High seas and high teas in Scandinavia on board Saga Sapphire
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Following in the wake of the Vikings and other seafaring pioneers
As the wind howled through
the sails and the ship pitched into a heavy thunderstorm on the rolling seas it
wasn’t quite the Scandinavian cruise I’d had in mind when I’d set off from
Dover a couple of days before. Even more so when the vessel was suddenly
becalmed in an ice floe and the air filled with the sharp cracking sound of the
bow breaking through frozen water.
A group of other
passengers sat on a bench rocking from side to side as I walked past them and
the extraordinary seagoing windmill used to generate power for electric arc
lamps. I headed below deck to look at the compact cabins, lounges and cargo
hold filled with provisions for the crew members - and their dogs - who were
often aboard for years at a time.
I was on Fram, the world’s
strongest wooden ship which was used by some of the world’s greatest Norwegian
explorers, including Roald Amundsen, on pioneering polar expeditions between
1893 and 1912. With a hull designed so that it could be lifted up and carried
along on shifting ice rather than being forced under and crushed to pieces, today
Fram still holds the record for sailing farthest north and south to the Arctic
I’d signed up for the
Maritime Highlights tour, one of several excursions offered in Oslo on Saga’s
10-night Scandinavian Cities cruise, and we certainly saw plenty of maritime
marvels. The morning started at the Viking Ship Museum showcasing three of the
world’s best-preserved longships including Tune, the first Viking ship to be
excavated in 1867. Another is the Oseberg, adorned with meticulous carvings of
animals and culminating in a spiralling serpent’s head.
Then it was time to board
the coach for the short drive to the Fram Museum, where the epic video
projection on the walls and ceilings along the entire length of the wide-beamed
ship really brought the experience to life, along with the swaying bench that made
it feel as if the mighty ship was moving once more. In the surrounding museum
there were fascinating facts and interactive experiences, such as seeing if you
could pull a fully laden 300kg sled that simulated the ones used by explorers.
I managed to drag it a couple of steps!
Our final stop was the contrasting
but equally compelling Kon-Tiki Museum charting another epic voyage. Again
housing the ship of the same name, it is incredible to imagine how Thor
Heyerdahl, his five-man team and a parrot spent 101 days crossing the Pacific
on the balsawood raft in 1947; mainly surviving on a diet of dried food and
flying fish that landed on the rudimentary vessel.
seeing the testing conditions variously endured by the crew on the different craft
we realised how spoiled we were when we returned to Saga Sapphire, our floating
home for the Scandinavian voyage. Carrying 720 passengers in great comfort, it
doesn’t take long to discover the charms that entice repeat guests back time
after time. Each day Captain Julian Burgess came on the radio with daily
briefings tinged with humour, and the kindness
and consideration extended by the wonderful crew members was exemplary. Nothing
was too much trouble.
them have worked for Saga for years, including Executive Chef George Streeter.
Akin to the Captain, who can often be found walking around the decks chatting
to passengers, George is a very visible presence; hosting culinary
demonstrations, cooking at the al fresco lunches held outside the Verandah
Restaurant and happy to answer questions. It gives the ship a really inclusive
and friendly feel.
In fact, Saga Sapphire
provides all manner of familiar creature comforts, starting with the option to
have a cuppa delivered to your cabin in the morning. Kippers, ‘full English’
and Marmite are all part of the expansive breakfast spread along with tempting daily
specials reflecting the destinations being visited, such as Norlander bread
with smoked salmon, chives, scrambled eggs and herb cream sauce. On sunny days
I loved the Beach Club serving freshly cooked fish and chips in ‘newspaper’ for
lunch along with old-fashioned jars of boiled sweets and serve-yourself ice
cream cones from two jolly blue and white seaside huts. Even so, I still found
it hard to resist the ‘proper’ afternoon tea served in the Britannia Lounge a
few hours later!
In addition to the main
Pole to Pole dining room you can eat in the wonderful speciality Asian
restaurant East to West at no extra charge - which is unusual for a cruise ship
- and wine is included too, as it is with lunch and dinner throughout the ship.
Plus, for 2018 Saga Sapphire is all inclusive, with the majority of bar drinks
included in the fare. That provided even more of an opportunity - as if we
needed one - to check out the various themed bars. Cooper’s was always fun,
particular with cushions embroidered with the famous comedian’s jokes such as:
“Man went into a bar. He went "ouch", it was an iron bar”.
With a packed programme of
daily activities, including dance classes, quizzes, bridge, jewellery making
and deck games, to say nothing of the vast library and reasonably priced spa,
we were never short of anything to do. Plus there was always a choice of shore
excursions and after Oslo we sailed on to Denmark, visiting Copenhagen and
Aarhus, before continuing to Germany with a stop in Kiel before an exciting
transit along the namesake canal joining the Baltic and North Seas.
We wandered around
Copenhagen on our own, stopping to take pictures by the city’s landmark Little
Mermaid just a short walk from the ship. Within 20 minutes we’d reached the charming
Nyhavn canal, little changed since the days Hans Christian Andersen lived there
and wrote fairy-tales including Thumbelina, The Snow Queen, and, of
course, the tale of the lovelorn mermaid.
After all the Nordic seafaring tales soaked up at the
trio of Oslo museums we embarked on a thrilling voyage of our own on a RIB
(rigid inflatable boat) reaching speeds of up to 65mph outside Copenhagen
harbour. The ride lasted a fraction of the time of the Viking, polar and
Pacific expeditions but we returned home with enduring memories of our
Scandinavian sailing on, I’m happy to say, much calmer waters than those
experienced by the intrepid explorers of yesteryear.
Saga Sapphire, and Saga’s second
ship Saga Pearl II, sail from Dover, Southampton and Portsmouth on a variety of
UK, European and worldwide itineraries. Fares include all meals, wine with lunch and dinner, return door-to-door
chauffeur service or free parking, porterage, optional travel insurance and
gratuities. Bookings are also being taken for the brand new ship Spirit of
Discovery launching in July 2019.
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