|We re-emerged into the Genoa sunshine after an hour or so and made our way back to the Scotia Prince. Our timing was perfect and as we rounded the stern of the Fantastic we could see the gangway was just in the process of being moved into position. This ship and her sister, now laid up in Greece as the Egnatia III, had been built for Stena’s Göteborg – Kiel run in 1972 and 1973 as the Stena Olympica and Stena Scandinavica respectively, the ‘Olympica’ being named in honour of the Munich Olympics which began just over a month after she entered service. Whilst the ‘Scandinavica’ went to Irish Continental, the ‘Olympica’ was sold to Canada in 1982, assuming her present name and running a Portland-Maine ferry-cum-minicruise service until the abrupt end of this operation before the 2005 Summer season. Intriguingly, both sisters were stretched after sale, proof once again of the inherent flexibility of design that Stena ships almost always have. The conversions however were rather different, that on the Irish ship being more extensive, both in terms of sheer size (31.5m as against 18m of stretch) and in re-arrangement of passenger spaces.
Boarding the ship we emerged into her epic central lobby on Deck 5: virtually identical to that still extant on the Egnatia III, this marble-clad space with curved reception desk and ornate staircases complete with metal balustrades is one of the best afloat. The small telephone kiosks even retain the original door handles with embossed Stena stylised ‘S’ logos. This lobby forms the central orientation point of Deck 5, the main cabin deck, which on the face of it was the main distinguishing feature from the similar Stena Jutlandica and Stena Danica of 1973/4, day ships for the Frederikshavn run which had upper car decks at this level. The original cabins remain largely unchanged along with their rather more spacious neighbours in the section added in the stretch. Alas the original cabin doors have at some stage had the large floral prints which once adorned them covered over.
Moving up a deck, forward can be found the main restaurant (now known as ‘The Princess Dining Room’). This is gloriously unchanged from its Stena incarnation, with original furniture, light fittings and a central smörgåsbord servery. The same area on the ship’s sister had been more radically changed, becoming an additional bar with new restaurant spaces added in the stretched section astern. The restaurant features one of a number of relics on board dating from the Scotia Prince’s period in use as a as a floating hotel for victims of Hurricane Katrina, with a poster for the 2006 New Orleans Mardi Gras signed by many of the ship’s unfortunate residents. Right forward can be found two separate function rooms, divided from the main space by a central stage area with piano and, to either side, glass doors featuring more of those Stena door handles. The port side of these two smaller rooms was evidently being used as a store for cutlery and crockery with full boxes stacked on tables and across the floor.