Category Archives: Deb’s Blog

A Saga Cruise – the service

A few comparisons – Saga v P&O

While Saga has the edge over P&O in some respects, I thought I’d compare what we thought about the two products.  Not comparing the ships, as an older and smaller ship clearly will lack some amenities that a larger and more modern ship will have as standard, but looking more at the service provided.

So, here goes!

SAGA:

*Free door-to-door transport or car parking

*Your own personal porter to help with luggage, at both the start and the end of the cruise

*Free wine (with choices, not just house wines) at lunch and dinner

*Champagne cocktails offered at just £3.50 a glass – a good price to try them out

*Good menu choices, plenty of variety at every meal

*Very attentive service in the restaurants – a bit oppressive sometimes

*Free packed lunch provided for all-day tours, a selection provided, including free bottles of water

*Free internet, though being at sea it can be a bit hit and miss

*Only full-fat or skimmed milk available – semi-skimmed treated as a special diet requirement

*No tea/coffee-making stuff in the cabins

*Huge bottles of toiletries provided

*Bath robes in ALL cabins

*Disembarkation in small groups, with tea/coffee/snacks available while you wait

A Saga Cruise – Final Day

Monday 10 December – Dover – disembarkation day

We probably had the best night’s sleep of the cruise last night – through sheer exhaustion, I think.

We had what for us was a big breakfast (toast AND cereal – talk about pushing the boat out!) before packing our final things away and heading to the Discovery Lounge to wait to be called off.

We’d been given an estimated disembarkation time of 10.10, and sure enough, that’s exactly the time we were called.  A porter was assigned to help us with our luggage, which was easily spotted amongst the small stack, what with being bright red and having fluorescent orange crocheted handle covers!  Then our driver for the day showed us to his vehicle while we had a brief wait for the other couple who’d be sharing the ride with us.

That was a bit of a surprise – we’d assumed we’d be travelling home with the same couple we went down to Portsmouth with.  No doubt being in Dover rather than Portsmouth had a bearing on it, and it certainly wasn’t a problem.  The other couple weren’t especially talkative, but neither were we, seeing as we were still half asleep!  I did gather though that He wrote books about Albanian grammar. Niche.

They turned out to be from Cheltenham, and so were dropped off first, and finally we arrived home at about 3.30.  By 4.00 I had the first load of washing in the machine!

So that was the end of another cruise.  Would we travel with Saga again?

The jury’s still out.

A Saga Cruise – Day Six

Sunday 9 December – at sea

We were warned the sea would knock the ship around – and it did. Neither of us slept much at all, what with the washing-machine movements and the strange creaking and banging noises.
Come the morning, George didn’t want any breakfast (I just had toast and juice), and after struggling for an hour or so when down to the medical centre. He was back less than ten minutes later with an anti-nausea patch behind his ear.
He spent the rest of the morning in our cabin, but by lunchtime the ship had changed course and things were a little calmer so we both managed a bite to eat.
I started our packing while George lurked in the library (possibly the part of the ship with least movement – in all senses of the word) before we joined in yet another quiz. While we were going through the answers one poor old boy fell over in the corridor outside; banged his head, I think. Certainly the doctor was called and checked him over, but he seemed to be okay.
By mid-afternoon it was clear that the patch behind George’s ear wasn’t having any effect, so we went back to medical centre where he had The Injection. That meant (a) he had a sore bum, (b) he slept the rest of the afternoon, (c) we were hit with a bigg-ish medical bill, and (d) he was finally ready to eat when he woke up again.
So we went to the Dining Room for a final dinner (said no to the free wine – shock!), then joined in the quiz which we lost on a tie-break because we didn’t know when dog licenses were abolished. 1987, apparently.
The show tonight was supposed to be an Abba tribute from the Explosive theatre company, but one of the singers was ill. So instead the Four Ds returned, and along with the remaining Explosive troupe put on an impromptu variety show. All good fun.
We returned to our cabin and finished packing our suitcases, which then joined the others in the corridor for collection ready for disembarkation. Hopefully we’ll get some sleep tonight….

A Saga Cruise – Day Five

Saturday 8 December – Hamburg

Before we came aboard this ship we’d reserved tickets for a visit this morning to Hamburg’s Miniatur-Wunderland, as we’d heard such great reports of it. We had a time-slot of between 9.00 and 10.00 which we thought would give us plenty of time to have breakfast, sort ourselves out, and get a taxi.
But we overslept. Decent sleep has been pretty non-existant on this cruise, mostly due to the hard mattress, and neither of us wanted to leap out of bed this morning. Nor did we want to feel rushed, as that’s never a good start to the day.
So we re-thought our plans, I cancelled our reserved tickets, and instead we decided to get the shuttle bus into the city, and just have a wander. And as it happened, we’d have struggled to get to Mianiatur-Wunderland: we’d been assured by the tours team that there would be plenty of taxis at the port – but there weren’t any at all. Never known that before – taxi drivers are usually all over you like a rash as soon as you appear. Strange.
Anyway, the shuttle bus dropped us close to the main railway station, and from there we walked to a small Christmas market. Usual collection of stalls to browse through: all we bought was a bratwurst each. There wasn’t anything in particular we wanted to buy, but the chance to stretch our legs was good.
We returned to the ship where we had a light lunch, followed an hour or so later with a session in the gym – George on the bike and me in the pool. Once again we were the only ones in there.
Tonight was another formal night, and a ‘farewell’ cocktail reception, before dinner. We quizzed again before having a dance and then watching the second show from the Four Ds. Excellent again, and my kind of music – Beach Boys, Four Tops and stuff from that era.
By the time we went to bed we were sailing into the North Sea and the ship was moving quite a bit. We’d been warned we wouldn’t have a smooth night’s sailing.

A Saga Cruise – Day Four

Friday 7 December – at sea, then Hamburg

Slept better last night, even though this little ship was being knocked about by the North Sea.

A lazy sort of day. After breakfast we sat in Shackleton’s, catching up with our blogs, before I went for a swim in the spa pool (only me in there again) and George went to a talk given by the Chief Engineer. This was about the new ship Saga are having built, and from what George said when he came back it sounds very interesting: all balcony cabins, a ‘proper’ theatre, a quiet bar and an extra lounge. Food for thought for the future.

At lunchtime there was a champagne reception for Saga first-timers and those in the Brittannia loyalty club. An okay half-hour, but an odd time for such an event, we felt.

In the dining room at lunchtime we experienced our first poor service of this cruise. One elderly lady on our table asked for a cushion which never appeared, her lunch order was also wrong, and sauces and condiments were missing (in spite of asking twice). Added to that our whole table seemed to be ignored for long periods, and we watched other tables around us arriving and being served with no problem. Not good at all.

After lunch we joined in a ‘true or false’ quiz, which we managed to win, scoring 100%. No prizes, mind, not even a sticker. A bit later I went to yoga again, while George went down to Future Cruises to find out if there was any advantage to booking on board: none, is the short answer. Then he was told that he wouldn’t have been able to book anyway, as we’re not registered as Saga customers – Judith, our travel agent, is the customer! George was even told that if we did try to book the chances are that we’d be thrown back to Judith. Doesn’t encourage us to book another Saga cruise. What a way to run a business.

We docked in Hamburg around 5.00, and quite a few passengers went straight out on a tour, so the dining rooms were relatively quiet.  We had another random table for dinner, then decamped to Shackleton’s for a Christmas-themed music quiz with our quiz companions. That was fun, and although we didn’t win we certainly didn’t disgrace ourselves.
The show this evening was a classical music concert that we weren’t interested in. Instead we ventured up to the top of the ship where we’d earlier found another bar (Sundowners). There we spent an hour or so wine a glass of wine, chatting to yet another couple we’d not spoken to before. The bar itself was really nice – small, but no loud music so you can talk easily. And in the summer it must be lovely, as it opens onto the open deck aft.

A Saga Cruise – what are the passengers like?

A couple of Saga passenger observations

This tiny ship carries just under 450 passengers, so we’ve had a good chance to observe many of them, and their quirks. Clearly being a Saga ship the age profile is a lot higher than we’re used to on board, but it’s not a floating care-home by any means.
Something we’ve noticed about the passengers on this ship: there’s no-one you could class as obese. One or two a tad overweight, yes (me included!), but nothing extreme. Recently on the P&O ships it’s been like being on a film set – ‘Attack of the Weeble People’.
And although there’s quite a number of people using walking sticks, we’ve only seen one wheelchair and two walking frames. I guess on the whole Saga devotees try and look after their health. Again, comparing it to P&O, on our last cruise (Azura) the passengers using mobility aids of one sort or another outnumbered those of us getting around unaided.
A high proportion on the men here have facial hair, moustaches especially predominant. There’s quite a few who could play Father Christmas too! Which might be handy, considering the number of Christmas trees dotted around, each with piles of ‘presents’ underneath! Still trying to find mine….
Formal dress code seemed to be strictly adhered to, which is excellent. That might be due partly to having no dining option apart from room service is you choose to ignore the code. Room service is free, by the way.
High numbers of passengers sit in the lounges making use of the free wi-fi. It’s available in the cabins too, but being at sea understandably the signal’s a bit hit-and-miss. But it shows that ‘older’ people aren’t as computer-phobic as many like to assume.
On a slightly sadder note, there are definitely a handful of passengers who don’t know which is left and which is right, or what their companion’s name is. Very sad. But no doubt they’re having a lovely time in their own ways.

A Saga Cruise – Day Three

Thursday 6 December – Bremerhaven

We were up early (cr*p night’s sleep), and having breakfast as we docked in Bremerhaven. It was still dark, but as it grew lighter it was clear the weather was pretty murky and drizzly. Not that we’ve ever let bad weather spoil a tour!

We had to report to the Discovery Lounge for our cruise stickers, where we were also given a packed lunch for the day – that was a surprise! Plenty to choose from: rolls, sanwiches, cakes, biscuits, fruit, bottles of water and cans of fruit. And a huge bag to put it in, along with plastic cutlery and paper napkins. If I’d known about this I’d have brought alkng a bigger rucksack!

We had an hour-long coach ride to Bremen, where we were dropped off close to the main rail station. Here we picked up a 40-year-old tram, and a youngish guide, for a tour of the city. Our guide was lovely: very informative and amusing, and with excellent English.
He also stayed with us for the next part of our tour, which was a walk through the old Medieval centre of the city, finishing at the Christmas market. Here we had nearly two hours free time, so we ate some of our packed lunch, before exploring. We had some gluhwein and a bratwurst each (well, this is Germany!), and bought a few bits and pieces from the stalls. Mostly though it was just soaking up the atmosphere.

Another hour’s coach ride, and we were back onboard. We had another table for six, including one chap who used to be a sports journalist. He’d interviewed Mohammed Ali (wow!), been to the 1948 London Olympics as a spectator and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as a friend of long jumper Lyn Davis. He and his wife were also guests at Frank Bruno’s wedding, and their granddaughter is a three-time Olympic speed skater.

Who says cruising’s boring?!

We failed at the quiz again, and chatting afterwards we didn’t realise the show in the Discovery Lounge had started, so we ended up sitting at the back. The show was the second offering from the Explosive show team – “Carnaby Beat”. 1960s music, so we enjoyed it!

A Saga Cruise – Day Two

Wednesday 5th December – at sea

Considering we have to get used to another strange cabin and all its associated creaks and groans, we didn’t sleep too badly. I found the bed a bit hard, though.

We had breakfast in the Verandah restaurant, which is a buffet affair. Plenty of choices, hot and cold, and one of the waiters went and found me semi-skimmed milk so I could have a decent cup of tea. Nice enough.

We had the first of the advent calendar chocs – and for me it’ll be my last. We thought they were chocolate, but they’re marzipan. Yeuck.

I had a swim in the tiny indoor pool, which was better than I thought it was going to be, and George meanwhile was next door on the static bike giving his knee a workout. There’s plenty of towels, toiletries and bathrobes provided, and the showers are reasonably powerful there, and the whole gym/sauna/pool area is nice.

Talking of showers, I think whoever designed our shower door was on day-release from kindergarden. There’s two doors that open and close in the middle, like saloon doors. Only problem is that when they’re shut there’s gaps on the hinge sides, big enough for me to get my fingers in. So guess where the water goes? Bonkers.

For lunch we tried the Dining Room, as the Verandah buffet was packed. Just had soup and salad (and more free wine!), but sat there for a good hour chatting to the other couple on the table, just comparing cruise notes and putting the world to rights. Very enjoyable.

We discovered there was a quiz in Shackleton’s Bar, but were a bit tooo late to join in. Nevertheless, we helped four others win.
Later, George went to choir practice and I went to a yoga session. I enjoyed it, even though the emphasis was more on stretching than balance and core strengthening. It was a free session, too, unlike on P&O where there is a “small” cover charge – £7 a session last time I looked.

Then it was time to prepare ourselves for the first formal evening (of two), and the Captain’s Champagne Reception. And yes, it was champagne, not cava. We chatted to the Housekeeping Manager, listened to the Captain’s speech, and then headed to the Dining Room for dinner. Another random table for six, and another good meal with plenty of choices. And the free wine, of course!

There was a quiz after dinner, which was fine, and then a music performance by four young men calling themselves the Four Ds. They were excellent – and they’re doing another show in a few days, so all good.

By the end of the show we were pretty cream crackered, and as we’d be losing an hour in the night AND had to be up for a tour in the morning, we called it a day.

A Saga cruise – Day One

Tuesday 4 December – embarkation day
After the comedy of errors that was the entire booking process, embarkation was a doddle.
Our transport (a people carrier – us and one other couple, from Powys) was only 15 minutes late. But then no-one can ever find us! The vehicle was comfortable, the roads were reasonably quiet, and we arrived in Portsmouth just before 2.00. A couple of the porters told us which cabin we were in (307) and labelled our cases, and after an almost instant checking-in (“you’re in Group 8, which has already been called”), we were being shuttled across the dock to the ship.
A crew member showed us to our cabin, an inside: perfectly adequate. There was afternoon tea being served in the Discovery Lounge, so with no cases yet to unpack we made our way up there and stuffed ourselves. The raspberry mousse was delish! Pity there doesn’t seem to be any semi-skimmed milk, though (I did ask), as the UHT full-fat stuff is not nice in tea or coffee.
We wandered around the ship for a bit, stretching our legs and getting our bearings, before returning to the cabin to unpack. First impressions were positive, and we were hopeful of a decent few days.
Muster drill followed (same old, same old), and as we sailed away we had a couple of glasses of prosecco in Shackleton’s Bar, and chatted to another couple of Saga ‘virgins’. Then it was time to try out the food in the Dining Room.
There’s no fixed dinner times on this ship, and it’s generally open seating (though some people had requested a fixed time and table). But we opted for taking our chances, and were put on a table with two other couples – and a high old time was had by all! The food was really nice, with varied choices for each course, and plenty of it, and wine was free and generous, so all good in my book. The cheese board was actually a trolley-full – there must have been 20 or more cheese – and we’ve never seen such huge liqueur trolley! A great start, think I might be gaining some weight this week!
We were getting pretty sleepy after dinner, but we did go and watch the first show from the onboard show team. This was “Best of British”, very good, but I’m definitely NOT into flag-waving, Rule Britannia, and the like. Never mind, bed beckoned.

A pre-Saga saga

Hopefully, we should soon be on the little Saga Pearl.  I say “hopefully”, only things haven’t been easy so far – so thanks a bunch Saga.
As always, we called into our local Thomas Cook branch, where their cruise consultant, Judith, knows us extremely well. She told us that Saga don’t take internet bookings, which surprised us, but she phoned them and as a result we booked a guaranteed grade of inside cabin.

In due course Judith recieved our confirmation from Saga, which she posted to us along with a leaflet detailling the tours available at our two ports of call. A note here told us to log on (giving a website address) and enter our booking reference in order to book tours.

So far, so normal. But on logging on I got a message telling me that as we’d booked through a third party (Judith) all communications had to go through her.

Back at Thomas Cook, Judith phoned them (again) and asked if we couldn’t do this sort of thing directly. Apparently not: we’re not Saga’s customers – Judith is. So she booked our tour for us, all of us raising our eyebrows at the process.

Then last week she called us to say our tickets and luggage labels had arrived – with no indication anywhere of our cabin allocation. It seems we’ll only find out where we’ll be sleeping once we get on board. Bonkers.

Not only that, but it seems we won’t be returning to Portsmouth (where we embark), but to Dover. Makes no difference to us, but anyone taking advantage of the offered free parking have problems – they have to drive to Dover on embarkation day and leave their cars there. They’re being bussed from there to Portsmouth between 9.30 and 10.30 that morning, so doubtless many people will have a very early start.

Considering that taking this trip is a chance for us to try out Saga cruises for the first time, none of this encourages us to rush and book with them again. Things can only get better, can’t they?