Saga Sapphire Tour Index

Back in October 2012, I received an invitation from Saga Cruises to visit their new flagship, Saga Sapphire.  As you have to be either a journalist or travel agent to visit under the age of 50, I jumped at the chance.  Originally scheduled for the 18th December, it was postponed until the 21st January then again until the 25th February due to snow.  The meeting was set for 11.30am so I headed across on the ferry, getting in for 10am, which I know was early but had plans to do a couple of other things only it was too cold so I went to the terminal to wait.  I collected my pass from the pass office and had been told there had been a few accidents on the roads plus really bad traffic but Aimee and Carl from Saga were definitely on the way.  I later received a message from Aimee informing me they were delayed and should be there around noon.  I must admit, I did feel a bit of a lemon still sitting there as the other visitors were already enjoying the ship while passengers began to arrive but the staff at the terminal were very good at helping me pass the time.  Once they arrived, they collected their passes and on we went after going through crew security, which moved faster than the passenger one.  

We boarded in the Atrium on deck 7, which had a wonderful piece of fish artwork as the centrepiece spanning a couple of decks.  One of the fish has a red eye and passengers spend hours trying to find it, but it's quite difficult.  Reception and shore excursions are also here.  The theme of the ship is very British and also things you collect on your travels, of which the decor and artwork featured heavily.  From there it was up in the lift to deck 11, which also leads to deck and St Andrews, their miniature golf course based on Crazy Golf on deck 12.  I was very impressed by the size of the lift, especially considering much larger and more modern ships are smaller.  We headed onto the deck and I was in absolute heaven at the vast space.  There's a slight incline to get to deck 12 but it's not too bad and forward is the golf course so you can putt during sailaway and still admire the view.  Back down to deck 11, making our way to The Drawing Room, which is a definite favourite of mine.  Unlike many other observation rooms, this ticked all the boxes with me by having space.  The room is also unusual by letting you help yourself to tea/coffee or buy a drink from the bar (no service charge) while reading a book from one of the shelves.  There are also a couple of computers if you wanted to check emails.  Sagas internet system allows you to be disconnected after download emails, reply offline then reconnect to send.  I could have stayed all day in this room but it was time to look at some cabins.

I saw three on deck 10, an outside and two suites.  Carl told me some cabins have UK sockets but others don't.  You can find plenty of adaptors onboard though.  Saga are very generous with the toiletries in the bathroom.  Proper bottles rather than the samples you find on other lines.  Despite being an older ship, the cabin doors use your key card rather than a key.  The corridors are slightly wider than your average ship which I liked.  You can easily walk two abreast.  Decor and detail in the suites was just like the public rooms.  I hadn't noticed the shaving mirror in the outside cabin's bathroom and just loved it in the suites.  The air conditioning uses a digital control rather than dial and there is also power saving with a card you pull out of a slot by the door to turn all the lights off.  Some modern ships have this but I think this is a first on an older one.  I could be wrong though.  Thankfully, Saga provide a card already in the slot so you don't need to use your key card then walk out of the room without it.  A definite problem as a solo traveller but I've found travel tickets, the make up room notice or anything which fits can do the job just as well.  

Another deck down and I really liked this area they called The Verandah.  The area used to be a nightclub, lounge and there had been a pool.  During the 2011/2 refit, Saga ripped out the lounge, covered the pool and turned the nightclub into the buffet.  Where the buffet had been originally aft on deck 10 was now oceanviews, balconies and suites.  Despite Saga's additions, they had counterbalanced them by ripping some out and there is actually a lower maximum capacity as Sapphire than during her previous lives.  The Grill is the new buffet area and one with an open kitchen so you can see your food being prepared.  Next door is East to West, the Asian speciality restaurant (no charge but booking is recommended) in a British style.  Deck 8 has something new to Saga - shops!  Saga Ruby has one small one but this sells clothes and other things with an adjacent photo shop selling some photos for £6 - a bargain!  

Along the wall outside Coopers, the comedy club, was a mural of old-style postcards, keeping the travels theme.  Coopers is dedicated to the late British comedian, Tommy Cooper, and even has a painting hanging on the wall.  The cushions have some of his jokes on them.  They were preparing afternoon tea in The Britannia Lounge and it looked so good.  Scones were being warmed, there was bread and butter pudding, cakes, sandwiches as well as diabetic and gluten free alternatives.  Saga spoil their passengers by laying on this marvellous spread.  The Card Room next and to my surprise there was a fireplace.  Around the ceiling is gold leaf.  Back to where we started and a quick look at Aviators, a bar celebrating aviation with pictures of Amy Johnson and even a section about Biggles, before lunch in Pole To Pole.  

This restaurant offers fixed dining or open seating between 7-9pm, you choose.  If you have a dietary requirement and opt for open seating, they can still do it for you as long as they know who you are, which may sound imposible but works well.  The theme is continents, reflected by the changing decor as you walk around it.  Lunch was delicious, food top quality and our waiter absolutely fabulous.  I really liked this room.  Many of us will have been on cruises where you need to be a stick insect to walk between tables but this, like the rest of the ship, was spacious.  More boxes ticked.  This ship was rapidly becoming a favourite as she fits my ideal vessel.  A quick pop to deck to to see the spa and gym before leaving and I saw someone with a table covered in iPads.  These are complimentary to use, with the daily newspaper downloaded to read offline at your leisure.  Internet charges apply, as do any if you fail to return it.

Saga are stereotyped as cruising for over 70s.  I've often talked to elderly people on other cruise lines who say they'll never cruise Saga because they "don't want to be stuck with a load of old people".  Yet anyone who has cruised on other lines will know the vast majority of passengers are over 65 so they miss the irony by saying that.  As I cruise solo mainly, I don't qualify to go on a Saga ship (or holiday) until December 2019 when I turn 50 years old.  But, having read their blogs for many years and visited a couple of their ships, I would go now if I could.  It sounds like they have such fun while senior officers don't hide away like on many ships, instead taking part in some of the activities.  Many passengers I saw disembarking as I waited, as well as those embarked, were in their fifties and repeat cruisers so clearly enjoyed it.  If you like gimmicks, trying to find a seat and thousands of other passengers jostling at the buffet, then Saga definitely won't be for you.  If, like me, you like to cruise, relax and enjoy the space, then Saga could be just up your street.  They also have more diverse itineraries than the major cruise lines, which is same old, same old.  What other line actually sails non-stop around the UK, giving you the opportunity to see our green and pleasant land by sea?  Or go on a mystery cruise, waking up who knows where?  Then there are all the little ports you'd never see with bigger ships or main lines.  Sounds like an advert for Saga but it's not.  What they offer interests me far more than the usual.  I may have a few years to go but cannot wait until I am able to take my first Saga cruise and just hope this beautiful ship is still around to do it on.  I've loved her since first seeing her in Southampton back in 1987 and, having walked around her decks, love her even more.  She is a fine replacement for Ruby and I'm sure will develop as much of a following as her and Saga Rose have.

Thanks to Aimee and Carl at Saga Holidays for their hospitality.  To see photos of Saga Sapphire sailing after this visit, click here.  

Deck 12
Deck 11
Deck 10
Deck 9
Deck 8
Deck 7
Deck 2

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© Patricia Dempsey 25th February 2013
Not to be reproduced without permission