Spellbinding scenery, superb service and hanging out with pop stars – Sally Coffey and her mum Pat enjoy an unforgettable Saga mini-cruise

The Opera House, Oslo, Norway
The Opera House, Oslo, Norway

Sally says:

We’ve been on board all of half an hour and Mum has already ordered us both room service (I couldn’t resist the Norwegian salmon) and booked herself into the salon to get her hair done. I think she’s going to take to the cruising life well.

While mum luxuriates, I take a stroll along the Oslo waterfront. It is a leisurely scene: local people chatting as they catch the last rays of the late-afternoon sun or dangling their legs over the harbour wall as they wait for fishing lines to pull.

On first inspection, Oslo is a very cool city. In mere minutes, I find the Vippa covered street-food market, where most people are sitting outside, tucking into pork dumplings or vegetarian pho, as they watch the boats come and go in the Oslo fjord.

I’d love to stay, but I’m on a mission to visit the opera house that I spied on my way into the city. I keep following the harbour round, past the Salt Market where a live DJ is entertaining people lounging on deckchairs. I nip in to peruse some of the stalls selling homemade bags, jewellery and very cute kids’ T-shirts. The last sends a pang of guilt through me – I’ve left my two young sons at home with their dad, while Mum and I go off on an indulgent cruise. They’ll be recompensed with lovely gifts on my return, I promise.

Opened in 2008, the Oslo Opera House is designed to look like an iceberg. People are encouraged to walk on its marble-embellished roof as it slopes down to street level. In summer, the roof becomes an outdoor auditorium as thousands of people watch plays and concerts performed on a floating stage. Even if there’s nothing on, you can come here to take in views of the city to the west and north or of the fjord archipelago and its summer houses to the south.

Back on board, it’s time to get glammed up for our first cruise ship dinner. Mum has a head start, but our very large bathroom with walk-in shower – we even have a bath – makes getting ready a joy. With two small kids, I don’t often have pamper time, so I relish the chance to lay out my newly-bought toiletries in the bathroom cabinet and spread out my beauty products on the dressing table in our elegant superior cabin.

Saga ship suite
Saga ship suite

Hair and make-up done, and dress and killer heels on (I never wear heels this high any more, but it’s a cruise, right?), I pour myself a drink and admire the view of the Akershus Fortress, a Renaissance castle and one of Oslo’s most historic buildings, from our balcony. Kids, what kids?

We head to Cooper’s for pre-dinner drinks – a cosy softly-lit bar with more than a few nods to its namesake, comedian Tommy Cooper, including fez-shaped lampshades. This year, Saga Sapphire cruises are all-inclusive, including complimentary drinks (wine, beer and house spirits). If you want to treat yourself to a glass of Champagne, then you simply use your room key card to add on extras, which you pay for on departure, giving it very much the feel of a five-star hotel.

We’re still perusing the menu in the Pole-to-Pole restaurant (the ship’s main fine-dining option) when four well-dressed men arrive at our table.

“Do you mind if we join you?” one of them asks.
“Not at all,” I say.
Mum’s eyes light up. Uh-oh.

It quickly becomes clear that our companions are one of the bands on board, The Merseybeats. Mum is in her element – she was a 60s girl and is still a big music fan – and I am giddy on wine and attention. They regale us with tales of their worst gigs, their days playing The Cavern Club with The Beatles and even bumping into old pal Paul McCartney in the local supermarket. By the time they take to the stage in the Britannia Club the following evening, mum and I are The Merseybeats’ biggest fans.

But back to tonight. Mum hasn’t got off the ship yet, so we head into town for a drink in the Magic Ice Bar. It’s not the cheapest, and sure it’s a little gimmicky, but dressing up in ponchos and gloves with my mum while we drink wine from ice glasses and look at the sculptures based on Edvard Munch’s The Scream (you can see the original painting in the National Gallery in Oslo) make it a really fun end to an eventful evening.

The next morning, I’m up early for my first shore excursion – Oslo maritime highlights. I have to admit, I thought three museums based on Norway’s seafaring history might be a bit much, but boy I was wrong.

With burial longships dating from the ninth century, the Viking Ships Museum is surprisingly moving, while standing on the deck of the actual ship that Roald Amundsen used to reach the South Pole as waves crash around me in the Fram Museum’s immersive experience is incredibly humbling.

I reunite with mum for lunch at the open-air Verandah restaurant just in time for our first sail away.  As the house band plays and we sun ourselves, glass of rosé in hand (naturally), Mum tells me about her relaxing morning. She’s already struck up a rapport with Ronaldo, our attentive cabin hand, who effortlessly makes us feel looked after throughout our stay as do all the attentive yet discreet staff.

We spend the afternoon in the spa, which has a generous indoor swimming pool (there’s also an outdoor one in the Beach Club), Jacuzzi, plus steam room and sauna, and we book in for a facial each the following morning.

Our facials are heavenly. Mum loves her Biotec Line Eraser treatment so much she returns to the cabin armed with various Elemis products, determined to continue the regime when she gets home.

Our next stop is Copenhagen. Before going on shore, we eat fish and chips at the Beach Club. There is also a charming self-service sweet store (mental note, I must bring some home for the boys).

Delicious dessert on board
Delicious dessert on board

Copenhagen is a buzzing city that perfectly blends cutting-edge modern design such as The Black Diamond library and National Aquarium with the city’s beautiful historic architecture including the grand Christiansborg Palace and the Danish Royal Family’s home of Amalienborg.

You can take the 10-minute walk from the ship to see the famous Little Mermaid statue, inspired by the fairytale from the city’s famous son Hans Christian Andersen, or take one of the shuttle buses organised by Saga into the city centre and have a drink in one of the many bars that line the famous Nyhavn where the writer once lived. Our favourite part of our visit to Copenhagen, though, is taking the Øresund Bridge – the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe – over to Sweden. We stop for coffee and pastries in Malmo (it’s significantly cheaper here), before stocking up on presents for my not-quite-forgotten children.

That night (our last on board, sob) we dine in the ship’s specialty restaurant, East to West, which offers a tantalising Asian-inspired menu.

Our first cruise has been fabulous, and I can’t wait to try another one. We leave the ship feeling truly pampered, with new friends and a little extra padding, as well as a plethora of trolls, soft toys, Danish biscuits, and a lot of absolutely amazing memories.

Pat says:

I wasn’t sure if cruising would be for me, but I was surprised how easy it was to get around on a ship. I have limited mobility, but it was incredibly accessible, so I could maintain my independence.

All the staff were extremely attentive and helpful when needed. And, of course, exploring the different destinations was wonderful. One of my highlights was a visit to the ice bar in Oslo, where we had a drink served in a ‘glass’ made of ice and sat on chairs also made of ice. We had to wear thick capes and gloves before entering the bar. It was great fun.

We met quite a few people when we were on the ship, especially when we shared tables at meals, and most people were very relaxed and friendly. Several of the people we chatted to were experienced cruisers and were able to offer us advice.

This first venture into cruising has been positive for me. Travelling along the beautiful, Scandinavian fjords was remarkable – at times, the movement was so smooth that I didn’t realise we were at sea, much to Sally’s amusement, I somehow missed our first sail away, only noticing about half an hour afterwards that we were no longer at port.

Our key to avoiding arguments on board was to laugh off mishaps, accept we move at different speeds, and give each other a little space every now and then.

I can’t wait to go on another cruise – I just have to decide where I want to go.

Coffee with a view on Copenhagen, Denmark
Coffee with a view on Copenhagen, Denmark

GETTING THERE

A 12-night cruise on board Saga Sapphire’s sister ship, Spirit of Discovery, departing from Dover on 27 September 2019 costs from £2,041pp. Price includes all meals on board, a choice of wines at lunch and dinner, 24-hour room service, all onboard gratuities, entertainment and activities, a welcome cocktail party and Captain‘s dinner, plus port taxes and visas. Saga cruises include a chauffeur service that will pick you up from home if you live within 75 miles from port, or offer a shared car if you live within 250 miles from port. They’ll also drop you home again at the end of your cruise (saga.co.uk/cruiseint).

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