By Peter Newall
All images copyright Lisa Royall.
The 24,492gt. SAGA RUBY ex VISTAFJORD is the last Norwegian America Line passenger ship. Designed by a team led by Kaare Haug, NAL’s technical chief, she was the final ship in a quartet of beautiful liners built after the Second World War. She has the same basic hull shape as OSLOJORD of 1949 i.e. a well-raked bow, with no bulbous forefoot, and a cruiser stern with a large overhang. Designed to handle the most extreme Atlantic conditions, she is also, like the earlier ships, a very good sea boat especially in rough weather.
As she has come to the end of her five-star cruising career, I thought it would be good to share a series of images taken during her last cruise to the Azores in November 2013 which show how much of her original 1973 features still exist.
SAGA RUBY’s main public rooms on are on the Veranda Deck.
At the forward end is the semi-circular Britannia Lounge with its large windows offering panoramic views on three sides. This lounge has a marked sheer and was a familiar feature of all four post-war Norwegian America Line’s passenger liners. Designed by the Danish architect Kay Kørbing, it was originally VISTAFJORD’s Garden Lounge which was described in 1973 as “one of the most attractive public rooms yet seen on a cruise liner”. Forty-one years later, this elegant lounge it is still one of the finest afloat, its original appearance only slightly marred by the rather glitzy central light installed during her Cunard days. Whilst the curved marble plant troughs have been removed, it still has its original Italian marble topped dance floor whilst the main colour scheme of the furnishings is now a mixture of mulberry and ivory.
In addition to a pair of elevators, the Britannia Lounge’s main access from the lower decks is an attractive oval-shaped, spiral staircase. With under step lighting, this also has a solid teak hand rail above a transparent balustrade.
Abaft the Britannia Lounge on the portside is the popular South Cape Bar. Also designed by Kay Kørbing, it was originally called the North Cape Bar and the shape of this room is broadly unchanged from the Vistafjord-days.
On the starboard side are the Card Room and Library. Furnished in purples and red, the Library is a quiet place to relax and read one of the 3,200 books. On VISTAFJORD this area was the Norse Lounge.
In the South Cape Bar and Library were a series of excellent paintings by the renowned marine artist Stephen Card, including VISTAFJORD as built. These have been removed by Saga before SAGA RUBY sailed from Southampton for the final time.
Flanked by the South Cape Bar, Card Room and Library is the 200 plus-capacity Theatre. With its excellent sound, wide-screen, comfortable seating and sloping floor it is used not only to show first-run movies but also for lectures and Sunday services. It was designed by NAL’s principal naval architect Kaare Haug.
The most impressive room on the ship is the Ballroom. It covers over 8,000 square feet and is the centre of most day time and evening events. All passengers can be seated in this lounge and with only four slim pillars the sight lines are almost perfect. This “floating-ceiling” effect is achieved by using large aluminium box girders hidden in the ceiling above. Designed by the Oslo-based architect Finn Nilsson, in 1973 it was one of the largest rooms afloat.
Directly aft of the Ballroom is the Lido Café. As the original buffet area was too small for casual dining, the whole Lido area was transformed during the 2005 change from CARONIA to SAGA RUBY. A new mosaic-tiled pool was built further aft whilst the Lido Café was completely renovated and extended.
Above the Lido Café are the Pre-view bar and nightclub and the exclusive, modern-style View Restaurant. This intimate, 28-seater dining area was added in 1994. Unlike other cruise lines, Saga did not charge extra for this restaurant.
Like most liners of her time, VISTAFJORD was also designed with a small indoor pool deep inside the ship on C Deck. This is virtually unchanged since 1973.
The open teak decks and sunbathing space aft on the Lido and Promenade Decks are extensive. The life boats are raised above the wide wrap-round promenade and this offers an unique, unobstructed view of the sea.
Designed by another Oslo architect Njaal Eide, the main Dining Room is situated amidships on the Upper Deck. Like the Ballroom on the deck above, it can accommodate all passengers, has slender columns and is lit by ceiling lights and natural light from large windows with sea views. Unfortunately the original, Scandinavian-design ceiling was spoilt after Cunard decided to install a series of oversized chandeliers. In 1973, it was claimed to be the largest luxury-class dining room afloat.
At the centre of the Dining Room is a large, abstract, brass-decorated screen by the modernist Norwegian artist Jørleif Uthaug who worked extensively with other Norwegian cruise lines. Behind the screen is the food preparation area. Meals are prepared in the galley situated on the deck below and brought to the dining room via two original 1973 Otis-escalators.
Despite her size, SAGA RUBY has 23 different cabin categories ranging from single inside cabins to two-level Duplex suites with private balcony and a hot tub. Over 80% of the cabins are outside whilst most have a bathtub and many are available for single travelers. All cabins are double panelled with a two-inch air gap to make them soundproof.
SAGA RUBY still has her original Sulzer-type engines built on the Tyne by G. Clarke and N.E.M. Ltd., Wallsend whilst her portside bridge bell also features her three names VISTAFJORD, CARONIA and SAGA RUBY. This bell is a great reminder of one of the world’s finest luxury cruise ships.