By Dimitris Kapranos – Kathimerini When Giorgos Poulidis started his cruise company Festival Cruises with the vessel The Azur, few believed the venture would succeed. Today, the company is without doubt the leading cruise company in Europe, with a fleet that is targeted almost exclusively at European travelers. Recently, Festival Cruises announced a significant move that could possibly revolutionize the cruise industry: It has teamed up with luxury hotel chain Hilton International to offer Hilton-branded products on its fleet. The service, launched early this year, is available on Festival’s ships Mistral (built in 1999), European Vision (constructed in 2000) and European Stars (2001) for cruise programs that will span the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands, Northern Europe and the Caribbean. The vessels are luxurious craft constructed at the French shipyard Chantiers De l’Atlantique and have onboard amenities such as entertainment centers, gyms, health spas, mini-golf courses, bars, casinos and even night clubs. The new Hilton suites are each equipped with a private balcony and offer in-cabin service by well-trained personnel. The scheme provides for special services to Hilton customers, including special check-in and check-out facilities as well as priority handling and additional benefits for onboard dining, entertainment and excursions. Poulidis told Kathimerini that «we are proud that the company will launch an innovative service with Hilton. We didn’t chose each other by accident.» The company recently hosted leaders of the G8 countries meeting in Genoa on the vessel Premium, an event which boosted its reputation and marked it as a security-conscious cruise company. Poulidis said three years of success cruising with the Premium have proved that the company offers high-quality services. He said the agreement with Hilton will open the road to other ventures. Jurgen Fischer, president of Hilton International Europe and Africa, said the venture will benefit both companies. Festival Cruises has an exclusive agreement with the Cuban tourist organization since January 2001.