|Passengers: 2500||Cars: 580||Built: 1985||Speed: 22 knots|
The mv Pride of Bilbao entered service with P&O in 1993 and became the largest night ferry operating out of the UK with over 2,350 berths. Her younger years were spent in the much colder and calmer waters of the Baltic operating for Viking Line. Under the name of mv Olympia she operated the overnight crossing from Stockholm to Helsinki. Then after seven years she was put up for sale / charter, with much interest from various companies it was headline news when P&O European Ferries as it was then announced that they had chartered the vessel and were to launch a new route from Portsmouth to Bilbao. Renamed mv Pride of Bilbao she entered service on a fixed schedule of two round trips to Bilbao each week with an overnight Caberet Cruise to Cherbourg on a Friday night.
In 1994 she was sold by Viking Line to the Irish Continental Group (Parent Company of Irish Ferries) and has remained on charter ever since. The current charter is due to expire in November 2010, having been renewed in 2007. Following the P&O Business Review in 2004 the weekend Cabaret Crusies ending pending the closure of the Portsmouth to Cherbourg route and since then the ship has operated a rotating schedule with a departure from each port every three days.
She can be characterised by her large and bright passenger spaces full of brass, marble and crystal fittings, along with her panoramic walkway linking fore and aft of Deck 7 with it's small bars and restaurants. Her facilities are unrivalled and offer something for even the fussiest of passengers; three restaurants, several bars, large shopping mall and an array of lounges and quiet spaces.
The mv Pride of Bilbao operates three night mini-cruises from the historic naval port of Portsmouth to the scenic port of Santurtzi (Port of Bilbao) in northern Spain. There is plenty to do onboard from relaxing in the lounges, taking a swim in the onboard pool or taking part in one of the Whale and Dolphin watches on deck. During the ships career with P&O Ferries there was a wildlife officer resident onboard throughout the year, who interacted with the passenders on deck 11 during the deck watches and also provided wildlife presentations in the ships cinema. The wildlife officer was provided by the Biscay Dolphin Research Programme'.
Sadly September 27th 2010 saw the final departure, after 17 years, from Bilbao to Portsmouth. The party atmoshpere onboard lasted pretty much the entire crossing from Bilbao with many former crew members and frequent passengers taking the opportunity for one last voyage before the ship was withdrawn. The mv Pride of Bilbao following destoring in Portsmouth sailed for drydocking in Falmouth and handover back to the owners. Several weeks after withdrawl the news broke that the ship had been sold to St. Peter Line in the Baltic for operations alongside a ship that was designed by Silja Line as direct competition. Incidently the ship will also be back in the same port as sister ship mv Mariella.