Today Saga Cruises ended years of speculation regarding their fleet. Rumours had been around suggesting they would build two new ships, rather than buy older tonnage. That was dismissed when I asked during my original visit to Saga Sapphire in 2012 as the process would take (and I quote) 6 years. Seems they have changed their minds – yay! – and the new lady to grace us with her presence is due to arrive in the summer of 2019 with an option for a second.
Since every other blog is reporting the press release and using the same renderings, I’ve decided to write more about the company and their growth over nearly two decades.
Saga have been around for as long as I can remember doing holidays and insurance for the over 50s. In the 1990s, they branched out into cruising, which was becoming increasingly popular. They purchased their first ship, Sagafjord, from Cunard and renamed her Saga Rose and she began sailing in 1997.
It was a one ship operation until a brief charter during the summer of 2003 with the charter of the Minerva, renamed Saga Pearl. It was announced the following year they had bought Caronia from Cunard to join her Norwegian America Line sister in 2005. Her name would be Saga Ruby. She arrived in Southampton on the 7th February 2005 ready for her new life.
2006 saw more expansion with the start of their Spirit of Adventure brand, for those over 21, with a ship of the same name. This was a more relaxed form of cruising than their main brand while the ship was the smallest in the fleet at 9,570 tonnes.
It also was the start of four joint world cruise sailings for Saga Rose and Saga Ruby. Each January, they would meet in Southampton and set off after 9.30pm fireworks. Saga certainly knew how to put on a show.
I missed their 2008 meeting because I was away but both were in Madeira on New Year’s Eve 2007.
It’s always nice when there’s a fleet meet because it’s rare. In 2006, Saga Rose and Saga Ruby had not only set off together on their respective world cruises, but also returned together.
Holding company, Acromas was formed in 2007 following the merger of Saga Group and the Automobile Association.
Meanwhile Saga were busily trying to acquire another ship to expand the Spirit of Adventure brand. Astoria was the target, as seen here in September 2008.
She was originally announced to be Quest for Adventure, maiden voyage to the Baltics on the 1st July 2009 from Harwich. Then, with the subsequent news Saga Rose would be retired that year, they decided to instead have their new ship in that brand. Now known as Saga Pearl II, her maiden voyage would be from Southampton the 30th October 2009, the same date as Saga Rose’s farewell cruise. All three ships were scheduled to meet in Vigo on the 1st November when Saga Pearl II would be officially named. They planned celebrations with passengers able to visit the other vessels. But things didn’t go as planned. Before the purchase was complete, her owner went bust and she was arrested then moved from Barcelona to Gibraltar awaiting the next move. But Saga refused to give up and on the 4th August 2009 they got their next ship. She sailed to the shipyard in Swansea on the 6th September.
Meanwhile a rather grand old lady was ending her career as Saga Rose sailed on her farewell cruise as scheduled, returning on the 6th December where she underwent destoring. At 5pm on the 7th, she sailed to an uncertain future, anchoring off Gibraltar awaiting a buyer before they gave up and she was broken up in China.
After numerous delays, Saga Pearl II finally arrived in Southampton on the 8th March 2010.
Yet more expansion the following year when they purchased their new flagship, at that time named Bleu de France. What would become Saga Sapphire began extensive drydocking in Palermo, and was also beset with delays.
2012 was another year of change. Spirit of Adventure would be sold with Saga Pearl II replacing her as she set about undertaking her original role. Saga Ruby and Saga Pearl II met for the only time before the transfer in Southampton that January.
Saga Sapphire arrived on the 26th March, the first with the new livery, meeting Saga Pearl II three days later an sailing on her maiden the 3rd April.
Things went wrong during the cruise so she didn’t return until the 6th May, along with Saga Pearl II, who had finished her farewell cruise. Saga Pearl II became Quest for Adventure on this day.
Sadly 2013 heralded the beginning of the end of Saga Ruby as well as more rejigging of the ships. She had crankshaft trouble which seriously curtailed her final world cruise on the 7th January and ended up alongside in Southampton, firstly in 40 berth from the 8th.
While still alongside, she met Saga Sapphire on the 22nd.
She was returned to City Terminal on the 23rd January, assisted by tugs Phenix and Wystorm, ready for her sea trials on the 16th. The first attempt resulted in her returning to the berth so they tried again in the afternoon. My video shows better than photos what happened.
But she was okay and she set off on a revised itinery on the 20th.
Saga Ruby and Saga Sapphire also met in Dover a few times.
At the other end of the scale, the Spirit of Adventure brand had to be closed. Saga, despite constantly seeking another ship for the Saga brand, hadn’t managed to find anything suitable so, as it had to be a two ship operation, the other brand was sacrificed. Quest for Adventure returned to Southampton on the 21st November, almost 19 months after she left to become Saga Pearl II again. Her latest maiden was the following day.
And so it was time to say goodbye to Saga Ruby on the 10th January 2014. Her farewell cruise had begun on the 7th December. Originally scheduled to go to the Caribbean, she suffered generator problems while in Tenerife on the 12th December so the itinerary was revised to be a Med one due to the air conditioning being underpowered in hotter climes. Then her return exactly a month later was delayed three days by bad weather. Saga Pearl II had been with her in Lisbon, Saga Ruby arriving the 3rd, Saga Pearl II the 4th. The latter Pearl left on the 7th at 7.45am with the help of Svitzer Lisboa while poor old Saga Ruby stayed put until 2pm. They both arrived before midnight on the 9th.
Saga Ruby had been sold to continue her career as Oasia in Thailand, where she would be based in Sattahip. She left for the final time, heading to Gibraltar for paperwork and refit just after 3.30pm.
And so to the future and what an exciting one it is! While we are lucky in Europe that people have a choice between mega monsters and the small but beautiful, there are only so many older ships left which still have a lot of years in them. And there are also not many of those as the main lines keep building bigger and uglier. It was only a matter of time really since Saga took the plunge and spent millions on new. Meyer-Werft is the yard, known for exellent vessels. Saga love their old ladies as if they WERE brand new and lavish money on them. They know what their passengers like so the new ship (with an option for a second) will continue the tradion they began 18 years ago.
Interesting though the rendering has the original funnel colouring and is Saga Rose’s. Saga Rose II perhaps? And what about Spirit of Adventure? Will that be making a comeback? For all of these questions plus updates on the new ship, visit the Saga Cruises website.
Roll on 2019!