After a very straight forward journey, Kathryn & I arrived at the newly refurbished Cruise Terminal at Dover to be greeted with a warm welcome from the Saga team (photo below). The check in process was smooth, luggage was swiftly tagged and taken to our cabin and refreshments were available while we waited in the departure lounge.
However, within a speedy 30 minutes (much quicker than any airport & no luggage restrictions!!), we were stepping on board Saga’s BRAND NEW flagship, the Spirit of Discovery. To say we were excited was an understatement – everything was brand spanking new and Saga really wanted to impress the press, journalists, cruise critics and trade partners so that we could recommend it, and talk about it, with confidence. The pressure was well and truly on Saga to deliver the goods.
We already knew the key features of Saga’s newest cruise ship (see list below) that we had read in the brochure but we wanted to delve behind the brochures glamourous photographs and meet the staff, talk to them, challenge them, and be wowed by them. We were no pushovers….we wanted to be Wow’d!
Key points of Saga’s Cruises & Spirit of Discovery:
Smaller ship means a maximum 999 clients onboard; Chauffeur driven VIP pick up from home & return; All cabins with a balcony; Speciality Restaurant dining at no extra cost; Gratuities included; Shuttle buses in most ports; Free Wi fi & All Inclusive from 2020
So, stepping onboard Spirit of Discovery and our first impressions of the grand entrance and wonderful staircase, gave us our 1st WOW moment!
Subtle music from the grand piano, wonderful artworks dotted around (all by UK artists) and an ambiance of a boutique country house hotel all added to the atmosphere (see photo below). Totally aimed at the UK No-fly cruise market and based out of Dover and Southampton… so far, so good! It had been slick, smooth and professional as we stepped into the grand entrance.
We headed straight to the Spa, located on the Main deck towards the front, to book a Spa session for the following day. Here we had our 2nd WOW moment!
We had heard that the spa is extremely popular, and treatments get booked up early – and we could see why! The Spa was an amazing retreat from the troubles of everyday life – very attentive and friendly staff, wonderful facilities ranking with top Spa hotels, a fully functioning hair salon with nail bar, an amazing hydrotherapy pool (below) surrounded by loungers, thoughtfully decorated his & hers changing rooms and a whole host of treatments available to while away a few hours on a sea day…..this was going to be fun!After the Spa, we went to explore & what really struck Kathryn & I was the tasteful décor and attention to detail. The relaxing lounge area on Main deck was a favourite of ours. It’s a lovely bar/coffee shop called “The Living Room” was a super place to sit, relax and chat with friends and had a nice selection of cakes & pastries if you were tempted. Shades of blue, brown & beige all complemented each other all around the ship with splashes of vibrant yellow and neutral creams adding to the feeling of upmarket, yet understated elegance. Quality soft furnishings, curtains, carpets and blinds added finishing touches in the public areas but also the cabins had the same attention to detail. (see below)
And now onto our cabin, which was a Standard Twin with Balcony (Grade H No. B549) located on B deck towards the rear. And here we had another WOW moment!
Our spacious cabin had 2 generously sized single beds & 2 easy chairs. (The beds proved very comfortable!) The room had the benefit of air conditioning, a roomy wardrobe (containing Olympus binoculars, hairdryer, safe, bathrobes & slippers) and then onto the lovely (if a little compact balcony but OK for 2!) with modern Raffia chairs and throw cushions. The shower room was a great size too and the cubicle was generous in size (one of my pet hates is a tiny shower cubicle!) but no worries here, plus the full-size toiletries, as standard, really were top quality and would be wonderful on a longer cruise, to make full use of.
After the muster station – one of the quickest I have ever done I have to say (maybe because its an adult only ship so no children to muster?!) – we were off to lunch!
So Where to try??
Maybe “The Grill”, the fabulous high-quality buffet restaurant up on Lido deck, or the main restaurant fittingly called the “The Dining Room” for a waiter served lunch option, but we opted for the outdoor “Veranda” bar & casual dining buffet, serving hot dogs & fries, fish & chips and completed with a fresh salad bar. We made the most of the sunshine and dined al-fresco with wine included, at lunch & dinner, from very attentive waiters. For 2020, all Saga cruises become All Inclusive so no problems having an alternative drink with your meal – or maybe try a cocktail?
The lively Sailaway Party is one of my favourite things about cruising from the UK – I have always been fortunate enough to have great weather which certainly helps. The music was playing from a nice chap playing the keyboards; the drinks were flowing as staff walked around with trays of prosecco or juice and the Saga Entertainments Team had us all in the party mood.
I have to add that the entertainment staff were mingling and chatting with us all and asking us about our first impressions of the ship. I didn’t hear any negative comments at all. Also, a special note to the waiters and waitresses, who all worked incredibly hard right through the cruise and always had a smile on their faces. The service was exemplary! Another Wow to the team onboard!
Moving into early evening and, after a quick shower & change, we decided to have some pre-dinner drinks in the stunning Britannia Lounge (see above), which is one of focus points of your evenings onboard. The floor to ceiling window on the front of the ship is quite breath-taking – and the mellow sounds from a jazz singer, (plus the wide selection of gins!) made it a great spot for a drink either before or after dinner.
The choice to eat in the main dining restaurant (no reservation required) OR the more casual open-dining Grill buffet OR one of the 3 speciality restaurants (reservations required) was a tricky one – but we had earlier decided on the Coast-to-Coast seafood restaurant and had made a reservation in advance, which I strongly recommend.
The 3 speciality restaurants are altogether on Promenade deck, with a beautiful wine bar “South Cape” adjoining – and all included the price and the choice is wide!! If you like fine dining, this is the cruise for you.
“The Club by Jools”, is a traditional dining venue with a twist! Our favourite dishes with added live music. In case you need reminding, Jools Holland is the ships godfather and his influence in this bar/restaurant/club is plain to see – it’s a hootenanny at sea! Early booking here is highly recommended as it was booked solid for both nights.
The “East to West”, an Asian inspired restaurant, received rave reviews from everyone we spoke to who had been lucky enough to get a table here.
Finally, “Coast to Coast”, which we agreed was simply exquisite seafood and this restaurant became our instant favourite. The décor was light, bright and inspired by New England seaside chic. My scallops, served on a cauliflower & pea puree, was top-hotel standard and Kathryn’s Lobster Thermador looked like a work of art. The food just kept coming at the very high standard and the most amazing cheese trolley I have ever seen! (see below)
After a long day, and such a great meal, we rounded the evening off with a show in the ships wonderful theatre “The Playhouse” and saw the Saga Entertainment team really come into their own, with a fabulous show full of West End and Broadway Shows (below). Their singing and dancing were super and the quite rightly, received a huge standing ovation and our hands ached with applause! We retired for bed not long after a nightcap and looking forward to a good nights sleep.
The next day, after a great sleep, we were peckish for breakfast!!
The choice at breakfast was either the main dining room on the main deck or the casual Grill buffet up on Lido – we decided on the main dining room and we were so pleased. It was quiet, relaxed, no crowding around the toaster and the benefit of a huge continental buffet was heaving with fresh fruit, juices, pastries and cereals. It was wonderful!
Then the waiter served us our hot selection choice to our table – Kathryn said her Eggs Benedict, served on a toasted muffin, with a thick piece of ham, was delicious but my scrambled eggs were not to my taste – I mentioned this to the waiter who immediately swapped them for me, no problem & no fuss whatsoever.
Following a hearty breakfast, we made our way to the spa for our treatments – we both opted for an Indian Head Massage – and, as this was a ‘taster’, was only 20mins long although it was so good, I would have stayed longer. The spa girls were all very friendly and chatty and put us at ease as we were taken to one the many treatment rooms, situated on a long corridor of doors.
A good quality Spa at sea is an absolute must these days in the luxury cruise market. I didn’t get to see the menu of treatments available as this was still being finalised, but the staff did tell us about various massages, facials, manicures & pedicures plus other more specific treatments that they will eventually offer. Pricewise, I am not sure how it stacks up against the UKs top spa’s, such as Ragdale Hall or Champneys, but from what we saw & experienced, this was the type of clientele they were aiming for.
Don’t worry though, if you don’t usually visit spa’s – This would be excellent as a one-off treat on a sea day, or having your hair or nails done for Captains Cocktail Party night – this spa would be great to give a try!
As it was a sea day, Kathryn & I planned our day with military precision! I wanted to do the Promenade Deck Walk (namely 3.9 laps = 1 mile) and I really wanted to walk off last night’s dessert & cheese board. The Gym & Fitness Centre up on the Sun deck were well equipped and offered a selection of Yoga, Pilates and Aerobics classes plus a Stretch & Tone that looked appealing, but I stuck with my walk. Kathryn opted for the Craft Class, which seems to run daily, and she was thrilled at also exploring the ships cabins more thoroughly – especially the wonderful suites!
After we had spent a morning being active, we met up on Lido Deck for a couple of hours of pure relaxation on sunbeds – most people’s favourite spot was the Sun Deck or Lido Deck, with a nice supply of comfy loungers and towels – and yet again, attentive staff offering waiter service drinks. (See below the Veranda outdoor casual dining, the promenade during my walk & me up on Sun deck.)
After a light lunch at the Veranda, I decided to visit the suites that had been made available to view and I got my next WOW moment here!
The simply beautiful Hebrides Suite (Grade CC) located at the rear of A Deck was pure understated elegance, homely and comfortable but its quality shone out (see below). And it was certainly roomy, with a vast walk in wardrobe, full bathroom with Jack & Jill doors to the WC, bathtub & separate large shower, a wet bar area, and in-room dining available. A selection of wines & spirits (to your taste) are placed in your suite, plus coffee machine and wrap around balcony – another WoW!
So, as I was also representing my very popular group ‘Chatsworth Solo Travellers’ I had to seek out the single cabins. They have 4 differing categories of single cabin – Standard; Superior; Deluxe & Suite – which were all roomy and all have double beds as standard – a great bonus for the sole traveller! The one below is a superior single, but I also saw a standard single and this was fairly similar just a tad smaller. Finally, no more poky broom cupboards, at a high supplements, for single cruisers. Saga have really listened to the Solo Cruiser market and delivered the goods – my next Wow moment!
And so, after another busy day at sea, it was the final evening and THE event of the cruise – the Captains Cocktail Party! Time to get dolled up & put my posh frock on.
For those cruisers who don’t participate in the cocktail evenings, no problem! I did see several journalists/press walking around in smart casual wear and they decided to eat in The Grill – which we did go to visit and the food was exactly the same menu as the main dining room, just self-service. I do know some people prefer to do this, rather than the formality of the main dining venues: wherever you eat & whatever you wear, the choice is there at the same price – Our next Wow!
After preening and pampering, the time had come and we met a friend that we had made earlier in the day, at the Grand Staircase (see above) which offered a wonderful chance for photos in our posh frocks.
We chatted about our day and the evening ahead over pre-dinner drinks at the Living Room bar nearby. It was a lovely evening, giving us a nice reason to dress up, have some delicious wine, amazing food then chance to have a boogie on the dancefloor to the live band! I cant remember the exact time we went to bed (was it getting light!!??) but it was a fabulous evening, great company and really sealed the deal that I have caught the cruising bug!
In conclusion, Saga really had ‘pushed the boat out’ during the whole cruise, to give us the customer experience, so that we can recommend their cruises with the utmost confidence. We truly had been spoilt – from the waiters smiling faces, where nothing was too much trouble, to the girls in the Spa who put us at ease, and even Captain Julian, who had kept us well informed throughout the cruise and was a jovial and friendly host, making himself visible – even on the dancefloor!
After another great night’s sleep, a hearty breakfast and final bit of packing, it was time to disembark from Spirit of Discovery – we were both a little sad and emotional to be leaving.
It had been wonderful from start to finish and we could not have wished for more!
And I think you may know the answer to this………… we were both Wow’d!!
Joanne Hallett & Kathryn Hallam – Chatsworth Travel, Chesterfield