Please note that this is a personal and honest report of my impressions of the “Saga Sapphire” following a visit of just a few hours – other people may have different opinions.
The following address to my photo album of the visit will show the ship better than I ever could :-
If you click on the first image it will enlarge and display descriptive text. You will then be able to navigate forwards and backwards through the album by clicking on the > and < symbols that will be revealed if you place your computer's cursor on an image. On the 18th April 2017, together with my wife Chris, I attended a day visit to the “Saga Sapphire” cruise ship whilst she was at the Port of Dover, Kent. Saga specialise in holidays for the over 50s and currently operate two cruise ships, the “Saga Sapphire” and the smaller “Saga Pearl II”. A brand new ship is under construction and due to be delivered in the summer of 2019. The “Saga Sapphire” is a fairly old ship having first entered service in 1981 as the “Europa” with the Hapag-Lloyd Line. Her approximately 700 passengers are looked after by a crew of approximately 400, so a very high crew/passenger ratio. We live just 35 – 40 minute drive from Dover and so a day visit to a ship there is very easy for us. When we arrived at the Dock Gates and showed our paperwork we were directed to go and park at the undercover parking facility at Terminal No.1 (this building used to be the railway station for the docks). From here it was just a short undercover walk to the Terminal Check-in hall. After checking in and handing over our passports we were issued ID passes and went up an escalator to a large hall where complimentary coffee/tea and biscuits were served. At 10:20 am we were divided up into several groups and were introduced to our guide. Our group consisted of 13 visitors with guides Tara and Natalie from Saga at Folkestone. We had to pass through the usual cruise security with its X-Ray for bags and cameras etc. and metal detector. Once through security we then walked along a zig-zagging covered walkway that looked rather austere, industrial and uninviting. However, the walkway is owned by the Port Authority and not by Saga. We entered the ship on the port side of deck 7 (close to the Reception Desk) and my first impression was of a traditional ship with mainly dark woodwork, but I like older ships, so was very comfortable with this. There is a large metal sculpture representing a large school of small fish in this area and it runs down to the deck below. I would have preferred to have started our tour on the top deck and then worked our way down through the decks but this may not have been possible to do with so many visitor groups. We went up and down between the decks several times, which made it a little difficult to understand the overall layout of the ship. We visited a variety of cabins and I was very impressed with the size of the cabins, especially the lower grade ones. We often cruise in inside cabins and, despite their age, we would be very happy to cruise on an inside cabin on this ship. The storage room was excellent, with two double wardrobes (one fitted with shelves and a digital safe) and there was additional hanging space in units in the entrance corridor. Each cabin was equipped with a small torch on a bedside table which is an excellent idea (I always take a small torch which I also place on my bedside tables). The flat screen televisions have built in DVD players and films can be borrowed from the Academy on board. The bathrooms were a little disappointing, rather utilitarian looking, but I have little doubt that they would perform efficiently. It was good to see glass panels around the showers, rather than the plastic curtains on so many other ships. The higher grade cabins and suites tended to have padded headboards reaching from the bed to the ceiling and I thought that these made the cabins look rather 1970s. Because of this I actually preferred the look of the lower grade cabins (but this is just a personal view, I am sure other people would disagree). Additionally, with the exception of the very high grade cabins, the bath/shower rooms of all other cabins appeared to be remarkably similar, both in size and décor. The balconies throughout the ship were very narrow, precluding the use of a sunlounger. Familiar 230V UK three pin sockets provide power in the cabins With the exception of the Britannia Lounge (more of which later), we were very impressed with the public areas. The varied seating was very comfortable and had been maintained in very good condition. The Drawing Room Lounge on deck 11 was an excellent venue for watching a sail in or out of port and doors gave access to a viewing deck outside. There was a small dance floor and the lounge is used for trivia quizzes and demonstrations etc. The library in and around this lounge was probably the biggest and most comprehensive that we have ever experienced on a ship and there was also a good selection of magazines and newspapers (where possible) available to the passengers. Also in this room was a self serve coffee/tea machine and a delicious selection of cakes and cookies. The Britannia Lounge on deck 8 is the ships largest lounge and is the venue for the evening shows and other large events. In common with nearly all small and old ships it is not possible to tier the seating because of the (relatively) low ceilings so all chairs are at more or less the same level. The stage itself is slightly elevated, but I suspect that a large number of the audience would have a very poor view of the stage during a show. If a good view was essential to you, you would need to go to the lounge some considerable time before the show. There are several bars dotted about the ship and these were very comfortable and would be an intimate place to meet up with old or new friends. We visited 'Cooper's Bar', a tribute to comedian Tommy Cooper and liked the smallness and intimacy of this bar. It reminded me of a good British pub bar, complete with familiar beers. We didn't get to visit the Academy on deck 4 but we were told that it can be used as a small cinema, showing films on a large screen (for those that prefer the cinema experience). There is a card room on deck 8 and also three shops on this deck, selling essentials, designer goods and watches and jewellery. There are two swimming pools on this ship, an open air one on deck 10 and an indoor pool in the Spa on deck 2. The open air pool would be somewhat sheltered from winds as it is partially enclosed. There is an ice cream booth here and (heaven!) a self serve complimentary confectionary booth stocked with sweets. There is a good selection of comfortable cushioned seating and sun loungers around the pool and also a hot tub (one of four I believe). The indoor pool in the Spa on deck 2 is actually a little bigger than the outdoor pool and is an unusual feature on a small ship. The small gymnasium was well equipped with quality equipment and there is a hairdressers in the Spa which also offered the usual optional spa treatments. The Medical Centre, staffed by a Doctor and at least two Nurses is situated on deck 4 and is well equipped with the necessary equipment (X-Ray machine etc.) to be able to deal with most ailments and accidents. There are five eating choices on the “Saga Sapphire”, none of which command any additional charges. The 'Pole to Pole' Main Dining Room is a very elegant room on deck 7 aft and has open seating for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. We were served a four course lunch here and the food was superb. Complimentary red and white wines are offered with lunches and dinners. Although this restaurant can seat 620 diners it is divided into six separate areas themed on Continents to give a more intimate experience. The second alternative is the less formal 'Grill and Verandah' on deck 9. This restaurant can seat 100 diners but a further 100 can be accommodated on the outdoor Verandah. When weather permits a barbecue can be set up on the Verandah for a real outdoor dining experience. The third option is the 'East to West' Asian inspired restaurant on deck 9 which has just 64 comfortable seats and serving asian inspired meals. Reservations with the Maitre d' are required for this restaurant but there is no addition charge unlike most ships. The fourth option is the Beach Club by the pool, where fish and chips and hot dogs are available at lunchtimes, with ice cream and sweets. The fifth option is room service in the cabins. Meals can be ordered for delivery to the cabins and this is also complimentary. You are not going to be hungry on this ship! Conclusions If you are looking for ultra modern Scandinavian minimalistic design with light woodwork and pastel coloured décor, then this is not the ship for you. She is an old ship but has very roomy if traditionally furnished cabins – Overall, the average size of the 374 cabins is 220 sq. ft., much larger than most other ships. The crew/passenger ratio is very high and, from the limited experience of our day visit, I have no doubts that the service would be excellent if not superb. The public rooms (with the exception of the Britannia Lounge for shows) are excellent and I am sure that I would be very happy on sea days on this ship. My wife Chris would certainly be very happy with the two pools as she is an avid swimmer on our cruises. The additional advantages of cruising with Saga – included gratuities - included travel insurance (if accepted) or a reduction in fare if you have your own insurance – free WiFi throughout the ship – chauffer driven cars to/from the Port or Airport – all combine to give a very impressive package which leads to very strong brand loyalty. There is a self service laundry on the ship although we did not get to visit this facility. Would I consider a cruise on the “Saga Sapphire”in future? Definitely, if the itinerary appealed. However, I personally would probably choose an inside cabin as I liked those we saw and would be very happy with a lower grade cabin. I would not consider that the additional costs of a better grade cabin would, for me, represent good value. After all, once you step outside your door, everything else (food, entertainment and facilities) are the same for all passengers.