(10:30 a.m. EDT) -- Saga Cruises is in talks about acquiring or even building a third ship to replace the recently retired Saga Ruby, said the chief executive Robin Shaw.
The new ship would be similar in size to the 446-passenger Saga Pearl II and the 706-passenger Saga Sapphire, Shaw confirmed. However, he would not be drawn on what stage the talks had reached.
"Previously, we have looked at buying the slightly older tonnage, traditional tonnage," he told Cruise Critic. "It's fair to say that we will evaluate all options, including newer hardware. The option of a new build is not completely off the agenda.
"The size of the ship is critical in terms of the ambience of the brand, and we are not in the market for a substantially larger ship," he added.
Saga currently carries around 30,000 passengers a year on its two ships, both of which are experiencing very high demand, according to Shaw. In order to cater for this, the line has recently announced a number of partnerships with other cruise lines. These are: Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, MSC Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises and Celebrity Cruises.
"Of the 1.72 million Brits who took a cruise last year, 1.1 million of those were over 55. So we know that on all the cruise lines there is an off-peak period which will be dominated by people of a certain age, and those are the people we cater for," Shaw explained.
The partnerships with Fred. and Azamara and to a certain extent Celebrity seem a logical fit, but the link with MSC -- an Italian, family-centric line -- has raised a few eyebrows.
"Saga passengers will still have the chauffeur service to and from their home to the ship. Onboard there will be a travel escort, a Saga cocktail party and on land, reps in the hotels, so they will be getting the Saga experience, just on a different ship. I think that as long as we make it absolutely clear what ship they will be on, then that will manage expectations."
Shaw admitted that it was unlikely Saga would convert existing passengers to other lines, but instead hoped that the partnerships would increase Saga's market share.
There is also precedence: 10 years ago Saga had a number of third-party agreements with, amongst other lines Fred. Olsen and P&O Cruises, which meant it claimed some 2.5 percent of the cruise market. Shaw admitted these had been allowed to slip, and the new agreements would hopefully recapture that lost market, "in two to three years". He also said he was looking at potentially forging new partnerships, but would not be drawn on which lines.
A dedicated brochure with details of all the partner lines will be published on July 21.
--By Adam Coulter, UK Editor