SAGA Saga ships don’t get much of a mention in Member’s Cruise Reviews I guess because they are not marketed in the States. However for those who are interested in a very British line here are my thoughts: The ships are targeted at the mature end of the market, there is a lower age limit of 50 and most passengers come well over that age. Saga Ruby is a small ship (by today’s standards) with just 376 cabins and, unusually, 70 of these are single cabins. So the ship is very popular with widows and widowers. Sue and I are 72 so we are well qualified. Having said that we found the other passengers very friendly and a good time was clearly being had by all. Saga prices are a bit ahead of the general market. We paid £180 per head per night for a standard cabin (not including insurance which Saga provided for £45 per head). Our price was after 35% discount and Saga guarantee not to increase the discount for later bookings. The price however includes gratuities, which are not expected. On board spend was quite low, drinks and spirits around £1.75 a glass, wine around £15 a bottle in the restaurant, half day tours about £40.
EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION Our cruise departed Dover and returned to Southampton so parking our own car at the port was not an option. However living in the south of England we qualified for Saga’s free limousine service. (The limit is a 75 mile journey and we were slightly over that so paid a small premium of £20). The driver of the car collecting us phoned before he was due to say he would be slightly late (about half an hour) and we hit a traffic jam on the motorway approaching Dover. Despite that we were at the port by about 3pm and straight on to the ship. Our luggage arrived within minutes. At Southampton departure was split into about 23 slots depending on transport, destination etc. Disembarkation commenced at 8.30. We were in slot 15 and got off at 9.50. Our driver was there to greet us and we were on our way home (in the company of passengers from 3 other ships in Southampton that day) within minutes
CABIN Our “standard” cabin (Grade D No. 237) on Upper Deck was comfortable although fairly small. I would guess about 150sq ft. It was quiet, being generally well sound insulated, except for the noise from the wardrobes in the adjoining cabin that must have quite thin backs. Bathroom was small but modern with a reasonable sized bath with shower over and a quiet loo! One reasonable sized window between the twin beds. Wardrobe space was limited – just about enough for two of us for two weeks. There was a flat screen television, fridge and safe. No tea-making facilities, but early morning tea was brought by a friendly waiter promptly every morning. Cabin windows on the deck below (Main Deck) are rather small and on A Deck there are portholes. The ship does have 25 balcony cabins. These start at a premium of around 30% over what we paid but most at that price are obscured or partially obscured by lifeboats.
SHIP Saga Ruby (ex Vistafjord, Caronia) is a small ship by modern standards (24,492 tons) with classic ocean liner lines. We particularly liked the traditional cascading after decks with plenty of sunbeds and plenty of shady spots for watching the wake as we sailed out of harbour. A favourite spot for us in the evenings was the small covered raised deck outside the Preview bar overlooking the aft of the Veranda Deck. There is a wide wrap around promenade (7 times to the mile) with plenty of lounger chairs set back in the shade but there was room enough to move them out into the sun without impeding the hearty walkers. Inside, the favourite quiet sitting place is the Britannia Lounge, Veranda Deck forward, a pleasant room with plenty of sea view windows although not set very high in the ship. This room was also used for early evening dancing, and other social events as well as afternoon tea (in conjunction with the main event in the Ballroom) The Ballroom is the main venue for the entertainment including lectures, dancing classes, shows and dancing in the evening. A very pleasant room and, although not tiered like a theatre, with plenty of areas of raised seating to give quite good sight lines. There is also a nice cinema that was used for some of the lectures as well as film shows.
DINING Saga goes for a fairly formal dining set-up with allocated seating for dinner but open seating for breakfast and lunch. We were a large party of 9 but managed to get put on the Hotel Manager’s table so when he and his wife joined us on the three formal nights we were 11. The dining room is single sitting (a big plus for us) open for dinner between 6.45 and 9pm. We agreed with the rest of our table to eat at 7.30 which seemed to satisfy everybody. The standard of food was generally excellent. With plenty of choice on the daily menu and a back up of standards (chicken, salmon or steak) if nothing on the day’s menu appealed. Food was served hot and without delay. Service throughout the ship from the cheerful Filipino staff was always excellent despite the no tipping policy. Breakfast in the dining room was part buffet – help yourself to cereals, fruit , pastries etc., and waiter service for cooked breakfast. Lunch was waiter service. There was no pressure to sit at particular tables during open seating, service was available throughout the restaurant. The self-service Lido restaurant was the standard ship-board bun fight. Very busy and crowded. When full, meals were often taken to tables at the back of the adjacent ballroom or, in good weather, out onto the open deck where there were plenty of tables and chairs. Service at all buffets was done by the waiters so there was no danger of infection from shared serving spoons. Antiseptic hand wipes were provided at the entrance to all restaurants and were used conscientiously by all. Saga Ruby has an alternative restaurant for dinner, View, looking over the stern of the ship and offering a “fine dining” experience. There is no premium charge but it is generally only possible to get in there once in the cruise. We had an excellent meal in there and it made a nice break from our usual table. It is also possible to get a less formal meal in the evenings in the Lido if you are desperate! Afternoon tea was a major event with the ballroom and often the Britannia Lounge packed with hungry cruisers who hadn’t had a bite for at least 2 hours. The selection of sandwiches and cakes was excellent but my downfall were the warm scones with raspberry jam and real clotted cream (in that order).
BARS The main bar is the South Cape Bar running along the side of the Veranda deck just aft of the Britannia Lounge. A rather narrow but welcoming room with a long bar with plenty of stools. Smoking is allowed in part of this bar. There was an excellent pianist playing during the cocktail hour and later in the evening. There was also a bar for drinks service in the ballroom and an outside bar on the deck aft of the lido.
ENTERTAINMENT There were a few production shows of variable quality but most of the evening entertainment was by single performers – conjurer, violinist etc. we didn’t generally bother except for the ukulele/banjo man Steve Galler who was absolutely outstanding. Daytime lectures were the standard shipboard stuff – maritime history (Titanic always packs them in) art appreciation etc. The port lectures however were excellent and totally separate from the tour lectures. Frank Feeste did a first class job providing plenty of useful information for those who wanted to do it themselves. (Although he did occasionally ramble on a bit)
PORTS/EXCURSIONS The cruise set off through the Kiel Canal and visited Stockholm, Helsinki, St Petersburg (2 nights), Tallinn, Riga, Warnemunde, Copenhagen and Christiansand. All interesting ports with plenty to see and do (except perhaps Christiansand which is quite small and rather dead as it was the end of the season – we were scheduled to go to Mandal but couldn’t get in – I don’t know whether that would have been any better.) We took 3 tours in St Petersburg and one (the Molli and the Minster) in Warnemunde. All the tours were enjoyable, extremely well organised and quite reasonably priced.
SPA/FITNESS I have no idea.
SUMMARY Of the 20 odd cruises we have done to date this certainly was one of the best. Saga Ruby may not have all the facilities of a modern ship but she is very well organised with excellent, friendly staff and pleasant travelling companions. Captain Philip Rentell was a very good friendly communicator and was often seen strolling round the ship chatting to passengers or seeing them off at the gang plant when they went ashore. I am struggling to find something to criticise. I suppose the entertainment wasn’t generally up to much. The cabins are fairly basic and we do miss the balcony.