Updated January 8, 2020
Over-50s specialist Saga Cruises and Viking’s ocean product have a remarkable amount in common. Beautiful, stylish new ships; all-balcony accommodation; included speciality dining; and a general avoidance of penny-pinching. Both, for example, offer free access to their gorgeous spas, and free Wi-Fi on board. Viking includes a shore excursion in most ports, while Saga will offer all-inclusive drinks from 2020. Both lines operate mid-sized vessels; Saga’s two newbuilds take 999 each, while Viking’s ocean fleet take 930 each. Neither has a casino.
A significant difference between the two is who you’ll meet on board. Both appeal to an older demographic but Saga’s two ships, Spirit of Discovery and 2020’s Spirit of Adventure, attract an audience that’s almost entirely British, with all activities and entertainment geared to British tastes. Viking has more international appeal, with a strong North American market, and its onboard experience reflects this.
You really won’t go wrong with either line; both offer a cruise experience that gives some of the luxury lines a run for their money. But for the subtle differences, read on.
Offers brand new ships and a luxurious cruise experience geared to Brits, exclusively over 50
Also offers new ships but for a more international audience. There’s a lower age limit of 18, although most passengers are mature travellers.
Who are you going to meet?
- Almost exclusively Brits, all over 50, although a passenger can bring a companion from 40 upwards
- Many repeaters; Saga’s passengers are fiercely loyal
- Dressing up is important and black tie nights are taken seriously.
- Mainly North Americans, with some Brits and other nationalities
- Mainly mature travellers; this isn’t a family product (over-18s).
- Repeaters and passengers who have migrated from Viking’s river cruises
- Viking doesn’t have formal nights; the dress code, such as it is, in the evenings is elegant casual.
Where are they based, and where do they go?
- Saga has two ships. Currently, the fleet comprises the older Saga Sapphire and the brand new Spirit of Discovery. A second newbuild, Spirit of Adventure, joins the fleet in August 2020 and replaces Saga Sapphire.
- Saga PLC is based in Folkestone, Kent, and offers services other than shipping, mainly in the financial sector.
- The cruise line’s home port is Dover, although its ships sail from many different UK ports.
- Saga sails mainly from UK ports to the Mediterranean, northern Europe, Scandinavia and the Canary Islands. Some cruises venture further; there are Caribbean voyages, a season on the east coast of the US, and, in 2021, a South America circumnavigation.
- Viking has six identical ships, with a seventh due in 2021
- The privately owned company’s headquarters are in Basel, Switzerland
- Itineraries cover the world, from the Mediterranean to South America, Africa, Australia and Asia.
- Viking’s ‘Quiet season Mediterranean’ cruises are notable; they explore the southern Med in the winter months, avoiding the summer crowds. The line’s cosy, light-filled ships are perfectly suited to this type of cruising.
What's the accommodation like?
- Beautiful, elegantly designed cabins, designed to reflect the style of a modern British hotel rather than a cruise ship, with rich colours and original artwork.
- Every cabin has a balcony
- Up to 30 percent of accommodation is designated for single travellers, making Saga the most solo-friendly line around
- Every cabin has a balcony.
- Décor is pale and soothing, embodying the Scandinavian concept of hygge , with pale blues and creams, soft throws and light coloured wood.
- Cabins are thoughtfully planned, with multiple USB charging points and touches like heated bathroom floors.
- There’s no dedicated solo accommodation.
What are the dining options?
- The elegant Grand Dining Room is open seating, although a limited number of fixed tables are available for those with more traditional tastes.
- The Grill is the ship’s casual restaurant, with its outside area, The Verandah, serving particularly good fish and chips
- There are three speciality restaurants on each ship. On Spirit of Discovery, they’re East to West (Asian fusion); Coast to Coast (seafood) and The Club by Jools (a steakhouse). These will be different on Spirit of Adventure; the steakhouse continues but the ship will have an Italian restaurant, Amalfi, and, unusually, Nepalese cuisine in Khukuri House.
- Saga features what’s arguably the best cheese board at sea, with dozens of British and European cheeses.
- There’s open seating dining in The Restaurant, the elegant main dining room
- The World Café is a particularly stylish buffet restaurant; look out for the seafood and sushi in the evenings.
- Mamsen’s is a traditional Norwegian café, serving waffles with cream, open sandwiches and Norwegian brown cheese.
- There are two speciality restaurants. The Chef’s Table serves themed regional cuisine, with rotating menus, so you can eat there more than once per cruise. Reservations are essential.
- Manfredi’s is a popular Italian trattoria, again, by reservation.
- There’s a decent pool grill on each ship and a pretty Wintergarden, where lavish afternoon teas are served.
- All speciality dining is included apart from The Kitchen Table, a themed experience that involves shopping with the chefs, helping to prepare the food (this is optional) and dining in a private room.
What's each line's idea of fun?
- Exercise classes are included
- The spa has a beautiful thermal suite, free to use, with a large hydrotherapy pool
- Hosted bridge, hosted craft classes, dance classes and quizzes fill the daily programme.
- The library is especially beautiful, with coffee service and plenty of places to curl up with a book.
- Saga offers a comprehensive programme for solo travellers, including get-togethers and a buddy scheme for excursions.
- The Living Room is the social hub of the ship by day, for coffee, cake, ice cream, chat and often, live background music.
- Viking’s spa and thermal suite are a big selling point. The thermal suite is free to use and includes a snow cave and a big hydrotherapy pool.
- Each ship has an infinity pool on the aft deck.
- Viking’s voyages tend to be destination-intensive, so there’s not much laid on during the day
- The two-deck Explorers Lounge is the best places to sit and read, glancing up occasionally at the view.
- Viking Orion and Viking Jupiter also have a planetarium.
What's the nighttime entertainment like?
- Dancing is a big element of any Saga cruise. The light-filled Britannia Lounge is an elegant space, with a big dance floor for ballroom and Latin to a live band, as well as classes and demonstrations.
- Dance hosts are available to give single travellers a spin on the floor.
- Production shows take place in the Playhouse Theatre, as well as classical performances and stand-up.
- The Club by Jools on Spirit of Discovery is an intimate jazz club with nightly live music. It’s endorsed by Jools Holland, who will sail several times a year. The same space on Spirit of Adventure will simply be a Supper Club; it doesn’t have celebrity endorsement at this stage.
- Viking’s entertainment is more high-brow, with classical concerts and recitals rather than production shows
- Cocktail hour in the Atrium is particularly special, with classical music and giant images of Edvard Munch paintings projects on a high definition screen.
- Torshavn has to be one of the best clubs at sea; it’s plush, dark, intimate and always packed, with great live music and a busy dance floor.
How well are families catered for?
Neither cruise line caters for children. On Saga, the minimum age is 40 (if travelling with a companion over 50) and on Viking, 18.
How does pricing compare?
- Cruises include a balcony cabin, Wi-Fi, all-inclusive drinks (from 2020), speciality dining and a taxi from home to the port or airport (within 250 miles).
- Onboard currency is the pound.
- Shore excursions are extra but are reasonably priced.
- Gratuities are included in the fare.
- Cruises include a balcony cabin, Wi-Fi, wine with dinner, speciality dining and an excursion in pretty well every port.
- On board currency is the US dollar.
- Additional, more imaginative excursions cost extra.
- Wine is served with meals and a drinks package costs \$19.95 per person per day.
- Gratuities are suggested at $15 per person per day. Pricing for passengers from Australia and New Zealand is adjusted to include gratuities.
- Cruises sold in the UK are flight-inclusive.
Saga Cruises vs Viking Cruises: The Bottom Line
Prefer the company of mainly Brits, with British-themed entertainment, food and drinks and nightly ballroom dancing? Saga should work for you.
If you’re after a more international mix and like the thought of cool, Scandi-themed design and marginally more high-brow entertainment, try Viking.