Saga Cruises have been on my radar for a while now. I have visited Saga Sapphire and overnighted on Saga Pearl II but my friend and I both felt we weren’t ready for the Saga experience at the time. However, the launch of the first of ... Read More
Saga Cruises have been on my radar for a while now. I have visited Saga Sapphire and overnighted on Saga Pearl II but my friend and I both felt we weren’t ready for the Saga experience at the time. However, the launch of the first of their two brand new ships, coupled with some health issues that forced the cancellation of a very long cruise earlier in the year, saw me booking a 10 night cruise on Spirit of Discovery around the Bay of Biscay Ports – yes, I know – a risky venture in October.
Embarkation: One of the best things about Saga Cruises is the included transport to the port and return home. My shared car arrived 10 minutes early (the driver would have waited but I was ready). It was a smart leather-seated Mercedes people-carrier. Once I was settled and my luggage loaded, the driver checked I had my passport, gave me a bottle of water and explained we could stop anywhere for any reason should I request it. We set off to pick up another couple since I was outside the 75 mile limit in which you get a private driver/car. After a brief stop at Fleet Service (where the driver bought us coffee and cake) we arrived at Dover just over 4 hours later. I had booked a guarantee cabin so hadn’t received a cabin number but a lady with a clipboard was issuing these and marked up my luggage labels while I went into the small, charming cruise terminal. I had booked assisted embarkation so was shown where to sit and a lady came over to check me in. I got given my cruise card and deck plan as with other cruise lines, and after a very short wait, a man came with a wheelchair to talk me on board via a long zig-zag airbridge. Once on the ship I abandoned the chair and waited in a short line for a steward to take my hand luggage and show me to the cabin – just like my early Cunard cruises. So far so very good. It was around 2pm.
Cabin: I had booked a standard single cabin on guarantee and ended up with a standard twin on E Deck. This is an all-balcony ship and I was impressed, with a few minor niggles. The beds were set up as a kingsize – it was huge! Bedside tables were good with two drawers, a middle shelf and the top surface. There was a bedside light plus a directable reading light plus a USB port for charging phone set. Being in this position meant you could still use your phone or table while it was charging. The wardrobe was reasonable with full length hanging on one side, with a slated shoe rack at the bottom, and half-length on the other side with two large drawers and the safe. The safe had a light and was huge – easily large enough for a laptop. In the wardrobe were the lifejackets, a lap blanket for use on the balcony, a golf umbrella and a basket with long-handled shoe horn, clothes brush, hair dryer, laundry bags for him and her and a pair of Olympus binoculars. The other furniture consisted of two comfy chairs, a coffee table, standard lamp and dressing table with illuminated mirror, kettle, teas and coffees, two shallow drawers and two deep drawers. A huge TV was at the food of the bed and offered Freeview channels, some films on demand, port lectures and, best of all, the shows in the theatre were broadcast live to your cabin. The bathroom was a good size with glass-doored shower, good-height toilet and basin. Under the basin were two large cupboards with shelves. The light around the mirror stays alight at a low level to provide a nightlight should you need the bathroom at night. There was also a very narrow fridge with a carton of UHT milk. The balcony had two rattan chairs and a small table. One minor niggle – no washing line in the shower but I understand this is being rectified. The cabin steward introduced himself and asked which fresh fruit I would like in the cabin. The apples and red grapes that arrived later were perfect and just ripe enough.
Food: I usually ate breakfast in The Grill (buffet). You were shown to a table, each of which had number on. This was in case you ordered a hot dish cooked to order or for those few passengers who got lost! The tables were fully laid with milk and preserves. There was waiter service for teas, coffees and toast and, if asked they were happy to get you anything else too. The choice was very good with fresh and tinned fruits, meats, smoked salmon, cereals etc. As well as tea and coffee, fruit juice was available all day as was ice cream (either self-serve on Lido Deck or from The Living Room). In the main dining room breakfast was a mixture of buffet and menu items as was lunch. I had opted for the equivalent of Freedom/anytime dining but, as a solo, I could have had a dedicated table. Waiters offered you an arm as you were escorted to the table. Sizes varied from 2 to 10. Wine and beer at lunch and dinner was included (the ships will be all inclusive from Nov 2019) and was reasonable quality – mostly new world Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot. Good for me as I prefer Chilean or South African wines. There was red, white or rose. There is also a wine list if you want to pay for something else and again prices were very reasonable from around £12 a bottle. Spirits in the bars were £2.90, cocktails around £3.70. I found the food excellent quality and always very hot. One gala meal offered caviar on blini and roast venison that melted in the mouth. I gather the chefs are given full rein to develop dishes and fresh local food is brought on board – crates of fresh strawberries and peaches were waiting by the gangway in Bordeaux. As well as the main restaurant, there were three alternative restaurants – The Club (a steakhouse), Coast to Coast (seafood) and East to west (Asian fusion). All are included in the cruise price, but need to be booked. Plus the buffet. All except The Club and MDR have outdoor terraces should the weather be kind. Room service is free and in the evening you can choose from the MDR menu.
Other passengers: I feel Saga has an image problem! Before I went I got the usual jokes about what SAGA stands for, don’t want to sail on a ship full of elderly people etc. However, I found fewer people with wheelchairs, scooters and mobility aids than on P&O (I should add I use a walker so am not discriminating here). Yes you need to be aged over 50 to travel (unless accompanying an older person as a carer) but tours generally catered for active and curious people. One tour was led by a celebrity chef (Daniel Galmiche) to a French market to choose foods to cook on board, others included hiking and cycling. Most were well-travelled, interesting to converse with and passionate advocates for Saga Cruises! Hand gel was well-used and well-policed!
Entertainment: This was probably less than on other lines I have sailed with but since we only had two sea days may not have been typical of a longer voyage. Spirit of Discovery has a large theatre plus a show lounge. Shows were usually at 9.30pm and another performance – singer, magician etc – in the Britannia Lounge about 9.45. What I didn’t like was that the theatre doors are shut as soon as the show starts and you are not allowed in. As well as not disturbing the audience, this is also due ti health and safety as they don’t want people falling down the steps. This is where the live broadcast to the cabin comes in handy sometimes. There were port talks, free craft lessons, bridge, putting, table tennis, golf, quoits, shuffleboard, ring toss, darts, free bridge visits, cookery demos and quizzes. I attended four parties (with canapes and plentiful alcohol) – a welcome aboard, farewell, newcomers (to Saga) and a midday day one for solo travellers. A nice touch at the latter was waiters going round taking bookings for the other restaurants and making up solo tables – a nice way to meet others.
Decks: There was plenty of open deck space with lots of sunbeds and garden style rattan chairs and sofas. Deck towels and blankets were available from lockers. All decks can be accessed by lift and automatic doors. A row of jars near the Grill offered free boiled sweets all day.
Tours: I only did two tours. These were much as any other company except that as we returned on the coach, the Saga tour escort came round offering Werthers butterscotch sweets and hot or cold flannels sprayed with eucalyptus. The escorts also stayed at the back of groups to check no-one got left behind or lost.
Disembarkation: Again I had booked assisted disembarkation so went to my allocated area to wait. Sensibly (and unlike P&O) people were taken off in tag order, not the order in which we arrived in the venue. We had all be allocated a number between 2 and 16) which went on luggage. Luggage had to be out from 9pm till retiring the last night). Crates were filled with luggage with the same numbered tags and stayed in this crates until shortly before that number was called to disembark. As well as a man with a wheelchair to take me off, I was given a crew member to carry all my hand luggage until we arrived in the baggage hall and a porter took over. Because some luggage was still in crates when I arrived, it was quick and easy to locate my case. My driver was waiting outside and soon I was on my way home.
Would I travel with Saga again – absolutely. The new ships are a perfect size for me and offer all you need. The décor is subtle but classy. There is none of the hard sell other lines practise. For example, I had a manicure but that was it – no selling of products and no gratuity added either. I love the forward observation deck, unobstructed by tinted glass. Minor niggle – the decks are composite, not teak. The service was exemplary but subtle. You stood to pull a chair in and a waiter would appear behind you to help. Yes, the upfront cost appears on the high side, but it is a quality product with a lots of undefinable extras thrown in that would be charged for on other lines.I am now looking forward my cruise on her sister ship next year. Read Less