New ship hosts world leaders at G8 summit

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NEW YORK -- Festival Cruises' newest ship, the 1,566-passenger European Vision, is one of the youngest cruise ships at sea, but the vessel already has hosted a distinguished group of international figures.

In July, the European Vision, which was launched a month earlier at the Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard in St. Nazaire, France, hosted world leaders attending the G8 summit of major industrial democracies while docked in Genoa, Italy.

Because the historic port city lacks the five-star hotel accommodations usually preferred by such dignitaries, the leaders and their staffs stayed aboard the European Vision.

In all, the European Vision hosted Russia's President Vladimir Putin, Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, France's President Jacques Chirac, Canada's Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Italy's Prime Minister Romano Prodi as well as a delegation from the European Union.

Festival Cruises is a European-oriented operator that is marketed in the U.S. under the name First European Cruises.

The Mistral, which played host to the U.S. delegation during the recent G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy. Another relatively new First European ship, Mistral (built in 1999), hosted the U.S. delegation, all except for President George W. Bush, who stayed on land at the Jolly Marina Hotel.

Predictably, journalists covering the summit were at the bottom rung of accommodations, staying aboard First European's 30-year-old Azur.

In fact, members of the White House press corps who stayed aboard Azur were offered a free cruise by George Poulides, First European's chief executive officer, after several complained about the size (too small) and the cleanliness (not enough) of their staterooms.

"I have been advised that your stay onboard the Azur has not been as pleasant as I would've wished," wrote Poulides in a letter placed in reporter's cabins during the last weekend of the summit.

Blaming "circumstances beyond my control," Poulides offered the disgruntled scribes certificates for a free cruise for two aboard "any of our new generation ships at any time you choose over the next year as my personal guest."

Other anecdotes and odd bits of information were gleaned by the ship's staff, including:

• Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who couldn't sleep, visited the ship's bridge late one evening. Francesco Bruzzone, the ship's captain, was awakened and explained to Prodi "everything about the bridge activities," according to a company official.

• The only spouse aboard was Doris Schroder, wife of the German chancellor. She complained to John Hammond, the ship's hotel manager, about the water in the ship's pool (too cold) and the cable radio music (bad). Meanwhile, Chancellor Schroder requested (and received) a meeting room to organize a press conference reserved for German journalists.

Schroder was described as "dark, no smiles" while his wife spent most of her time at the pool and the beauty center.

• Blair, Chretien and Putin shook hands with every staff member.

Putin ordered pasta and beefcakes at 2 a.m. one morning.

• Poulides personally purchased Italian food (pasta alle vongole) and fresh fish at Koizumi's request.

• No evening entertainment was requested aboard European Vision, so delegates (except for the heads of state) went to the Mistral, where full evening entertainment was offered every night, and guests reportedly partied until 5 a.m. on several occasions.

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