Saga Sapphire and Saga Pearl II are both owned by Saga, the British company that offers a range of products and services exclusively for the over 50s. Aimed fairly and squarely at the U.K. market, Saga Cruises offers a variety of quintessentially British home comforts that you won't find on international vessels. While neither of the line's existing two ships were built specifically for Saga, the line has a shiny new ship, Spirit of Discovery, on order that will be delivered in 2019, with sailings commencing in the autumn.
So if you fit into the age demographic would you like to be a "saganaut," the affectionate name given to Saga passengers?
Here are 10 reasons to love Saga Cruises.
Saga Cruises' two ships are minnows compared with the size of many of today's mega-ships. Saga Sapphire carries 720 passengers and Saga Pearl II carries just 449. This means it's very easy to become acquainted with the ship -- no wandering around endless corridors trying to locate your cabin -- and within a day everything feels very familiar. It also creates a very intimate onboard atmosphere. On larger ships you might bump into someone interesting and never see them again. With Saga you quickly recognise faces and make new friends. In 2019 Saga Pearl II will retire from service and be replaced by the brand-new Spirit of Discovery and although it will become the line's largest ship it will still carry fewer than 1,000 passengers.
Traditionalists who yearn for the "golden age" of cruising will love the elegance of Saga's ships. The two vessels look like "proper" ships that hark back to a previous era. Both were built in 1981 and sailed under a variety of names before being acquired by Saga and undergoing multi-million pound refurbishments. Both also have extensive polished brass fittings and boast beautiful teak wraparound promenade decks set out with steamer chairs, cosy blankets and deck games such as quoits. There is also a high level of personal service onboard, with 252 officers and crew on Saga Pearl II and 415 on Saga Sapphire.
Fares include a high number of inclusions (one of the reasons the line has such a high number of repeat passengers) that create a hassle-free experience. They include home-to-port transfers (up to 75 miles each way for a private chauffeur or a shared service for passengers living between 75 to 250 miles of the port); alternatively, there is free parking for those who choose to drive. There is free wine with lunch and dinner, 24-hour room service, unlimited self-serve tea, coffee and juice, a complimentary shuttle bus service at most ports and complimentary Wi-Fi. Saga also offers optional travel insurance or a reduction in the fare if not required. This is a huge boon for elderly passengers who might find it hard to get reasonably priced cover. Last, but certainly not least, fares include porterage of luggage and all tipping. The latter is always a thorny subject as far as British cruisers are concerned. Even though it is the accepted -- some would say tolerated -- norm on most lines, in particular American ones, it still grates with Brits where it is not part of everyday culture and Saga understands this. From 2018 there will also be a selection of fully inclusive cruises with all drinks and excursions.
As Saga Pearl II and Saga Sapphire are older vessels they do not feature the type of "identikit" cabins you find on modern ships. Cabins are also much larger than you might expect -- averaging a roomy 283 square feet on Saga Pearl II and 220 square feet on Saga Sapphire -- with Superior cabins that would probably be described as suites by some lines. Many cabins also have bath tubs, a rarity on other ships unless you travel in one of the top suites.
Saga is fantastic for solo passengers who are not relegated to tiny, interior cabins resembling broom cupboards. Both ships have a high number of single cabins -- almost 25 percent on Saga Pearl II -- and they include outside cabins, some of them with balconies (a luxury virtually unheard of with the majority of single cabins on other vessels). There is no single supplement, and a number of double cabins are also set aside for single travellers with no extra supplement to pay. A "singles mingle" drinks party takes place early in each cruise and there is also a singles lunch where passengers can get to know fellow solos. For ladies that like to dance, each cruise has a pair of gentleman hosts to whirl them around the floor.
Cruisers that bemoan a drop in seafaring dress standards will feel at home on Saga. There is one formal night on even the shortest of cruises, and typically two on a seven-night cruise and three on a two-week sailing. It is impossible to overdress and many women use the nights as the perfect excuse to get out their best long gowns and cocktail dresses, with the majority of men donning black tie.
Saga has a very transparent booking policy with a sliding scale of discounts for early bookers. After that, the "price promise" means that if there are any additional deals the value of the saving is refunded to passengers who have already booked. This means there are no awkward or "point scoring" dinner table conversations where passengers brag about how little they have paid, which is inevitably a fraction of what you forked out.
Saga ships are paradise for bookworms and you don't need to weigh your suitcase down with books or even bring a hand-held reader unless you particularly want to. The libraries on both ships are huge with more than 500 titles divided into sections that include fiction, biography, history, geography, science, politics, humour, food and drink, photography. There are large print books and glossy coffee table tomes, along with a large selection of up to date magazines. In one corner is a paperback exchange where passengers can leave books they have read and help themselves to another. Spirit of Discovery will continue this trend of a well-stocked library, with what promises to be one of the best at sea.
Unlike many ship spas which are run by global spa chains, the ones on Saga are in-house operations. As a result, prices are extremely reasonable -- think £58 for a 55-minute full body massage that could easily cost double or more on other vessels. Additionally, there is no automatic gratuity on top of the price, again the norm on many vessels. And most blissful of all, at the end of the treatment there is none of the dreaded hard sell to get you to buy products, which is also commonplace in the big name spas where therapists are set sales targets.
Despite only having two ships, Saga offers an extensive range of itineraries, in particular ex-UK cruises sailing from Dover and Southampton that form the mainstay of the cruise calendar. There are also fly and stay cruises, with overnight city stays. So take your pick, because Saga sails in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Baltic, Europe and round Britain, Canary Islands, Iceland, Far East, North and Central America, Middle East and Africa, Indian subcontinent and Australia!