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Friday, 31 August 2012


Baltic bliss: Cruising the Baltic on the Saga Sapphire

From crazy golf to Mozart, try a cruise that caters for everyone
By John Honeywel
View over the Warnow River to Rostock
View over the Warnow River to Rostock
It's not often you get the opportunity to inspect the works of great artists like Rembrandt, Rubens and Leonardo da Vinci without having to elbow aside all the other tourists.
So an after-hour's visit to revel in the treasures of St ­Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum was a delightful extra treat while our cruise ship was in town.
See the treasures of St Petersburg's Hermitage
See the treasures of St Petersburg's Hermitage
While we admired the masterpieces we were ­serenaded by the State­ ­Symphony Orchestra of St Petersburg playing an hour of ­familiar favourites, ­including the Overture from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, the ­Intermezzo from ­Cavalleria ­Rusticana and Faure’s Pavane.
This feast of civilised culture was served up during a Baltic cruise on the ­elegant Saga Sapphire, the latest vessel to join the fleet operated by the British company specialising in holidays for the over-50s.
Hit the high seas on Saga Sapphire
Hit the high seas on Saga Sapphire
But you don’t need highbrow tastes to enjoy the ride. If you’re happier with crazy golf, fish and chips with mushy peas and a pint of beer, all that’s ­available back on board.
The Sapphire has been designed with a host of quirky features, ­including traditional seaside-style attract­ions, in an effort to attract passengers nearer Saga’s minimum age of 50.
Cooper’s Bar is themed around comedian Tommy, with his trademark fez adapted into lampshades and some of his funniest one-liners embroidered into cushion covers.
In the Drawing Room, which ­doubles as a ­panoramic lounge ­during the day and a smooth nightclub in the evening, the decor ­includes lamps made from cameras, ­musical ­instruments and leather boots, armchairs advertising a Beatles concert in ­Abergavenny and even a serpent mural carved from a tree root.
John on board the Saga Sapphire
John on board the Saga Sapphire
The ship, though new to Saga, was built 30 years ago as the luxurious Europa. With a combined cost of ­purchase and refurbishment at ­£67million, she will ­become the fleet’s flagship next year following the ­retirement of the much loved Saga Ruby.
In a break with cruise tradition, there’s open seating in the Pole to Pole restaurant, allowing passengers to arrive for dinner when they want and sit where they like.
Diehards who prefer a fixed time and the same table every evening must make a special request.
There’s waiter service in the ­Verandah casual restaurant too – on most ships this would be a buffet. Tables must be reserved in advance for the Asian fusion ­speciality East to West restaurant, but there is no extra charge.
Cabins have been decorated in bold ­colours ­reminiscent ofa ­modern ­boutique hotel and there’s plenty of space to relax. The aft swimming pool has been removed to ­create more deck space, and there’s lots of room to lounge around the midships pool and the sundeck above.
Indoors, the spacious Britannia Lounge is the venue for afternoon tea and evening concerts featuring visiting musicians and ­comedians, and the resident troupe of singers and ­dancers. It all seemed to be ­proving very popular with the 700 or so ­passengers on my trip, many of whom would have only recently have reached the qualifying age.
Taking the smooth ­service for granted, they liked the spacious cabins, most with full-sized baths, and the value for money compared with many ­other cruise lines.
The basic brochure price may be higher with Saga, but taking into ­account the fact that tips are ­included and it’s just £2.80 for a pint and £3.20 for a glass of wine, they realised their holiday pound goes further.
Which also meant they could be more adventurous when it came to shore ­excursions. From Warne-munde, Germany, some joined the day-long trip to Berlin, while others took a boat trip up the river to ­Rostock.
Among the usual sights, such as the intricate 15th Century ­astronomical clock in the Marienkirche cathedral and the ­remaining watchtowers on the city’s medieval walls, we also gained an insight into more recent history in the form of the interrogation centre and prison used by the Stasi, the feared East German secret ­police.
Most people were easily able to take the leisurely walk from the quayside in Tallinn to the narrow streets and open squares of the old town, one ­enjoying ­herself so much she ­arrived back at the ship a full hour after we should have sailed.
Luckily the ­understanding captain waited for her, an extra service unlikely to be afforded by other cruises...

Get there

Sixteen-night Baltic cruise on Saga Sapphire sailing from Dover on Sept 10, 2013 starts at £1,983pp if booked before Sept 30 this year. The price ­includes UK ­travel to the port, cancellation cover insurance, onboard tips and all meals.


 Source: Daily Mirror, UK.

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