Saga Cruises, a name synonymous with ocean going voyages for far longer than many would think. In fact, it has been 18 years since the Saga Group ventured into what is now familiar territory. The first ship was Saga Rose and became a firm favourite among her passengers from 1996 until her retirement in December 2009.
Next came the first Saga Pearl, during a brief charter in 2003. A new chapter began when Saga Ruby entered service in February 2005, another becoming a much-loved favourite.
These two little beauties were former fleet mates and in Southampton together 4 times for the beginning of their respective world cruises. This was always a late departure, with Saga pushing the boat out with fireworks at 9:30pm and celebrations aboard both ships so loud you could hear the passengers enjoying the atmosphere from land, making you wish you were onboard. Due to wind, I only have the first on video.
Meanwhile another chapter was beginning while Saga Rose was coming to the end of her career with the addition of Saga Pearl II, entering service in March 2010.
This was followed two years later by Saga Sapphire while Saga Pearl II had an 18 month foray as Quest For Adventure, her originally intended role.
This sadly spelled the end for Saga Ruby, who was sold in January 2014.
I first became more aware of Saga Cruises when Ruby arrived in Southampton fresh from refit and ready to join her sister. I loved these little liners enjoyed the rare times they were in together. I also froze for three of the four world cruise departures. I was away for 2008 but had the pleasure of seeing both in Funchal, Madeira on New Year’s Eve 2007. While Rose was a late post-dinner appearance, I had spotted Ruby from above in Monte, steaming towards her anchorage while on an excursion and decided I’d rather photograph her than what we’d stopped to see.
I also had the unexpected pleasure of seeing her in the North Sea from Discovery as she returned to Dover in September 2012 and passing her in the English Channel in December 2012, as I was returning aboard QM2. She had been late sailing and was heading to Le Havre.
It was a cold and sad December day when Rose departed for the final time. Being under 50, I knew I wouldn’t stand a chance of sailing on either beauty, couldn’t visit without knowing someone and from reading the Captains cruise blogs, such as the mystery cruises, everyone sounded like they were having so much fun and I had to wait before I could too. Sometimes being young when you love ships and cruising can be depressing!
However, in January 2011, one dream came true. Southampton hosted 6 ships and my friend, the late journalist, Steve Read, decided to report on it and asked if I’d like to help him. Saga were the first to agree to him filming aboard Ruby. He loved that ship very much so would have been happy spending all day on her if two other lines hadn’t agreed at the last minute. As a result, she was the last we got to. Steve was like a big kid, proudly giving me a guided tour and explaining what he liked best about certain public areas and why the ship was perfect for him. I fully understood why. We finally had time for lunch, which turned out to be afternoon tea! As a seasoned cruiser, I was impressed with the vast choice on offer compared to other lines. There was even gluten free and diabetic.
It would have been marvellous to stay there until all ashore but we had to interview Captain Angove in his inner sanctum and leave.
While I would have liked one more time aboard her to say goodbye the day she left Southampton for her new life, I’m glad I only waved her off from Mayflower Park and Calshot because sadly, Steve Read died a month after our visit so memories may have been too overwhelming even three years on. Those couple of hours, however, made me want to experience a Saga cruise even more.
It’s very rare for two Saga ships to be in port together not for a world cruise but they were a few times and I even saw them in Dover.
So to the future and Saga Sapphire and Saga Pearl II are continuing the great Saga tradition. Another dream came true when I visited Sapphire. She has undergone a few changes over the years, including the addition of balconies, but still looks fabulous. Saga themselves have taken a ship slightly larger than Rose and Ruby and altered a couple of places, but as soon as you set foot aboard, even as a visitor, you get that same Saga feeling. I really loved the Verandah and the Drawing Room and like the fact the cabins are all a decent size. I’ve been in some tiny ones on large ships.
In October 2014, I also visited Pearl and found her just so adorable. She feels larger than she is and also has some wonderful public rooms, including the very spacious Discovery Lounge.
Some major cruise lines have removed the little, personal touches while still promoting themselves as luxury. Saga have retained them plus giving you much more, which really makes all the difference to your average cruiser. There is also a lot to be said for small ship and adults only cruising, of which Saga are the leaders for both. Being on a small ship is a much more friendly and relaxing experience than large ones and when gratuities are included, you know the crew are genuine. Sapphire and Pearl now have their loyal passengers and one of these days I hope to be one!