The Norwegian America Line (NAL) was formed in 1910, and their first ship was launched at the 23rd of november 1912. This ship was named Kristianiafjord, after the fjord where the capital of Norway, then named Kristiania, was located. One year later, the second ship for the line, of which the main focus was the service between Norway and America, was named Bergensfjord. Th company kept this naming tradition throughout their history, naming their ships after the many Norwegian fjords. As one of the few companies, Norwegian America really concentrated on service not only in first class, but also in second and thirth. Even in thirth class, the ships offered cabins for 2,4 or 6 passengers instead of dormitories and even good bedding, matrasses, sheets and blankets were provided. Nowadays, that seems logical, but a lot of transatlantic steamercompanies in the beginning of the 20th century did not offer these things to thirth class, passengers had to bring their own. Norwegian America Line was known for its outstanding service from the beginning onwards and this lasted untill their last ships were in service, the 1964-built Sagafjord and the 1972-built Vistafjord.
The name Sagafjord wasn't used before by Norwegian America and the ship was built in France at the Forges et Chantiers de la Mediterrannee wharf at La Seyne. She was built as yardnumber 1366 and her design was really for transatlantic voyages, although the company also was going to use her for cruising, because this was clearly becoming more important. The ship was launched at the 13th of june 1964 and she measured some 24.002 tons. This made her the largest ship that was ever built for NAL untill then. She had a lenght of 188,88 meters, a width of 24,46 meters and a draft of 8,25 meters. At transatlantic voyages, the ship carried 85 passengers in first class and 704 passengers in tourist class. For cruises, the ship was designed to carry 464 passengers in one class, so significantly less. This way, the ship was rated as one of the most luxurious cruiseliners of her day, because there were 350 crewmembers available for them. This passenger to crew ratio is also now only to be found at the most high-rated cruiseyaughts. In may 1965, Sagafjord sailed on her trials and she was delivered to the company at the 18th of september of that same year. The naming of the ship took place at the French port of Toulon, close to her builders yard at La Seyne. Because of the high costs of the building of the Sagafjord, she was the last ship to be delivered from the La Seyne yard, because they were declared bankrupt soon afterwards. Her first transatlantic crossing started at Oslo, the new name for the former Kristiania, at the 2nd of october 1965, when she left for New York. The ship did sail several transatlantic crossings, but it was clear from the beginning that cruising was going to be her main role. The luxurious nature of the ship was quickly beginning to be clear, as for a long period of time, the ship was the only liner in the world that recievd a five-an-a-half star rating. The design of the ship had been the work of Kaare Haug, the chief naval architect of the NAL who had been with the company for a long time. He was assisted by a team of largely Scandinavian architects and designers, giving the ship a very modern Scandinavian tone within the public rooms. All of these designers kept working within the field of ship design and they had enough work to do, as the Norwegians pioneered the Caribbean cruise trade during that time.
In 1972, Sagafjord recieved a sistership, whose exteriour design was very much the same as herself. There were slight differences, the cabins in the new ship Vistafjord were a little bit smaller, because that ship was mostly to be dedicated to the wealthy German clientele and based in Hamburg for cruises of seveal weeks in contrast to the larger cabins aboard Sagafjord, that sailed even longer cruises and full world-voyages. But in luxury, the pair was still among the most high-rated liners of the day.
To reflect the new cruising role of the ships, when the NAL had ended the transatlantic voyages during the beginning of the 1970's, the company re-styled itself as Norwegian America Cruises in 1980. The ships were still registered at Oslo and the company was very much the same as the Holland America Line and HAPAG-Lloyd, for example, that also concentrated on the high-end of the cruisemarket and used their long-time heritage to attract passengers. But especially for those companies, that originated from the old liner-trade, the newer cruiselines that now flocked to the Caribbean took over a lot of customers and the 1980's were a very difficult time. Sagafjord recieved one extra deck above the bridge, that now clearly made her looks other then those of her younger sister, and here several luxurious cabins were located that had the novelty of a balcony. But the NAL faced hard times and they tried to merge with Royal Viking Line, another high-rated Norwegian company. It was meant that the combined company would sail as Royal Viking Line and the ships of the NAL would be re-named Royal Viking Saga and Royal Viking Vista. But this deal collapsed in the early stages and instead, the Norwegian America name and ships were bought by the British Cunard Line. Because of the good name that the NAL ships had gained over the years, Cunard created a sub-brand named Cunard-NAL and the ships would also retain their original names. Within a few years, the NAL suffix was dropped and the ships now sailed under the banner of Cunard Line, but they were still not renamed and became very succesfull and loved members within the fleet.
On the 26th of february 1996, the now 32-year old Sagafjord suffered an engine-room fire during a cruise near Manilla and her machinery failed. Luckily, there were no personal injuries and the ship was towed to Subic Bay where she was laid-up. It was soon clear that her services for Cunard would not resume, but the ship was brought over to be repaired at Singapore. During this voyage, she took over the 26 crewmembers from the Turkish freighter Harran, that had sank close-by.
After repairs, the ship was chartered out to Transocean Tours and re-named Gripsholm for six months. Gripsholm of course wa a name that was formerly used by another transatlantic company from Northern Europe, the Swedish American Line. During her six-month service for Transocean Tours, the ship sailed Baltic cruises and during one of them, at the 4th of august, she ran aground on a bank close to Landskrona. The ship suffered damage to her propeller because of this. The next day, her passenger were evacuated by the lifeboats of the ship and brought to the port of Landskrona, while the ships fueltanks were emptied by a tanker to ease the refloating. Five tugs were needed to free Gripsholm from her unplanned berth and towed her to Helsingborg, from where Gripsholm sailed to the Lloyd Werft at Bremerhaven using her own power so she could be repaired.
In 1997, the ship was sold to the British based Saga Group Limited a company that is specializing on holidays for elderly people. For this, they operate two brands, Saga Holidays and Saga Cruises. The company was formed in the 1950's by a man named Sydney De Haan and although they had offered cruises since they sailed with the chartered Epirotiki ship Atlas (that had been built for Holland America Line as Ryndam in the early 1950's) from 1978 onwards, the Gripsholm was the first ship they actually bought. For Saga Cruises, the ship was re-named Saga Rose and registered at Nassau flying the flag of the Bahama's now. She mostly sailed European cruises from English ports, but still sailed on longer world-voyages too. On the 29th of july 1999, the ship collided with and sank the Norwegian trawler Havbas, but she was able to rescue the 10-mencrew of the trawler and brought them over to the Norwegian port of Olden.
Because the ship now reached an age for retirement, the investment to bring her up to the new SOLAS-regulations that were put into action in 2010 was not made. Saga Rose taken out of service at the end of her 2009 season in october and laid-up. She was now 45 years old and one of the last examples of a classic liner. But the costly rebuilding that had to be done could not be invested by her owners and she left Gibraltar, where she had been laid-up since her last Saga-cruise ended, in april 2010 for South Africa. Rumours were there that she had been sold for use as a floating hotel at Durban, but she finally sailed for Shanghai where she finally arrived at the 23rd of may. By this time, it was clear that the ship had been sold for scrap, especially when she sailed up the Yangtze River. Here, at Jiangyin, the largest ship-recyling yard of China is located, named the Changjiang Ship Recycling Yard where she was finally dismantled starting from october 2011 onwards.