MV Louis Majesty

Even cruise ships need a change of scenery, especially when it comes with a generous dose of Greek hospitality and cheer—but please don’t smash the MV Louis Majesty’s dishes on the floor. Once the property of NCL, this ship is charting new waters in Europe and the Mediterranean as part of Louis Cruises’ fleet. It’s been refurbished and jazzed up with quite a few cosmetic changes, and has comfortably found a spot in a company where destination-focused programs and a service-oriented crew are front and center.

Making its name among worldly cruisers for giving us the warm fuzzies, Louis is enticing more North American travelers with exotic itineraries and smaller vessels that are able to go in and out of ports more quickly than the bigger ships, which in turn allows passengers to spend more time in each destination. The Majesty’s size, in fact, is one of its biggest assets. “Being a smaller ship—big and comfortable, but not huge—people get to know each other, give a little smile, a ‘Hi, how was your day,’” says Kamel Hamitouche, the cruise director. “While we’re sailing it’s the perfect time to have a drink, get to know each other…people loosen up. We have a friendly, family atmosphere,” he adds.

Louis’ knack for providing such a quality product at affordable prices has worked well for the Cyprus-based company as others of its kind feel the shakes in a bumpy economy.

Besides new itineraries and the acquisition of the well-known Majesty, Louis is also offering its best deals well in advance, rather than as last-minute discounts, through online “Smart Rates” available to agents when they register and book on its website. We’d more likely call them “Eureka! Rates,” as many are priced at half off the brochure rate—but more on that later. The itinerary, rather than round-the-clock sundae stations, is what really counts with Louis.

“We are catering to a more sophisticated clientele who is not just looking for drinking and partying and sun and sea, but who want a cultural experience,” says Nicholas Filippidis, director of product development in North America. “Our focus is…on the way we do things. We have good cuisine. We have excellent service and very unique itineraries. And it’s easy to book Louis.”

big on culture Less “stuff,” more worldly experiences—count us in. After all, when you travel this far for a vacation, a climbing wall should not be a priority.

The Iberian Coasts program aboard the Majesty is a perfect example of Louis’ destination-focused itineraries. Departing from Genoa, its first stop is Marseilles, alive with vendors selling flowers and just-off-the-boat fish, with cafes and shops lining its streets. It’s a perfectly nice place to explore on your own, although passengers can also sign up for a half-day visit to Aix en Provence ($70 per adult).

Barcelona is another story, as it begs to be explored further; at the very least, a Barcelona City Tour and Park Guell shore excursion is necessary ($64). This allows visitors to get a taste of a few of Gaudi’s masterpieces and the pleasant rumblings of this Catalonian icon. There’s also a tour option for soccer aficionados that visits Camp Nou, the stadium that Futbol Club Barcelona calls home, and another one that visits the mountaintop monastery of Montserrat.

Alicante, on Spain’s White Coast, is easily and delightfully enjoyed on foot, with a palm-lined esplanade adjacent to the beach and lots of stores, bakeries and museums. From the port to the heart of the town, it’s just a 20-minute walk so those who don’t want to take advantage of the beach can stop by any tourism kiosk and ask for a map, then explore the old part of Alicante and surroundings.

Then it’s off to Gibraltar—unreachable during our journey due to inclement winter weather—and later the busy port of Tangier, which has a kicky medina in which to stock up on Moroccan pottery, leather slippers and delectable fig cookies. Travelers can hop on a Flavours of Tangier tour ($65) that lets them explore the city and also admire gorgeous villas along the 25-mile beachfront on their way to Cape Spartel, at the entrance of the Strait of Gibraltar.