Saga Cruises has finally been able to purchase the 1981-built Astoria at auction in Gibraltar. Saga had previously been planning to acquire the 18,591-ton ship, but plans went astray when the ship’s owner went into receivership. The Astoria will replace the Saga Rose which will be retired this fall.

The new addition will be re-named Saga Pearl II – in honor of the original Saga Pearl, the company said, which sailed under the Saga flag until 2004, when she was replaced by Saga Ruby.

Saga Pearl II will match the classic style of the Saga ships, according to a company press release. Her inaugural cruise will be on March 15, 2010, departing Southampton and heading for the Norwegian coast and the northern lights in the high arctic.

Andrew Goodsell, executive chairman of the Saga Group, commented that the Saga Pearl II is a mid-sized ship true to the Saga tradition and a perfect addition to the fleet. In her traditional Saga livery she will carry no more than 446 passengers. The ship will have an intimate atmosphere and a personal service with the attention to detail that the line’s passengers expect. Regular Saga cruise passengers will find many familiar faces on board, as the officers and crew of Saga Rose will transfer to the new ship, he said.

A 14-million pound refit will ensure that the ship is "fabulous throughout," according to Goodsell. There will be many new features, including the addition of new balcony cabins; upgraded show lounge; spa and two swimming pools; one of the best libraries afloat; and, new kitchens to support the "gourmet dining experience in the stylish single-sitting dining rooms – including a new elegant Veranda Restaurant," Goodsell said.

The Saga Pearl II will also have silicone coating applied to her hull which will enable her to travel with greater ease through the sea and will significantly reduce fuel consumption and lower her carbon footprint.