Vistafjord / Caronia
Cunard, under the direction of Trafalgar House Co., acquired Norwegian America Line in 1983 for US$73 million. With this purchase, Cunard gained two superb liners; Sagafjord and Vistafjord (later Caronia).
>Sagafjord and Vistafjord were originally to be renamed with traditional names, however Cunard maintained the liners identities and they consistently received 5-plus star ratings by cruise review specialists such as the Berlitz Guide.
Vistafjord was completed in 1975 and undertook a $30 million refit in late 1994. During this refurbishment, Vistafjord was given a completely refreshed interior and retained her high quality rating. The work included the addition of two large “owners suites” to her top decks near the funnel.
The following year, Trafalgar House Co’s financial position started to falter. Vistafjord’s fleet mate Sagafjord was retired earlier than expected, along with a number of other Cunard ships including Cunard Princess and Cunard Crown Jewel in an attempt to reorganise the fleet. Vistafjord, which had been refurbished, was retained.
The remaining Cunard fleet continued to sail on an altered schedule, to try and make as much money as possible for the line. In 1997 Cunard Countess and Cunard Crown Dynasty were sold to Mediterranean shipping interests.
Vistafjord and the rest of the Cunard fleet were sold to Kvaerner Shipbuilders Co. in late 1996.
Vistafjord continued to cruise as a 5 star ship, but by early 1998, she and the rest of the fleet were in desperate need of a refit. Kvaerner were unable to maintain the fleet and the question of selling or scrapping the fleet was a possibility. However, this option was less appealing than a resale of Cunard Line.
In April 1998, the Carnival Corporation bought the Cunard Line. Carnival merged Cunard with Seabourn Cruises which they already held a controlling interest in, to form “Cunard Line Ltd”. Carnival put the newly formed line under the direction of Larry Pimintel, as President and COO.
In early 1999 the decision was made to split the fleet, with the two luxury liners to go to Cunard, while the luxury yachts were merged with the Seabourn operation. As a result of this, QE2 and Vistafjord were matched as fleet mates in the Cunard division of “Cunard Line Limited”. Royal Viking Sun, and the Sea Goddess’ were transferred to Seabourn.
The plan was to rebuild the Cunard side as a ‘British Luxury Cruise Line’ and the Seabourn side as ‘Luxury Norwegian-style cruising’. As a result of this, the decision was made to re-name Vistafjord and after her late 1999 refit she emerged as Caronia and shortly after she joined the Loyds Register as a British Flagged liner.
The refurbishment work saw all rooms re-furnished and re-carpeted; along with a major refurbishment of her top grade penthouse accommodation, and the creation of the “White Star Bar”.
As Caronia, the ship enjoyed ongoing support from her loyal client base (many of whom had followed her from her days as Vistafjord). In 2003, it was announced she had been sold to Saga Cruies. Caronia departed from Cunard service in late 2004. She was originally intended to leave as the Queen Victoria was to enter service, but due to that ship’s late arrival, there was a significant gap left by her departure.
With Saga Cruises she was named Saga Ruby and sailed with the line until 2014 when she was sold to interests in South East Asia for use as a floating hotel.
Image source: Simplon Post Cards