Spirited away: two new ships for British cruise line

Anthony Pearce asks Nigel Blanks about Saga Cruises’ two new boutique, purpose-built ships and how they are redefining cruising in the ex-UK market

Spirited away: two new ships for British cruise line
Guests can enjoy venues such as The Grill onboard Spirit of Adventure above

The launch of Spirit of Discovery in 2019 was not only a huge moment for Saga Cruises but also the ex-UK market in general. Although existing ships Saga Pearl II and Saga Sapphire had charm in abundance, the line’s first purpose-built boutique vessel elevated its cruise offering by bringing its hardware up to speed with its famously impressive service.  

Although large ships have been launched for the UK market, Spirit of Discovery offered something completely different for the traditional cruise client – a new luxurious and elegant ship that would be based in British ports. No-fly cruises are the ship’s specialism, but Saga’s British Isles itineraries were supposed to be few and far between. However, due to the pandemic, the vessel has been sailing exclusively in British waters alongside her newly launched sister ship Spirit of Adventure since May 2021.  

Despite this, guests have enthusiastically embraced the return of cruise – however limited it may have been. “Above all else, our guests have been excited to get back out onto the seas after 18 months away from cruising,” says Nigel Blanks, CEO of Saga. “The UK has some stunning coastline and wonderful ports that some of our guests haven’t visited before, so there’s been a real sense of discovery. Of course, for those who are sailing on Spirit of Adventure there’s the added excitement of a brand-new ship to experience.”  

Saga was the first to announce that vaccinations would be mandatory onboard its vessels at a time when it was unclear what other cruise lines would choose to do, or what governing bodies would mandate. With Saga reserved for the over 50s market, it made sense. “Health and safety is something we take very seriously,” says Blanks. “All the measures have been well received by our guests, not least because they feel part-and-parcel of normal life for the moment.” 

It’s been a difficult 18 months, but there have been moments to cherish. “The emotions at Spirit of Adventure’s naming in Portsmouth – joy, excitement, happiness and quiet reflection on everything that has happened during the past year when she was laid up in Tilbury – won’t easily be forgotten,” says Blanks, who admits that after such a long period of not sailing, the feeling of getting guests back onboard is hard to beat – regardless of where the ship sails. “That said, there was another special moment when Spirit of Adventure embarked on her first international cruise from Tilbury to the Baltics on 29 August. For me, that marked the final step in the return to cruising.” 

Meanwhile, Spirit of Discovery will depart for her first international cruise on 2 September for a 22-night ‘Coastlines of Croatia’ cruise with calls to Hvar and Split, Croatia; Venice, Italy; Valletta, Malta; Kotor, Montenegro; and Minorca, Spain. 

Blanks’ key priority for the next year is to give guests an exceptional experience. “I want to give them the best experience I can now that they’re finally able to join us on the seas again,” he says. “Secondly, it’s all about our ships. We’ll be keeping a close eye on how things go with Spirit of Adventure’s first few cruises and adjusting things as we go. As Spirit of Discovery hasn’t sailed for 18 months, we’ll be looking at anything we might want to change or improve too.” 

Looking ahead, Blanks says that Saga is in a very strong position. “Not many lines can say they have two new ships at the cutting edge of modern, boutique cruising and we’re going to be setting a standard for years to come as a result. In some ways, though, what we have today and what we will focus on in the future doesn’t change what we’ve always focused on – quality service, the very best experience for our guests and the chance to see and enjoy the world in luxury. I’ve been doing this with Saga for well over 30 years and I know these values will endure long after I’ve gone and others are here in my place.”

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2021 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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By Anthony Pearce
17 December 2021

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