The cruise ship better known as the Norwegian Majesty, but now sailing as Crown Iris, has had a very interesting history. Let’s take a look.
In 1990, Finland-based Birka Lines ordered a new cruise ferry for their overnight trips out of Stockholm. The new ship would be called the Birka Queen. This Baltic cruise ferry concept would be similar to the ones that Rederi Ab Sally operated the Sally Albatross and later what Silja Lines operated the Silja Opera on. The new ship was then contracted to be built at the Helsinki yard of Wartsila Marine. Shortly after the order, the yard entered into bankruptcy in the newbuild was put on hold. After restructuring, the new yard was forced to increase the contract. Birka Lines did not accept the revised price of the ship so they abandoned the project. The yard, now under the name Masa Yards, sold it to a group from Dolphin Cruise Line who started up Majesty Cruise Line. This intent of this new brand was to fill a niche that was now empty due to the closure of the premium Home Lines.
The new ship was named Royal Majesty and was christened in New York in July 1992. She then commenced 3 and 4-night trips to the Bahamas out of Miami. It was then in 1995 that she inaugurated a route that would make her quite popular, the Boston, MA to St. George’s, Bermuda route. The owners found quite a successful niche market with this route as it is what most cruisers probably know her from.
During one of her first Bermuda trips in June 1995, she ran aground off of Nantucket while on her way back to Boston. No real damage was done to the vessel and no one was even injured but the event did generate some rather infamous photos of the stricken ship.
In 1996, she was chartered out to a tour agency and sailed to the wreck of the Titanic to witness the first attempt to raise the big piece.
In 1997, Majesty’s ‘parent company’ Dolphin Cruise Lines was sold to Premier Cruises and Majesty Cruise Lines themselves were sold to Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). At that point in time NCL was swiftly expanding its fleet and this was a way to quickly add two ships to the fold. Royal Majesty then became the Norwegian Majesty and her only fleet-mate, the Crown Majesty became the Norwegian Dynasty.
NCL decided to keep the ship deployed on the original itineraries of 3&4-night Bahamas itineraries in the Winter and the 7-night Bermuda cruises out of Boston in the Summer. After a successful stretching of the Norwegian Dream and Norwegian Wind in 1998, NCL decided that the next ship to undergo this type of enhancement will be the Norwegian Majesty. So in 1999, she sailed to Germany’s Lloyd Werft shipyard to be cut in half and have a 110ft midsection inserted in the middle of the ship. This gave her a new casino, an additional dining room, the ’Le Bistro’ alternate restaurant, as well as more cabins and a new pool up top. She also gained four more lifeboats (two standard 150pax boats as well as two new tenders.)
The Norwegian Majesty always stayed on the Boston to St. George’s routes for the summer as NCL enjoyed exclusivity on it via a contract with the Bermuda Government. As time went on, NCL then would experiment with her winter deployment with itineraries ranging from 10 & 11-night Panama Canal cruises to a season or two based in San Juan going to the southern Caribbean as well as a tenure of Winter homeporting our of Charleston, SC.
By the mid-late 2000’s, NCL was well into their transformation to the ‘Freestyle’ cruise line and were also well into their fleet transformation with a long series of newbuilds from Meyer Werft. These new ships (starting with the Norwegian Star) had double the capacity of the Majesty, as well as many cabins with balconies (Majesty had zero at the time) and also multiple restaurants and dining options. To cater to that last item, towards the later years of her NCL career they would add a pasta restaurant to a lounge. At night the Royal Observatory lounge on deck 9 would transform into this Italian eatery. They would use the galley from the buffet located just above the forward-facing lounge.
Sometime in mid-2004 NCL actually transferred ownership of the vessel to Star Cruises (who now had majority ownership in NCL). It was heavily rumored that the Majesty would be then operated by Star in Asia. Those rumors never came to fruition, and she stayed under NCL deployment until Star finally sold the ship to the Cypriot, Louis Cruises who then finally received the vessel in November 2009. Renamed Louis Majesty, she sailed a variety of itineraries around the Mediterranean. The vessel was then chartered out to Britain’s Thomson Cruises from 2012 until 2015 and was renamed Thomson Majesty.
It was at that time that Thomson’s Parent Company, TUI, entered into an arrangement with Royal Caribbean and started incorporating ex-Royal Caribbean and Celebrity vessels into their fleet (which is what the current makeup of Marella Cruises is). Still technically owned by Louis Cruise Lines, they found a new buyer for the Majesty in 2018. Since then she’s been owned and operated by Israel’s Mano Maritime and sails under the name Crown Iris. She still sails the Med while being homeported in Haifa. Interestingly enough, at the time of the transaction, she was going to be called Princess Iris and Mano was even exploring chartering the ship out to Far East interests.