3 AUGUST 2020


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Article from BTNews 3 AUGUST 2020

ON TOUR: SAGA discovered

Saga has been in the cruise business since 1997 steadily building up a fine reputation as a leader in the market for the over 50s, a very profitable sister operation to its land-based holiday products. 

Saga floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2014, the signal to invest in the cruise fleet with two purpose-built ships designed essentially for the British customer, quality products to challenge Azamara, Oceania and Viking. 

Such was the encouraging response to the first ship, Spirit of Discovery, plans for a 2021 introduction for Spirit of Adventure were brought forward with the vessel now fitting out at the Meyer Werf yard in Papenburg prior to sea trials and, pandemic permitting, her first revenue voyage 5 November of this year from Southampton into the Mediterranean.

As things stand Spirit of Discovery goes back into service 16 December with a five-night cruise to Antwerp and Zeebrugge in Belgium.  The ship will be “Covid-19 friendly” with strict social distancing rules and a maximum capacity yet to be confirmed by Saga, but can be up to 1,000 holidaymakers.  The crew number is expected to remain at around 500.  Certain facilities may not be available.

“Discovery” came in at 58,000 tonnes, a £350m luxury sea-going boutique ocean liner.  

It was a glorious day a little over one year ago that Camilla Duchess of Cornwall named the ship at its spiritual home at Dover Port.  In the evening Jools Holland entertained in the Playhouse Theatre, which doubles as a cinema and has excellent viewing lines.  It really was a night to remember.  The entertainer is a regular on Saga ships. BTN reported on the event.

Off to Venice

Readers may recall that the Editor-in-Chief and wife joined Saga Spirit of Discovery in Venice in early February.  It seems a long time ago.  ON TOUR recalls the trip “The Adriatic coast of Italy”.

The Saga package was comprehensive with a private car to Gatwick and easyJet from the North Terminal.  We also qualified for the splendid Virgin Clubhouse.  Little were we to know it would probably be the first and last time in the facility.

We were dropped off at the cruise port with hardly any walking. Norovirus is a problem occasionally with cruise ships and, as is now the norm, there was the statutory temperature taking before boarding, recommended by the CLIA.

As long-time cruisers we were aware of the heavy emphasis on health and safety by cruise lines.  On Crystal Harmony 25 years earlier hand sanitising had been required dockside.  Saga has wash basins on the entrance to all dining facilities and friendly guardians ready to spray hand sanitizer at all eating points.

Stepping on board you have to be impressed with the three-storey atrium dominated by a beautiful, bronze effect centrepiece backing the spiral staircase.  The 1,000-plus pieces of art on board include 400 originals commissioned from British-based artists and artisans.  The whole ship features classic and contemporary materials and furnishings combined to create a modern luxurious environment.

The ship offers a private balcony for every guest including 101 single occupancy cabins (and 10 twins with wide doors for the disabled).

We were shown to our accommodation, a mid-deck suite at 462sq ft, in effect two rooms, a standard double plus a lounge area connected by a bathroom and shower which could be entered from either end.  Two wide screen TVs of course.  It is the best arrangement in 40 years of cruising.  There is free wi-fi, 24hr room service including the full dining menu at restaurant times, courtesy bar and service included.  It’s the same in whatever grade of cabin you are in.

Dining on Spirit of Discovery

Dining on board was a real highlight. There are five restaurants and we were told just over 1,000 covers. You did not have to book.

You can have breakfast in the Grand Dining Room, with an à la carte menu, or the self-service Grill, with a fine buffet selection.  During the early part of the voyage we enjoyed al fresco on the veranda over the stern, but it was not on for the Bay of Biscay in February as we steered north towards Southampton.  In the evening also on offer was Coast to Coast, a seafood restaurant; The Club by Jools, a quality steakhouse; and the popular East to West, Asian food, the décor very oriental with dark wood and a really lovely space to enjoy an evening meal.  No extras to pay.

After dinner you can enjoy a programme of entertainment, with a show each evening in The Playhouse, or if preferred just relax in the Britannia Lounge overlooking the bow with a variety of entertainment every evening.  The daytime schedule was pretty comprehensive from the crack of dawn until the early evening.

The Spa is exceptional – this spacious area includes an inviting hydrotherapy pool and a range of treatment rooms, plus a hair salon and nail bar. The fitness room features brand new state-of-the-art equipment and a studio where you can join in with yoga and Pilates classes daily.

There are bars galore plus a fine library, one of the largest at sea, with comfortable sofas and reading chairs. The major daily newspapers are available printed at sea, and around dinner time "Today" is available, which means you can work out your programme for tomorrow.  From dawn to dusk you can be kept busy with a large selection or activities, and then there is the evening to look forward to. Or just relax on deck.

Spirit of Discovery is a class act.  It is smart looking with the large yellow funnel and matching emergency craft.  The cabins, in whatever grade, are elegant.  Even the corridors seem wider than most of its contemporaries.  It feels like a 5-star hotel.  And is! There is a real sense of space in the elegant cabins, the spacious decks and the light-filled lounges.  Sports facilities galore for those who need them and a decent size swimming pool.

Two sets of lifts but one would hope with “Adventure” Saga might have sorted out the deck identification!  Some have names and letters, so A, B, C, D and E, as well as Main Deck, Promenade Deck, Lido Deck, Sun Deck and Observation Deck, rather than numbers.  Of the lettered decks, A deck is the highest and E the lowest.  Do I use the lifts or stairs?  You are dealing with the over fifties, and some much older.  Don’t confuse us.  On the next ship 1-14 please Mr Saga.

Take another look at The Adriatic coast of Italy.

Getting to the departure port is very easy, a chauffeur-driven car if you are within 250 miles, or coach/train if that is your preference.  Parking is free if you prefer to drive.  The 2021 brochure is now out with prices starting from £895 and a selection of sightseeing tours is now included.


See in this issue 


The cruise lines on the web

  Edwina Lonsdale - Mundy Cruising



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