You may remember that Saga Holidays had long intended to add Astoria to its fleet, first as part of its Spirit of Adventure sub-brand, and then as a replacement for the 1965-built Saga Rose. The line was actually scheduled to take ownership of Astoria earlier this year, when the ship's owners went into receivership (i.e., went bust), and the deal fell through.
According to Paul Green, head of communications for Saga Group, Saga Pearl II will match the classic style of Saga Rose, which boasts traditional cruise features such as afternoon tea, ballroom dancing and cabaret-style entertainment. "It'll be elegant rather than brash and noisy, on the money for the Saga audience," says Green. (He adds Saga paid an "appropriate" price for the ship.) The new ship will be borrowing more than just style from Saga Rose -- Saga Rose's officers and crew will transfer to the Saga Pearl II.
Astoria was built in Germany in 1981 and sailed for various cruise lines (under different names) for the German-speaking market. Before joining fleetmate Saga Ruby, Saga Pearl II will undergo a £14 million refit in Europe over the winter. The extensive refurbishment will include the addition of new balcony cabins; upgrades to the show lounge, spa and two swimming pools; and the creation of a library and a new Veranda Restaurant.
Saga Pearl II's inaugural cruise, a Norwegian Coast and Arctic cruise, will sail roundtrip from Southampton on 15 March 2010. Following the inaugural, the ship will maintain a residency in Dover and Southampton, offering cruises of 7 to 24 nights to the Canaries, Mediterranean and Baltic.
Saga Holidays decided to retire the more than 40-year-old Saga Rose in consideration of the stringent SOLAS safety regulations that come into effect in 2010. The cost of overhauling the ship to meet the new requirements would have been prohibitive. There has been a series of special final cruises, which culminates with the farewell Mediterranean cruise departing Southampton on 30 October. As for the future of Saga Rose, the line is exploring its options. One such fate would see the ship as floating hotel, but at this point "that's aspiration rather than a deal signed on the dotted line," notes Green.
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor