I’m peering over the flat, calm sea looking for signs of life with volunteers from Orca, the whale and dolphin charity, on day one of a celebratory voyage around the UK on Spirit of Discovery, the ship just launched by over 50’s favourite, Saga Cruises.
A few days later, fireworks lit up the night sky as we set sail from Dover on a maiden cruise that would take Spirit of Discovery to England, Scotland, Ireland and Guernsey before returning to White Cliffs country. That gave me plenty of time to get to know the ship, which is blessed with a huge library, a large spa with therapists trained in everything from massages and facials to acupuncture and a gym and exercise studio, where you can work off all the calories you will put on trying out her five restaurants.
I say that with confidence having sampled them all. As well as the main restaurant and self-service grill, there are Asian specialities in East to West, seafood in Coast to Coast and hearty steaks in The Club by Jools Holland. Of course, I had to try the Hootennany star’s signature New York striploin steak and then I had to go back and have it another night as well! Jools will be playing in the theatre on selected cruises this year and next. When he’s not around, there are sparkling song and dance shows and guest entertainers to get the evenings rocking.
The restaurants are all complimentary, as is wine or beer with lunch and dinner, tips and Wi-Fi. Saga even provides free VIP home transfers in the UK (there is a mileage limit) so getting to and from the departure port is easy. The spacious cabins all have a balcony and are equipped with kettles so you can have an early-morning cuppa. There are plenty of single rooms, also all with a balcony, and all priced so solo travellers don’t find themselves paying for two people. Treat yourself to a suite and you get a butler, a walk-in wardrobe and afternoon tea and pre-dinner canapés served in your room.
The round-Britain cruise was a great way to explore the UK. From Newcastle, I joined a tour to Durham, a delightful city with a huge cathedral built in the 10th century and the third-largest university in England. From Kirkwall in the Orkneys, I went bird-spotting with guide, Brian. “The island is a transatlantic transport cafe for birders,” he told me, pointing out flocks of greylag geese, fulmars, guillemots and oystercatchers.
I walked the Royal Mile between the castle and Holyrood in Edinburgh, enjoyed a day of sunshine and scenery as we cruised through the Hebrides and relived the excitement and tragedy of the Titanic’s maiden cruise at the Titanic Belfast exhibition. There were trips to Llangollen Steam Railway from Liverpool and to Blarney Castle from Cobh, while garden tours and a boat ride to Sark awaited in St. Peter Port in Guernsey.
Saga has another round-Britain cruise scheduled for September 2020, but this time on Spirit of Adventure, a sister ship to Spirit of Discovery launching next August. I’ve seen some of the early drawings and while she’ll be the same on the outside, the interior design is quite different. In place of the seafood and Asian restaurants, she’ll have Italian and Nepalese eateries. Spirit of Adventure is heading to the Baltic for her maiden cruise in August and going in search of port and wine on a September cruise to France and Spain that visits the Portuguese port of Leixões and spends two days in Bordeaux.
A seven-night Scenes of Dunkirk voyage on Spirit of Discovery marks the 80th Anniversary of Operation Dynamo in May 1940, when hundreds of thousands of British troops were evacuated from the Dunkirk beaches to escape advancing German troops. Come October 2020, she’ll be glamming it up with a just-for-fun pop-up casino on board as she heads to chic Monaco and St. Tropez. Talk about spoilt for choice!