Trip: 7 July 2019. From Zakynthos to Kyllini, with the KEFALONIA of Levante Ferries.
The day ferry KEFALONIA was built in Japan in 1975, as the VENUS for the company Higashi Nihon Ferry. She spent her first 20 years there, operating first on the Hachinohe-Tomakomai line (1975-1979), then on the Aomori-Hakodate line (1979-1987) and finally on the Aomori-Muroran line (1987-1995), before being purchased by historical Greek company Strintzis Lines in 1995. She was renamed KEFALONIA (after the famous island of the Ionian Sea, which is also where the Strintzis family comes from), underwent a major conversion in Perama, and entered service on the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line, replacing the legendary EPTANISOS which was transferred to the Kyllini-Kefalonia line. Her entry to service was much acclaimed, and she went on to experience a lot success during the next 15 years. Strintzis Lines was transferred to Attica Group and became Blue Star Ferries in 2000. The KEFALONIA nevertheless remained on her usual service. She initially operated under the Blue Ferries division, before beginning to operate under the Blue Star Ferries brandname in 2004. Later in that same year she was bought by the newly-established company Strintzis Ferries (which was an indirect successor of Strintzis Lines). She remained on the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line until 2011, when she switched operations with her fleetmate, the newer EPTANISOS (another former Japanese ferry, which was built in 1989 and had started service in Greece under Strintzis Ferries in 2003). She was therefore deployed on the Kyllini-Kefalonia line.
With the rise of the Greek financial crisis, Strintzis Ferries found themselves in a very difficult position during the 2012 season. Unable to maintain profits, they were forced to withdraw from the Kyllini-Kefalonia line, and instead solely remained on the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line with the EPTANISOS for the summer. As a result, the older KEFALONIA was sent for lay-up in Salamina and missed the entire season. In late 2012, due to the continuing problems experienced by the company, Strintzis Ferries ceased all operations, and left the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line, which was taken over by the Ionian Ferries join venture. Both the EPTANISOS and the KEFALONIA were laid-up in Drapetsona. The latter was detained for 16 months, with many rumours of her being sold for scrap. However, in 2013, to the Greek coastal service's joy, the ship was bought by the newly-established company Kefalonian Lines, which deployed her on the Kyllini-Kefalonia line, and made a major comeback to the Ionian Sea, being renamed NISSOS KEFALONIA. Her fleetmate, the EPTANISOS, remained laid-up in Elefsina from 2013 to 2015, until she was acquired by Fast Ferries, which renamed her FAST FERRIES ANDROS. In the end of 2013 she also started to operate on the Kyllini-Zakynthos line and on the Kyllini-Kefalonia-Ithaca line, the latter being operated only from 2013 to 2015. In 2016 and 2017 she solely operated on the Kyllini-Kefalonia line. In late 2017, she combined her operations on the Kyllini-Kefalonia line with the re-opening of the line where she had been acclaimed in the past: the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line. She was therefore deployed on the new Patras-Ithaca-Kefalonia-Kyllini line.
After the 2018 season, following continuing economic and internal problems faced by Kefalonian Lines, she was sold to Levante Ferries and was again renamed KEFALONIA following a major upgrade in Drapetsona. The latter company, which had started operations in late 2014 with the superb FIOR DI LEVANTE, had become a major threat to Kefalonian Lines. Alongside the Ionian Group joint venture formed in 2015 with Zante Ferries, they quickly became the dominant company on the Ionian Sea. They prevented the ANDREAS KALVOS of Zante Ferries to be sold to Kefalonian Lines, and instead acquired her in late 2018 as well. The latter ship was converted in Drapetsona and entered service on the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line, which had been left abandoned by Kefalonian Lines. As a result of the sale of the NISSOS KEFALONIA to Levante Ferries, Kefalonian Lines ceased to operate on the Ionian Sea, and Levante Ferries had now become a monopoly in the area. After her refit in Drapetsona, the KEFALONIA resumed service under her new owners on the Kyllini-Zakynthos line and on the Kyllini-Kefalonia line during the spring of 2019.
The KEFALONIA is undoubtedly the greatest ship that has ever operated on the Ionian Sea. In her 23 years of service, she has won the hearts of many Ionian Sea residents and tourists alike, and she continues to provide excellent service even today. Her longevity, comfortable amenities, and particularly her speed (which is still very smooth despite her being 44 years old) have been acclaimed. Only the Greek economic crisis was able to force her to leave the Patras-Kefalonia-Ithaca line, where she was widely lauded between 1995 and 2010. It was not a surprise to learn that the residents of Kefalonia celebrated her reactivation under Kefalonian Lines in 2013, after it was initially thought that she would never enter service again following Strintzis Ferries' demise. While she is now one of the oldest ferries of the Greek coastal service, the refit she had under Levante Ferries before entering service under the latter gave the impression that she was a newly-built ferry, thus hiding her real age. She is set to remain a strong presence on the Ionian Sea for years to come.
The KEFALONIA seen in the port of Zakynthos, one day before my trip with her.
After having given you this overall presentation of the ferry, it is now time for me to talk about my trip. Indeed, as this blog post is the first one covering the 2019 summer season, it obviously talks about the first trip that I had with a ship in Greece during that period. It was a real pleasure to inaugurate this year's season with a trip onboard such a historic ferry. The trip was from Zakynthos to Kyllini, as I was already on the island since 28 June. I flew there from Vienna with my family, with this marking the first time that we went to the island by plane and not by ship. This happened due to the fact that my family had started the summer vacation in late June, whereupon we spent a few days in Iceland. Afterwards, due to my brother going to spend an exchange year in Australia (where the European summer is the equivalent of the winter season there) and having to go there in mid July, we only had just ten days to spend some time together in Greece, and we decided to use it in Zakynthos. Afterwards, my siblings and I headed to Athens just in time to vote in the Greek legislative elections, which were held in the same day as my trip with the KEFALONIA. Regarding the facts about this trip, it marked my first one under the Levante Ferries monopoly on the Ionian Sea. Moreover, it was my second-ever trip with the ship (I had previously traveled with her on 13 July 2015, when she was sailing as the NISSOS KEFALONIA under Kefalonian Lines, but unfortunately I had not taken any pictures that day), and my first-ever trip under her new owners and her current name. She also became the oldest ship on which I have ever traveled, as she was 44 years old at the time (eclipsing the record held by the ZAKYNTHOS 1, her former Kefalonian Lines fleetmate, which was 43 years old when I traveled with her from Kyllini to Zakynthos on 20 July 2016).
The KEFALONIA seen in Zakynthos shortly before my trip with her, during her first season under Levante Ferries.
Next to her was one of her fleetmates, namely the MARE DI LEVANTE, which had arrived from Kyllini a few minutes earlier.
Upon embarkation, I decided to have a look at the ship's amenities. Here is the small reception desk, which is located in Deck 4.
The ship's deckplan on Deck 4. She has a total of five decks: Decks 1 to 3 cover her garage, while Decks 4 and 5 feature the accommodation superstructure. Moreover, Deck 5 has the ship's bridge.
Right next to the reception desk, one can see the Economy Class lounge area, which was completely full during the trip. It features multiple white chairs surrounding steel-made tables that attached to the floor.
The end of the Economy Class lounge area, which is seen in the middle section of Deck 4. Featuring a few more chairs, the area also has a poster of the logo of Levante Ferries, which replaced the one that Kefalonian Lines previously had.
At the opposite side, one can see the ship's onboard store, which sells clothes, bags, beauty products, gadgets, toys, and notably turtle plushes (as seen in the bottom) which honour the Zakynthos sea turtles, an essential type of living species originating from the island.
Moving more forward, there is a small and narrow lounge area featuring aircraft-style seats.
The aircraft-style seats seen in the lounge area preceding the one located in the front section of the KEFALONIA.
A small corner next to the aircraft-style seats lounge area, which features a beautiful poster displaying an aerial view of the beach of the coast of Fiskardo, which is one of the most famous villages of the island.
The Forward Lounge area, which also features chairs and tables, but also black lounges.
The ship's floorplan on Deck 4, displaying the various aforementioned areas in both Greek and English, while also featuring the logo of Levante Ferries.
The stern section of the outdoor deck in Deck 4, which featured several grey chairs, as well as the Greek flag flying over the stern.
The outdoor staircase leading from Deck 4 to Deck 5, which was accessible by passengers just a few minutes before the trip began.
One of the ship's two side lifeboats, located in Deck 5.
After being allowed to access Deck 5, I immediately headed there. It features an open deck which has the helicopter emergency landing spot, as well as some seats next to the two funnels. Between the latter is a small sun deck featuring several grey seats aligned in columns.
The small sun deck located in the middle of the two funnels of the ship. It features three columns of grey chairs that are stuck to the floor.
On the port side of the ferry, one can spot an additional emergency motor boat. In front of it, there are four sets of four grey chairs, with life jackets located underneath them and available for passengers in an unlikely event.
The ship's port side outdoor alley, leading to the bridge in Deck 5.
Shortly after I was done exploring the ship's areas, we began our trip, as the ship departed the port of Zakynthos at 08:00 in the morning. As usual, a trip from the latter to Kyllini lasts just one hour, so it is very quick, But with the KEFALONIA, it is even quicker, as she is the fastest ferry of the Ionian Sea despite her advanced age.
As soon as the ship began to depart the port of Zakynthos, I spotted the various tour boats that operate around the island while also stopping by the small island of Marathonisi. There, I first saw the two ships of Top Cruiser: the DIMOSTHENIS and the DIMOSTHENIS K.
The IKAROS PALACE seen resting in Zakynthos. Built in 1999, she has been owned by Seven Islands Cruises since 2003. The summer of 2019 marked her thirteenth straight operating in Zakynthos and in Marathonisi.
Her fleetmate, the IONIAN SUN, has been a more recent introduction, as she began her operations in Zakynthos and in Marathonisi in 2018. Before that, she operated as the VASSILIOS A for Akliros Cruises on the Saronic Gulf from 1990 (the year during which she was built) to 2017, when she was sold to her current owners.
The DIMOSTHENIS, which has spent her entire career with Top Cruiser since she was built for them in 1999.
The DIMOSTHENIS K resting in Zakynthos during the morning. Just like her fleetmate, she has also spent her entire career on the Ionian Sea under Top Cruiser, although she was built five years earlier.
Passing by the bow of the MARE DI LEVANTE as we depart Zakynthos.
The bow of the MARE DI LEVANTE (also a former Japanese ferry) seen in Zakynthos.
The MARE DI LEVANTE right after having passed by her. This was her fifth summer season under Levante Ferries, and the fourth one under her current name.
While looking towards the other side, I noticed the small tour boat DELFINI of Voutirakos Cruises, which also operates around the island of Zakynthos and in Marathonisi.
The DELFINI seen resting in Zakynthos. I remember traveling with her ten years ago, back when I did a cruise around the island with my family in 2009.
The MARE DI LEVANTE seen resting in Zakynthos. Before joining Levante Ferries in 2015, she was known as the IONIAN STAR of now-defunct company Tyrogalas Ferries. She had been bought by them in 2003 from South Korean company Kukjae Express (for which she was operating between 1994 and 2003), and, following a spectacular conversion, she entered service on both the Kyllini-Zakynthos line and on the Kyllini-Kefalonia line. She became the flagship of her company, and eventually Levante Ferries took notice of her abilities. They acquired her as part of their successful Ionian Sea conquest, which led to the termination of Tyrogalas Ferries' operations on the Ionian Sea, as well as to the closure of the Ionian Ferries joint venture (which included Tyrogalas Ferries and Zante Ferries), which was succeeded by Ionian Group (a joint venture between Levante Ferries and Zante Ferries which was discontinued following the 2018 season).
The MARE DI LEVANTE seen in Zakynthos. Since she acquired her current name, I have traveled onboard her three times, the first time being on 30 July 2017 from Kyllini to Zakynthos. I then traveled with her twice in 2018, both from Kyllini to Zakynthos and from Zakynthos to Kyllini. I had previously traveled with her numerous times back when she was known as the IONIAN STAR, including during the summers of 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The veteran ferry MARE DI LEVANTE, formerly a rival of the KEFALONIA, seen resting in Zakynthos.
The speedy IKAROS PALACE seen docked in Zakynthos.
Another view of the MARE DI LEVANTE in Zakynthos.
The DIMOSTHENIS seen resting in Zakynthos as well.
The DIMOSTHENIS and the DIMOSTHENIS K seen together, as I leave Zakynthos for the last time in 2019.
After barely 45 minutes, we were already arriving in Kyllini. I did not even see the time go by, but it was simply due to the impressive speed of the KEFALONIA, which can reach up to 22 knots. In front of her was her fleetmate, the FIOR DI LEVANTE, which was arriving from Kefalonia.
The FIOR DI LEVANTE seen heading towards the port of Kyllini, in what was her fifth summer season in Greece under Levante Ferries.
The FIOR DI LEVANTE is probably the most exciting ship operating in Zakynthos and in Kefalonia, due to her impressive amenities which were acquired during her unique conversion in China between 2012 and 2014. Her entry to service in late 2014 was a massive success, and eventually cemented Levante Ferries' dominance on the Ionian Sea, whereupon three more ships were acquired between 2015 and 2019, with all of them belonging to former competitors.
The FIOR DI LEVANTE, the former main rival of the KEFALONIA, seen heading towards the port of Kyllini. Since the establishment of the Ionian Group joint venture during the summer of 2015, she serves both the Kyllini-Zakynthos line and the Kyllini-Kefalonia line.
The FIOR DI LEVANTE having maneuvered and docking in Kyllini.
The FIOR DI LEVANTE docking in Kyllini. So far, I have traveled with her five times. The first time was during her first summer in Greece, during a trip from Zakynthos to Kyllini on 24 July 2015. I then had a memorable morning doing back-to-back trips with her on 26 July 2016, and traveled again onboard her two days later from Zakynthos to Kyllini. The fifth time was during the summer of 2017, again from Zakynthos to Kyllini.
The great FIOR DI LEVANTE seen docking in Kyllini, as we also begin to head towards the port.
One last view of the FIOR DI LEVANTE in Kyllini.
After arriving and docking in Kyllini at 08:50 (after barely 50 minutes following our departure from Zakynthos), the KEFALONIA immediately began to unload passengers and vehicles. My siblings and me took the KTEL bus that was supposed to take us to Athens, where I went on to spend the rest of the month as I was doing an internship, once again with a Greek shipping company. It was very nice to travel on such a historical ferry, which still provides excellent service despite her old age. I was very satisfied by the job Levant Ferries did during her conversion, and was more than pleased to begin my 2019 Greek coastal service season by doing a trip with her from Zakynthos to Kyllini. Despite Levante Ferries no longer having any competitors, they sure do have the best ships of the Ionian Sea, which have been efficient many years and will probably continue to be so in the long term.