SAGA RUBY To Be Retired
Shawn J. Dake
SAGA RUBY in Los Angeles. Photo Martin Cox Feb 25, 2006
Saga Holidays has announced the impending retirement of their classic cruise ship SAGA RUBY. The vessel will sail a final season of farewell cruises throughout 2013 which will mark its 40th year in service. Built as the VISTAFJORD in 1973, the 24,492 gross ton SAGA RUBY is in many ways a ship of lasts. It was the last ship built for the Norwegian America Line. The construction contract was awarded to the Swan Hunter & Tyne Shipbuilders, Ltd., at Wallsend on the Tyne as Yard Number 39, and launched on May 15, 1972. She was delivered to her owners exactly one year later, to the day. It would turn out to be the final passenger ship to be built in Great Britain.
VISTAFJORD in Norwegian America Line colors at Port Everglades, Florida on January 23, 1983 with AMERIKANIS in the background. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.
The exterior design was of a classic ocean liner and very similar to her earlier fleet mate SAGAFJORD. Although a contemporary of the early 1970’s cruise ships of companies like Royal Caribbean, Royal Viking and Norwegian Caribbean Lines, the ship was not given their then contemporary cruise ship lines. Instead, she was every inch a traditional liner although intended mainly for cruising. In that respect too, her traditional profile was the last of its kind. Even after the restyled Norwegian America Cruises ceased operations and sold the ship to Cunard in 1983, it still had another end-of-an-era moment in store. After sailing for many years under her original name, the much-loved VISTAFJORD became the CARONIA in 1999. It would be the last Cunard Line ship to utilize the traditional “ia” naming suffix that the vast majority of the line’s ships, other than the Queens had used throughout the company’s history.
Her career as CARONIA was brief. On May 30, 2003 Saga Holidays announced that they had acquired the ship which would sail a final 2004 season of cruises under the Cunard red/orange and black funnel colors. In March of 2005, newly renamed the SAGA RUBY, the beautiful ship reemerged with a flattering new color scheme sporting a dark blue hull and white superstructure, topped by a yellow funnel with a dark blue top separated by a thin white band. Once again, the ship was reunited with her near-sister the SAGAFJORD which had been renamed SAGA ROSE following a brief stint under charter as the GRIPSHOLM for Transocean Tours over the winter of 1996/97. The two would remain together in the Saga fleet until 2009 when the SAGA ROSE was retired, sailing on to meet her fate in a Chinese scrap yard in 2010.
SAGA ROSE and SAGA RUBY in their last year together, 2009. Photo by Eric Shenton at Southampton January 5, 2009.
The announcement from Saga Cruises came as a bit of a surprise as the SAGA RUBY remains a very popular ship with those who still love a traditional liner. Much more human-size than today’s mega-ships, the passenger capacity is 661 served by a crew of 380. In making the announcement of her retirement from the Saga fleet at the beginning of 2014, the line acknowledged that many passengers will look forward to the opportunity to make a final cruise on the ship. Robin Shaw, CEO of Saga Shipping said: “SAGA RUBY has delighted cruise-goers for some 40 years, but operating a ship of this age to meet the exacting standards we and others set is becoming an increasing challenge. We have therefore decided that she should be gracefully retired in 18 months. SAGA RUBY will, in her ruby anniversary year, visit many of the ports where she has been warmly welcomed over the years. We believe that Saga cruising has a great deal of potential and we have invested over the last few years well over £100 million on our fleet and we continue to look for opportunities to expand and improve our classic cruise experience.”
In her final year, the ship will undertake one final Round the World Cruise as well as cruising to many of the ports she has visited throughout her long years of service, giving her loyal followers plenty of opportunity to say farewell to this much loved classic liner. Taking her place will be another member of the Saga fleet. After sailing briefly as the QUEST FOR ADVENTURE (ex ASTOR, ARKONA, ASTORIA, SAGA PEARL II), the 18,627 gross ton, 500-passenger ship will return to her former livery and name, again becoming the SAGA PEARL II. Just this year the 37,301 gross ton, 750-passenger SAGA SAPPHIRE (ex EUROPA, SUPERSTAR EUROPE, SUPERSTAR AIRES, HOLIDAY DREAM, BLEU DE FRANCE) also joined the fleet. Grant Laversuch, Operations Director for Saga Shipping reports, “SAGA SAPPHIRE is now very much into her first cruise season and running well. It is a stunning ship and we are very proud to have her.” While all three of Saga Cruises current three ships are comfortable and very well-designed vessels, the classic lines and elegant interiors of the SAGA RUBY will be sorely missed on the world’s shipping lanes. There are already too few passenger ships like this left, and by 2014 there will be one less out there to please the eye and stir the hearts of liner lovers everywhere.
SAGA RUBY detail Los Angeles, photo © Martin Cox Feb 25, 2006
Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years. A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary. A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs. Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America. With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.
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