ALL ABOARD…. You can dine in sumptuous surroundings (Image: Getty / Saga Ships)
The Spirit of Discovery is Saga’s new boutique-branded luxury ship and is a celebration of all things British with many key features chosen by its loyal passengers. I joined the ship for its recent inaugural cruise, a 12-night voyage around the British Isles starting from Dover and returning to the Channel port some 2,241 miles, and 10 ports of call, later. The maiden voyage was an eye-opener – as we take for granted our amazing coastline with beautiful beaches and bays close to some of our major cities.
All the ports on our anticlockwise trip gave the newcomer a great reception.
We saw fire-fighting boats spraying jets of water in the air in salute, firework displays and a traditional Scottish piper on the quayside in Kirkwall in Orkney.
Apart from a blast of strong winds off southern Ireland, we cruised on calm and flat seas all the way, making it perfect to watch out from the top deck for the abundance of wildlife off our shores.
With help from enthusiastic spotters from the charity ORCA, which is invited on selected cruises for “passenger enrichment”, we saw playful dolphins, a harbour porpoise and even elusive minke whales.
On board it was easy to see the results of five years planning and an investment of £346million, with spacious and tastefully decorated public areas and cabins, crafted with designs from London’s top hotels.
Holidaymakers are spoilt for wildlife with seals and dolphins (Image: Getty)
Passengers – many of whom had clocked up more than 1,000 nights at sea with Saga – had spoken and the cruise firm listened to the voices of experience.
They wanted a ship no bigger than one carrying 1,000 passengers – it has room for 999. They wanted a wide, wrap-around promenade deck – it has one. They wanted bespoke suites, roomy cabins and all to have a balcony – granted.
And as so many people travel alone, a fifth of cabins – 109 – are for single occupancy – four times the norm. There is no casino and just two shops, so this is no place for gamblers and shopaholics. But it does boast, again by popular request, one of the best libraries at sea.
Next door is a card room with bridge lessons and a craft room where teachers and artists hold classes in jewellery-making and papercraft, where you only pay for materials.
Captain Julian Burgess told me how Saga had gone the extra nautical mile. He said: ‘‘I have never known a cruise company that has gone to its customers to ask them what they wanted in focus groups of existing and potential passengers.
“The result is a very elegant ship, it is luxurious and relaxed. It is incredibly spacious and all suites are individually designed. Every cabin has a balcony. It is a fantastic ship.”
She also has a state-of-the-art spa, with a large hydrotherapy pool, infrared and standard saunas, a steam room and heated loungers, just what is required after days out sightseeing.
And to celebrate the British landscape and colours, Saga has splashed out £1million on 1,000 impressive artworks scattered around the ship with 400 specially commissioned by UK-based artists.
There was also some celebrity spotting on board too. Songwriter and lyricist Sir Richard Stilgoe entertained, DJ legend Tony Blackburn recalled his pirate radio days and the