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.