After a safe chauffeured-drive from home to Dover we were greeted by a sea fret. The town enveloped in a fine grey mist. But fret we didn’t and as we approached the cruise terminal the sun came out and the familiar welcoming shape of our ship with its distinctive newly painted bright yellow funnel came into view.
As with everything SAGA do, embarkation was painless and efficient. Before I could mutter the words ‘SAGA Pearl II cruise code P2208 Delightful France featuring Honfleur and Caen’, we were on board. Welcome to the happiest ship afloat!
Escorted to your cabin and having hand luggage carried for you does add to the experience. This gorgeous intimate ship had, back in late February 2017 taken us to the top of Norway. And we were rewarded with a cruise culminating in seeing the Aurora Borealis on four consecutive nights. This had been the most successful SAGA cruise ever to see the Northern Lights. Even saying their name still warms the heart and puts a tingle down the spine. Visual Prozac- magnetic particles of pure joy. The trip had been so good that when we heard that Pearl II was leaving service in 2019 we had booked this short 4-day trip to France. One last time to savour small ship cruising. A short cruise is ideal for cruise virgins too. By the end of a trip travellers will know whether or not cruising is for them.
SAGA Pearl II has a snug as a bug feeling, cosy and warm. Sail with her and you get the services of award-winning staff. It is the crew that can make or break a holiday afloat. SAGA always delivers consistently excellent service. 5-star service from 5-star people. Nothing is ever too much trouble and going the extra nautical mile is their mantra. Pearl II is perfectly formed. A maximum of 449 guests are catered for by a crew of 252 – a ratio that puts most cruise lines to shame. 99.6% of holidaymakers rate the ship and cruise as either excellent or good. And the superb experience results in repeat bookings that are almost the best in the business. Complimentary chauffeur driven to and from the port is a winning touch. The holiday begins at your doorstep enabling you to arrive in comfort feeling fully refreshed.
On our last searching for the Northern Lights cruise we were superbly looked after by Head Waiter Vinnie. On our first night aboard, this time he recognised us and made a point of coming over to welcome us back on board. He even remembered our names and which cruise we had been on. Amazing! Throughout the four nights his service was impeccable with great attention to detail and a smile and personality that can melt even the sternest person. Like Vinnie many of the crew have worked for SAGA for many years citing their caring attitude. They feel appreciated and that is nice to know. Keep your staff happy and the rest of the business becomes much easier. Simple.
SAGA doesn’t stand for Send A Grandparent Abroad. True many on board have reached an age where it is impossible to find a malt whisky older than themselves. And OMG now stands for “Oh my gout”. But there are many 50-60-year-olds on board too. My wise lovely nanna Fay used to say 50 is the old age of youth and over 60 the youth of old age. But this melting pot of ages, heights and girths adds to the cruise mix. All on board have one goal – an eagerness to discover the world. Adventure not dementia. Interesting people with equally interesting tales to exchange. Cruising is designed to feed body and soul and this ship is the perfect companion in which to achieve this. Have fun, see the world (well France on this trip) in comfort before there are no more wishes at the wishing well.
Cabin 110 was exactly what we expected from such a first-class company. Spotless, large and beautifully appointed. Light and airy and easily big enough to swing lots of cats. Plenty of wardrobe space and masses of drawers – almost as many as IKEA. Two very comfortable single beds and a double sofa too. A good size TV and DVD player- DVDs can be hired from the excellent library.
I get annoyed with hotels that provide piddling little towels that don’t even cover your confusion. OK for a 6st beanpole but nobody bigger and most people end up larger at the end of a cruise. We were supplied with luxury white soft towels that cover even the fullest of figures. And talking of quality all toiletries are provided by a wonderfully named Distant Shores range. It was nice to have a bath which filled in seconds with piping hot water – no need to wait minutes as you often do on other cruise lines. Dressing gowns and fresh fruit were nice extras too. Randy our cabin steward was excellent. He had been with SAGA for 14 years which again says something good about the company. SAGA – large enough to matter yet small enough still to care.
Food is life and food on board can be summed up in 2 words- always superb. Executive chef John McCerery and his team produced exquisite food, time and time again. Eat as much or as little as you wish. It’s your choice – no pressure. Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, a 5/6 course dinner and canapes late in the evening. Still feeling peckish? Try room service available 24/7. A tip; do expect to put on weight and bring clothes with elasticated waists. Afternoon tea is oh so British. Crustless sandwiches, scones, puddings, and lashings of tea and coffee. A pianist adds to the charm.
Having your cake and eating it is one of life’s greatest pleasures. And there is plenty of cake on board. Pastry chef Ace is so aptly named. His sugar free diabetic friendly pud hit the right spot. So good that I had two. Gluten free? No bother – a great choice daily. Free Wi-Fi and all on board gratuities are included in the price too. As is a good choice of wines with lunch and dinner. Plus, unlimited tea, coffee and fruit juices. No hidden extras!
The obligatory life jacket drill went without incident. Many took the event much too seriously though, arriving in the lounge dressed in winter outfits. Fleeces coats and bob caps! In August? In summer? A dash of orange provided by the life jackets firmly attached. One lady brought her medication along for the walk – in a large carrier bag. Must be on plenty of drugs. She didn’t look ill so maybe the drugs are working? Not sure what she thought might happen in the less than 50 yards from cabin to lifeboat station on a ship sitting on flat as a pancake water firmly secured in Dover’s harbour. But it was fun to watch.
Just before we set sail the clouds moved slowly out of the way and Dover basked in brilliant sunshine. Slightly breezy with crisp and clear air. A glass of bubbly in hand and a chance to meet crew and fellow passengers. An excitable and expectant mood too. What could be better?