Saga Sapphire Gallery
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In the 1930's, the German shipping line Norddeutsche Lloyd of 1856 had a passenger fleet that included such illustrious Atlantic Blue Riband holders as the SS Bremen and her sister, SS Europa. The fleet was lost, however, during World War II and it wasn't until 1954 that the passenger service resumed. In 1970, North German Lloyd merged with rival HAPAG (the Hamburg-America Line of 1847) to form HAPAG-Lloyd, becoming one of the largest container-shipping lines in the World.

On the cruising side of the business, Hapag-Lloyd's ships were all second-hand until plans were made for the replacement of the then current Europa (the ex-Swedish liner Kungsholm of 1953) with a new state-of-the-art ship, tailored specifically to German cruise-passenger tastes. Built at the Bremer Vulkan shipyard in Bremen, Germany, she would be named Europa. Europa (II) ex-Kungsholm (1953)

Europa (1982)
33,819 grt; length 655 ft; 600 passengers

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Europa arriving in Southampton
(In 1986, the highest rated cruise ship in the World)
Europa with Queen Elizabeth 2
(Arriving in Southampton in 1986)

With just 600 passengers, she boasted more space per passenger than any other ship and had cabins much larger than average. With a passenger-crew ratio of 2:1 and single-sitting dining, she instantly became one of the highest-rated cruise ships in the World and remained so for 17 years.

In 1999, however, no longer suiting the ever-increasing demands of her clientele, she was replaced by a new, smaller, all-suite Europa and was sold to Star Cruises of Malaysia. Refitted to cater for families with children, her passenger capacity was increased and her ratings fell to a mere 3-star+.

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SuperStar Europe SuperStar Aries Holiday Dream Bleu de France

Initially named SuperStar Europe, she was renamed just 5 months later as SuperStar Aries but as Star Cruises were acquiring much newer ships, in 2004 she was sold to Spanish cruise operator Pullmantur and was renamed Holiday Dream, cruising mostly in the Mediterranean.

In 2006, Pullmantur was bought by Royal Caribbean International and plans were put in place to transfer Holiday Dream to its new French subsidiary CDF Croisieres de France in 2008, whereupon she was renamed Bleu de France. But the once 5-star+ Europa's fortunes would soon change.

Meanwhile, British-based Saga Cruises, who had been looking for a replacement for their Saga Rose (ex-Sagafjord of 1965) ever since her retirment in 2009, announced in 2011 that Saga would be introducing her as their new Saga Sapphire in April 2012.

Saga Sapphire (2012)
37,301 grt; length 655 ft; 706 passengers

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Unfortunately, Saga Sapphire's debut was not to be without cricis. Shipyard strikes in Sicily resulted in her late departure and a curtailed inaugural cruise, which was itself eventualy abandoned when the ship suffered engine trouble. I would join the ship 4 months later in August.

Ireland & the Tall Ships
24th - 29th August 2012

View the complete Log of this cruise >>

In addition to travel insurance, the Saga price includes a private car transfer to and from the port (up to 90 miles) or a shared car-hire service (up to 250 miles), so my journey was shared with 2 ladies from Welwyn. Our driver wasn't perfect but at least he got us there on time and in one piece!

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The new 3-deck high
The Main Stairway Forward Lobby The Shop
& Photo Gallery

With just 700 passengers, boarding was swift and first impressions were of plush spaciousness. One of Saga's improvements as part of the recent refit was to open-up the main lobby on decks 5-7 to create a new 3-deck high Atrium, complete with fish-sculpture by Dominic & Frances Bromley.

My cabin (P-grade Standard Cabin no.4566)
However, my single cabin on Deck 4 proved a bit rudimentary and disappointing, with an old-fashioned wardrobe in the corner and carpet & linens that were clearly some years old.

There was a nice new shower in the small bathroom but the sink was tiny and the metal cabinet probably an original. I later discovered that the cabin air-conditioning controls didn't work, thanks to an unhappy ship's refit in Sicily 4 months ago!
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Show Picture Full Size Deadlights, Blue Lights & Engineers!
With heavy seas, the deadlights were locked over my portholes nearly every night but it was also freezing cold and when they sent an engineer at 11.30pm, I learned that the air-conditioning controls didn't work, thanks to the Italian refit; but there was still a piercingly blue glow all over the cabin from the ineffective control-panel!

Although larger than Saga's previous ships, Saga Sapphire was still smaller than I had become used to lately, so a tour of the ship didn't take long and I soon found my "Lounge of Choice".

The Drawing Room (Deck 11)
Tastefully redecorated and furnished with a range of comfy chairs and sofas, this Observation Lounge incorporates the ship's small Library, a Bar, the Card Room and a small Internet Centre. There's some really interesting and unusual art here and it even has a section whimsically called "The Pantry" for pastries in the morning, cakes in the afternoon and all-day tea & coffee facilities.

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The Drawing Room (Deck 11)
A comfortable all-day lounge, library & card-room
Carved tree-root
Dragon Wall-Sculpture
The Pantry

Show Picture Full Size Pole to Pole (Deck 7)
The main restaurant has also been refurbished well, with scenes from around the World characterising each section. The layout is pleasantly uncrowded and service is brisk, if a little impersonal, because while there are a few fixed seating tables available, meals are generally in one "Open Seating", so unless you are with friends, you take "pot luck" with who your table companions will be.

Compared with 6 years ago aboard Saga Rose, the Menu had fewer choices but no-one seems to have noticed, as most of the "old favourites" are still in evidence. Tonight I settled for Shrimps, Pumpkin Soup and the Rib-eye Steak, which was actually pretty good! Welcome Dinner Menu >> French Dinner Menu >>
(right) Part of the Pole to Pole Restaurant, here set for the self-service Continental Breakfast Buffet
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The Britannia Lounge (Deck 8)
The main lounge is the traditional heart of the ship and it has been refurbished in the same soft tones as the Drawing Room, with a variety of comfortable chairs, cushions and practical tables.
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Traditional "Afternoon Tea" takes place here and, as there is no Show Lounge on the ship, it's also the setting for the evening entertainment, with a large stage and dance-floor. Cabaret shows are geared to a largely British audience but when the room is full, sight-lines are not ideal and the whole atmosphere is reminiscent of days long gone. Indeed, the production shows I saw were the same old "Singers & Feathers" routines I recall from over 25 years ago aboard Vistafjord!

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Cooper's (Deck 8)
(named for Tommy Cooper)
The Aviators Bar (Deck 7)
& a 1930's Flying-Boat Ashtray!
The Bar of
the Drawing Room

There is bar service in both the Britannia Lounge and the Drawing Room but in additon, there are two bars; Coopers (named after comedian Tommy Cooper) and the Aviators' Bar, which has some lovely themed ash-trays on the bar. However, both these bars are very small and easily crowded.

Show Picture Full Size The Verandah (Deck 9)
The ship's second restaurant is more in the style of a Bistro but the menu is in fact exactly the same as in Pole to Pole, only printed differently! The truth is that this is not the alternative dining venue I expected it to be but Pole to Pole cannot seat all of the ship's 700 passengers and in order to achieve "open seating" dining, the ship needs this additional dining space.

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Breakfast Buffet The Grill The Verandah Sheltered Seating
on the Verandah

The ship has no self-service "cafeteria-style" restaurant but Continental Breakfast is available from a Buffet, while waiters serve at your table from a cooked breakfast menu which is not as extensive as that in the main Pole to Pole Restaurant. The same principle is applied at Lunch, with starters available from the Buffet and a limited hot menu available to order from the Grill.

No Breakfast before 7.30am!
Aboard Saga Sapphire, there's no cafeteria as such and breakfast is served in both Pole to Pole and the Verandah Grill - but not until 7.00am. On sea-days however, breakfast isn't until 7.30 (either they think the passengers want a "lie-in" or the crew do!). So if you are an early riser, apart from a tea-station off the Verandah, there's nothing for you!

However, you can have Room Service from 6.00am, so I opted for this most mornings. The Cabin Breakfast options are limited but it's ideal if all you want is something quick & simple and I found Room Service to be prompt and quite reliable.

East to West (Deck 9)
The ship's "proper" alternative dining venue has a menu which, as its name might suggest, covers just about anything! I didn't try it myself but of 2 passengers I spoke to who had, one said her "Chicken Curry" was "chicken with curry sauce over it" while the other described it as "a restaurant suffering an identity cricis". However, there's no extra cover charge and booking is on a "first come, first served" basis.
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Deck 9 is also Promenade Deck but because of the full-width nature of the Verandah Grill aft and a number of suites forward below the Bridge, there is no "wrap-around".

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Promenade Deck
(not wrap-around)
Poolside (Deck 11)
No Roof & No Water!
The Beach Club
No beach either but....
Fish & Chips!
In the "local" newspaper!

The Beach Club (Deck 11)
The Poolside Grille has been refurbished by Saga with kiosks offering free "seaside-style" sweets and ice-cream on a "help-yourself" basis and in addition to the usual fayre of burgers and hot-dogs, the Deck Stewards do a brisk line in Fish & Chips, freshly prepared and served in the local newspaper "The Sapphire Times". It was popular and really good!

With rough weather, there was no water in the pool but it also used to have a sliding glass roof and I was disappointed that this had been removed in the recent refit, now leaving very little shelter.

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Observation Deck The Verandah & the new Suites
Looking out over the Verandah Cafe
View From the Top
Sundeck & al-fresco Cinema!

Show Picture Full Size Up forward on Observation Deck is what is described as a "fun crazy golf course" called St Andrew's but it's worse than the kid's play-area at a Motorway Services! Another doubtful idea is View From the Top, where an al-fresco cinema has been installed above the jacuzzi tubs on the Sundeck! Meanwhile, the ship's other outdoor pool was also removed in the refit, in order to enlarge Verandah Deck because above it on Deck 10, there are now 19 new balcony cabins and suites.
(left) St Andrew's - "fun crazy-golf course" or just a silly idea?

The Indoor Pool & Spa (Deck 2 forward)
Originally a crew pool, it was taken into passenger use some years ago and extended to provide a small gym, sauna and massage rooms. The pool has two aqua-jets (which are fun!) and no shallow-end but it's been made smaller by the relaxation bars at one end and the water-level was always too low to reach them! The hours of 8.00am-7.00pm could also be improved!
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Show Picture Full Size The Academy (Deck 4)
Its rather pompous title hides the fact that this is little more than a multi-purpose Conference Room. Feature Films are shown here but its seating is inadequate; there are reference books here but the Library is on Deck 11. As an internet centre it's ok, except when the room hosts a Ship's Talk.

Summary 2012
Saga's interior designers have not lost their touch. With style & imagination, they have adapted the ship well and the quality of the interior refurbishment is good, although Union troubles during the Italian refit have left many technical problems still to be sorted out; not least the cabin air-conditioning systems! However, the ship is 30 years old and on the open decks, she looks it and wereas her illustrious predecessor Saga Rose was 44 yrs old when she retired, it is hard to imagine Saga Sapphire having a life of more than 8-10 yrs.
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For me, this cruise suffered from a number of disappointments; not least, with the quality of my cabin and, having paid for an outside cabin, suffering the deadlights over the portholes for 3 of my 5 nights aboard, largely (I suspect) because of an unduly risk-averse Captain who also aborted 1 of only 3 ports of call on this cruise, on what I felt were rather flimsy "health & safety" grounds.

And while the quality of the "Saga Product" is still quite good, economies in the catering area and a lack of generosity in hospitality have become evident compared with 6 years ago. Perhaps my expectations were too high and a 5-night cruise too short to fully appreciate the "new" ship? The only way I'll find out will be to go again, on a longer cruise.......maybe.

The full collection of photos of Saga Sapphire can be viewed on my account here at Captain Martini >>

Total Mileage on
Saga Sapphire: 1,183 n miles

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