Exploring Italy with Saga Cruises aboard the new Spirit of Discovery

Everyone knows what Italy has to offer – or do they? What about the sun-soaked island of Sardinia, resting in clear blue waters off the Tuscany coast? A little over 2 hours from London has you landing at Alghero in the beautiful north west region of Sardinia.

Saga Spirit of DiscoveryIt made the ideal start point for a short voyage with Saga Cruises aboard its new all-balcony, boutique ship.

Named in July 2019 by the Duchess of Cornwall, Spirit of Discovery marks a new era in cruise ships for SAGA. Weighing in at a little under 60,000 gt and carrying under 1,000 passengers makes for a very spacious ship.

Ensconced in cabin B040 on deck 10, a standard twin, boasts an area of 220 sq ft, a large double bed, bedside lights incorporating USB ports, small spot reading lights, dressing table fronted by illuminated mirror, 2 comfortable chairs, large flat screen tv, hairdryer, binoculars, tea making facilities, clothes brush, shoe horn, dressing gown, slippers, cold cabinet, safe –  the list is endless and plug sockets of British style 3 pin so goodbye adapters. Sliding doors conceal large wardrobes, add to these numerous drawers and you have enough room to swallow clothing for a long voyage. A glass sliding door gives access to the glass-fronted balcony ensuring the perfect view from comfortable wicker style chairs, with a matching table to rest drinks on. The well-designed bathroom is stocked with large bottles of quality shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, moisturiser, cleansing hand wash, tablets of soap, glass shower cubicle, large soft towels, tissues and a razor/hair dryer point. Discreetly-placed handles are there to assist the less able. The toilet even sports a soft closing seat and lid.

Cabin B040 - Spirit of DiscoveryPublic areas scream luxury, comfortable chairs and settees, tastefully co-ordinated décor, pastel shades abound. Something that passengers will welcome is the Library, an area of well-stocked bookcases interspersed with comfortable chairs plus an area to enjoy fresh coffee and cakes that are replenished throughout the day.

The Living Room makes an ideal venue for coffee or drinks with friends depending on the time of day, an elegant venue the width of the ship. In Britannia Lounge, you can dance the night away or during the day, relax with a drink taking in the expansive view afforded by floor-to-ceiling glass.

The Lido, bar overlooks the swimming pool, sun-bathing area, comfortable loungers and a stage from where musicians can perform in warm climates. There’s even a self-service ice cream machine with a choice of original or gluten free cones.

The Lido - Spirit of DiscoveryThe Grill is a buffet area where at any mealtime there’s a choice of fruit, salads, meats, fish, carved joints, breads, deserts, ice cream and much, much more, certainly sufficient to satisfy the most discerning stomach.

The Grand Dining Room on Main Deck is waiter service with the exception of breakfast but even then, you only collect the fruit, cereal and cold elements and then order your hot items from the waiting staff.

There are three speciality restaurants: Club by Jools is the home of mouth-watering steaks.  Start with one of the largest shrimp cocktails anywhere, move onto a Tomahawk for two or the traditional New York Striploin, Filet, Sirloin or Rack of Lamb. Vegetarians are also catered for.

Coast to Coast is perfect for succulent seafood, with starters of Arctic tuna, grilled Atlantic scallops and a hotpot of prawns and mussels. Follow this with choices such as Lobster Thermidor, a Seafood Plater or Dover Sole. This is seafood at its best and of course there is a wonderful selection of desserts.

Wonderful cheese selection - Spirit of DiscoveryMy personal favourite of the three speciality restaurants is East to West, offering starters from Japan, Goa and China, mains of Asian-style Surf and Turf, marinated roast Peking Duck, and Himalayan-spiced marinated Loin of Lamb. These spicy flavours from the Orient are sure to set the taste buds dancing. Deserts include Chocolate and Chilli tart with Lychee and Jasmine ice cream.

All restaurants offer a selection of cheese – 10 varieties, a meal in itself – and a choice of red, white or rosé wines.

To be rid of the pounds unavoidably gained, visit the gymnasium, sauna, steam room, spa, hydrotherapy pool or golf nets. Come the evening, The Playhouse, the ship’s large comfortable theatre offers shows, cabaret and other quality entertainment.

ElbaThe next port of call is Piombino on the Italian mainland, from where we embark the ferry to Isla de Elba, one of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean. Just 18 miles in length and 11 miles wide, it is overflowing with picturesque scenery: golden sand and pebble beaches, green rolling pine clad hills, and rich valleys with streams meandering past small villages and farms. The small palm-lined resorts of Marino di Campo and Porto Azzurro, and the fishing village of Marciana all offer welcoming restaurants, bars and cafes. 

Our final call, Civitavecchia, is the port for Rome, that lies just over an hour away by coach. On the ‘Vatican Behind the Scenes’ tour, we enter Vatican City, defended by the Papal Swiss Guard in their uniforms dating back centuries. We visit the Vatican Museum, walk and explore the Popes Gardens, and admire the work of Michaelangelo in the beautiful Sistine Chapel. Next is St Peters Basilica, the largest basilica/church in the world, and we gaze in awe at the vast interior and the exquisite ceiling, the tomb of St. Peter together with tombs of many Popes, side chapels and a main alter that takes your breath away. St Peter's BasilicaAfter all this it’s time to relax, travel the short distance to Peoples Square, and sit with a cup of coffee taking in the atmosphere and scenes before boarding the coach for the journey back along the motorway to the ship.

Spirit of Discovery operates truly ‘all inclusive’ cruises: the price includes transport from your home to the port or airport of departure and return, insurance, gratuities, drinks, wi-fi and speciality restaurants. Built for the 50 plus market, it certainly succeeds.

Alan was a guest of Saga Cruises.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Saga Cruises.

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Alan Fairfax

Travel writer & cruise journalist

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