Victoria Gavin was one of the very first people to sail on boutique ship Spirit of Discovery when she went on a Saga Channel cruise – and there was a very special guest on board

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The Lido Deck © Franklin and Franklin

It’s not every day you get to see a music legend performing live on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean, but we’re dancing the night away as Jools Holland, no less, plays boogie woogie and blues. This is the first time we’ve cruised with Saga, and we’re seriously impressed.

Our voyage is a Channel Hop cruise on board brand new ship Spirit of Discovery. With world travel at our fingertips it’s sometimes easy to forget the wealth of beautiful scenery and fascinating history we have on our doorstep; we’re sailing to Guernsey, Brest in Northern France and the Isle of Portland in Dorset, all intriguing and idyllic ports of call that give us a new found appreciation of cruising close to home.  

With its distinctive British boutique hotel feel, Saga Cruises’ newest ship offers style, luxury and an ideal place to relax and unwind; the cruise line’s handy door-to-door chauffeur service ensures that we’re able to switch off from the moment we leave home with a stress-free transfer to join our ship in Dover. In no time at all we are in our light and airy cabin marveling at the design and facilities, which include a spacious seating area, wardrobe with ample space to hang clothes, tea and coffee making facilities, a fridge, luxurious bathroom and, of course, our own inviting balcony.

There’s just enough time to explore the ship before the Sail Away, and then we settle down at The Grill for a wonderful afternoon tea, where we are met with a spread of delicate sandwiches as well as light bites, exquisite cakes and delicious freshly baked scones, still warm from the oven. After the inevitable “jam or cream first” debate (nobody really cares, they just taste so good) we sit back and enjoy every mouthful. The Grill also has an al fresco dining area, Verandah, which offers the same menu and a chance to soak up the sun.

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The Observation Lounge © Franklin and Franklin

Spirit of Discovery has a simple layout with decks A to E being almost entirely staterooms. The card room, craft room and impressive library can also be found on deck E, but the Promenade Deck, Main Deck and Lido Deck are home to most of the public areas. The ship is incredibly spacious with plenty of comfortable, quiet seating areas to chill out with a coffee (excellent) and a book. On the Main Deck we discovered The Grand Dining Room, The Living Room with its bar and plenty of comfortable seating. There are some excellent shopping opportunities, too, with everything from jewellery to perfumes and cosmetics to handbags on offer.

On the Promenade Deck there are the three speciality restaurants, the chart room and gallery. Art can be found throughout the ship including fabulous prints and paintings in a variety of styles, glassworks and the fantastic sculptures on the Britannia Balcony on the Lido Deck, all commissioned from British artists and designers. A self-guided tour is available for those wanting to know more about the artists and pieces on display. Also on the Promenade Deck is the impressive 440-seater Playhouse Theatre where, later in our cruise, we were excited to be seeing the wonderful Jools Holland.

After our first night at sea, which gives us an absolutely spectacular storm but thankfully not too much of a swell, we wake up to blue skies and balmy temperatures in Guernsey. A hearty breakfast at Verandah soaking up the morning sunshine makes for a wonderful start to the day. The large buffet covers every option imaginable from cereals, yoghurts, muesli, fresh fruit, an array of freshly baked bread and pastries, gravadlax, cold meats and cheese to a variety of cooked breakfast options including eggs and omelettes made fresh to order. 

As our excursion isn’t due to depart until midday, we have the morning free to take full advantage of the spa. The staff couldn’t be more helpful and talk us through all the various treatments available. We start off with a relaxing pedicure and booked massages for after our return that afternoon. As well as a wide variety of reasonably priced treatments and a hair salon, the spa also has a wonderfully relaxing hydrotherapy pool, sauna and steam room.

Jools Holland performing on Spirit of Discovery
Jools Holland performing on Spirit of Discovery © @shipmonk

In Guernsey there are a variety of excursions on offer, from a cliff walk followed by gin tasting, to a trip to Sark. We opt for a tour on a vintage bus which takes us to Saumarez Park and its traditional Victorian gardens, and the Little Chapel, a miniature version of the grotto and basilica at Lourdes in France built by Brother Deodat from broken china. Our guide is both knowledgeable and entertaining, and the sunny weather enhances a great afternoon.

Our second day takes us to the French town of Brest in Brittany where there’s another brilliant selection of excursions, from a wine and cheese pairing experience to Brest’s Naval Museum and Botanical Gardens. We head by coach to Quimper, famous for its Celtic culture, and tour the charming town with its half-timbered houses and visit the Gothic Cathedral with its soaring spires.

Dining on board offers a wealth of choice. The luxurious Grand Dining Room has a full à la carte menu, while The Grill on the Lido Deck is great for those looking for a less formal experience. There are also three speciality restaurants but be warned, they’re popular so book as soon as you get on board. Coast to Coast serves an excellent choice of seafood from Arctic tuna to Cullen Skink to start, seafood platters to Norwegian baked wolf fish for main course and strawberry tart to hot chocolate fondant for dessert.

Personally, I loved the bruschetta with poached duck egg to start. Regular Saga cruisers will be delighted to know that popular Asian fusion restaurant East to West is also on board Spirit of Discovery. The menu takes the best of the best of oriental cuisine and produces some of the tastiest dishes imaginable including spiced gyoza with vegetable soup, grilled king scallops, crispy roasted Peking duck, and Asian-style surf & turf. All restaurants use locally sourced or British produce where possible and all offer excellent vegetarian options, and as an added bonus, there’s a choice of red or white wine with dinner. 

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The Grand Dining Room © Franklin and Franklin

The highlight of our cruise though is The Club by Jools; not only does it serve melt-in-the-mouth steaks, excellent “thrice-cooked” chips and a large variety of other side dishes including creamed spinach and garlic, roasted field mushrooms and fire glazed asparagus, but it rapidly becomes our favourite after-dinner hangout. It’s also where we see the man himself, performing with the legendary Ruby Turner.

On our final day we sail back to the UK via the Isle of Portland, where there is the opportunity to explore independently, with a walk along the famous Chesil Beach or a stroll through Weymouth, as well as excellent excursions to Abbotsbury Swannery, Bovington Tank Museum or, our choice, a trip to Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove. Afterwards we enjoy homemade ice-cream in the sunshine, and marvel at the spectacularly beautiful coastline. 

Our first taste of Saga Cruises has been excellent; the spacious feel, understated luxury and exceptional service coupled with superb excursions and excellent onboard entertainment make Spirit of Discovery the ideal holiday destination.  

Durdle Door
Durdle Door in Dorset

Getting there: 

A 16-night A Baltic Fables cruise on Spirit of Discovery, departing 7 August 2020, costs from £3,647pp, based on two people sharing. Price includes chauffeur service up to 250 miles, all onboard meals and gratuities, entertainment and activities. For more details, visit saga.co.uk/cruiseint.

You can also read a Saga mini-cruise to Scandinavia review or a Saga Mediterranean cruise review.