A retired Devon farmer and his wife went on their first Saga cruise shortly before Covid sank our holiday plans. They left Southampton around 6pm, amid much rejoicing.
‘After about three hours, I noticed we were heading back in the other direction,’ says the farmer. ‘But it wasn’t until the next morning that the captain explained a passenger had been taken ill and the best course of action was to return to Southampton.’
There was no need to dock; a vessel came to meet the ship and carried the poorly passenger back to shore. ‘What struck me was how it was all so seamless. Most passengers weren’t even aware of what was happening.’
Mark Palmer climbs aboard Saga’s newest ship, Spirit Of Adventure, in Southampton for a cruise around the Norwegian fjords. Above is the Sunnylvsfjorden fjord near the pretty village of Geiranger, which features on his tour
We feel something similar over and over again on our trip to the Norwegian fjords on board Saga’s newest ship, Spirit Of Adventure. It starts with a car and driver showing up at our London home (every passenger is offered this service as long as they live within 250 miles of the embarkation port) and continues with our being whisked through the check-in process at Southampton and then noticing how our bags somehow make it to the cabin before we do.
Competition between cruise firms is intense at the moment. Private transfers is one of Saga’s big selling points, as is the way various excursions are included in the price and travel insurance is built-in. There’s no embarrassing kerfuffle around tipping, either.
The three ‘speciality restaurants’ on board have no added charges. One of these is Amalfi, an Italian; another is Khukuri House, the first Nepalese restaurant at sea. My wife, Joanna, would eat curry every night of the week if she could, so we dine here three times during our nine-night sailing.
Various excursions are included in the price of a Saga cruise, and travel insurance is built-in, Mark reveals
But our favourite is The Supper Club, primarily because — and especially so with the main dining room — the lighting is more subdued. Here, you eat while a jazz band plays unobtrusively.
All Saga cruises start in the UK, which means our first two days are spent at sea, heading north towards Geiranger, a pretty village 200 miles south of Bergen.
It serves as a jumping off point for strenuous activities or, as in our case, a scenic two-hour bus ride, which gives us some idea of the vast area the fjords occupy.
Spirit Of Adventure has the feel of a contemporary hotel, with a faux art deco vibe and splashings of colour. But what you don’t get in a hotel is a programme of events that seems to cover every hour of the day: beginners’ bridge, golf, watercolour classes, carpet bowls, IT seminars, line dancing, a book club, darts competitions. Boredom has no berth on this ship.
Even though it’s October, Mark spies some guests swimming lengths in the outdoor pool (above)
Mark’s favourite restaurant on board is The Supper Club, pictured. ‘Here, you eat while a jazz band plays unobtrusively,’ he reveals
Nor does frostiness. The staff are unfailingly polite and a spirit of congeniality is encouraged among guests; in the main dining room we are repeatedly asked if we’d like a ‘sharing table’ and are embarrassed to repeatedly decline.
We’re struck, too, by the way those on their own are given plenty of opportunities to hobnob with others, including at ‘Solo Travellers’ Socials’ most nights. And more than 20 per cent of the cabins are held for single bookings.
Even though it’s October, some are swimming lengths in the outdoor pool, while others repair to the super-swanky spa, with its hydrotherapy pool, sauna and steam room. Here, Joanna has a top-notch facial and I enjoy an hour’s massage that stretches to a wonderfully relaxing 90 minutes.
This sets me up nicely for a ride the next day on the Loen Skylift at Olden — the world’s steepest cablecar — followed by a ramble in champagne air along gravel paths, with sensational views over snow-capped mountains and down into the inky-blue water of the fjords.
Mark enjoys an hour’s massage that stretches to a ‘wonderfully relaxing’ 90 minutes at the ‘super-swanky’ spa
Mark’s final stop is Stavanger, the oil capital of Norway. Above are painted wooden cottages in the city
Mark travelled with Saga on its nine-night Majestic Fjordland itinerary. Saga’s all-inclusive cruises to the Norwegian fjords start from £2,025 pp based on two sharing (saga.co.uk/cruises).
I bump into the Croatian captain one morning and ask him if special skills are required for navigating the fjords at night. He tells me that at various points he picks up local ‘pilots’, whose expert knowledge of the region is required by law.
‘But I’m in charge,’ he says.
Arriving in Maloy, on the island of Vagsoy, just as dawn breaks is special. The white clapperboard houses, offset by a few traditional crimson ones, cling to a hill topped by granite.
This is remote Norway at its cinematic best, with ‘some of the worst weather in Europe’, says our perky guide on the tour bus.
We admire the famous Kannesteinen rock in Oppedal, which over centuries of often brutal weather has assumed a fabulously delicate mushroom shape.
Our final stop is Stavanger, the oil capital of Norway. We dock in the old town, dangerously close to a market — and Joanna is off.
‘Shopping is the one thing that’s not included,’ I tell her. But it’s too late. ‘We need some reminders of our happy cruise,’ she says. And it seems churlish to disagree.