Yard Swan Hunter
All text and photographs (unless stated otherwise) © Paul
One of the last cruiseships with classic looks, she was delivered as Vistafjord
by British shipbuilder Swan Hunter in 1973. She looked just splendid with her
dominant funnel, her rounded superstructure and clipper bow. Norwegian America
Lines (or just NAL) had her designers create a dual purpose vessel which could
be used as a (transatlantic) liner as well as for cruising.
She was built almost entirely with inflammable materials. Cabins were
prefabricated, which was quite a novelty in those days. Her superstructure was
made of aluminium, and this
lesser weight on top of the vessel made it possible
to add an extra deck compared to her near sister Sagafjord.
On May 15th 1973, four months ahead of schedule, she was delivered to her owners.
Vistafjord's naming ceremony took place in Oslo, and she started out on her first
transatlantic crossing on May 22nd. Several months later, NAL sent her on her
Her passengers were delighted with her interiors. Vistafjord's forward stairway
even housed a small atrium, a rarity in those days.
Vistafjord made a few transatlantic crossings, but she was mostly used for cruising.
Her positioning cruises were about her only liner-voyages.
NAL positioned Sagafjord and Vistafjord in the luxury cruise market, where their
most important competitors were also Norwegian: the Royal Viking Line trio of
ships. These ships, which travelled all around the globe on destination oriented
cruises for the wealthy, experienced traveller, had a fiercely loyal following.
Norwegian America Line became Norwegian America Cruises in 1980, and a company called Leif
Hoegh teamed up with NAC participating for 50% in the newly formed company.
NAC brochure, 1980
Then in 1983, Cunard Line took over NAC. At first, it was expected that the very
high level of service and luxury would not remain as high under the Cunard
banner, but Cunard did a great job. Her NAC-crew was retained
and also the character of the ship.
Vistafjord n the Panama Canal
In 1984, Vistafjord was sent to Malta for an extensive refit. An aluminium
structure was added, covering the Viking Club and some open deck space to form a
new two level night club. The dining room was enlarged, a dozen extra cabins
were added, while others received balconies.
Ten years later, Vistafjord was refitted in Malta once again. Apart from
the creation of an
alternative dining room, in what used to be the upper level of the Viking Club, several cabins were upgraded on her lower decks and two two-level suites were
realised on Bridge deck.
At the time, Cunard was owned by the Trafalgar Group Corp.
In 1996, a company called Kvaerner bought Trafalgar, but was not interested in Cunardís
activities, so Cunard was sold off two years later to the Carnival Corp. Carnival had had plans to expand itís cruise activities in the luxury cruise
market for years. These plans were called project Tiffany and comprised the introduction of new de luxe cruise ships. The project was shelved however.
Vistafjord in the port of Amsterdam in 1998
Now, Carnival appointed Larry Pimentel, a man who was an expert in
the field of luxury cruising, and had worked with or founded other cruise lines
in the 5/ 6 star sector, as CEO of the ďnewĒ Cunard Line. Carnival already owned
Seabourn Cruises, also a cruise line which owned ships in the 6 star league, and
Carnival marketed their vessels emphasizing its Norwegian roots.
Meanwhile, Pimentel arranged
Cunard to return to itís rich British heritage: the company was founded in 1840 by
Samuel Cunard and has a rich history of famous liners, like Aquitania,
Mauretania, their classic Caronia of 1948, widely regarded as the first de luxe
cruise ship ever, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, the new QE2 etc.
Until Carnival took over Cunard had been a company without a clear identity for
the previous quarter of a century,
owning at one time small and large vessels serving the mass and and the de luxe market
marketed under four different brand names. It was not clear where the company was going, which were its business objectives.
Mr Pimentel changed all that.
80's German Cunard brochure (click on picture for larger image)
In the process of the return of the company to it's heritage, Vistafjord was renamed
Caronia in December 1999 after her last refitting, exactly half a centrury after this legendary shipís
first voyage. Now Cunard had a pair of ships, the Queen Elizabeth 2
and the Caronia, which both had classic looks and luxury, British
styled interiors (when Vistafjord was restyled as Caronia,
the names of her public rooms were changed to reflect the British atmosphere on
board, for example the Viking Club became the Piccadilly Club).
But, with the introduction of the brand new Queen Mary 2,
Caronia, being too old and too small to operate alongside the much
larger QE2 was sold to Saga Cruises, a company that specialises in
cruises for passengers aged over 50. She was renamed Saga Ruby and
was reunited with her former fleetmate and near sister, the Saga Rose
(former Sagafjord) in the autumn of 2004.
Saga Rose, Saga Holidays
After a refit in Malta Saga introduced her in early 2005.