NEW YORK -- Telephones went unanswered at First European Cruises'
U.S. offices this week, raising agents' concerns about the future
of the cruise line's parent company, Festival Cruises.
A recording directed callers to leave a message and said the
First European offices were closed. No one answered the door at the
line's New York offices when a Travel Weekly reporter visited one
Festival, which was the second-largest cruise operator in
Europe, halted operations in January after a creditor said the
Genoa, Italy-based cruise line had failed to meet financial
The company has since struggled to reorganize; several published
dates for restarting operations have come and gone. Festival has
since pared down its fleet of six ships to three. One of the
remaining vessels, the European Vision, was auctioned in Barbados
A spokeswoman at Festival's Genoa headquarters said the company
still has a reorganization plan on the table and that negotiations
are continuing with creditors. She said she was unaware that the
New York offices were closed.
"We have a plan to restart operations, of course, and we hope
this would be done very [soon], depending on the decisions of the
lawyer on the success of the business plan," she said.
There is interest from an investor, she said, adding that Royal
Caribbean Cruises also has "manifested [its] interest in the
company," but she said she could not discuss details.
A spokesman for RCCL said the company would not comment on
"speculation or rumor."
Of the two ships that remain in the fleet following the Vision
auction, the European Stars is in Barcelona, Spain, and the Mistral
is in Marseilles, France. The Festival spokeswoman said there was
"no action being called on them."
But because the company hasn't declared bankruptcy or officially
ceased operations, U.S. agents were in limbo and searching for
Because Festival did not offer cruises from the U.S., it was not
required to post a nonperformance bond with the Federal Maritime
First European's president, Jim Applebaum, said in an e-mail to
Travel Weekly that "we are still waiting to hear something from
[the company's headquarters in] Italy. Until I get something
official from them, I can't do too much." He declined to comment
Meanwhile, ARTA sent a letter to the office of New York State
Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, saying that "our concern ... is
that First European may be in the stages of shutting down." It also
advised members that it was unable to contact anyone at First
"In light of Far & Wide, Premier, Renaissance ... we have,
in fact, a responsibility to keep you abreast of these types of
developments," the letter said.
John Hawks, ARTA's president, said it was "very frustrating."
About four or five agents contacted him with concerns.
"We tried every back-office number we know," he added. "E-mails
[were] not returned, fax machines not picking up."
To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].