As it launched its newest technology-rich megaship - the 100,000-ton Carnival Destiny - with great fanfare last month, Carnival Cruise Lines effectively and rather quietly removed the last of its original "Fun Ships," the Festivale, from its fleet through a seven-year hire-purchase agreement with a Miami investment group, IB Limited.

The Festivale has been operating as the Island Breeze for Dolphin Cruise Lines since May. According to Christian Stensby, head of IB, Dolphin will continue to manage the ship's year-round operations, but will only market the Island Breeze for a third of the year because of a non-compete clause exacted by Carnival, which limits operation of the ship in the Caribbean to four months annually.

IB is a subsidiary of Cruise Holding, which seems to be building presence in the niche market, as it has a minority stake in Dolphin and also owns Seawind Cruise Lines.

Carnival Corp., meanwhile, has sold its interest in Ulysses, parent company to Dolphin.

The Festivale/Island Breeze will be heading to the Mediterranean on a seasonal basis. Discussions are underway between IB and Thomson Vacations of the U.K. for a possible charter of the ship starting next year. A decision is not expected until mid-month, said a Thomson spokeswoman.

Ironically, this would put an ex-Carnival ship in direct competition with the vessels operated by long­ time rival operator Airtours. Carnival owns an almost 30 percent stake in Airtours.

However, unlike Airtours, Thomson is electing to enter the cruise market through ship charters and sales agreements, while Airtours recently purchased its third vessel - Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Song of Norway - slated for a March band-over.

It is believed that the Thomson charter would begin next summer, and the ship would sail in the Mediterranean. Thomson's current ship, the Sapphire (ex-Ocean Princess) is already 75 percent sold for next summer, said the spokeswoman.

Thomson entered the cruise business earlier this year with the 540-passenger Sapphire, which it is chartering on a seasonal basis from Louis Cruise Lines for three years.

Thomson is also selling Norwegian Cruise Line's Seaward next summer, and has been booking winter space for Celebrity Cruises' Horizon and Festival Cruises' Bolero. "Sales have been good for these two vessels, and we even asked for more cabins on the Horizon for the winter period," said the spokeswoman.