"We have allocated a total of £17 million for the total refit of Saga Ruby," said Grant Laversuch, director of operations for Saga Shipping Company, which he referred to as being "very extensive in scope."

The Saga Ruby, currently sailing for Cunard Line as the Caronia, will be delivered to Malta Shipyards on November 7, and the refit will run through the end of January 2005.

The ship will undergo substantial structural work and a full refurbishment of cabins and public rooms.

The major structural alteration being carried out is the extension of the Lido area. The Lido Cafe will be enlarged, and the Lido deck itself will take on a different look, as the swimming pool is moved from its current site to a new location, closer to the rear of the deck. The deck above the Lido Cafe will also be extended, to create more outdoor deck space for a new bar, and a venue for deck parties and entertainment. An alternative dining area (View) will also be created. The ship will also be fully equipped with a sprinkler system.

While the contracts for the hotel furnishing have not yet been awarded, according to Saga, the designs for the public areas and cabins are nearing completion. The new design will incorporate a contemporary feel with rich fabrics, Laversuch noted.

Following the refurbishment, the vessel will be brought back to the U.K., and four weeks will be spent doing intensive crew training "to ensure that the service and safety levels are up to standard," Laversuch said.

The Rose and Ruby will have a combined passenger capacity of 1,242, compared with 2004 capacity levels of 587 passengers for the Saga Rose, and 348 passengers in the summer months with the Saga Pearl. That charter ends this November.