SAGA’s Spirit of Discovery kicks off its continental cruising career in splendid style and gives FiftySomething cruisers an option worthy of really serious consideration.
As a couple of middle aged “Cruise Virgins,” my wife and I wondered if going on a cruise with Saga Cruises would be a wise decision. After experiencing the Baltic Myths and Legends cruise on Saga’s Spirit of Discovery, we are hooked on cruising, and are already looking at our next trip, which will be certainly be with Saga. Here’s why:
Over its 15 days the Myths and Legends of the Baltic Cruise took in Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia and Denmark,. The route is pretty much par for the course in the Baltic – Spirit of Discovery, however, is anything but ordinary.
Saga’s new Spirit of Discovery, is aimed at 50-somethings (with partners aged 40 years old upwards). Solo travellers are well catered for, with more than 100 cabins designed for single occupancy and priced not to take advantage of the solo traveller. All cruisers can have as much company, or as little, as they want.
Your stateroom or suite
Rooms are akin to a classy, upmarket hotel, smart and luxurious, without being flashy. Everything, from the furnishings through the bed linen to the bathroom towels and toiletries has a feel of real quality.
We had booked a Mid Ship Suite – which offers a separate lounge, walk-in closet, bathroom with bath and separate shower, and a free mini bar, with Butler service.
Single cabins have more than enough room for two people, and the Deluxe Cabin has a walk-in wardrobe, spacious living section and 50 per cent bigger balcony than the Standard Cabin. The feeling of space there eclipses even the Mid Ship Suite because of its open plan design.
On the Spirit of Discovery, every cabin has a balcony with large French windows. We had thought that in the Baltic, in September, these would be little used, but they turned out to be real suntraps and the temperature on the balcony allowed us to be outside in our swimming gear, relaxing in our rattan chairs with a chilled glass of something, even though the actual temperature outside had barely reached double digit degrees C.
Food and drink
I had often heard that cruises were the ultimate food grazer’s paradise and, while it is certainly true Saga has thought its food and drink through carefully to avoid the all-you-can-guzzle mentality.
Dining at the Speciality Restaurants is, unusually, included in the price with Saga and these offer a breadth of choice – Coast to Coast offers seafood menus; East to West, Pan Asian; The Club is a surf ‘n turf and music lover’s hangout, while the Grill Room and Main Dining room both offer the traditional set menu and buffet options). The quality of food is unswervingly excellent in every restaurant (we sampled them all) and the wine is well chosen.
It is worth noting that if you are a cheese lover you will be in heaven. Almost every restaurant offers a sensational cheese trolley with at least a dozen constantly changing choices (on one night the Main Dining Room had two trolleys side by side with a completely different selection on each).
The lounges and bars offer “out of hours” dining with cakes, open sandwiches, ice creams and fruit available, in addition to drinks and beverages. You can also have room service in your cabin – which is inclusive – so you are never likely to go hungry.
There is a dress code that is adhered to, seemingly by all. Evenings, it is smart casual, with men in shirts and trousers and women in slacks or dresses. There are a number of Formal Nights, which find most Gentlemen in tuxedos – or similar – and ladies in long dresses, or cocktail wear. It might seem a little “stiff” but actually it is great fun because it really gives a sense of occasion to the night.
The Lido outdoor pool is maintained at a really pleasant temperature, but perhaps the Baltic in September is not its optimum time for many – though there were invariably a few people using it.
There is a gym packed with state-of-the-art equipment, which is situated alongside a large exercise room, offering various classes.
The Promenade, which winds its way around the ship, was more oft used by people circulating around the quarter of a mile lap at their own pace.
Tucked away near the gym was the ship’s golf course and shooting range; both obviously electronic. The Golf – with an extremely clever “virtual course” was surprisingly challenging.
In a matter of moments the Discovery’s Golf course converts into a shooting range, with pairs of laser rifles and pistols which you can try your skill on, against a variety of targets.
The library has thousands of books, dozens of jigsaw puzzles and a card room with its 10 tables and a well-equipped craft room, for those who want to make their own souvenirs.
The ship’s Spa offers a large variety of treatments at an additional cost. The staff are extremely experienced and both my wife and I indulged – she in a facial, complete with five-layer skin analysis and I in a seaweed wrap followed by hot stone massage – so relaxing that I am sure I dozed off.
There’s also large, excellent hydrotherapy pool, two saunas, a steam room and, my wife’s favourite, the relaxation room where you can lie close to the windows and watch the world tranquilly sail by.
There is a full programme of excursions. In everywhere except St Petersburg, where visas restrict you to being with organised excursions, there are free shuttle buses to transport you to and from the centre of the city at which you’ve docked.
The excursions were generally excellent – we loved the tour of the St Petersburg Underground with its amazing platforms .
Back on board, we were treated to a fantastic late-night Russian meal, with Vodka, Champagne, Caviar, and a host of other specialities, so the evening ended on a high.
The programme of entertainment on board was staggering. Discovery’s theatre was in constant use with a huge breadth of different activities on offer: an excellent lecture programme, classical music, dance music, jazz, magicians, dancers, West End singers and movies, all featured, but for many it was Dance Supremo, Wayne Sleep who was the star attraction. He filled the 440-seat auditorium to capacity, mixing showbiz stories, with dance instruction and, when not in action, regularly toured the ship, stopping to chat happily with the other passengers.
The Britannia Lounge also featured music and dancing, while The Club by Jools (Holland) offered live laid-back music late into the night.
In a nutshell: SAGA make it so easy for you: being picked up at home and dropped off afterwards; no gratuities to worry about; an inclusive speciality restaurant policy; wine included with dinner (next year drinks too), free shuttles at ports of call; effortless socialising when you want it and free room service when you don’t, and so much to do that you are never short of entertainment.
Verdict: The great thing SAGA has done with the Discovery, is to create a ship that is light, spacious and exudes calm. It is relatively small in terms of numbers of passengers, but the extra space thanks to having no interior cabins has been well used. Discovery is really big on facilities, big on style and big on service.
If I were to enhance anything at all, it would only be the music – if Saga wants to attract more of the 50 and 60 somethings, it could do worse than to make more of Jools Holland’s influence with a chance to hear music with a little more “edge” to it.