All text and photographs (unless stated otherwise) © Paul Timmerman; photographs on this page made during ship visit in 2001.
The career of The Azur started in 1971 when she made her first round trip for the Eastern Ferries division of P&O Lines. She sailed under the name of Eagle.
For a ferry, she had luxurious interiors, indeed she could be regarded as a cruise ferry, being able to carry 200 cars on her car deck, and cater for 740 passengers on the Southampton, Lisbon and Tangier route, on a cruise service so to speak.
The complete round trip from Southampton took her 6 days, and she would depart every 7th day from Southampton. She couldn't earn her keep sailing on this cruise-like service however.
It was a financial disaster, so P&O decided to sell her in 1975. Her new owners were French Paquet Cruises. She was renamed Azur and was used in a dual role again. Sailing between Marseilles and Casablanca as a ferry, and the remainder of the year as a cruise ship in the Mediterranean.
Riviera dining room on Restaurant Deck
However, she was gradually used more and more for cruising, and in 1981 she was converted to a full time cruise ship. Her garage had been turned into passenger accommodations, and she could now carry a total of 1040 guests.
Azur was used in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and farther out to the Canaries and West Africa.
Unfortunately, running a cruise ship under the French flag, resulted in high labour costs and Paquet put Azur up for sale.
Library, Sun deck
Azur Transportation Inc. from Panama bought her in 1987 and chartered Azur out to Chandris Cruises at once. Chandris renamed her The Azur and used her mostly in the eastern Mediterranean, sailing between Greece, Turkey, Israel, former Yugoslavija and to the Canary Islands. She also cruised in the Caribbean. Because of the Gulf War, the Mediterranean was avoided by tourists, so The Azur cruised from Harwich and Amsterdam to Norway and the Baltic in 1991 instead.
Chandris sent her back to the Eastern Med in 1993, but lost interest in ships like The Azur. Chandris was busy splitting up their cruise operation in a de luxe division, called Celebrity Cruises and a 2/3 star division called Fantasy Cruises. Besides the Azur, old ships like Ellinis, Britanis, Romanza, and The Victoria sailed for Fantasy Cruises. Chandris wanted to gradually phase out Fantasy Cruises and concentrate on the de luxe market served by Celebrity Cruises.They started with the acquisition of the Galileo Galilei followed by two newbuildings, Horizon and Zenith.
So in 1994, The Azur was sold to Festival Cruises, and thus was the first cruise ship owned by this Cruise Line, known as First European Cruises in the USA.
She was such a success, that Festival acquired more second hand tonnage like the Bolero (former Starward of NCL), and the Flamenco (originally Spirit of London of P&O). In 1999 Mistral was Festival's first newbuilding, soon to be followed by European Vision in 2001 and European Stars in 2002.
Azur Lounge, Lounge deck
As the oldest ship in the Festival Fleet, The Azur soldiered on mainly on 10/11 day trips in the Mediterranean.
During her 2001 season, she suffered some mechanical problems, but these were quickly solved.
In 2004, Festival Cruises went bankrupt and all it's ships were laid up and gradually sold off. The Azur changed hands also and was acquired by Israeli Mano Shipping. She was renamed Royal Iris.
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Pool, Sun deck Monte Carlo lounge, Sun deck Sun deck, Lido area Pool, Lounge deck