Swans, spuds and sparkling spa treatments - a cruise on Saga’s brand new ship Spirit of Discovery
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Getting into the spirit of things
It’s 12 noon and the
concept of feeding the birds is reaching a new level as a vast sea of white greets
the keepers pushing wheelbarrows laden with grain. When you’ve got hundreds of
swans to feed a garden bird table simply isn’t going to cut it.
Excited youngsters are
invited to help scatter the food and it’s a spectacular sight as the swans
gather round, some helping themselves straight from the barrows. The visit to
Dorset’s Abbotsbury Swannery,
the only place in the world where you are able to walk through the heart of a
colony of nesting, free-flying mute swans, is one of the excursions offered on
my Channel Island hop cruise aboard Saga’s ground-breaking new ship.
It’s fascinating to
learn how the swannery was established by Benedictine monks who built a
monastery at Abbotsbury during the 11th century, farming the birds
to form the gastronomic centrepiece of their lavish banquets. Thankfully tastes
have changed, and today the swans get to eat rather than be eaten.
Luckily we didn’t get
too lost in Abbotsbury’s maze - the largest willow labyrinth in the county - as
soon it was time for us to head back to Portland for our own lunchtime feast on
board Spirit of Discovery, the first ever new-build
ship for Saga Cruises and the only cruise ship launched specifically for the
British market in 2019.
The line’s recently retired Saga Pearl II and soon
to be sold Saga Sapphire built up a loyal band of seagoing devotees and there
were mutterings when Saga first announced it was no longer going to buy older
vessels but build two brand new ships of its own. Aficionados have nothing to fear as
the 999-passenger vessel is a beauty, with a pleasingly retro feel,
particularly around the uncluttered Lido pool area and traditional
promenade deck that circles the ship.
Undeniably designed with British cruisers in mind, she
was even christened with a bottle of English bubbly when Camilla, Duchess of
Cornwall launched Spirit of Discovery in July. There are kettles in every cabin
so you can have a brew whenever you want and plenty of familiar favourites from
Marmite at breakfast to traditional afternoon tea. A standout feature is that
every cabin comes with a balcony, including the 109 single cabins available across
four different categories and topped by solo suites complete with butler
When it comes to dining passengers are also spoilt
for choice as the ship has more restaurant options than any of its
predecessors. The casual Grill buffet and aptly named Grand Dining Room, with
glittering tableware and crowned by chandeliers, are the two main venues. The
trio of speciality restaurants are all free of charge; you just need to book in
advance. There’s The Club by Jools, a steak restaurant with live jazz, seafood
Coast to Coast and, my personal favourite, East to West
which serves Asian food with flair. Traditionalists will enjoy the fact
that there are formal nights and the chance to push the sartorial boat out and
don you best bib and tucker.
Our cruise began in Dover, where we gathered on
deck to the sound of the ship’s band and clinked celebratory glasses of fizz (English of course) as the white cliffs faded into
the background and we headed towards the Channel Islands.
After dark Spirit of Discovery comes to life at a
host of different venues, including Saga’s first dedicated theatre which is
home to the resident show company and visiting acts. Saga has embarked on a
five-year partnership with composer,
pianist, bandleader and broadcaster Jools Holland (hence the namesake
restaurant) and he is appearing in a series of live on board gigs. We were
lucky enough to see him on ours and by the end of the evening passengers were
dancing in the aisles - having first left their drinks in the nifty holders
built into every theatre seat; another of the clever design details found
throughout the ship.
The Britannia Lounge, overlooking the stern, is a
lovely airy space where you can also watch entertainers, which on our cruise
included the talented and glamorous violin duo Elektra. Another new area is The
Living Room, centred round a towering bronze relief spanning two decks, a bar
and grand piano at the foot of a sweeping staircase.
Each port of call brought multiple excursion
options. In Guernsey my friend joined the trip to spend a day on the tiny
traffic-free island of Sark and I embarked on the Guernsey Literary and Potato
Peel Society tour, taking in locations from the book by Mary Ann Shaffer.
Although it is a fictional work based on the German occupation during the
Second World War, many of the places are real. Our guide brought the sombre
period of history to life by sharing first-hand tales from her family and
original documents. The illuminating tour also took in stops along the
picturesque coastline and the chance to try a slice of gache. Pronounced gosh
and meaning cake in Guernesiais
- the native language still spoken by some islanders - it’s more like a fruit
bread, but very tasty.
Back on board I spent the afternoon in the spa
where the crystal quartz table is a new innovation on Spirit of Discovery.
Cocooned in sheets I lay down on a bed of small amber and quartz crystals which
mould to the shape of my body. After the initial crunching as I settle down,
it’s surprisingly comfortable and I almost drift off to sleep during the
The ship is a floating art gallery with more than 1,000 pieces - all by
British artists - dotted around public areas. That night we enjoyed a sundowner
on the lovely open deck outside
the Britannia Lounge where there are some striking art installations. It has
certainly been a wonderful few days on a ship that’s as graceful and elegant as
the Abbotsbury swans.
Spirit of Discovery and, Saga’s
second new ship Spirit of Adventure, launching in summer 2020, sail from Dover
and Southampton on a variety of itineraries in the British Isles,
Mediterranean, Canary Islands, Baltic, Iceland, Far East, North and Central
America, Caribbean, Middle East and beyond.
From 2020 both ships will be fully inclusive with fares including all
meals, drinks, gratuities, return door-to-door chauffeur service or free
parking, porterage and optional travel insurance.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Saga Cruises.
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