21 years ago, Peggy and I took a cruise with My Travel/ Airtours/ Sun Cruises on the M.S. Sunbird. It was our 4th cruise together and our 2nd on the Sunbird. Although that 7-day trip wasn’t on the biggest or fanciest ship we ever sailed on, to this day it remains one of the most enjoyable. It had just over 700 cabins with about 1,600 onboard and we thought it was huge!! The staff onboard were just great and genuinely couldn’t do enough for us to make our holiday memorable. We spent a week out of Palma (Majorca, Spain) visiting Naples (Italy), Messina and Taormina (Sicily), Bugibba and Marsaxlokk (Malta), La Goulette and Carthage (Tunisia) before sailing back to Palma in Majorca. This is how we got on. Enjoy!
Our 2002 Cruise Itinerary
In April 1994 the cruises division of Airtours was founded to provide British and Irish holidaymakers with air and sea vacation packages at affordable rates. The cruise liner, MS Seawing was acquired, shortly to be followed by MS Carousel. In 1996, Airtours announced an agreement with Carnival Corporation where Carnival would acquire 29 per cent of Airtour shares. The Group also acquired a third cruise ship, MS Sundream. In 1997, Airtours acquired a stake in Costa Crociere, the world's fourth largest cruise business specialising in Mediterranean cruising. In 1999, they acquired their fourth ship named MS Sunbird.
The Sunbird entered service in 1982 as Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's 'Song of America'. Airtours began operating her in May 1999. Sunbird was 37,584 gross tons and had a maximum passenger capacity of 1595, divided between the 716 cabins. There were eleven passenger decks, but no single cabins, wheelchair accessible cabins or balcony cabins. There were seven elevators.
Sunbird was super clean and well maintained. The ship had bright décor with the public rooms mainly having a musical theme. There is was one main dining room – Seven Seas Restaurant, six lounges, one casino, two outdoor pools, a sauna/massage, conference room, photo gallery, fitness room and a library. There were no whirlpools, indoor pools, or cinema.
Peggy and I thought that Sunbird was a very attractive ship. Her white hull and distinctive funnel/lounge created a distinctive profile. She had a reasonable amount of polished wood deck space for sun bathing. MyTravel had a no tipping policy, although many passengers still gave a little extra to those staff who provided exceptional service – try telling Peggy there were no tips! Full travel insurance was also included in the fare. The onboard currency was sterling as the vast majority of guests were English.
The 'Oklahoma Lounge' was located aft on the Cabaret Deck. It is best described as a large ballroom and overlooked the ships stern. Amidships on this deck was the 'Can Can Lounge', which was used primarily as a show lounge, as it was the most spacious with large stage and dance floor. Located in between both Lounges was a conference room, the photo gallery and the Casino Royale. The 'Neptunes' Disco/Bar lounge was located on the Promenade deck. The Casino was of a reasonably size, reasonably priced, and stayed open until late. There were also some more intimate spaces such as the Clipper Bar onboard, featuring solo entertainment, such as piano.
The 'Chart Room', which was suspended high up the funnel, was the perfect place to watch the world pass by. It had an attractive circular bar to help the hours pass. This was a favourite of ours! The Library was 'small'.
The main dining room was located on the main deck, along with the gift shops and some cabins. It was called the 'Seven Seas', which was an elegant room with an in an art deco style with attractive wood panelling and lighting. It accommodated nearly 600 passengers at each of its two sittings. Peggy and I had the early sitting of 6:15 pm which suited us well.
There were many large tables in the restaurant for dinner, but none for two. Seating was allocated by the cruise line. We had a lovely table of 10 in total. Our dining companions were all English and all very friendly – three married couples and two female friends as well as us two. The food was very good and plentiful. There was a good choice of wines at a range of prices.
The dining room waiters were great, always in good humour and entertained us with singing and napkin twirling. A highlight was the Baked Alaska parade where all the lights were dimmed as the flaming dessert was served. Barbara, one of our dining companions, was serenaded for her birthday.
Our cabin, number 6018, was on the outside and had a window. It was small but spotlessly clean. Here’s some photos of the two of us in the cabin:
Because we had cruised on the Sunbird before in 2000, we were now members of the Compass Club and were invited to a Champagne reception to meet Captain John Reeves. He was a lovely man and very friendly.
Sunbird cruises were extremely popular with first-time cruisers. They appealed to a wide age range of budget conscious travellers, like ourselves. The majority of passengers were British and Canadian, although other nationalities were represented. The average passenger age range was around 45 years, which was considerably younger than some other British based cruise lines at the time.
PALMA, MAJORCA (SPAIN) – Saturday 8 June 2002
So we flew from Dublin to Palma on the Saturday morning. The transfer to the port went without a hitch and we were soon boarding the Sunbird.
NAPLES – Monday 10 June 2002
Peggy and I had been to Naples before and had been to Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii when we had stayed in Sorrento a few years previously. So this time we chose to wander around Naples itself and drink coffee and eat cake!! What crazy traffic! We now knew what they meant when they said “See Naples and Die!” We had a great relaxing day in the sunshine.
But of course, if we wanted to we could have seen Herculaneum and again go up the culprit, Mt. Vesuvius. Some onboard went to the Amalfi coast resort town of Sorrento. Some more had taken the hydrofoil to Capri and had a great time. We had stayed on Capri before which was amazing!
Sorrento is built on a cliff, lots of interesting shops, beautiful views, cute cafes and vendors, old churches. To get from the town down to the beach/boardwalk/hydrofoil you either walk down a series of stone switchback paths in the cliff, or take the 1 euro bus. It's a pretty walk, lots of photos to take.
We were all back on the ship by 5:15. The ship left at 6 pm.
That evening, as we sailed out of Naples, we were all out on deck as the sun set over the beautiful Isle of Capri. Beautiful!
MESSINA, SICILY – Tuesday 11 June 2002
There is only 1 rather awesome sight in Messina, the medieval church Il Duomo, visible from the ship, a 5 minute walk. But the medieval town of Taormina is a must see. And that’s where Peggy and I headed.
Taormina is a beautiful hillside town, with quaint little shops, a Greek/Roman amphitheatre facing Mt. Etna, and several medieval monasteries and churches. Many beautiful views. It's 1 hour from the ship, and it was best to take the half day ship tour for about 30 STG rather than doing it ourself on the local train, which stops too far from the town, or on the bus, which leaves too late and returns too early to be practical.
We had an amazing tour of the amphitheatre and then sat outside a café eating ice-cream (gelato). How bad for a Tuesday!
MALTA – Wednesday 12 June 2002
The thirds port was Valetta, Malta, a jewel for history buffs. This was where the Christian knights made their last stand against the Ottoman empire. Valletta is a huge walled city with awesome cathedrals and other architecture.
We chose to do tour of the island by coach and headed first to Bugibba. Bugibba has served as a human settlement ever since the 4th millennia BC, and a small stone temple from that era still survives to this day. You can visit the archaic relic that is now on the premises of a hotel, as well as the remains of a military battery that the Order of St. John built here in 1715. The present-day resort of Bugibba and the surrounding region served small communities of fishermen and farmers for centuries until the middle of the 20th century when it gradually developed into a touristic zone.
We had lunch of fresh fish in a small village along the way. We travelled along the Maltese coast road and saw some spectacular bays.
We were also brought to a glass blowing factory before coming to the gorgeous fishing village of Marsaxlokk. Marsaxlokk fishing village is the largest fishing harbour in Malta. It has been so since antiquity and today the greater part of fish sold on the islands are caught by fishermen coming from this village. Traditional luzzu’s (brightly-coloured traditional fishing boats) and larger fishing vessels line the sheltered harbour in a colourful display that has been the subject of countless photoshoots.
During the week, fishermen coming in with their catch take the fish to the fish market in Marsa. From there, hawkers, fish retailers, restaurant owners and others gather in the early hours of the morning to buy fish for redistribution. However, on Sundays, fish is sold directly to consumers by the fishermen from stalls in the Marsaxlokk Sunday fish market.
TUNIS (LA GOULETTE), TUNISIA – Thursday 13 June 2002
Leaving the port at Tunis, we were first treated to a display of falconry. In the Arab world falcons are accorded the same level of respect as human beings and anyone eager to participate in falconry must learn how to hold the bird gently, read its mind and command it. It was fascinating to see these majestic birds in flight.
We then went on to discover some of the ancient history of Northern Africa with a history tour around the city of Carthage. With roots tracing back to the Carthaginian, Roman and early Christian eras, this tour explored the beginnings of modern human history. Led by a local guide, we learnt about Tunisia's culture and we visited sites including the preserved Site Archeologique de Carthage, and the La Basilique De Saint Cyprien. An amazing day!
The following day we arrived back in Palma, Majorca and had no issues with transferring to the airport for our flight home. As I said earlier, it really stands out in my memory as a great cruise particularly for the lovely friends we made and the marvellous service and fun onboard the M.S. Sunbird!!
PS So where is the Sunbird Now??
Well, in 2004, Airtours decided to withdraw from the cruise business, and the Sunbird was sold to Louis Cruise Lines, who chartered her back to Sun Cruises until May 2004. Following the end of her charter to Sun Cruises, Louis Cruise Lines chartered the Sunbird to Thomson Cruises, who renamed her MS Thomson Destiny. With Thomson, the ship was used for cruising in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Canary Islands and the west coast of Africa.
Thomson Destiny returned to Louis Cruises in April 2012 and started operating under its new name Louis Olympia. She was used on Aegean cruises, to the Aegean Island and the Turkish coast, with its home port being Piraeus. Louis Olympia was used as a floating hotel during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
As part of Louis Cruise Lines re-branding in late 2014, the ship was renamed Celestyal Olympia with an updated livery, to reflect the new corporate identity. The ship resumed service on June 28, 2021, cruising the Greek Isles!!
Bucket List Items Ticked Off in the above Blog 97
Number 34 - Food & Drink - Eat/ Drink Regional Food and Drink
Other Blog Posts
Blog 11 - Sydney, Australia
Blog 12 - Hong Kong, China
Blog 17 - Beijing, Xi'an & Shanghai, China
Blog 19 - California, USA
Blog 27 - Scotland
Blog 28 - Barbados
Blog 29 - Canada
Blog 30 - Alaska
Blog 31 - Everglades, Florida
Have you ever been on a cruise? Tell me about your experience in the comments section below.
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My name is Mary and this is my bucket list blog ...having survived a near-death experience. I hope it encourages you to "live your best life". See how I'm completing my own bucket list items. And let me know how you're getting on with yours!