Saga’s first purpose-built boutique cruise ship, Spirit of Discovery, was christened in July by HRH the Duchess of Cornwall in a lavish English garden party-themed naming ceremony complete with real grass, lavish floral displays and parasols.

Addressing the guests, Robin Shaw, CEO of Saga Travel said: “We firmly believe that Saga will set the standard for luxury boutique cruising and we just can’t wait to welcome our guests on board.”

Following a tour of the ship, Her Royal Highness released a jeroboam of Hush Heath English sparkling wine to smash against the hull in the first christening ceremony to be held in the port of Dover in over a decade.

So what is Spirit of Discovery like on board? Here Cruise International Contributing Editor Becky Wiggins gives her verdict…

The ship

Spirit of Discovery feels like a huge departure from Saga Cruises’ previous ships. The only small ship built for the British market this year was designed around the theme of ‘British contemporary classic’ and has a modern boutique hotel feel.

© Franklin & Franklin

The interiors are bright and airy, and the different areas flow seamlessly into each other. There are cosy, intimate places to sit and relax dotted all around the ship, many decorated with some of the 1000 paintings, prints, sculptures, and glasswork commissioned especially from British based artists and design studios. The art collection includes permanent pieces as well as constantly changing galleries, and there are self-guided tours of the ship available where guests can find out more about the artists and pieces on display, in addition to regular workshops featuring visiting artists.

© Franklin & Franklin

The Grand Dining Room feels suitably luxurious, again divided into several smaller, intimate spaces. Service is warm, friendly and accommodating and the food is incredibly high quality. Gala dinner highlights included a beautiful lobster dish, and happily, Saga’s legendary cheese plates have made it onto the new menu.

Casual dining venue The Grill offers the same menu as The Grand Dining Room on formal evenings and buffet style breakfasts as well as a lunchtime table service, with alfresco dining outside at Verandah, where guests can also enjoy barbecues on fine days.

Speciality restaurants include the return of Saga Sapphire’s popular East to West oriental restaurant; modern seafood restaurant Coast to Coast, and ‘The Club by Jools’, Saga Cruises’ first ever celebrity endorsed onboard steakhouse and bar inspired by the cabaret lounges of the 1950s, with live performances from Jools Holland on specific sailings, and artists curated by Jools when he’s not on board.

© Franklin & Franklin

Spirit of Discovery guests are spoiled for entertainment choices, with a range of shows available in The Playhouse theatre, as well as performances from musicians, singers and classical concerts in the Britannia Lounge.

© Franklin & Franklin

The generously sized cabins on board reflect the boutique hotel feel, with fluffy bathrobes, full-sized toiletries, quality bathrooms and quirky touches like bedside lamps adorned with woodpeckers.  Cabins are all-balcony, with a typically impressive solo cabin offering (Saga won the ‘best for solo travellers’ category at the British Cruise Awards 2018) including standard, deluxe and superior singles, plus a single suite.   There are also standard twin cabins, deluxe twins, and forward, mid, and aft suites, some with butler service.

Sun worshippers will love the retro-feel Lido deck and pool, complete with jaunty yellow-striped towels and plenty of places to lounge, and Saga continue to challenge preconceptions about the brand by adding a well-equipped gym and fitness centre where guests can work out with a view of the sea, plus a proper promenade deck. The Spa offers luxurious Elemis treatments, hydrotherapy pool and salon, and there’s even a golf simulator on board.

© Franklin & Franklin

From January 2020, the ship will become all inclusive, including all house spirits, wine, beer and soft drinks as part of Saga’s comprehensive cruise package, including all gratuities, a UK travel service and free WiFi on board.

Spirit of Discovery’s sister ship, Spirit of Adventure, is scheduled to set sail in August 2020. Both ships carry 999 guests and 533 crew members.

My verdict? With its modern hotel design and intelligent use of space, Saga Cruises’ long-awaited new vessel Spirit of Discovery does indeed set a new benchmark in luxury boutique cruising, offering a distinctly British cruise experience in a contemporary setting.
Spirit of Discovery will sail to the Norwegian Fjords, the Baltic and the Mediterranean, as well as autumn itineraries from Southampton to destinations including the Canaries and a Christmas cruise to New York. Find more info at saga.co.uk/cruise