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Ship Visit to Saga Ruby
Saga Cruises
Dover - 4th August 2011

Report and Photos ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011  Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY at Dover - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford



   

2011 Visit Reports
Revisited ships will not be reported unless significantly revised since our previous visit

Crystal Serenity

Rotterdam

Saga Ruby

 
SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - Reception Lobby
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - Saga Dining Room
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - F-Grade Cabin 530
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - B-Grade Cabin
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - MC-Grade Cabin 343
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - I-Grade Cabin 318
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - Duplex Symphony Suite
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - Computer Room
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - C-Deck Pool
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - Forward Lobby
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - South Cape Bar
Painting by Stephen Card
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - Cinema
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - Library
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - Library
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - Lido Cafe
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - Preview
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - Ballroom
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford



It was 26 years ago that I last stepped aboard Saga Ruby; but in those heady days of the 1990’s, she was Cunard’s Vistafjord and she was one of the finest and highly-rated cruise ships of her day.

Vistafjord was the younger, some might say 'sportier', sister of the beautiful Sagafjord of 1965 but as that ship had previously bankrupted her French builders, the prestige Norwegian America Line (NAL) looked to Swan Hunter Shipbuilders of Newcastle in the UK as the builders of their next ship. As such, she was the last cruise ship built in the UK.



SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - Saga Dining Room
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford



Vistafjord entered service in May 1973 but quality never comes without its price and in a world of rising fuel and labour costs, and with just 2 cruise ships to its name, NAL (now operating as Norwegian America Cruises) could not make her and her sister pay. Consequently, in 1983, both the company name and its 2 ships were bought by Trafalgar House Investments, the then owners of Cunard and the illustrious Queen Elizabeth 2.

She served her new owners well and she maintained her 5-star plus ratings, although necessary economies introduced by Cunard sometimes proved unpopular. By 1998, however, Vistafjord’s older sister had been let go by a financially troubled Cunard, which had itself now fallen into the hands of the huge Carnival Corporation. In what was the first phase of a re-launching of the Cunard brand by Carnival, Vistafjord was given a major refit, a new colour-scheme and a new name, Caronia.



SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - B-Grade Cabin
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford



In 2004, with the arrival of Cunard’s new Queen Mary 2, it was time to let Caronia go and she was snapped-up by Saga Cruises where, as their new Saga Ruby, she at last rejoined her original fleet mate sister, now operating as Saga Rose.

It was a wet and dreary day in Dover for our ship visit but that wasn’t going to dampen our enthusiasm, further boosted by the Ocean Liner Society being given special thanks announced in front of the other awaiting groups of visitors in the Terminal building.

While I would have preferred to be free to roam the ship at my own pace, turn-around days for cruise ships these days are pretty hectic as it is, without 100 or more strangers wandering about, and with heightened security also in the forefront of operators’ minds, we were all organised into smaller groups. Our two groups were then given a brisk but comprehensive, conducted tour of the interior of the ship, starting with some of the lower grade cabins on A-deck, all the major public rooms and concluding with one of the 2 extravagant Duplex Suites on Bridge Deck, added by Cunard in 1995, when the ship was still sailing as Vistafjord.

The main public rooms are arranged on Veranda Deck and it was nice to see that Saga had kept the original deck names. Not so all the rooms however; the once Garden Lounge up forward, now called the Britannia Lounge, still has its small dance floor as well as its sweeping 180-degree view forward across the bows, now enhanced by the room’s new open-plan design and sumptuous décor.


SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - ZA Suite 12
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford



Quite why Saga renamed the original adjacent North Cape Bar as the South Cape Bar, I cannot imagine but it remains the intimate cocktail lounge it always was. It was also lovely to see Stephen Card’s painting of the original Vistafjord, resplendent in her 1973 colours, hanging in pride of place opposite the Bar.

On the other side of Veranda Deck are what used to be the Norse Lounge (a card room and sitting area) & the Library. While the Library has been opened-up and enlarged, the original Card Room area has now been screened-off – partly, I imagine, in order to maintain some relaxed quietness in the Library but also, no doubt, for those devout followers of Bridge who prefer not to be distracted by inconsiderate passers-by!

One of Vistafjord’s greatest assets (in my view as a film devotee) was her full-size Cinema/Theatre, which was also great for lectures and presentations. Thankfully, this remains intact but it is not where the main evening’s entertainment takes place; the ship is not large enough to have a dedicated show lounge as such, so the main focus for the evening after dinner is the Ballroom, which still has its large sprung dance floor and stage but to which Saga have raised the area of seating towards the back of the room, thereby improving the sight-lines in this enormous space, capable of seating almost every passenger on board. While there are obvious limitations to the nature and scale of any shows on board, Saga’s clientele tend not to be deterred by this and if anything, are perhaps more inclined towards a more intimate, cabaret-style of entertainment; and the ballroom’s dance-floor probably remains its most treasured feature. When we saw this room, however, it was laid out for Afternoon Tea. Saga is well-known for being one of the few masters of the true art and style of this traditional sea-going pastime.



SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - Britannia Lounge
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford



Aft of the Ballroom is the Lido Café. As a casual eatery for breakfast and lunch, this was always rather busy and Cunard tried extending it in its later years but the single largest alteration made by Saga in 2005 was the covering-over of the original Lido Swimming-Pool, thereby enabling the Café to be extended further aft, improving facilities for food handling and providing more seating. This was undoubtedly a good idea but unfortunately, it has resulted in the loss of the ship’s only external swimming pool. I had understood, from previously examining Saga’s publicity drawings, that the pool was to be relocated further aft on the same open deck but our visit revealed that what has been provided is in fact little more than a raised plunge-pool, which I’m sad to say is no substitute for the original one.

I suppose Saga felt that Vistafjord’s other significant asset, its indoor Swimming Pool down on C-deck, would make up for the loss of the Lido Pool. Thankfully, this is much as it was, although the Fitness Studio to one side has been converted into a Salon and Treatment Rooms. Even so, perhaps it was the lack of water in the pool during our visit that made it seem less inviting than I remember it?

However, the best feature of the ship was kept until the end of our visit, a sumptuous 5-course lunch in the Saga Dining Room, which still accommodates all of the ship’s 655 passengers at one sitting, just as it always has done.

I will risk the comment that the Dining Room aboard Saga Ruby is no match for the splendour of the Grand Staircase and impressive 2-deck high Dining Room aboard her elder sister but sadly, Saga Rose finally went to the breakers last year and we now must make the best of what we have remaining, for as long as it lasts! And credit where credit is due, Saga knows how to handle first-class catering at sea and their stewards are second to none at their trade. As you might expect, our lunch was wonderful and before long, it was time for us to return ashore, as passengers were now coming aboard for the start of another cruise.

I would have liked to be able to stroll the exterior decks a little before departing, to perhaps relive in my mind some of the wonderful times I spent aboard this ship years ago but unfortunately, the dreadful weather prevented this; and to be honest, it was much nicer lingering those few extra minutes with my table companions over coffee in the comfort of the Dining Room!

The last cruise ship built in the UK, Saga Ruby has spent her entire career doing exactly what she was designed for – first class world-wide cruising. It is a testament to her British builders and her Norwegian designers that she remains much as she was originally conceived. She may lack some of the elegant grace of her early exterior profile and she may have put on a little weight here and there; she may even require a little more maintenance to keep her looking beautiful, but this middle-aged Dowager of the High Seas has a few more years left in her yet and she still does it in traditional style.



SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY - Ballroom
Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford



SAGA RUBY - Photo: ©2011  Mark Cornford
SAGA RUBY at Dover - Photo: ©2011 Mark Cornford





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