Saga Sapphire as she enters the outer harbour of IJmuiden. Extensively rebuilt, she is still recognizable as the former Hapag-Lloyd ship Europa.
At the 22nd of december 1980, the new and fourth Europa was launched for Hapag-Lloyd, from the Bremer Vulkan yard in Bremen, Western-Germany. Although German passenger liners had been very succesfull in history, especially those of the Norddeutscher Lloyd and HAPAG, the company that came from the combination of those two lines concentrated mostly on containarized shipping and they were very well known for doing so. They also kept some passengerships within their fleet for cruising, but this was clearly not the main focus. But with this new ship, Hapag-Lloyd showed that they were still interested in cruising, and she was to be one of the most luxurious passengerships afloat. The company really wanted to gain a foothold in the upper market and with this ship they placed themselves just there.
Initially, it was the idea of having the ship built at two seperate yards, one in Western Germany and one in Eastern Germany, as some form of political statement. The two half ships would be joined later in the building proces. But eventually, the ship was built as one piece at the Bremer Vulkan yard in Bremen, Western Germany. This was far more practical. Overlooked nowadays, with a measurement of 33.819 tons the new Europa was the largest cruiseship ever constructed at the time. There were larger cruiseships in service, like the 70,000-ton Norway, the 70.000-ton Queen Elizabeth 2 and 40.000-ton Rotterdam, but those had been built originally as oceanliners, not cruiseships. Her lenght was 199,63 meters, she was 28,55 meters wide and had a draft of 8,40 meters. She was built for a maximum of 758 passengers and 300 crewmembers and soon was acclaimed to be the most luxurious passengerschip in the world. Her first cruise took her from Genoa to Africa and started at the 8th of january 1982 and after this, she started worldwide cruising, from week-long voyages to 107-day long worldcruises. She truly roamed the seas, not sailing anywhere particular, and this was highly appreciated by her loyal passengers. The ship was a true in-between, with classic feautures of the old oceanliners, like her stepped back aft-decks, an open promenade and a good proportioned superstructure. Inside, she also looked classical yet modern, with her intimite, partioned restaurant and her beautifully decorated lounges.
One mishap befell her during her carreer with Hapag-Lloyd, when she collided with the containership Inchon Glory of the coast of Hong Kong at the 30th of april 1992. The Hapag-Lloyd ship was damaged and towed to Kaohsiung, before she was repaired in Singapore and later Bremerhaven. She again commenced service at the 7th of july 1992. Because of the rapid changes in cruiseship design in the 1980's and 1990's, this splendid cruiseliner was starting to become outdated from the mid 1990's onwards, although she was still a very popular and highly succesfull ship. Hapag-Lloyd decided to built a fifth Europa in the middle of the 1990's, that would even be more luxurious. When this new ship entered service, the 1980's built ship was sold to Star Cruises of Maleysia to become their MegaStar Asia in 1998, although Hapag-Lloyd chartered her back for one year, awaiting the introduction of the replacement ship in 1999.
At the 30th of june 1999 she ended her final cruise for Hapag-Lloyd and entered the fleet of Star Cruises. Not under her planned name, though, because she recvieved the name of SuperStar Europe. For them, she was rebuild at Singapore before she entered service in the Far East in october 1999. Just a few months later, in february 2000, she was renamed again, she now became the SuperStar Aries. This was more in the naming tradition of Star Cruises, and Europe was just a little bit too far away for a ship sailing eastern waters.
Below, Saga Sapphire enters the port of IJmuiden for her first visit to The Netherlands under her new name. She is now the biggest ship in the fleet of Saga Holidays.
In 2003, it was planned to have her placed in the fleet of Orient Lines, but this never came to pass. She instead kept sailing within the Star Cruises fleet that year, only to be sold to the Spanish operator Pullmantur Cruises as their Holiday Dream, starting her cruises for them in april 2004. In winter, her cruises were marketed for the Brazilian company CVC and these sailing included calls at Cuba. When Pullmantur was aquired by the American Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines as their Spanish stronghold, the ship immidiately ceased her calls at Cuba, due to the American boycot of the island.
When Royal Caribbean started a new venture in France under the name Crocieres de France in 2008 to try and refloat the French market, the Holiday Dream was chosen as the lead ship. For the new company, she was named Bleu de France and registered at Malta. In summer she started sailing the Mediterranean and in winter she sailed Caribbean cruises. Her French adventure did not last that long, because she was bought by Saga Holidays three years later, in 2011. When Saga Holidays were looking for a replacement ship of their retiring Saga Rose, the former Sagafjord that was built in 1964, Holiday Dream was the perfect choice. After a rebuilding where the ship recieved 46 balconies at deck 8, a new restaurant and an outdoor cinema, the ship entered the Saga fleet as Saga Sapphire and the plan was to start sailing European waters in 2012. But a slight problem occured when there was a strike at the Italian wharf where the ship was rebuilt and the planned first voyage of 23 days was shortened to just 16 days. Problems were still not over, when the ship finally sailed on this first voyage for Saga, the engines broke down at Valencia, Spain and the repairs took longer then hoped so the second planned cruise for Saga also had to be cancelled. Finally, the ship set sail on her first normal voyage on may 6th.