with the entertainers — very distracting. At one point, one woman was singing a very poignant song and three little girls were on stage posing and doing stunts. The crew did nothing to deter this behavior, nor did the parents. Also disturbing — people talked constantly during the performances.

The dining room had two sittings for dinner, 6:30 and 9:45. I found the latter too late to eat dinner. At our table of eight, the service was slow and sometimes exasperating due to the way the service commenced. Our waiter, Foustino, was very good, nevertheless, and we couldn’t blame him. I then learned why the late sitting was so late: several of the lunches in the dining room were classified in the daily program as “open sitting” but in fact were buffet style.

I found the personnel on the ship very accommodating and pleasant, from the front office staff to the cabin stewards. Our cabin steward’s English was not too good, however.

Bob and Cathy Parda of Advantage Travel joined our group in Genoa and were taking most of the group on a tour of former Yugoslavia and the Balkans after the cruise. I must say that they are very personable and, it seemed to me, capable and well versed in travel to unusual destinations.

I fell in the bathroom of my cabin and hurt my back, so I only did the city tour in Tripoli, Libya. I found the city very cold and unusual compared to other Arab cities I had visited. I wouldn’t classify the people as overly friendly.

Upon disembarking in Genoa, I spent the night at the Ramada Suites at an extra cost of €64, single.

All and all, I would not classify this cruise as one to compare to cruises of lines such as Holland America or Princess. The mixture of nationalities and cultures and the fact that the common areas were chaotic did not make the onboard ship time very pleasant. While smoking was allowed in the Marco Polo Lounge supposedly only on one side, the rule was broken many times over.

JOHN J. MILLER
Naples, FL