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, and Saga offers all-inclusive drinks (Viking offers drinks at meals). Both lines operate mid-sized vessels; Saga's two newbuilds take 999 passengers 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.
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.*
In 2021 the ships will be restricted to domestic sailings.
Viking Sky in Tromso (Photo: Viking Ocean Cruises)
Viking has seven identical ships
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?
Standard Balcony cabin onboard Spirit of Discovery (Photo: Kerry Spencer/ Cruise Critic)
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
Viking Jupiter Owners Suite (Photo: Viking Ocean Cruises)
Every cabin has a balcony.
Decor 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?
Khukuri House Nepalese restaurant on Spirit of Discovery (Photo: Saga Cruises)
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.
Manfredi's on Viking Star (Photo: Cruise Critic)
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.
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?
The Club by Jools on Spirit of Discovery (Photo: Saga Cruises)
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.
Star Theater on Viking Orion (Photo: Cruise Critic)
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.