Captain David Warden-Owen is the master of Saga Pearl II, the
latest addition to the Saga fleet. The captain comes to this position
having gained his experience on some of the best-loved classic ships
of recent memory. I had the opportunity to talk with him about his
career, the Saga style of cruising and about his new ship.
A Classic Career
An alumnus of HMS Conway Naval College in his native Wales,
Captain Warden-Owen began his cadetship with the venerable Shaw
Savill Line. However, the majority of his career was spent with
Warden-Owen was very well thought of at Cunard and rose
through the officer ranks at that renown passenger ship line. By the
mid-1990s, he was alternating between being second in command on
the most famous ship in the world, Queen Elizabeth 2, and
commanding some of the line's smaller ships.
These were difficult times for Cunard, however. In 1996,
Cunard's parent company Trafalgar House was acquired by the
Norwegian engineering company Kvaerner in order to obtain
Trafalgar House's engineering assets. Kvaerner made it clear that it
was not interested in operating a cruise company and announced that
Cunard was for sale. Meanwhile, it was selling off the company's
fleet piecemeal. Reportedly, consideration was even given to selling
the QE2 for use in a hotel complex in the South Pacific.
Around this time the Saga Group Ltd. was looking to acquire a
cruise ship. Its Saga Holidays subsidiary was a well-established
travel company in the U.K, specializing in holidays for the over 50
set. It had sold cruises on other companies' ships for years and now
wanted its own ship.
Saga's focus fell on Cunard's Sagafjord, a 24,528 gross-ton ship
that had been built in 1965 as an ocean liner but with cruising also in
mind. Cunard had acquired her from Norwegian American Line and
had marketed her mainly in Germany. More recently, it had chartered
the ship to Transocean Tours, which ended after she was damaged in
a grounding. Cunard agreed to sell her.
Now that Saga had the ship, which it renamed the Saga Rose;
there was still the question of who was going to command her. Once
again, its focus turned to Cunard and impressed by his experience and
friendly personality, it offered the captaincy to Warden-Owen. For
him, this was an opportunity to command a classic ship and to help
mold a new cruise line versus what then was a rather uncertain future
for Cunard. Warden-Owen accepted the offer and has never regretted
Captain Warden-Owen was the master of the Saga Rose for 12
years until the ship was retired from service last year. During that
time, his respect for the ship grew until he saw her as a legend in her
own time. At the same time, he came to appreciate the Saga-style of
cruising, which is now being carried over onto the Saga Pearl II
The Saga Style
Key to the Saga style is a personalized approach to the way guests
are treated. "You are not just a number; you are very much a person.
There is a family feel about the ship. [Many of] the crew have been
with us for over 13 years and they have a very good relationship with
the passengers. They know what their needs are. They are
tremendous people, gifted at that."
Along the same lines, Saga is good at taking care of the guests by
providing services which other lines either do not provide at all or
only for a separate charge. For example, there is transportation to
and from the ship. "If [a guest is within 75 miles, they get met by a
chauffeur-driven limo. They will go and collect their bags and put
them onboard. That is the last time the passengers sees them until
they find them in their cabin. That is a real bonus."
"Outside [the radius of 75 miles from the embarkation port], you
can pay a pro rata cost additional and come down. There is another
opportunity - - to share with another guest. If you are happy to do
that, you get the same chauffeured limousine service.
"Going back, the opposite happens. The guest will be met, the
luggage will be put in and [Saga] will even take them into the house."
Another issue that guests do not have to worry about is tipping.
Many cruise lines have moved to a system whereby a gratuities
charge is added to the passenger's account each day. On others, some
passengers feel pressured to leave a tip. On Saga, “there is no
tipping. Of course, if they have a personal favorite, that is quite
In addition, Saga pays attention to smaller things such as
providing fresh fruit and bottled water in the cabins. "There are a lot
of nice things that are done."
Nor are the charges for these services hidden in the charges for
the things that are sold onboard. "One of the things that you will find
is that the cost of a pint of beer is cheaper than in a pub. The wines
are excellent and are very reasonably priced. So there is no
exploitation as we know can be done."
The New Ship
Saga Pearl II provides a new variation on the Saga experience. At
18,591 groos tons, she is smaller and thus more intimate than Saga
Rose or fleetmate Saga Ruby. Like her predecessors, she was not
built for Saga but her interior has been completely renovated and
given an understated contemporary look. "It is fresh because it is
really newly decorated with a very good blend of colours."
In addition, guests used to the classic style of cruising will
appreciate the attention Saga has paid to features such as the library.
"Tremendous library onboard, which has got to be per capita one of
the best, I would think "
"The other thing is the excellent cuisine that we have on board."
While generally adhering to its classic style, Saga also seeks
ways to improve its cruise experience. To illustrate, Saga Pearl
gives guests more choice with respect to dining. Guests have "the
two opportunities to have dining either up in the Verandah Restaurant
or in the main dining room." In addition, in both restaurants, there is
the "the open seating, relaxed-country-classic" approach to seating
which is a move "away from the culture of tradition with the same
seating" each night.
"There are two schools of thought on that - - some want it and a
lot prefer the other way, so it is a difficult balance. People find their
own levels. The ones who are regulars and who have been used to
having their preferential seating in the old style, it takes them awhile
to accept [the new system]. But the people coming in love the
opportunity to move to a different restaurant and for different groups
The cruising style of Saga Pearl II reflects British tastes and
lifestyle. This is consistent with the composition of the passengers.
"If you looked at a passenger list you would see a smattering of
maybe Americans and Australians but not in great numbers.
Primarily it is British/Irish."
It is also consistent with the fact that the ship sails primarily from
the U.K. However, her schedule is of interest to experienced cruisers
because on her voyages to Norway, the Baltic, the Canaries and the
Med, she often calls in smaller ports that the larger ships cannot
enter. Furthermore, she also goes further afield. "She is going to the
Caribbean and to South America next Spring. I'll be taking her up the
Captain Warden-Owen in 1992
when he was Staff Captain of
Queen Elizabeth 2.
Cruise ship interview - Saga Pearl II - Saga Cruises - captain
A SHIP WITH A
A CONVERSATION WITH
CAPTAIN DAVID WARDEN-OWEN
OF SAGA PEARL II
Richard H. Wagner
Captain Warden-Owen receives a
plaque from the Harbour Master of
the port of Southampton welcoming
Saga Pearl II to the port.
Saga Rose seen from the QE2.
Saga Pearl II