Saga’s Spirit of Discovery A 16 Night Cruise

My wife and I have recently returned from a 16 night cruise onboard Saga’s newest ship, the Spirit of Discovery…

Welcome to Boutique Cruising…

We first became interested in this new Saga purpose built ship in July 2017 when Saga mailed us an offer to pre-register before the ship’s launch and offered a very attractive discount. In due course the itineraries became available and we chose a particular one that appealed to us, Roman Italy and Sardinia…

…where 4 of the seven ports of call were new to us.

Included in the Saga price is a private chauffeur for distances up to 75 miles each way: for which we qualified  and found the service excellent with Mercedes transfers both ways.

Check in at Southampton was expeditiously completed and  from luggage drop to  crossing the ship’s brow our embarkation took less than 15 minutes.

Our accommodation for this cruise was a mid ships Suite (A526) on Deck 11…

Midship Suites…

…comprise of a living area…

…complete with dining table, mini bar, fridge, personal coffee machine and drinks cabinet…

*****

A wide selection of complimentary drinks and nibbles are available…

*****

….all replenished as required by the butler.

The bedroom area...

*****

…offers access to the living area, a walk in Wardrobe….

…and a second access to the Balcony…

 

Suites also boast an en-suite bathroom with twin sinks, large bathtub…

…a separate large glass shower cubicle with both rainforest and standard shower fittings…

…and a separate wc with access from both the en-suite and the living area entrance lobby…

One particularly outstanding feature of the suite is the fact that all doors are fitted with adjustable ‘soft close’ hinges…

…a true sign of quality and Saga’s commitment to their philosophy of Boutique Cruising.

Around the Ship

The central hub of Spirit of Discovery is The Living Room...

…on Deck 5…

…with its Atrium and staircase…

*****

Leading off the Living Room are the shops and various administrative areas including Reception…

…and Guest Services and Explore Ashore  Desks….

One deck above, on Deck 6, can be found the South Cape Bar…

*****

…the Photographic Section…

 

….and the Saga World Representative’s Desk…

 

Deck 6 is also home to The Promenade Deck…

…which is a fully wrap around deck…

…popular with walkers and passengers keen on maintaining levels of fitness.

While Deck 7 is mainly an accommodation deck the central area houses a number of activity areas including the well-stocked Library…

*****

 

*****

….where both excellent coffee and snacks are available throughout the day…

Adjacent to the Library is the Craft Room….

…and Card Games Room…

There are two main entertainment venues onboard Spirit of Discovery, The Playhouse Theatre…

…440 seat modern and practical theatre for West End style shows, guest entertainers, onboard lecturers and cinema screenings. We particularly liked the wider than normal seating rows in the Playhouse…

The second major entertainment venue onboard is the Britannia Lounge…

A contemporary decor double height venue on Deck 12 with panoramic windows and plenty of  comfortable seating…

*****

…and a more than adequate dance floor…

Topside there is plenty of space spread over the top three decks, all centered on the Lido Deck…

up to the Sun Deck…

…and higher still , the Observation Deck…

*****

Another open area of great interest is the raked area at the stern of the ship with terraced seating…

 

*****

*****

*****

There was one other open deck feature that I was attracted to, and it was accessed  through either the Britannia Lounge or a stairway forward on Deck 11, the Britannia Balcony…

A perfect spot from where to capture port arrivals and departures…

Dining onboard

And so to the Spirit of Discovery dining experience.

There are in total  6 dining venues onboard and the main centrepiece is undoubtedly The Grand Dining Room…

The Grand Dining Room is open four times a day, breakfast, lunch and high tea on an open seating basis and for dinner on a mix of open and reserved tables.

 

During breakfast and lunch there is the option of a buffet service and in addition at lunch times there is an excellent  pasta station…

*****

A few examples of the dinner menu we experienced onboard…

*****

*****

…and some of the dishes…

My favourite dinner starter, Kidney, Tomato and Chorizo sausage Ragout…

and another excellent starter, the Beef Carpaccio…

while  we equally enjoyed the Scallops…

…and Sardines…

Selections of main courses were all good and very noticeable were the most generously sized portions and variety of fish…

*****

Carnivores were equally well catered for, both venison…

…and lamb being featured regularly…

…while on the ‘Always Available’ section of the menu I couldn’t resist on one occasion an Angus Sirloin Steak…

During lunch and dinner complimentary wines are served in both the main Dining Room and The Grill – the ship’s buffet restaurant…

*****

Dessert dishes were equally inviting as a selection will show – Lemon Tart…

…and Eton Mess…

Whilst still on dining it is  worthwhile offering support for Saga’s proud boast that they offer the most extensive Fromagerie at sea…

With cheese selections of this quality one certainly feels part of an aristocracy of good taste…

…and particularly one for the discerning few who really appreciates well ripened  Chaource…

In all my experience of cruising with several lines I have never witnessed such a sumptuous display of fromage: not even in Cunard’s Grills.

 

There are 3 speciality restaurants onboard that each require reservations: though none carry a cover charge. First up Coast to Coast…

Designed to showcase modern seafood this 74 cover restaurant has a sophisticated and intimate feel as well as being very popular with passengers.

The menu…

*****

*****

And we can certainly recommend the ‘Coast to Coast’ Seafood Sharing Platter…

 

The second speciality restaurant offers  flavours of the Orient and is named East to West…

A 76 cover restaurant with a delicate oriental decor…

…the East to West menu embraces the full diversity and vibrancy of Eastern cuisine…

 

Offerings include such dishes as the Thai King Prawn Massaman Curry…

and the Marinated Roast Peking Duck…

 

…while the third speciality restaurant is the The Club by Jools…

Essentially a Steakhouse Diner serving up to 100 passengers and with an open plan kitchen…

 

…The Club is again a popular dining venue with an adequate and  interesting menu…

Dishes include the quirky starter, Mozzarella Martini…

…and the popular Tomahawk Steak…

….and a Crusted Rack of Lamb…

During our 16 night cruise we booked twice into each of the three speciality restaurants, two very happy diners…

Spirit of Discovery offers those passengers who prefer a more casual dining experience, The Grill…

…offers a buffet dining experience with some enhanced service features…

…including fully pre-laid tables, beverage waiter service and a platoon of other staff on hand to assist those with mobility difficulties…

The Grill is open for breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. On our occasional visits we were impressed to find, in addition to the usual fresh breakfast fruits, items such as unlimited fresh berries…

…on offer (Raspberries, Strawberries Blackberries and Blueberries) and for tea some wonderful cakes and gateaux…

While once again, those magnificent cheese selections were available daily…

On formal evenings one half of The Grill is transformed into a superb alternative dining venue with an ambiance to match the occasion, and offers the same menu as the main dining room….

Adjoining The Grill is a spacious outside Verandah…

…with its own bar, grill kitchen and buffet servery. An ideal spot for lunch when the weather permits…

*****

…and we can vouch for the traditional ‘Fish and Chips’ that are on offer…

Complimentary wine is served at lunch and dinner both in The Grill and on The Verandah…

 

Life onboard

The vast majority of Saga sailings are traditionally out of the UK and one can generally guarantee that on most cruises ‘Sea Days’ are going to outnumber port days. With this in mind we were keen to see how good the daily life and activities onboard would be. We were not disappointed.

This particular 16 night cruise had 7 ports of call and 9 sea days. As it turned out there were only two ports of call that we had previously visited, Gibraltar and Civitavechia, so we were keen to make use of the resident port lecturer, David Burgess…

These were held in The Playhouse theatre and proved very popular.

There were also a number of guest lecturers who gave talks, again in the Theatre on sea days, to name but a few, Commander Owen Mcdermott Royal Navy…

…and author and retired Civil Servant, Andrew Duguid…

One activity that  amazed us was the huge choice of  ‘craft workshops’, lead by Julie Peasgood and hosted by a team of talented “super crafters”. These all classes were all complimentary, unlike those on other cruise lines which charge for materials.  The quality of the finished items was amazing.

Indeed, there were so many activities that it would have been almost impossible to take on more than half a dozen without sacrificing mealtimes. And talking of sacrificing mealtimes, Spirit of Discovery was the first ship where my wife has been able to join a choir where  rehearsals were programmed outside the standard lunch timings!

As we sailed south and the weather improved so too did the decks become available for other daily outdoor activities. There was a superb purpose built outdoor games area…

…and a netted area for ball games…

Indeed there were so many other activities,- far too many to mention really –  that covered almost every aspect and subject of possible interest: from celebrity chef cooking demonstrations to ballroom and line dance classes.

While we appreciated the complimentary laundry service that came with suite occupancy, those who weren’t lucky enough could always spend the odd dal hour in one of Spirit f Discovery’s Self Service Laundrettes…

…where, once again everything was available including the detergents.

Well worth a mention however was the sea-day programme of Bridge Visits…

…which were greatly appreciated by those attending…

*****

Before moving on to the evening entertainment programme it would be somewhat remiss of me not to mention once again the choir, particularly as one member does me the favour of proof reading this blog. Here they are celebrating their success following their final performance in the Britannia Lounge, well done one and all…

Both my wife and I found the evening entertainment programme entirely to our satisfaction and certainly agreed that the hard working ‘Spirit of Discovery Show Company’ were outstanding…

They put on a total of 5 production shows, often twice a night…

*****

…and when not involved in production shows the singers were providing first class evening entertainment in the Britannia Lounge…

*****

*****

*****

…in between popular performances from the resident musicians, The Melange Band…

*****

…who also entertained with some lunchtime jazz…

 

There was also a good variety of ‘Guest’ entertainers including such acts as the amazing Lirica Quartet…

…and the somewhat unusual harpist, Francisco Yglesia…

During the cruise there were three ‘Formal’ evenings and I’m delighted to report that there was within a whisker of one hundred per cent adherence to the dress code. The two cocktail parties we attended were also very good with sociable company, decent drinks and quality canapés…

*****

So enough about the ship and its routines – we will now look at the…

Itinerary

Our first port of call following 3 full sea days was Malaga…

We weren’t deterred in any way by the intermittent showers and rainfall that greeted our arrival. We already knew that we  had under 5 hours here and had a plan to make the most of it. Our main aim was to  ascend to the Castillo de Gibralfaro…

…and capture the views over Malaga, which we did in good time by following the path along the Alcazaba Fortress Wall…

…and capturing the view …

…despite parts of the Castle being shrouded in mist…

We also managed in good time to take in the rather stunning  old Roman Amphitheatre in the lower town…

There followed one sea-day before we arrived at the Sardinian port of Porto Torres…

Founded in Roman times by Julius Caesar himself this was a first visit for us and we were determined to make the most of it…

…while also being attracted to one of Saga’s organised excursions to the scenic fortified town of Castelsardo…

We booked this tour while onboard and were delighted to find Saga have a much more adult procedure when it comes to their excursions – passengers do not need to meet onboard but assemble on the dock at the tour time and make their own way to the coach.

Furthermore, when tours are indicated as being of either Moderate or Strenuous in their activity levels Saga does not allow the practice of reserving front seats. An excellent policy that other cruise lines would be well advised to adopt.

The Castelsardo excursion was well organised and we had some great opportunities to walk around and photograph this amazing town…

*****

*****

….while taking in a stop at the nearby Elephant Rock…

…and sampling some local wines…

While this proved a very good excursion and good value for money we had the added bonus of being able to complete our Porto Torres target list…

…on our return to the port including the Roman Bridge…

This 135 meter-long bridge, built over the river Rio Mannu, dates back to the 1st century A.D. and  is supported by seven arches of different heights depending on the conformation of the ground..

 

Close by the Roman Bridge lies an extensive Roman Archeological Park…

…which includes a museum, Central Thermal Baths (pictured above) and also known as the “Palace of the Barbaric King” and  the House of Orpheus with its beautiful mosaics…

A fifteen minute walk away is The Basilica of San Gavino…

Dating back to the 11th century, the impressive basilica was the biggest Romanesque monument in Sardinia. It’s a unique church due to its unusual architecture – a double Apse…

Inside, in the majestic 16th century crypt, the relics of the three Martiri Turritani – the city’s patron saints – are kept…

Despite failing light we finally  made it to Porto Torres’  Balai beach…

…and its famous church, over there on the above promontory, the  Sanctuary of San Gavino a Mare…

We were delighted to make it back onboard with about 30 minutes to spare, an excellent all round day out and experience.

The following day we berthed in the Italian mainland port of Piombino, where we had pre-booked a full day  excursion to the Medieval City of Lucca…

Worth noting here is another Saga innovation. On the ship’s daily programme was a note to the effect that for guests on the three longest tours a ‘picnic box’ would be available from the Grand Dining Room 10 minutes before departure.

One could put together one’s own picnic  from a selection of pre packaged items which included everything from fruit to chocolate, biscuits, crackers and cheese and pork pie! We personally decided we would not need one but it was certainly worth while popping in to see exactly what was on offer…

*****

…and even those with special dietary needs were catered for…

Our ship’s excursion once again proved very good. We had one guide to talk us through the coach journey and a specialist guide for our actual time in Lucca…

What made this tour of even higher quality was that we were all issued the magic ‘Vox Boxes’ to improve the guides commentary, here’s me wearing mine at Puccini’s Statue…

…outside his home and museum in the Piazza Cittadella.

Other places visited included a walk along Lucca’s most captivating street, Via Fillungo, the Church of San Frediano and of course, the Cathlolic Basilica of San Michele in Forno…

*****

We had noted that we would be given some ‘free time’ during our time in Lucca and, having checked where the ship’s guide was taking us I had drawn up an alternative map of places worth visiting…

We achieved all bar one of the additional visits but did manage one other – a walk along the city walls.   The most notable of our achievements was climbing Lucca’s most famous tower,  Torre Guinigi…

*****

…All 45 meters and  232 steps to reach the top…

…where, from the top…

…we both enjoyed most spectacular views over Lucca…

…including back over the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro…

…which featured as my Lucca introduction photo above.

The following day, Tuesday 26 November, we arrived, for what must have been our fifth or sixth visit, in the port of Civitavecchia…

Pre-cruise research had indicated that there was, some 22 Kms from Civitavecchia, the hilltop town of Tarquinia…

…where there is an ancient Etruscan Necropolis with over 6000 tombs.

We walked off the ship and duly caught a local bus from opposite Civitavecchia’s Cathedral (fare pre-purchased locally €5.60 total return) and headed to Tarquinia…

What a fabulous picture postcard town this turned out to be…

…as we walked the 20 or so minutes to the Etruscan Necropolis of Monterozzi site entrance…

Once inside we were free to amble between the various tomb entrances…

….all well signposted…

…and easy to enter…

Approximately 200 tombs contain a series of frescoes representing the largest pictorial Etruscan art group yet discovered:  ancient paintings from before the Roman Imperial Age…

*****

…while in the grounds are numerous Etruscan artefacts including these burial urns…

Our visit to the Necropolis completed we found a delightful restaurant for lunch…

*****

*****

…before continuing our exploration of the town, including the local museum…

*****

…and once again, walking the towns walls…

The bus service ran every 30 minutes and all in all this was a truly gorgeous day out and something a bit different from the normal Civitavecchia routines.

Undeterred by our hiking efforts of the previous day we were truly anxious to take on the following days visit,  the port of Salerno…

******

And that up there folks, overlooking the town, is Castello di Arechi and our number one site visit…

But we had to overcome one slight problem first. The ship had berthed in a commercial port and we were informed that we were not permitted to walk through the dock. Saga had arranged shuttle buses, but the ship berthed  some time before 8.00 am and these shuttle buses would not commence till 9.00 am.

Our plan was to catch a local bus to the Castello di Arechi and get a taxi back into the town to continue with our visit plan. Undeterred we disembarked minutes after 8.15 am and, as luck would have it, there before us was a taxi driver, meet Nino…

A quick negotiation and for a total of €40 we had a deal in which he would get us to the castle, wait whilst we explored,  and then deliver us to our next furthest point on the plan map. Indeed, we were entering the castle at the same time the shuttle bus would be leaving…

And applying a little bit of Zoom…

The castle visit was excellent, particularly the fact that, as pensioners, entrance was ‘gratis’…

*****

…and fascinating to see the Cinque Centeschi… 

…16th Century Ovens to us Brits

Perhaps we were just a little too early as the sun did interfere somewhat with views across Salerno: but what the heck, it was still a remarkable view…

Nino had waited the hour for us and we now headed down into town where he dropped us within metres of Aqueduto medieval…

In the heart of Salerno, what a fascinating surviving structure the aqueduct is…

Other places we visited included the Scuola Medica Salernitana…

The World’s first ever Medical School

A ride on the Salerno’s ‘City Eye”…

*****

And a visit to the Salerno’s Cathedral where we discovered probably the most stunning Crypt…

…with its ceiling frescoes depicting scenes from the Gospel of Matthew and some historical events linked to Salerno. A truly awesome experience.

I was so impressed with what Salerno has to offer the cruise ship tourist that I fully intend to write a ‘One way to do Salerno’ in the near future.

There followed 2 sea-days as we embarked on the homeward leg of our cruise with a scheduled short 4 hour stop on Saturday 30 November, arriving early morning in Gibraltar…

We have visited Gibraltar on many occasions both with cruise ships and on a shore based holiday so on this occasion it was essentially a walk down memory lane…

…and a chance to pick up some duty-free…

….before enjoying the last of the Mediterranean sunshine as we sailed away …

There was one sea-day between Gibraltar and our next port of call, La Coruna. This was a change to our original itinerary due to the weather situation and it being considered a safety hazard attempting to enter the narrow straits into Ferrol.

As it turned out the weather again played its part and and on the day this was as close as we got to La Coruna…

Needless to say the Entertainments Team quickly revamped the daily programme as we headed  north into the Bay of Biscay.  Some 6 hours later Spirit of Discovery turned and once again closed on La Coruna: this time to facilitate a helicopter Medevac which eventually took place in full view of those assembled in the Britannia Lounge for the Farewell Cocktail Party.

Summary

In a nutshell this Saga cruise exceeded our expectations with a number of notable features all of which played their part in making it a most enjoyable cruise.

It was some 11 years ago that my wife and I took our first and only other cruise with Saga: a 14 night ‘Around Britain’ cruise on Saga Rose. It was an excellent cruise and we marvelled at the way staff cared for the older passengers and the quality of the food. We did however, at the time, feel we were a ‘little too young’ for the overall Saga product.

When saga announced it was building its own specifically designed ’boutique’ ships our research indicated that we may well be ‘in zone’ to give them another try. We were particularly attracted to the excellent pre-build promotional material, descriptions of what would be on offer on the new ships and the available offers and savings to be had on making an early reservation.

Having made the decision to book this cruise we were also impressed with Saga’s after sales administration and online support: particularly their shore excursion information.

Saga are also renowned for their door-to-door personalised car service and we could not fault this aspect: living within their detailed catchment area we were allocated a personal Mercedes executive service in both directions.

Checking in was efficient and there was no requirement to register a credit card until much later in the cruise.

The three stand-out factors for us were the friendliness of the service staff, the quality of entertainment and the awesome level of cuisine onboard. The passenger to staff ratio played a big part in this and, while we personally had no requirement for assistance,  it was a pleasure to witness the care, and anticipation of passenger needs,  that was on offer.

Making the ships ‘All Inclusive’ is also a big plus though we did nearer the end of the cruise tire of the repetitiveness of the complimentary wines on offer at dinner – a very minor point really.

Saga certainly know their market and there is no better an example of that particular one that states…‘You get exactly what you pay for’ …with a Saga cruise.

And the final question. Would we cruise again with Saga?

The answer is undoubtedly Yes.

If you have enjoyed this review of Saga’s newest ship and would like to be amongst the first to hear of new reviews, including a new experience for my wife and I, the Yacht Club on MSC’s Preziosa and P&O’s latest offering, Iona, plus Solent Richard’s next guides to Port Victoria, Seychelles  in his ‘One way to do…’ series, why not join over 500 followers by clicking on the ‘Follow’ link on the front page.

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©2018 – 19 * Solent Richard’s Cruise Blog * All Rights Reserved

Duplication in part or whole without prior written consent is prohibited by international laws.

 

Disclosure to potential conflict of interest:

It is common throughout the travel industry for travel journalists and many cruise bloggers to be provided with complimentary cruises for the purpose of their reviews.

Solent Richard has no ‘conflict of interest’ as he is not an accredited journalist, he pays for his cruises, and is happy to confirm that all his reviews are his own given without fear or favour.

17 responses to “Saga’s Spirit of Discovery A 16 Night Cruise

  1. Thank you once again Richard for such a detailed, interesting and extremely useful blog. Love learning from your experiences.

  2. Did not see any photos off the gym or sauna and swimming pool
    Do they have a sauna and gym ??? All the photos are great x Thank you

  3. Hi good morning Richard
    thank you for your insights into this new ship. seems very nice. you booked a suite how will it compare to canards in “valve for money”.we have also booked on p&o Iona on its 2nd cruise last time was 6 years ago.
    mike

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  5. Good morning.
    May I just say what a thoroughly enjoyable article you have written. I am looking forward to your more detailed blog on Salerno as we shall be visiting there o n our next cruise in June 2020.
    Can I ask what was the age range on the Spirit of Discovery?
    Happy Christmas and Happy Cruising!
    Carole Longman

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  7. Richard,
    Your best cruise review, they are always a great read but this one has made us investigate Saga never considered before.

    Ian

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  9. Excellent and detailed review as always. Thank you. You have made me start thinking about Saga. How does it compare to Crystal, Seabourn or Hapag Lloyd as an upper end product?

    • Good morning DG and thank you for the kind comments.Personally I feel it would be unfair to consider comparing the other three cruise lines you have mentioned. They really are different products catering for very different markets. The point I would make though is that each and every one offer most enjoyable cruising.

      • Thank you Richard for your kind answer and explanation as to Saga’s market positioning. Merry Christmas. We look forward to your next posting.

        Happy Cruising.

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