saga sapphire
Saga Sapphire

This week gives me a golden opportunity to sail on a ship that I’ve been keen to see for years, when Saga Cruises’ stately Saga Sapphire leaves Dover for a short, five day Bank Holiday jaunt over to the continent. While it’s a relatively short cruise, there should be time enough to get under the skin of this 37.000 ton ship and see what she’s really all about.

Both her history and her design are worthy of note. Ordered for Hapag- Lloyd cruises as the Europa, the ship was delivered to her new owners in December 1981, and she entered commercial service the following year. By the standards of her time, Europa was a stylishly streamlined, almost space age ship, with a sharp prow, a single funnel, and ship wide vertical division with the cabins located forward, and most public rooms stacked aft, abutted by a series of tiered terrace decks. The resulting ship was a  staunch, graceful vessel that would stand the test of time.

Those cabins were large by contemporary standards, though they lacked the balconies that were not then in vogue. Europa soon gained a reputation as the most exclusive and luxurious cruise ship in the world, and her German passengers loved her. A voyage aboard her represented one of the most highly sought after travel experiences available anywhere

By 1999,  with a newer, even more lustrous Europa on the horizon, the eighteen year old ship was sold to the Asian based Star Cruises, under the name of Superstar Europe. She operated short, port intensive Far East cruises for them, being renamed as Superstar Aries by 2000.

Once more surplus to requirements, the ship passed in 2004 to the Spanish operator, Pullmantur, who restyled her as their Holiday Dream. By 2008 she had moved again, becoming the start up ship for the French accented Croisieres De France, under the name of Bleu De France. At this time, a comprehensive $30 million modernisation brought her up to modern standards, though of course she was not as large or as amenity laden as many of the new ships then entering service.

Finally, the ship was purchased by the UK based Saga Cruises in 2011, and sent for a comprehensive refit that saw the addition of several more balcony cabins, the refurbishment of much of the ship’s interior, and a complete overhaul of the on board machinery. She re-entered service in April of 2012 as the Saga Sapphire and, after a shaky maiden voyage in April of 2012, she soon settled down into popular, acclaimed service.

Today, the Saga Sapphire caters to around 720 passengers. She offers intimate, luxurious, largely inclusive travel to the over fifties UK passenger, with an emphasis on fine food and flawless, bespoke service in surroundings of casual elegance.

As with any grand dame of a certain age, the ship has some delightfully quirky elements that I’m looking forward to seeing. She’s far more sedate than stuffy, with an airy, relaxing vibe carried through on a ship that is just ‘the right size’ for a more refined, traditional style of cruising, a product where fine gastronomy prevails over fabulous gimmicks; and calm style rises above a sense of calculated frenzy.

I’ll be putting together a series of blogs on this hardy, still highly styled perennial while I’m out there, and there will also be ample photographs to come as well. You’re more than welcome to ‘step aboard’ with me as we share what I believe will be a totally agreeable voyage of exploration.

As ever, stay tuned.



  1. Hi Anthony, I visited her twice when she was EUROPA, and sailed on her when she was BLUE DE FRANCE. Even if catering the budget market … she still was a 5star experience back then and for the French cuisine – superbe! I never ate better on a cruise vessel. Francis Leveuque, Michelin rated chef, was responsible for the kitchen. A French liner/cruise vessel without exquisite cusine would not work! and f.i. on their card was the Kir Royale, it was All-In then, WITH champagne as it should be.
    I am keen to hear about your experiences 🙂
    Gerd / Earl of Cruise


  2. Just three more weeks and I will be joining SAPPHIRE for 42 days… to Canada following by Canaries. Welcome to Saga! I hope you enjoy your cruise. Your comment re ‘Saga added several balcony cabins’ does not tell the full story. As Europa she could carry 750 pax, 300 crew. As Holiday Dream she could carry 1158!!!! Saga redesigned the ship back to 720 with 415 crew. They wanted to the ship to be single sitting dining. Under Pulmantur numbers the upper berths removed and a lot of cabins were changed to make them into singles. You will enjoy the ship. Five days is not enough! 🙂 Your time cruise you should try Saga Pearl II. She is a real gem… the real ‘yacht’!


    1. Hi Stephen, thanks for your kind analysis and information. As it hsppens, I had lunch on Saga Pearl II at North Shields a couple of weeks ago, and I agree with your comments about her. I was very impressed with that little ship, which is very much on my radar for next year. And yes, 42 days on Saga Sapphire does indeed sound wonderful!


  3. Many thanks. Yes, PEARL is my favourite. I think the main dining room, the lido and even the main lounge is better than SAPPHIRE. Décor wise. After deck is cleaner and neater than the SAPPHIRE. SAPPHIRE is better with the large Drawing Room, the pool and the ‘Beach’. Hopefully all of this will combine to make the new Spirit of Discovery! I have found that Saga runs the hotel like it used to be similar to Sagafjord and Vistafjord. Not surprised a lot of that team at Saga came from those ships and even Captain Warden Owen came over from Cunard… as well as Phil Rentell.


    1. Yes, I must admit to being very impressed with pearl’s interiors, especially considering the relatively small style of the ship herself. I’m keeping an open mind about Sapphire, but I think that the artist’s renderings of Spirit of Discovery give hope that she’s going to be a very special ship, indeed.


      1. Ah, SAPPHIRE is fine. The problem is the ship was a bit of a dog when Saga got the ship in the first place. Had she just come to Saga from Europa when would have been good… probably a bit outdated. The later years under Superstar, Plumantur etc did nothing to help the ship. Saga help to make her better for sure. Look for the old North German Lloyd signage!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. When I saw the NDL signage I had a good laugh. I don’t think anyone even knows what it is! On top of that, the ‘logo’ is lopsided, not upright. I hope you have one or two lecturers on board. May not have the time. Lecturers on Saga are usually very good. One a good sea voyage it is a good way to learn and get ready for a nice drink before lunch. I can’t wait until the 15th Sept!


    1. Well, we have one full sea day on the way back from Bremerhaven, but seeing nothing specific in the literature about on board lectures. I’m with you on that one: I do enjoy listening to genuine experts across a variety of disciplines.


  5. I have checked. There will be no lecturers on board. There will be a port/destination speaker on board, Mr Gary Miles.
    Three great ports…. GREAT PORTS! I would stay in Zeebrugge for three days… just go out in the North Sea for each evening at sea. 😉 Have a good cruise.

    Liked by 1 person

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