Service was equally good and restaurants run seamlessly and are always adequately staffed. We never encountered any delays waiting to be seated or finding a table, and service was always prompt. The waiting staff strike up a great rapport with passengers, and quickly get to know (and remember) any likes and dislikes.
Special dietary requirements, such as vegetarian, diabetic, low fat and low salt, can be met. Food on buffets is clearly labelled as vegetarian, gluten-free and sugar-free. Guests can request plain food, such as meals without sauces, or ask the waiter for extra vegetables or smaller portions.
At all mealtimes the restaurants have an open-dining and open-seating approach. Passengers can arrive at any time during the opening times -- there are no first or second sittings -- and will be seated with fellow guests. However, groups of friends and families can request a fixed table for dinner by speaking to the maitre d' at the start of the cruise and will be allocated a table that they keep for the duration of the sailing.
There is no captain's table in the main restaurant. On certain cruises passengers are invited to dine with the captain or senior officers in the Chart or Ward Room, two small, separate dining rooms situated at each side of the entrance to the main Dining Room, which each seat 14 guests.
As a nod to the cruising tradition of the midnight snack, which has now vanished from many vessels, a selection of hors d'oeuvres are served each night in Shackleton's Bar at 10:15 p.m.
As an aside from the food, we also liked thoughtful touches such as the fact that passengers with birthdays are not automatically serenaded by singing waiters in the dining room and presented with a cake. Saga has realised that not every passenger wants a public celebration and might prefer to keep things quiet. As such, any passengers with birthdays will find cards waiting in their cabins.
The Dining Room (Promenade Deck): The ship's main dining room is open for waiter service breakfast (7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.), lunch (noon to 2 p.m.) and dinner (6:45 p.m. to 9 p.m.).
Situated aft on the Promenade Deck, it is a very pleasant, elegant room with picture windows on either side. With 280 covers, round and oblong tables are predominantly for four, six and eight, with a small number of tables for two. Blue and cream chairs -- some of them banquettes -- match the colours in the carpet and the tables are always beautifully laid with pristine white clothes, folded napkins on the blue and white plates and fresh flowers.
Breakfast features all the usual dishes, including juices, fresh fruit and yoghurts, croissants, cereals, cheese and cold meats, with hot dishes, such as a full English breakfast, French toast, omelettes and waffles.
For lunch passengers can choose from starters, soups, main courses and desserts (or mix and match by skipping courses or ordering two appetisers). Menus change on a daily basis and typical starters include crispy squid with lemon parsley mayonnaise, tomato and avocado salad, roast tomato and basil soup, followed by a sandwich or ploughman’s lunch. Hot main courses include grilled flounder with new potatoes, roast leg of lamb with mint and marmalade pesto or a dish from the daily grill, such as pork steak, sirloin steak or sardines. Veggie options include vegetable strudel in tomato herb sauce. To follow there might be apple pie and vanilla sauce, fruit crumble with custard or ice cream.
The evening meal follows a similar format, with the option of an additional salad and/or cheese course. Starters might include smoked salmon tartare with red onion and caper salad and lemon creme fraiche, escargots or goat cheese and apple tatin. Soups include chicken and pearl barley broth, French onion soup or chilled passion fruit and papaya soup, followed by a small salad plate of lettuce with spiced walnuts and Stilton cheese. Typical mains include grilled cod fillet with spinach and potato salad served with dill hollandaise sauce, chicken tikka korma with onion pilaf rice and condiments, grilled rib-eye steak with hand-cut chips and onion rings or warm blue cheese, tomato and broccoli quiche with a baked potato and sour cream.
For dessert expect temptations such as summer pudding with clotted cream, bread and butter pudding with vanilla sauce, crepes suzette, ice cream or fresh fruit. The menu always includes a diabetic dessert, such as profiteroles or mango and papaya gratin. The waiter will bring the cheese trolley to the table and passengers can select individual cheeses for themselves, or ask for a plate to share with others on the table. The trolley always contains an interesting choice of seven English and continental cheeses -- both popular and lesser-known -- such as Cornish Blue, Cheddar, Saint-Paulin, Gouda, Brie, Isle of Wight Blue and Dana Blue, which are served with a selection of crackers and condiments.
Free-flowing white, rose or red wine is served with lunch and dinner at all dining venues, and you never have to wait for your glass to be topped up. The complimentary wines are of good quality and might include French Treblano, Italian pinot grigio and Spanish Verdejo for the white, Australian Shiraz for the rose and French Sangiovese, Spanish Tempranillo or South African cabernet sauvignon red. In addition, passengers can purchase alternative wines from the wine list, with prices ranging from £15.75 for a bottle of Spanish Marques de Caceres Rioja or French Chateau La Tuilerie du Puy Bordeaux to £47.50 for a French Chateau Batailley Bordeaux.
Note: There is always a vegetarian option for each course on the daily dinner menu in the Dining Room. A dedicated vegetarian menu, with more choices, is available on request at the start of the cruise, and orders have to be placed in advance for the next day. Dishes include mushroom stroganoff with beetroot on a bed of spinach tagliatelle, herb crepe filled with roasted mixed nuts and vegetables with a cauliflower puree, and vegetable and pea paella with garlic and chili fried tofu.
Discovery Lounge (Promenade Deck): Typically served between 4:15 p.m. and 5 p.m. against the backdrop of soft live music, afternoon tea in the Discovery Lounge is something of an institution, and a very popular part of the day. The mouth-watering daily display of cakes is akin to something you'd find in the fanciest of tea shops, and changes every day. There are also finger sandwiches, scones with preserves and cream, and hot snacks such as butterfly prawns in breadcrumbs, plus sugar-free and gluten-free options. Passengers help themselves to food from the buffet tables and waiters bring tea and coffee to the tables.
Verandah Restaurant (Boat Deck): The ship's more informal buffet restaurant seats 150 inside, with seating for a further 12 outside (although passengers are welcome to carry their food to other tables and chairs further away from the restaurant if they wish). Early risers coffee is available from 7 a.m. followed by breakfast (7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.), lunch (noon to 2 p.m.), afternoon tea (4:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.) and dinner (6:45 p.m. to 9 p.m.). For passengers who might have missed breakfast, or feel a little peckish late morning, a light consomme soup with crackers and bread is served at around 11 a.m.
Situated at the aft of the Bridge Deck, behind the outdoor pool, the Verandah Restaurant is a bright, venue for passengers who prefer a more casual buffet-style meal where they can pick the food and quantities they want to eat. It is a popular venue throughout the day and can get busy, but finding a table is never a problem and vigilant members of the staff are always on hand to search out seats to save you from wandering around trying to find somewhere to sit.
Breakfast is an expansive affair with all manner of cooked items such as fried and scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, black pudding, fried bread, hash browns, baked beans and tomatoes -- plus a daily special such as potato, bacon and egg pie -- to get the day off to a hearty start. For those who prefer lighter options, there are separate buffet stations for yoghurts, cereal, pastries and fruit. The health-conscious will enjoy the daily juice or smoothie, which includes a rundown of the ingredients and perceived health benefits, such as the "bone builder", a blend of avocado, spinach, kale, pineapple and cucumber water. Passengers that don't consume cow's milk can help themselves to goat, soy or almond milk.
Typical lunchtime dishes include a good array of assorted salads, potato and garlic soup, a featured sandwich of the day -- such as olive and sundried tomato focaccia filled with grilled chicken, avocado, red onion and sour cream -- and a ploughman's with ham, Cheddar and Stilton. Hot mains include fisherman's pie, beef stew with pasta tagliatelle, roast chicken with all the trimmings or potato and aubergine stew. For dessert expect dishes such as warm Belgian waffles with berry compote, vanilla ice cream or maple syrup, raspberry cheesecake or ice cream. Although it is technically a buffet restaurant, the staff could not be more helpful and will step in without asking to offer to carry bowls of soup and plates of food to the table. One day we asked if it was possible to have the sandwich of the day without one ingredient and it arrived at the table within minutes. Drinks are also served at the table.
Sundowner Grill (Bridge Deck): Weather permitting, a barbecue lunch is available at the aft of the ship. Served from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., a chef cooks items such as chicken breasts, sausages, mackerel and vegetables on the barbecue, there is a daily featured sandwich and passengers help themselves to a limited variety of salads and desserts from two small buffet stations (or they can get additional food from the Verandah Restaurant immediately below). This is a lovely, informal area on sunny days, and passengers can choose tables with parasols, where the cutlery is already set out, or lounge on large rattan settees with lower tables. A fun touch is the help-yourself soft serve ice cream machine.
Room Service: Complimentary 24-hour room service is available to all passengers. Continental breakfast is available from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. -- with delivery times in increments of 15 minutes -- and passengers are required to hang their breakfast order form on their cabin door when they go to bed. The breakfast menu includes a choice of juices, rolls, pastries and preserves, fresh fruit, cereal, hard or soft boiled eggs, cold meats, sliced cheese, coffee, tea and hot chocolate. As there are no kettles in the cabins, room service can be used to just order an early morning cup of tea or coffee. The regular room service menu, available around the clock, includes starters such as smoked salmon, Parma ham with melon, shrimp cocktail and cream of tomato soup or chicken consomme. There are salads, including chef's salad with ham, cheese, eggs and tomato, and Caesar salad; sandwiches, such as club and egg mayonnaise, served on white, wholemeal or gluten-free bread with crisps; and more substantial mains including grilled fillet of beef, chicken breast with herb and garlic butter or salmon steak. All mains are served with boiled potatoes or chips and a mixed green salad. Desserts are creme caramel, fruit salad or ice cream (including diabetic ice cream) with a choice of sauces. Passengers can add drink orders to the room service menu, which will be charged to their onboard account.