SAGA’s New Spirit Of Discovery Arrives At Her Home Port Of Dover

Saga today sails into its future, as the first of two bespoke new build ‘boutique’ cruise ships, Spirit of Discovery, arrives at her home port of Dover for the first time. Sailing past the iconic White Cliffs and into Dover’s recently developed Western Docks, Spirit of Discovery’s British arrival marks the start of a new chapter for cruising in the UK. 

With HRH The Duchess of Cornwall as her ‘Godmother’, Spirit of Discovery’s Naming Ceremony on the 5th July will mark the start of a significant new era for the Saga Cruise division, which is the only remaining major British independent,  British registered, cruise company.  Best Small Cruise Company winner at the British Travel Awards 2019, Saga’s Spirit of Discovery will be the only ship built and delivered exclusively for the British market this year, and  the company is determined to build on its success in this steadily growing and lucrative cruise market.

Spirit of Discovery’s sister ship, Spirit of Adventure is due to arrive in summer 2020, marking the realisation of a £600 million+ investment in both ships. This will spearhead Saga’s role not only as the British company creating and driving the distinctly British boutique cruise market, but also as the champions of discovery based travel for this  market. 

To create the proposition, Saga commissioned extensive research with both current and potential future customers, and the overriding feedback was that they didn’t want the much larger cruise ships that competitors are now creating. Many cruise customers want a refined, luxury experience, a return to an original ‘romance of travel’ and cruise experience, but with a modern twist, this is what Saga terms, Boutique Cruising.  They also want a distinctly British experience, and to be challenged both on board and ashore as they sail around the globe.  

As a result, the architectural and interior design for the 999 passenger, 523 crew, Spirit of Discovery has been created by London-based agency SMC who have taken the ultimate in London-based boutique hotels as their influence. Key features of the new ship include a wraparound promenade deck (removed from nearly all new design ships), an above water spa, ‘The Club’ – a dining and music venue in collaboration with Jools Holland, a private balcony for every cabin and, uniquely, 20% of cabins have been luxuriously designed for single occupancy (typically ships have only 5% and often these cabins do not have a view.)

A major commitment has been made to British contemporary art with almost 400 original pieces of British art amongst the over 1,000 total artworks,  all of which have been created by British based artists. Names include established artists such as Helen Amy Murray, Evelyn Binns and David Harber as well as some really exciting and unique up and coming talent.

A host of independent British suppliers including Hush Heath wine producers of Kent,  Shepherd Neame, Britain’s oldest Brewery based in Faversham, Kent, Donald Russell British Lamb and River Test Trout and Salmon from the Severn & Wye smokery, have been confirmed as providers for the pioneering boutique cruise vessel.  In addition 60% of the cheeses onboard are from British farms from the coast of Devon to the tip of Scotland.

Saga cruises are only marketed in the UK and are designed for the British market. They have an enviable repeat customer rate and opportunities are significant given that this market is one of the most affluent and influential in the UK. In 2018, the UK’s over 50s totalled 24.9m,  representing close to 40% of the entire UK population, as well as holding 75% of the UK’s household wealth.  The growth of this crucial demographic is expected to continue and is predicted to  be c.30m by 2044. The pursuit of a more active lifestyle continues to be a key trend with  54% of the UK’s total expenditure on leisure, culture, food, recreation and health made by this demographic.

With the launch of Spirit of Discovery, and as part of the ‘boutique’ experience, guests can also enjoy Saga’s new concierge service ‘Explore Ashore’.  Each voyage will have an on-board team of experts who are knowledgeable about every port and will be ready to organise individual and small group excursions and activities so that guests can experience exactly what they wish to in each port.

Image credits: Christopher Ison

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Posted in Cruise News, Saga Cruises

British Quayside Garden Party Planned For The Royal Naming Ceremony Of Saga’s Spirit Of Discovery

Spirit of Discovery’s Naming Ceremony will see 500 invited guests joining HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, the Saga management team, crew and employees to pay homage to one of the great British traditions of summer,  a contemporary Garden Party. The extensive Afternoon Tea will be prepared by Saga’s celebrity chef Kevin Woodford working with Selwyn Stoby, the former Executive Pastry Chef at Buckingham Palace and Paul Gayler, the former Executive Chef of the Lanesborough Hotel.

The Port of Dover quayside will be transformed, with grass grown in Yorkshire. There will be traditional bunting and table settings, stunning foliage, florals, trees and parasols. Guests will be served Spirit of Discovery sparkling wine, specially blended by Kent vineyard Hush Heath for the ship, and Anno Kent Gin, from nearby Marden.

The celebration cake, a two metre long replica of Spirit of Discovery, will be designed and made by Mark Tilling, winner of Bake Off Crème de la Crème, and cut by The Duchess of Cornwall. During the official naming ceremony, guests will be entertained by The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Collingwood and the Morrison Orpheus Choir and the ship will be blessed by The Right Reverend Trevor Willmott, Bishop of Dover, before being christened by The Duchess of Cornwall with a Jeroboam of the specially-created Hush Heath Spirit of Discovery English sparkling wine.

Saga confirmed that it has now taken ownership of Spirit of Discovery, the first of two British boutique cruise ships they commissioned from world-leading shipbuilders Meyer Werft.  Robin Shaw, CEO, Saga Travel signed the official documents with Meyer Werft’s Managing Director, Tim Meyer, marking the formal handover.

Following her ‘First Arrival’, on 28th June, Spirit of Discovery will become the first cruise ship to be named at the Port of Dover for over a decade, and the first to be docked at Berth 4 in the recently developed £250m Dover Western Docks Revival.

Before the afternoon’s formal proceedings, The Duchess of Cornwall will be given a tour of the ship, which epitomises the best of British contemporary boutique hotel style and elegance. Her Royal Highness will view some of the 1,000 artworks on board, many of which have been created by artists working in Britain, as well as the suites named after the Radio 4 Shipping Forecast.  The Duchess of Cornwall will meet Captain Burgess and his officers and crew as she tours the impressive new British boutique hotel at sea.

Saga has already shown its firm commitment to Britain as Spirit of Discovery has been registered in the UK and will proudly display London as her port of registry on her stern.  The ship will sail 999 guests around the world, flying the Red Ensign, and her sister ship, Spirit of Adventure, will also fly the Red Ensign when she launches in August 2020.  The arrival of Spirit of Adventure next year will mark the realisation of a £600million+ investment in both ships, underlining Saga’s position as the British company creating distinctly British boutique cruising.

The inaugural cruise of Spirit of Discovery, A British First, will depart from Dover on 10th July and sail around the British Isles

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Emerging Canada Aboard Saga Sapphire: Corner Brook, Sydney And Halifax

I had a short morning tour in Corner Brook that was simply titled ‘Corner Brook City Highlights’. It was a relatively small place, so the tour was only 2 hours in duration, but it suited me. There’s nothing worse than a tour being dragged out for longer than it need be, so I was off down the gangway and onto the awaiting school bus.

We admired the stunning view across the Bay of Island’s from Captain Cook’s Lookout. In 1767, he surveyed the Bay of Island’s and was the first one to map the area. We also stopped at ‘The Old Man in the Mountain’, so called because according to local legend, the Spanish buried treasured on Shellbird Island, and if you look closely, you can see the face of an old man within the rock foundation overlooking the island. I couldn’t see it to begin with, but I got there eventually. Can you see it in the image below?

Several other stops were included, but I think my favourite was at Marble Mountain, where you will find the Heritage Tree. This incredible monument is a 52-foot, four-foot-six-inch wide pole weighing a whopping nine tonnes. It was fantastic, and features many carvings depicting Newfoundland’s history from the arrival of the Viking’s in 999AD right up to modern times. The carvings feature puffins, stamps, icebergs, Churchill Falls, ships, Signal Hill, a Newfoundland 20 cent coin and much more.

Once the tour had finished, I returned to the ship and then went ashore in search of a take-away restaurant called Louis Gee’s. I spotted it on the way into town from the shuttle bus and was soon filling my face. Of course, it had to be poutine, and although not as nice as the dish I had in Montreal, I enjoyed it. The restaurant was hugely busy, and most people were buying pizza slices which also looked delicious. There really wasn’t much else to do here, so I made my way home – at a slower pace than before I’d eaten – and enjoyed my afternoon lounging around onboard.

The following morning we arrived in the port of Sydney, Nova Scotia. We had been due to dock there earlier in the cruise, but bad weather had forced us on, so it was second time lucky. I had originally booked the ‘A Day in 18th Century Louisbourg’ tour, but because our date of arrival changed, which then meant our duration changed, the length of the tour had also been cut. I decided to cancel it and instead do my own thing. I didn’t want to feel rushed. Lunch was also included and I knew that would mean less time to explore the fortress.

I left the ship around 10am and enjoyed a leisurely walk along the boardwalk, dodging the hundreds of kids as I went – they were having a morning mini marathon. The boardwalk stroll surprisingly made for great photo opportunities of Saga Sapphire and I was quite content just taking the day in my stride. You can only walk to a certain point, so when I reached it, I turned back and made my way up to street level. I wandered through town for a while, although there wasn’t a great deal going on, and then I unhurriedly made my way back towards Sapphire. It was another relatively small port, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I really do enjoyed days that are leisurely in port just as much as the hectic ones. By the time I was back at the port, the sun was shining and it was warm. As Saga Sapphire geared up her engines and pushed us off the berth, I sat back with a drink in hand as we sailed beneath warm air and on to our final Canadian port, Halifax.

I opened the cabin curtains and was met with fog, pouring rain and howling wind, not what I’d wanted to see for our arrival in Halifax, but there’s not a single thing anyone can do about the weather.

Peggy’s Cove and a coastal drive were on my morning agenda and shortly after docking, I was on the coach and heading for the above. Honestly, it wasn’t the most pleasurable experience in the pouring rain and wind, but it was a beautiful place. I could imagine on a dry and sunny day it would be a hive of activity with people exploring the rock formations, enjoying a picnic, and experimenting with the endless photo opportunities that could be had here. It’s a small fishing village, home to around 40 people, and sits on top of a solid stone inlet. It’s also home to Peggy’s Point Lighthouse, one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world.

On the drive back to the ship, we went through an area called Glen Margaret, which is home to a local artist and storyteller named Ivan Frazer. Our guide had mentioned that on warmer days, the man himself could often be seen in the garden, waving at passing visitors, and as luck would have it, even though it was lashing down with rain, there he was, exactly where our guide had said he’d usually be. He ran from the front door and the coach slowed down enough for us to see him waving. He then picked up a rather large anchor and started waving that at us. Ivan opened up his home many years ago as a museum and welcomes visitors for daily tours, where you can learn more about him, his life and the famous Peggy.

My plan for the afternoon had been to visit the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, to see the Titanic exhibition, and to then get a cab to Fairview Lawn Cemetery to visit the graves of 121 people that perished in the early hours of April 15, 1912 when Titanic sank. Sadly, the weather was not on my side at all and I couldn’t get a definite answer as to whether the cemetery was open or not, as it was a Sunday. It had been one of the things I wanted to see on this cruise above all else, but it wasn’t meant to be. I accepted that and was happy that I could at least make it to the museum.

It was a modest fee of $9.55 to enter (approx. £5.60) and I ensured my first stop was the Titanic exhibit. I didn’t have much time, it was almost 1pm when I arrived at the museum and the last shuttle bus back to the ship was at 3pm.

The exhibit is on the second floor and features the largest collection of Titanic artefacts in the world, including a chopping board, deck chair, a balustrade from the D Deck landing on the forward staircase, a section from the ships’ grand staircase, a lifejacket fragment reportedly worn by John Jacob Astor, and a wooden cabinet.

There are also a few items on display from those that were lost on that terrible night and they included a pair of leather gloves that were recovered from the body of Charles Hays, President of the Grand Trunk Railway. His body was the first to be recovered by Minia after she arrived in the disaster area. He’s buried in Montreal’s Mount Royal Cemetery.

Another very sad sight was that of a tiny pair of shoes that had belonged to the “Unknown Child”. For more than 100 years, the little boy was unknown, but in 2010, scientific studies revealed him to be 19-month-old Sidney Leslie Goodwin of Wiltshire, England. He was the youngest of a family of eight that were travelling on Titanic. All perished and his was the only body recovered. He’s buried in the Fairview Lawn Cemetery. His body was found by the Mackay-Bennett and it was the sailors aboard this vessel that paid for his monument. They also buried him with a copper pendant that read “Our Babe”.

It was a very moving visit. I don’t know how anyone could walk through the exhibit and not feel a great sense of sadness. If you’re ever in Halifax, you should add this to your list of things to see and do.

I did also manage to take a quick look at the Cunard exhibition before leaving, but it was much smaller than I’d expected it to be. Of course, Samuel Cunard was born in Halifax, so only fitting that he would have an exhibition of some sort. I liked the wheel from Aquitania, which had been presented to the city of Halifax by Cunard Line in 1950 because of the ship’s long association with the port.

We sailed from soggy Halifax and made our way back out into the fog coated ocean and, believe it or not, I didn’t see the sea again for 3 days! It was fun, minus the fog horn going every minute, and reminded us we were on a ship. I snapped the below photo as we were leaving Halifax, you can just see land in the background if you look closely, but after 10 minutes or so, we could see absolutely nothing.

Saga Sapphire was now heading back across the North Atlantic towards Ponta Delgada and ultimately, Dover…

You can also read about my Canada journey over at World of Cruising.

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Celebrity Equinox Transformed By The CELEBRITY REVOLUTION

The newly modernised Celebrity Equinox is revolutionising the way travellers experience the beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean. The dramatic transformation — part of THE CELEBRITY REVOLUTION — makes Celebrity Equinox the third ship to be “revolutionised” as part of Celebrity Cruises’ $500 million investment in ship-wide upgrades and breath-taking reimagined spaces, taking the brand’s fleet to the Edge.

On the transformed Celebrity Equinox, Caribbean cruisers enjoy enhancements that include:

  • The addition of The Retreat for suite guests, including The Retreat Sundeck, an exclusive sun-soaked hideaway, and The Retreat Lounge (formerly Michael’s Club)
  • The awe-inspiring Qsine (formerly Silk Harvest) will feature both the brand-exclusive Le Petit ChefTM and Friends and the original Le Petit ChefTM, two amazing dining experiences developed in partnership with TableMationTM and SkullmappingTM that bring the tabletop to life using innovative 4k technology
  • A completely reimagined Passport Bar, perfect for mixing and mingling before and after dinner

  • An exciting new creation, Craft Social (formerly Gastrobar), a casual spot featuring more than 40 craft beers, wine and cocktails on tap, mouthwatering comfort food favorites, flat-screen TVs, and inviting leather seating
  • Refreshed staterooms and suites ship-wide with stunning enhancements designed with guest comfort in mind, now all featuring Celebrity’s exclusive eXhale bedding collection with luxurious king-sized Cashmere mattresses
  • The launch of an exciting new partnership with the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, featuring S.T.E.M.-focused activations and unique, first-at-sea programming offered as part of the popular Camp at Sea for young cruisers
    • The interactive programming focuses on two science topics – one on the identification of and solutions related to microplastics and another on the importance and diversity of plankton to the Earth’s oceans and the environment
  • Impressive digital enhancements across the ship, such as the addition of RFID lock technology and pervasive Xcelerate Wi-Fi
    • Guests will also now be able to experience the brand’s industry-first facial recognition technology with the implementation of the Celebrity Cruises app, which enables smooth port arrival and expedited boarding, plus additional features including guest-to-guest chat and digital room keys
  • Unique new treatments and products offered at The Spa by Canyon Ranch, including three new Signature Couples’ treatments, Dyson Supersonic blow-outs at the Canyon Ranch Blow-Out Bar, Mink and Rapid Lash services, and new customized facials by Reveal Machine, among others
  • World-class retail offerings, including John Hardy Boutique, Kate Spade, and a new watch boutique featuring Shinola, Hublot and other Swiss watch brands

Celebrity Equinox is just the third revolutionary revitalisation for the brand. Celebrity Silhouette is next, scheduled for completion on 31st January 2020, with five more ships to be modernised by 2023.

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Emerging Canada Aboard Saga Sapphire: Montréal And Quebec City

We arrived in Montreal on the morning of May 26th and I was soon ashore, beginning my private tour courtesy of Tourisme Montréal. My guide’s name was Rene and he met me promptly in the terminal building at 9:30am.

We were soon on our way out of the port and into the Old Town. We quite literally went all over the city, but one place I really wanted to explore was Saint-Laurent Blvd.. So, off we went to see some of the giant mural street art paintings that are part of a larger festival held here. I found several on our drive and they were hugely impressive, especially the giant image of Leonard Cohen which adorned one side of a building.

After taking some snaps of the artwork, we made our way towards Le Village, one of the largest gay areas in all of North America. There are more than 100,000 coloured balls tied above the street and it was certainly an impressive sight to see, especially from above, as we crossed the bridge and made our way to the small island where the Grand Prix is held. We drove around here for a few minutes, even spotting a small fox, before driving back into the main city via Habitat 67.

This housing complex is rather impressive, and it was designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. It was conceived as his master’s thesis in architecture and then built as a pavilion for Expo 67. It’s considered an architectural landmark and in 2017, Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp for the 50th anniversary of Expo 67 featuring Habitat 67. Honestly, I couldn’t decide if I liked it or not. Apparently, the pods, as they call them, are quite expensive and people often buy 2 or 3 to make their living space larger.

Downtown was our next stop and what a contrast it was to the Old Town. Lots of skyscrapers, more impressive artwork and a much busier vibe. I liked the contrast and it was nice to see the two very different sides to the city. In Montreal, by law, no building can be taller than Mount Royal. This is to preserve the aesthetic predominance of the ‘mountain’. The downtown area is home to Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, The Bell Centre and more. It’s also where you’ll find the world’s largest underground city, with indoor access to over 1,600 shops, restaurants, offices, businesses, museums and universities, as well as metro stations, train stations, bus terminals, and tunnels that extend all over downtown. Essentially, in the bitterly cold winter months, you can spend most of your day underground and hidden from the harsh environment above. It’s pretty remarkable.

Lunch was at La Banquise and it was my first authentic poutine experience. For those of you that don’t know, poutine is fries with gravy and cheese curds. It was delicious and you could add various other toppings, including smoked meat, hot dogs, peppers and onions, but I went for the traditional offering. The cheese had an odd texture, it squeaked when you chewed it. It’s not for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. This restaurant is open 24 hours and I’d highly recommend it. It was busy when I arrived, but by the time I left the queue was out the door. La Banquise is near La Fontaine Park on Rachel Street East.

In the afternoon, I visited the Observatoire at Place Ville Marie. I’d read about it before leaving on the cruise and although I’m terrified of heights, I decided it had to be done. The views were incredible, 360 degrees across the city. In fact, from one side, we could see the state of New York. I’d absolutely suggest doing this if you’re ever in Montreal. There are numerous information points on the observation deck, and you can also have an audio guide, so you can learn about some of the history of this incredible city whilst taking in the panoramic views. I’d mentioned St Lawrence Blvd. earlier and this is the city’s physical division between the French-speaking East and the English-speaking West, which can be seen from the tower.

I had planned to return to the Observatoire in the evening, but instead opted to go on a long walk through the city. I walked for around 45 minutes to an hour towards the east. I was trying to explore more at ground level and with the option to go off in any direction that seemed interesting, we had all night in port after all, so why waste the opportunity. I stopped for a drink before walking back to the port, again through various little quaint streets and alleyways, before arriving back to the welcome sight of ‘home’.

On our second day in Montreal, I made my way to the Notre-Dame Basilica, which was virtually opposite the ship. I arrived just before 10am and queued for no more than 5 minutes before paying $8 for my ticket and entering what I can only describe as one of the most incredible pieces of architecture, inside and out, that I’ve ever been lucky enough to enjoy. It was magnificent. It was quite busy, but not to the point where you couldn’t get moved or have a chance to take a few nice photographs and sit for a while to simply admire what was around you. The basilica was built between 1824 and 1829 and it truly is a masterpiece piece of Gothic Revival architecture. The basilica’s interior, which is reminiscent of Paris’s Sainte Chapelle, is the work of architect Victor Bourgeau.

The basilica is just incredible, but aside from the marvellous altar and the magnificent stained glass, the pulpit really grabbed my attention. It too was designed by Victor Bourgeau, during renovations in the 1870’s, and it was then carved by sculptor Louis-Phillippe Hebert. It was one of the most intricate carvings I’ve ever seen.

Saga Sapphire sailed from Montreal slightly later than planned and we were soon heading back into the St Lawrence and towards our next port of call, Quebec City. For more information on things to see and do in Montréal, visit the official Tourisme Montréal website.

Our arrival began my day of tours and it was also my birthday, so I was very excited to get out and explore. I went out on deck before starting my first tour of the day and there in front of me was the stunning sight of the Chateau de Frontenac. I’d always wanted to see this hotel and had done so briefly as we’d passed on our way to Montreal but waking up to it was something else. It’s incredibly dominating.

My first tour of the day was to Sainte Anne de Beaupre and Montmorency Falls. To be entirely honest, I’d only booked this tour to see the falls, I do like to visit various places of religious interest on my travels and I seem to have developed a slight obsession with stained glass windows, but having just seen the Notre-Dame Basilica, I wasn’t expecting it to be as interesting. How wrong I was. We had a scenic drive before arriving at the basilica and from the outside it was visually pleasing, but what awaited us inside was another outstanding example of workmanship. It was beautiful, and yet again, I found myself utterly mesmerised by the wooden and stone sculptures, paintings, mosaics, more than 200 stained glass windows and everything else that my eyes were trying to digest. This renowned pilgrimage site, as you’ve probably guessed, is dedicated to Sainte-Anne, the grandmother of Jesus.

We left the basilica and made our way towards Montmorency Falls. I had hoped we’d make a stop at the foot of the waterfall, but sadly our tour only included a visit to the top viewing platform, however it was very exciting and I’d managed to take a face-on photo a few days earlier as we’d passed on our way to Montreal. The falls cascade down a 272-foot cliff and into the shore of the St Lawrence River. They’re also 30m taller than Niagara Falls, which I didn’t know and was quite surprised to learn. It was a pleasant area to walk around, as well as enjoy the mighty power of the water. There were several walking trails, viewing platforms, a small park and a restaurant, and a gift shop.

I rushed back to the ship and just had time to grab a quick sandwich before leaving on my second tour of the day. This was just a short 2-hour trip around the city and up to Chateau de Frontenac. After some hectic days and a lot of walking on other trips, I was quite content enjoying the ride up rather than having to walk it.

The area around the Chateau Frontenac is very pleasant, and there are several bars and restaurants where you could relax and watch the world go by. We didn’t have much free time, so once ‘released’ from the bus, I moved at lightning speed along the gorgeous boardwalk and took several photos of the buildings and, of course, Saga Sapphire. It was a warm and sunny day, and the views from the boardwalk across the lower half of the city were gorgeous.


After 2 hours onboard to change and recharge batteries, I was back on the gangway and heading out for my third and final tour of the day. It was Sugar Shack time! I’d booked this because it was something different and sounded like it would be a lot of fun. It only took 25 minutes to get from the port, but we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, it was a rustic and rural getaway. We had hoped to spot a bear, but sadly they were hiding from us.

The evening began with live music and food. We had bean soup to start which was then followed with potatoes, beans, pork, chicken, coleslaw, meat pie and more. It wasn’t Saga food, that’s for sure, but it was exactly as I’d expected it to be and I was loving it. The gentleman providing the music was great fun and several passengers did get up to have a little jig. For dessert we were served crepes and apple pie and I promptly covered both in maple syrup. It was warm, sweet, fruity and crunchy. I was in heaven.

We enjoyed more music before being shown to another building to make our own ice maple taffy. Hot maple syrup is poured over ice and you then grab a lolly stick and roll the maple onto it, thus forming an ice maple taffy lolly. My God, it was possibly the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. The warm taffy mixing with the ice was just incredible, a true taste sensation. Had it not been so bad for me (as in a sugar overload), I would have asked to make another. I thought it best, though, that I returned to the ship without bouncing off the decks.

Before leaving, we were given a short explanation on how the maple syrup is gathered. Firstly, the tree must be between 45 and 50 years old before it is tapped. To tap the tree, a hole is made in the trunk and then a small tube inserted, this then sits over the top of a bucket and that’s how the syrup is collected. Any one tree can only be tapped a maximum of 5 times per year, otherwise it could become sick, or worse, it could die.

Our next ports would be Corner Brook, Sydney and Halifax…


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Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ Boudicca pays tribute to 250 courageous D-Day veterans, on The Royal British Legion’s historic ‘D-Day 75 Voyage of Remembrance’

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines is proud to have played its part in hosting 250 D-Day veterans – plus their carers and companions – on a poignant pilgrimage around the UK and Normandy, France, on The Royal British Legion’s ‘D-Day 75 Voyage of Remembrance’ aboard Boudicca, from 2nd to 9th June 2019.

Fred. Olsen’s Boudicca – resplendent in The Royal British Legion’s recognisable red poppy décor – set sail from Dover on 2nd June 2019, taking the veterans to Dunkirk, Poole, Portsmouth and Le Havre, where they attended a series of commemorative events to mark the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings on 6th June 1944.

Suffolk-based travel specialists, Arena Travel, partnered with The Royal British Legion on the historic Voyage – with whom they have been an official travel partner since 2013 – and contacted local Suffolk cruise line Fred. Olsen, due to the number of veterans to be transported and the high costs and lack of availability of hotels in and around Normandy.

The ‘D-Day 75 Voyage of Remembrance’ was one of the most poignant and moving journeys that Fred. Olsen’s Boudicca has ever undertaken. In Dover, veterans received a very special send-off, with the ‘40s-themed ‘Swingtime Sweethearts’ performing in the Cruise Terminal, which was decked out with flags and bunting, together with a display of military vehicles greeting veterans as they arrived. Military re-enactors also gave a flavour of the era, and the talented Dover Sea Cadets marched and performed a number of evocative wartime songs.

As the ship sailed out of Dover, veterans received a surprise performance by superstar Sir Rod Stewart – currently on tour around the UK – who sang his iconic seafaring anthem, ‘Sailing’, out on deck. Accompanied by his wife Lady Penny Lancaster – taking exclusive photographs for Hello! magazine – Sir Rod and Lady Penny spent a great deal of time chatting with veterans and learning their stories, as they had for the 70th D-Day anniversary, five years ago.

Following a call at Dunkirk, France – which played an important role during the war – Boudicca continued to Poole, where it became the largest ship ever to call at the Port, on its maiden call. Along the quayside, the Ministry of Defence hosted a series of military-themed events, entertainment and activities, and 40 Commando Royal Marines came on board to display their weaponry to veterans.

The following day, veterans attended the national commemorative events in Portsmouth, where many were able to meet the current Heads of State of the nations that participated in the D-Day operation. President Trump, President Macron, Prince Charles, along with many other leaders, joined the veterans for tea after the official event, and a number of veterans got to meet and shake hands with Prime Minister Theresa May. A 30-minute fly-past and aerial display by the famous RAF Red Arrows followed the event.

Upon departure from Portsmouth, Boudicca was escorted by a Royal Navy frigate, along with four smaller Navy vessels, into the Solent, where a flotilla of Royal Navy vessels and  personnel were waiting to salute the ship – including the Navy’s newest flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, where Prime Minister Theresa May joined them out on deck. The city of Portsmouth also paid its own tribute, waving off the veterans on their way to France with ‘THANK YOU’ spelt out in giant letters on the shore as Boudicca sailed past.

Boudicca then stood off the coast of Ventnor, Isle of Wight before sunset – accompanied by a Royal Navy escort warship – for a sombre ‘Moment of Reflection’ on deck, led by The Royal British Legion’s National President, Lt General James Bashall CB, CBE, before the ship headed for Normandy.

The following day, Boudicca arrived in the French port of La Havre, from where a convoy of 14 coaches, escorted under VIP blue lights by the French Gendarmerie, took the veterans to the Bayeux Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, where they were able to pay tribute to the soldiers who fought and died during the invasion of Normandy and the subsequent advance into France. Here, the Prime Minister, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were able to meet and talk to the veterans personally.

After an overnight stay in Le Havre, veterans had the opportunity to visit the ‘Operation Overlord’ beaches, ‘Sword’, ‘Gold’ and ‘Juno’, as well as Pegasus Bridge, the British Normandy Memorial and the Arromanches Military Museum. Back on board Boudicca, veterans were entertained by the impressive ’40s-themed ‘D-Day Darlings’, runners-up in ‘Britain’s Got Talent’.

A sumptuous Gala Dinner on the final evening, en route to Dover, was the culmination of this commemorative sailing, with a rousing performance by Captain David Cole OBE and The Central Band of The Royal British Legion, and a closing finale by the ‘D-Day Darlings’ and Boudicca Show Company.

During the Voyage, veterans and their companions were treated to a wide range of entertainment on board, from celebrity acts, such as Lance Corporal Richard Jones, the only magician to ever win ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, and Peter Snow, renowned historian, as The Royal British Legion’s Guest Speaker. His son, fellow historian Dan Snow, also broadcast live from Boudicca in Portsmouth, as anchor for ‘The One Show’.

The Royal British Legion’s ‘D-Day 75 Voyage of Remembrance’ was offered free of charge to D-Day veterans and their companions, funded by the UK Government’s LIBOR grant, in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence.

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Posted in Fred Olsen Cruise Lines

Saga Sapphire Emerging Canada: St John’s, Gaspé And Sept-Iles

After 6 days on the open ocean and not seeing any other form of human life for days, land was a welcome sight, but in true Danielle-style, I was heading straight back out to sea on a tour to Puffin Island. We’d finally reached St John’s, Newfoundland.

I’ve visited Norway and Iceland and did several tours in both destinations, in the hope of seeing a puffin, but it never materialised. St John’s was my puffin saviour because they were everywhere, which was good as Witless Bay Reserve is home to the largest puffin colony in North America. They are stunning birds, known as the ‘clowns of the sea’. I can’t say I’m a big fan of birds, but how could anyone not be blown away by the sight of such colourful and fun creatures. I had thought they were far bigger than what they actually are, they’re about the size of a small beer can.

The boat trip across to the reserve also allowed us to get up close to some colossal icebergs! We’d spotted a few from the ship as Saga Sapphire entered port, but these were so much bigger and the colour of blue rushing through them was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it before, it was fascinating. Mother Nature at her finest. Our guide said they had likely made their way down from Greenland.

The tour also included a stop at Signal Hill and the views were breath-taking. We could see across to Cape Spear, which is the most easterly point in North America, and It was here that I met a gorgeous Newfoundland dog named ‘Chief’. He was loving the attention from visitors and leaned in for a selfie with me. I couldn’t refuse him, he was such a loveable dog.

We sailed from St John’s and briefly went off course, Captain Horne was taking us in search of icebergs and my goodness did he find them! They were everywhere. It was completely surreal. Huge mountains of ice were majestically thrusting themselves high out of the water, some glistening white and others dazzling us with their blue hues. It really was magnificent, and I felt hugely privileged to be witnessing something so beautiful.

Because of a low-pressure system directly over Sydney, our itinerary had to be altered slightly. We’d been due to arrive in Sydney on May 22nd but instead, we arrived earlier into Gaspé and then spent the night in port.

Gaspé was very pleasant, but very small. Once the ship was alongside and cleared, I went into town on the shuttle bus. In less than 2 hours I’d explored most of it, but I do like remote ports like Gaspé. Sometimes it’s nice to head ashore under your own steam and see what you find, rather than always having a plan in place.

There were several tours available, including one to Forillon National Park, but I opted out. I had pre-booked a walking tour in the national park, however, it was removed from the list once I was onboard. I did think about rebooking another tour which was similar but decided that it wasn’t meant to be. I enjoyed a leisurely morning onboard the following day, writing this very blog, making more bracelets and doing other glamorous jobs, like washing and ironing.

Saga Sapphire sailed from Gaspé mid-afternoon and began her journey to Sept-Iles, located at the mouth of the Gulf of St Lawrence. This was another port that wasn’t a mainstream tourism destination, but with hectic days ahead of us in Montreal and Quebec, it too was a welcome ‘take it easy’ day.

In the morning, I used the shuttle bus service and made my all-important call to Walmart, I really didn’t have time to do much else because the walk to most places was quite lengthy, the shuttle was only operating every 30 minutes and I had to be back early afternoon for a tour. Still, I enjoyed the ride on the bus to Walmart which went through the Innu community. Did you know they have their own schools, churches and even their own Police. I found it very interesting.

The afternoon was filled with thrill and adventure, as I’d booked myself onto the ‘Archipelago Scenic Zodiac’ tour. I do love a RIB ride! We didn’t quite stick to the scheduled itinerary because we spotted a blue whale within minutes of leaving the pier. It was magnificent. The first time I’d had the pleasure of not only seeing one but being so incredibly close. We floated around it for some time before then heading across to see the hundreds of birds on Corossal Island, one of the most important bird sanctuaries in eastern Canada. That encounter introduced me to razorbills and they’re now my new favourite bird. They look like flying penguins and flap their wings so incredibly fast but never seem to get anywhere. They were very cute and not at all phased by our presence. I also spotted some eider ducks as we left the island. They too are a fairly attractive bird.

We spent the following day at sea, sailing up the St Lawrence River towards Montreal. It was much warmer than it had been in days, and lots of passengers were out on the open decks looking for beluga whales, which several of them did manage to see. i also caught sight, they weren’t too far from the ship, but they don’t really make for great photos as you can’t see much of them. We had land either side of the ship for the duration of the day and it was practically perfect. I even enjoyed my chilli con carne lunch al-fresco while taking in the sights.


Our next ports would be Montreal and Quebec, and my days were action packed in both ports…

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Posted in Saga Cruises, Solo Cruising

Emerging Canada Aboard Saga Sapphire: Westbound Transatlantic Crossing

I’m back on dry land following yet another outstanding cruise aboard Saga Sapphire, and now I’m going to tell you all about it! This will be in several parts, so just sit back, relax and enjoy.

I joined the ship in Dover and was onboard within 15 minutes of arriving at the port. My first stop was at my cabin, a double outside on Deck 9. I opened the door and was greeted with the most beautiful sight, a rather large bed that was covered in fresh white linens and it was screaming my name. I’ve only ever had single beds on previous Saga sailings, so it was a welcome surprise, as was the spacious walk-in shower in the bathroom, as opposed to a shower over the bath. Yes, I was quite content and simply happy to be back aboard one of my favourite ships.

Our first sea day was glorious! The sun was shining, and the air temperature was mild. There was a swift breeze across the open decks, but I wasn’t complaining, I was back at sea! I spent most of the morning chatting with other passengers and watching the fighter jets tearing through the skies above, the noise was incredible, they were so close to the ship and frightened the life out of several people.

As the sea days went on, I started getting involved with other things onboard, including the quizzes, talks and lectures, and some evening entertainment in the Drawing Room. Cooper’s is my favourite bar on Saga Sapphire, but I was almost 2 weeks into the cruise before I spent an evening in there. I know, I could hardly believe it either, but I’d been doing so many other things and chatting with so many people in various public areas throughout the ship.

There really was so much going on during our transatlantic crossing, not a soul on the ship could find themselves bored. There were French classes, craft classes, numerous lectures and gaming activities and, of course, a variety of nightly shows and musical options. The ORCA team were also onboard for this sailing and they could be found on the open decks on most sea days. They spotted numerous birds and marine life, including the common dolphin, sperm whale, curviers beaked whale, fin whale, minke whale and beaked whale. I liked to pop into the Drawing Room every day to see what they’d added to the ‘sighting’ list.

I spent a lot of time down on Deck 2, that’s where the spa area is and the indoor pool. I liked it in there, it was warm (as was the pool), it smelt good and the music was very calming. On rougher days, the water in the pool would be swishing from side-to-side, which made my swim more difficult, and more fun. I’d spend around 30 minutes in the pool and then end my visit with a 20-minute jacuzzi, it was blissful. I’ve always loved swimming, but rarely do I find myself taking a dip, I definitely made up for it on this cruise. I did pop my head in the sauna, steam and Hammam rooms a few times, but they’re not for me, I couldn’t settle. The jacuzzi was definitely my little spa treat.

There were numerous speakers and lecturers onboard the cruise, including Dame Esther Rantzen. She held several talks and I was pleasantly surprised. Honestly, I hadn’t expected to engage with her talks as much as I did, I only went along to her first one to take some photographs and I found myself staying until the end. She was very funny, and I had no idea she’d once been arrested. It was a privilege to have been in her presence, she’s done a lot over the years for various charities and organisations and of course, she founded Childline back in 1986. She is also the founder of The Silver Line, a confidential, free helpline for older people across the UK. The service launched in November 2013 and to date has received more than 2 million calls. It’s there for older people who may be lonely, isolated or feel confused, and most of their calls are received in the evenings and at weekends. I personally think it is a fantastic charity and we need more like it. 

Aside from giving talks, Dame Esther also wrote a short poem about Saga and it went like this…

 ‘My Way’

 And so, the end is near

We’ve nearly crossed

The whole Atlantic

My friends, I start to fear

With fog and ice, we’re like Titanic

But you can trust the crew

Will sail us safely to Canada

Keep calm there’ll be no harm

Sailing with Saga


Yes, there were times

I lost my trust

I ate so much

My corset’s bust

I’ve had such fun this lovely trip

I never want to leave the ship

I’m in the mood

To stay for good

Sailing with Saga

 I don’t know about you, but I’d have been quite happy never leaving the ship. I felt like my heart was being wrenched from my chest when I disembarked yesterday, but now I’m starting to get ahead of myself – back to the begging of the cruise we go!

A lady named Hazel Griffiths was also onboard for this sailing and she’s a fantastic destination speaker. She’s clear, engaging and a fountain of knowledge. I enjoyed several of her talks, as they allowed me more insight into my tours before I’d been on them and, in some cases, they made me realise I’d probably made the wrong decision on some tours to begin with, so I then went along to the Explore Ashore desk and switched to something that was more along the lines of what I was looking for. Hazel also spoke about the general history of the places we were going to visit, so those opting to explore independently could still get some useful tips on things to see and do, and places to go. I really did find the talks helpful and would suggest that if you’re ever travelling on a sailing with Hazel, you do go along and listen to her, you’ll not be disappointed.

As mentioned, there were craft classes held in the mornings and afternoons on most sea days and they were always full. Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything worse than a craft class, it’s really not my thing at all, but before I knew it, I’d signed up to make a Kumihimo bracelet. The Supercrafters – several delightful men and women – holding the classes were brilliant. They were patient with those who were complete beginners and had options adventurous enough for those who were die hard crafters. Those who signed up to join a class could make everything and anything from a table lantern to a piece of stained glass.

I said I couldn’t think of anything worse than a craft class, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time making the bracelet and it wasn’t anywhere near as hard as I’d thought it would be. In fact, I was the first to finish. The classes were all free and in the case of the kumihimo bracelet making, passengers could take the remaining materials in their individual kits away with them, including the Kumihimo disk, and make 2 additional bracelets in their own time. This turned out to be slightly addictive for me and I quickly went back to the class and purchased more materials to make more bracelets. I then started passed them to several crew members as gifts. Since the class, I’ve also now mastered making Kumihimo keyring’s and my next task is to try making them whilst threading in small beads. Yes, that’s me, the non-crafty person.

The ‘Supercraft Cruise’ is the brainchild of Julie Peasgood and she is on a mission to spread the word about how fun, stress-reducing and therapeutic craft classes can be, for men and women! There was a variety of people at each class and they were always full. In my opinion, people enjoyed them so much because of the variation in what they could make – they weren’t just your typical craft classes, they were exciting! I know because that’s the reason I signed up, because it wasn’t just sewing bits of material or painting an object in the middle of the table. Lookout for the Supercrafters! I’m sure they’ll be coming to a ship near you very soon…

Food filled several hours of each day and as it always has been on Saga Sapphire, every dish was a masterpiece. I had fish and chips at the Beach Club, simple sandwiches for lunch, a variety of evening meals in The Verandah and the highlight of any Saga cruise, an outstanding culinary treat in East to West. I’d met several people at the beginning of the cruise, and we were all virtually attached at the hip, we did everything together, but there was one lady in particular whom I spent a lot of time with and her name was Pauline. She was travelling on her own and after telling her how good East to West was, she couldn’t wait to try it for herself, so I booked us a table. We indulged in scallops, prawns and beef, and it was fabulous. I was so full by the time we left, I could barely talk, or breathe for that matter. We both had to skip dessert.

Everyone onboard was getting settled into their daily activities and evening social gatherings, but it wouldn’t be long before we spotted land, and another form of life, after several days crossing the Atlantic Ocean…


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Posted in Saga Cruises, Solo Cruising

A-Rosa River Cruises Releases Renderings Of New ‘E-Motion’ Ship

A-ROSA River Cruises has released the first renderings of its ground-breaking new ship, which is due for delivery in Spring 2021. The vessel will feature onboard technology to reduce the line’s environmental footprint and is designed specifically to appeal to families and multi-generational guests.

New onboard innovations include battery propulsion for sailing emission free into and out of cities, air bubble technology to reduce fuel consumption and a range of family features including large family cabins sleeping up to five people, a children’s pool and a dedicated kids club area.

The ship, which will be built at Concordia Damen Werft shipyard in the Netherlands, will sail primarily on the Northern Rhine, departing from Cologne and calling at Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Bruges and Antwerp. It will be the first river cruise ship on the Rhine to feature four decks.


Sustainability plays a key role in the new design, as A-ROSA looks to lead the way in lowering emissions and help protect the rivers and cities travels through.

The new ship will feature an ‘E-Motion’ concept which allows the ship to switch to battery power when approaching a city and arrive emission-free. Like all other ships in the fleet, the vessel will be equipped with a shore power connection, meaning the battery can be charged overnight and then the ship can also depart the city in the same way.

In addition to the energy-saving and environmental protection measures already in place at A-ROSA, the new ship will also have an optimised hull design and employ ‘DACS’ air-bubble technology – patented by the Damen shipyard – to reduce fuel consumption.


Designed specifically with family and multi-generational holidays in mind from the outset, a ‘family area’ will be created where spacious 28m2 family cabins sleeping up to five people, plus a dedicated kids club area are located. The ship will also feature a separate children’s pool, next to a large swimming pool on the sun deck. Furthermore, the restaurant will have a children’s area where young guests can eat together with their friends if desired.

Offering more personal space for guests than ever before, all double cabins will be 21m2 and offer a larger bathroom, plus a dedicated sleeping area and a living area. In addition, all double cabins will have a large balcony with seating for two people. The ship will also feature a separate suite area with six suites.

There will be an enlarged spa and wellness area with sauna, whirlpool, gym, ice room, heat-bench and various treatment rooms.

Lucia Rowe, managing director of A-ROSA River Cruises UK and Ireland comments: “This new ship really is a prototype on Europe’s rivers and something we haven’t seen before. We want to attract the growing multi-generational sector and encourage a much younger audience to consider river cruising as a family holiday choice. We have taken a tailor-made approach with this ship, building in line with what the river can accommodate and creatively offering more space for more experiences which is what today’s families want.”

A second ship is currently planned for 2023.

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Posted in A-Rosa, Cruise News, River Cruising

Princess Cruises Announces US West Coast Sailings For 2020-2021

Princess Cruises has announced its largest ever west coast deployment for 2020-2021, to destinations including Hawaii, the California coast and Mexico.

The voyages depart from September 2020 to May 2021 and go on sale today.


A range of Hawaii options are open to guests, with roundtrip cruises available from four ports – Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver – and sailings to destinations including Maui, Oahu, Kauai and Hilo.

New for the season are two 16-day cruises from Seattle on Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess. Star Princess (roundtrip Los Angeles), Ruby Princess (roundtrip San Francisco) and Grand Princess (roundtrip Vancouver) will also sail 15-day Hawaii cruises.

Emerald Princess and Star Princess will offer a 28-day Hawaii and Tahiti cruise roundtrip from Los Angeles, featuring visits to Tahiti, Moorea and an overnight stay in Bora Bora, plus Pago Pago and Samoa in addition to the Hawaiian Islands.

During days at sea, guests can experience the Hawaiian and South Pacific cultures onboard with activities including lei-making, ukulele playing, hula dance lessons and Polynesian language classes.

California coast

A variety of voyages along the California coast will be available including seven-day cruises from Los Angeles on the 3,560-guest Royal Princess and seven-day cruises from San Francisco on Ruby Princess and Star Princess. Guests can experience coastal towns and cities including Astoria, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Monterey. A Grand Princess 10-day option from Vancouver also includes stops in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Guests can choose from seven-day Pacific wine country cruises sailing between Los Angeles and Vancouver, which highlight the wine regions along the coast. Shorter, one-to five-day cruises are also available. Royal Princess’ sister ship, Regal Princess, will make her west coast debut with seven-day Pacific wine country cruises to San Francisco, San Diego and Astoria.

On land, Princess Cruises has developed exclusive culinary shore excursions in Santa Barbara, San Diego and Ensenada, as well as trips to the California wine country, visiting local vineyards and winemakers throughout the region.


Royal Princess will offer 25 cruises to the Mexican Riviera from Los Angeles, including seven-day options to destinations such as Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta. Shorter, five-day sailings to Cabo San Lucas are also available with an overnight stay so guests can spend more time in port.

Ruby Princess will be based in San Francisco and depart on three 10-day cruises to the Mexican Riviera from the port of San Francisco including a sailaway under the Golden Gate Bridge. In addition, Emerald Princess and Star Princess will sail on five, 10-day Baja Peninsula & Sea of Cortez voyages, visiting Cabo San Lucas (overnight), La Paz, Loreto and Puerto Vallarta, roundtrip from Los Angeles.

Princess’ ships in Mexico will offer locally-inspired food and drink with menu items such as ceviche, tacos and mole, as well as margaritas and a premium tequila tasting. Meanwhile younger cruisers can enjoy Mexican arts and crafts while learning about the traditions and customs of the places they’ll visit.

Example sailings:

  • Princess Cruises is offering a 15-night Hawaii Islands sailing on Ruby Princess, roundtrip from San Francisco. Departing November 23, 2020 ports of call include Hilo, Honolulu, Kauai (Nawiliwili), Maui (Lahaina) and Ensenada.
  • Princess Cruises is offering a 7-night Classic California Coast sailing on Royal Princess, roundtrip from Los Angeles. Departing October 31, 2020 ports of call include San Francisco, Monterey, San Diego and Ensenada.
  • Princess Cruises is offering a 7-night Mexican Riviera sailing on Royal Princess, roundtrip from Los Angeles. Departing January 9, 2021 ports of call include Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.
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Posted in Cruise News, Princess Cruises
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