Saga is one of Britain’s best-known brands, providing holidays for the over-50s since the 1960s and launching its cruise line in 1996. Loyal “Saganauts”, as its passengers are known, love the home-from-home atmosphere of Saga’s ships, which have always been older ships refurbished to British tastes until Spirit of Discovery’s launch in July 2019. With new regulations about ship fuel and pollution, Saga announced plans for the new ship in 2014 built to its passengers’ specifications. A second new-build ship – Spirit of Adventure – will follow in 2020 although it will have a completely different interior to its sister ship Discovery.
Saga cruises: Spirit of Discovery review – cabins, dining, entertainment and prices explained
THE WOW FACTOR
Signing up Jools Holland as a regular star entertainer is a real coup for Saga and a special treat for those lucky enough to be on board when the pop star-turned TV legend plays his boogie-woogie piano with his Big Band in the theatre.
Jools also had a hand in the concept behind The Club, the ship’s cabaret club restaurant with classic dark wood panelling and moody lighting that serves steaks and cocktails while a band plays to diners. There is no fee to eat here or in the other two speciality restaurants, which is remarkable in itself, and the food is superb in all three.
Also nice is the free chauffeur service at the start and finish of your holiday (up to 250 miles away) or free domestic flights, coach, rail or parking.
Saga’s instantly recognised over-50s branding has been a double-edged sword for its cruise line: everybody knows the ships will be child-free but some mistakenly believe the clientele are all ancient.
Passengers are no older than those on any other cruise line with ships leaving from Britain, so although there are no passengers under 50 many are still in their 50s and 60s.
Saga’s glamorous new ships and refreshingly different entertainment are likely to attract even more from this age group – although some of the most interesting passengers are in the upper age range.
There are great stories to be heard over afternoon tea in The Grand Dining Room or pre-dinner drinks in the magnificent yet bling-free Atrium and Living Room.
And like all cruise lines you’ll have some passengers who love to pamper themselves in the gorgeous spa with its free hydrotherapy pool, infrared sauna and steam room, while others prefer sunning themselves on loungers around the Lido pool that is actually long enough to swim lengths.
With a maximum 999 passengers, Spirit of Discovery is the biggest ship Saga has ever operated yet all its staterooms and suites have balconies – even its 109 single cabins.
Standard balcony cabins are 215 square feet, including the balcony, and have comfortably sized bathrooms with stylish showers rather than baths and lovely marble-topped sinks with dark wood drawers and a well-lit mirror.
Even these standard cabins have armchairs and a coffee table as well as balcony seating, as do the single cabins, while the deluxe balcony cabin is 350 square feet and has a walk-in wardrobe. All the cabins have a fridge, tea and coffee-making facilities, British plugs, USB ports, Prija toiletries, flat-screen TVs and on-demand cabin movies.
There’s also a good range of suites, for an extra-special sense of luxury, from mid-ship suites of 462 square feet that offer a lounge, bedroom, walk-in wardrobe and bath with separate shower, to individually decorated forward suites that are from 765 to 855 square feet. All have butler service and extras such as pre-dinner canapes plus larger balconies than other cabins.
The food is a real highlight on Spirit of Discovery, not least because there are no cover charges and wine is included with meals. It is also excellent quality, particularly in the speciality restaurants but also in The Grand Dining Room and self-service The Grill.
There’s open seating in the Dining Room, although you can book fixed seating before you sail, and most of the tables are for two or four people with a few for groups of six.
Typical dinner menus include smoked salmon, French onion soup, rack of lamb, tarte tatin and unusual British cheeses. On formal nights the food in The Grill is the same as in the Dining Room so it’s a good place to eat for those who don’t like black tie events – although room service is also free.
The Grill is unusually calm and elegant for a buffet restaurant – the walls are off-white with really stylish seats – and there’s plenty of tables on The Verandah for those who prefer to eat outside.
The three speciality restaurants are all free but get booked up within a few hours of passengers getting on board so it’s worth making that your first job. The Club by Jools has a 200g thick-cut New York sirloin steak as its absolutely delicious signature dish but there’s also lamb, pork, chicken, grilled fish and vegetarian options plus unusual cuts of steak such as the tomahawk – for two to share.
Next door is Coast To Coast, a seafood restaurant that offers everything from fish and chips to a magnificent seafood platter for two, with pasta and chicken for those with partners who don’t like fish. East To West is an Asian restaurant, similar to the original on Saga Sapphire but more sumptuously decorated, serving main courses ranging from its signature Asian-style surf and turf (teriyaki pork belly and roasted cod) to Thai, Chinese and Indian dishes.
There’s also a day-time coffee shop in The Living Room with tempting cakes and pastries, a coffee station in The Library – a beautiful space with comfy sofas and armchairs in contemporary style – and coffee available at the bar in the light and airy Britannia Lounge.
Drinks and snacks may also be available during the day on The Terrace, the deck area at the end of the ship’s wraparound Promenade – a good place to go for sunset cocktails too.
A night in The Playhouse listening to Jools Holland and his Big Band is among the best entertainment you’ll ever find at sea – although his appearances are limited. In 2020 he’ll be joining four cruises – to Spain, the Adriatic, France and the Baltic – in March, April, July and August respectively.
But The Playhouse also has musical theatre shows, plays, reviews, classical music performances and transforms into a cinema, too.
The Britannia Lounge has double-height panoramic windows and doors out to a terrace with a couple of enigmatic sculptures, so it’s a good spot for evening drinks. At night it’s one of the main entertainment venues, with live music performances and a dance floor for energetic passengers.
There’s also live music every night in The Club both during and after dinner and the grand piano in the Atrium is another focus during evening drinks.
Daytime entertainment includes free use of the spa (treatments are not free), the gym and fitness centre on the Sun Deck, which also has an outdoor games area and indoor Fairway golf simulator. There’s also a Craft Room equipped with sewing machines for expert-led classes and workshops, The Card Room for card game lessons and tournaments and the lovely Library.
Spirit of Discovery will sail round-trips from Dover and Southampton with itineraries to northern Europe and the Mediterranean in summer 2019 and the Canaries in the winter – with a New York and Caribbean cruise over Christmas and the New Year. In 2020 there are similar itineraries with one-offs including Greenland, the Arctic, the New World and North Africa.
The 35-night Festive New York And The Caribbean cruise is a return trip from Southampton departing December 5, 2019, from £7,101pp, two sharing, all inclusive (travel.saga.co.uk).
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