It’s taken a while, and there have been some hiccups on the way, but Saga Cruises have finally got their hands on a new ship. The 18,500-ton Astoria will undergo a £14 million refit before her maiden voyage as Saga Pearl II next March. My exclusive picture (above) shows how the vessel will look in its new livery.
The ship will replace Saga Rose, which will sail into retirement in October, and the company’s efforts to buy it have been of epic proportions.
The original plan was for it to become Quest for Adventure, a sister ship for Spirit of Adventure. Itineraries were planned and brochures produced before a change of mind brought new announcements about Saga Pearl, sailing alongside Saga Ruby.
Then financial problems afflicting the then owners, Club Cruise, threatened the sale and transfer and in February Saga pulled out. The ship languished in Spain before moving to Gibraltar, where the purchase, by auction, was concluded yesterday.
James Duguid, the canny boss of Saga Shipping, was giving nothing away when I spoke to him last week at the Passenger Shipping Association dinner. But it was apparent from the twinkle in his eye that he was confident of acquiring the Astoria at what he now says is “an appropriate price.”
Saga Group executive chairman Andrew Goodsell, said today: “I am very excited that we at long last have Saga Pearl II. She is a lovely a mid-sized ship true to the Saga tradition and a perfect addition to our fleet.
“In her traditional Saga livery she will carry no more than 446 passengers. The ship will have an intimate atmosphere and a personal service with the attention to detail that our passengers have come to expect. Regular Saga cruise passengers will find many familiar faces on board, as the officers and crew of Saga Rose will transfer to the new ship.
“A multi-million pound refit will ensure that the ship is fabulous throughout. What’s more, there will be many new features including the addition of new balcony cabins. I am sure that Saga Pearl II will win the hearts of Saga cruisers, just as Saga Rose did a decade ago.”
The refit will also include upgrading the show lounge, spa and two swimming pools, creating one of the best libraries afloat, and new galleys to support the gourmet dining experience in the stylish single-sitting dining rooms, including a new Veranda restaurant. The hull will also receive an energy-saving coat of silicon paint.
She will leave Southampton on March 15 for an 18-night inaugural cruise to the Norwegian fjords and Arctic Circle, followed by a 16-night voyage to the Canaries and then a 16-night Mediterranean cruise. Later in the year there will be a seven-night trip to commemorate Dunkirk, an eight-night tour of the Irish coast, and a voyage to the Highlands, as well return visits to Norway and the Med, and cruises to the Baltic.