SAGA SAPPHIRE

This was my first visit to a Saga ship. What a surprise. Why? Read on…………………………

The sun was shining as Saga Sapphire slowly came to rest along the quayside at Dover. Looking resplendent with her dark hull, white superstructure and funnel in the new livery colours of two tone blue and white making a distinct change from the yellow of the other Saga ships.

Sapphire is the latest addition to the Saga fleet and their biggest ship to date. Starting life as Europa in 1981 she had seen service with various names until being transferred to Saga as Saga Sapphire in November 2011. The ship then went to Italy for major renovation and restructure when more balcony cabins were added. By modern standards Sapphire is a small-mid size ship carrying just over 700 passengers. Weighing in at 33,819 GT. Sapphire is 655ft long and 93 ft. wide. However with a deep draught of just over 27ft she should cope well in adverse conditions.

Starting my tour at the top of the ship first stop was St. Andrews, a crazy mini golf course at the stern of the ship. What was different? Seeing character statues of a smiling Dolphin and a laughing Octopus.

One down and deck 11 is where most people will spend their time especially during those long days at sea. Firstly it houses the Beach Club with swimming pool and sun bathing area. It is modelled on a British seaside theme with wooden tables and chairs reminiscent of seaside cafes in the 50’s.The bar at one end is aptly called ‘The Club’. In this area you can get fish and chips with mushy peas and burgers as well as ice creams that at the time of my visit were very popular.

Moving forward and inside you find ‘The Drawing Room’. A delightful area that is a real home from home. It is a mixture of many things but has something for everyone. Comfortable arm chairs and settees, an area where a duo or trio entertain from, well appointed bar and many bookcases with a wide selection of paper and hard back novels. The walls are adorned with artefacts from all over the world. A huge modelled serpent on one wall, Thai dancer on another and Asian elephants on a wooden unit. There is a stag horn chandelier, various lamp stands made from golf bags, trumpets and camera tripods from a bygone age. In the centre is ‘The Larder’ that is simply a large kitchen you would have at home with wooden floor, table and chairs in the middle and wall units where you go to select a cup and saucer or mug for your coffee or tea that is on the ‘work surface’. There is also a large television screen set in one of the bookcase units. It’s a novel idea that works well with the passengers. The whole area although boasting wonderful dark wooden panels is very light and airy being illuminated by large picture windows on three sides.

At the opposite end of this deck is ‘The View from The Top’ a large open sun bathing area laid out with sun loungers and topped by 2 large hot tubs. It is indeed a great view from here hence the name.

Down to deck 9 and one of the cabins, 9556. This was an H grade standard outside view. Although described as ‘Standard’ it was a very impressive ‘Standard’. Spacious and decorated in light pastel colours contrasting with the dark wood and mirror panels. Offsetting this is pale blue and grey carpeting with matching curtains and thick cushioned white armchairs. Lots of hanging space in two wardrobes. Add to this a dressing unit and writing desk you have a cabin in which you could travel the seas in comfort. The toiletries are also generous and come in generous containers not the small units found on some cruise ships. All cabins are equipped with a flat-screen television, DVD player, direct-dial telephone, personal safe, mini-fridge and that all important hairdryer. This cabin really did give a feeling of luxury. There are also 6 cabins especially designated for passengers with special needs.

Still on deck 9 at the stern are three restaurant areas. The Verandah an open air dining area, The Grill and East to West. Immediately noticeable is how spacious the area is with exceptional space between the tables. Chairs in The Grill has open woven backs that look very modern in this restaurant with its wicker style dividers, blue semi circle settee seats with red cushions.
East to West is a specialty dining area, a first for Saga, but unlike many other cruise lines there is no extra charge for it although reservations are required. With its Oriental flavour this is without doubt my favorite restaurant with its comfy wrap round chairs in a rich mauve leather and matching wall panels. Hanging ceiling lanterns and polished wooden tables give an air of quality and tranquility. The whole experience here was a very pleasant surprise.

Deck 8 houses the Britannia Lounge, the main show lounge. This does not have the usual seating in rows but at small tables. Whilst many may consider this a plus others will be disappointed that the floor is not tiered so if sitting at the back your view of the show could be very limited with the large number of pillars not helping the sight line. It does however have a dance floor and dance hosts are on board to accompany those without dance partners.

Just outside of the Britannia is Coopers Bar. This is a tribute to Tommy Cooper with his portrait gracing the wall. The cushions have his gags on them and the lamp shades are red Fez’s. The floor is a black and white tartan. One end of the area is an alcove with black and white pictures showing some of the stars of comedy he worked with. This is a bar I could happily frequent. It has style and exudes happiness. Fabulous.

One deck down on 7 is the main dining room, Pole to Pole. Here the dining is sectioned into eight different shaped areas named after continents. Each has wall murals, statues and lights to represent that continent. Now that the ship has open dining the idea is that you can request to be seated in the continent of your choice, Europe, Africa, Australasia, South America etc. Depending on the area will dictate the décor and style of chair you have from a white seat with open woven back to all white leather. All chairs have arms which will please many people. Just outside Pole to Pole is Aviators Bar which is about the same size as Coopers but for me did not have the same appeal.

The Academy with its white chairs and twin width tables is on deck 4. Here you can attend talks given by the guest lecturers who are on all the cruises or learn how to operate a computer and send emails. Once again book shelves come to the fore but here they are filled with travel guides and DVD’s about the various ports of call.

Final stop was deck 2 where there is a small spa with a heated pool and hot tub along with steam room, sauna, hairdressers and a small gym.

It was now time to go to The Larder for a coffee. Coffee in hand I looked back over my brief visit and reflected on the impression it had left me with. Saga market to the over 50’s but most of the passengers I saw were 60 plus. I had expected a ship to match the older generation but this is where I was very surprised. Saga Sapphire is a very spacious ship with large modern well equipped cabins. Everywhere you go you get this feeling of spaciousness. Corridors, the stairs connecting the various decks, the dining areas, everywhere is spacious. The atrium is dominated by a 22ft modern sculpture of a shoal of fish. The ship has a very high passenger space ratio making it feel relaxed. Gratuities are included in the fare. The traditional set dining time for dinner has gone out the porthole and is replaced by the open dining system of eat where you want, when you want and with whom you want. The speciality restaurant, East to West, a first for Saga looks so inviting and exciting. Bright lively bars like Coopers. The new ship has brought with it a new image which Saga hope will attract a new generation of passenger. Have they succeeded? Only time will tell but here is one cruiser who now has a very different and positive take on Saga and would happily cruise on Sapphire.

Alan Fairfax