Try to imagine watching an extended family of 1,000 people get together again after 18 months, combined with the excitement of boarding a new ship — and you have the electric atmosphere of Spirit of Adventure’s inaugural sailing.
To be honest, nobody is much bothered about the band on the Port of Tilbury’s quayside in Essex belting out A Life On The Ocean Wave or the blasts of confetti marking the sail-away.
Most of us are heading to the bar and restaurants to meet friends.
The Daily Mail’s Lesley Bellew joined Spirit of Adventure’s inaugural sailing. She said the atmosphere was ‘electric’
‘This sophisticated vessel cost £344 million to build and the quality shows,’ writes Lesley
Pictured is Lesley enjoying dinner in Amalfi on Spirit of Adventure
This 15-night anti-clockwise circumnavigation of the British Isles is the longest cruise to depart from the UK since the restart of sailing — and it feels more like a reunion, with 70 per cent of guests being repeat customers and more than half the crew returners.
It’s heartwarming to watch this huge Saga family pick up where they left off before the pandemic, which saw the over-50s company become the first travel firm to insist that customers should be double-jabbed.
Captain Kim Tanner and his crew are at the gangway to greet guests boarding the 999-passenger ship that has classic lines with an interior design swaggering with decadence.
After several date changes to the inaugural cruise and almost a year and a half of seeing the cruise industry linked to a string of Covid outbreaks, Captain Tanner, 39, is visibly thrilled.
‘Seeing everyone exploring the decks, so many with beaming smiles, filling our rooms with chatter and laughter, has finally given the ship soul,’ he says.
This sophisticated vessel cost £344 million to build and the quality shows. Every public space has sumptuous styling, a distinctive colour palette in each area and deep wool carpets, while each suite and cabin has a balcony, including the 109 single cabins.
Walls are lined with newly-commissioned artworks by British-based artists. From botanicals to landscapes, sculpture and ceramics, they capture the beauty of the natural world, which really adds to the pleasure of being on board, particularly the stair landings where Glasgow design studio Timorous Beasties’ giant flora trail is brimming with signature thistles, blooms, birds and butterflies.
Spirit of Adventure has been built for a mainly British market and passengers’ input has been considered, from comfortable sofas that are not too low to a washing line in the shower and a kettle in the cabin with a large carton of milk.
The library is a central hub, with its own coffee bar, although passengers have to bring their own books at the moment owing to Covid rules, and the crafts area is buzzing with activity.
Each suite and cabin has a balcony, including the 109 single cabins. Pictured is one of the luxury cabins
LIFE ON THE HIGH SEAS IS DIFFERENT
- EMBARKATION: Allotted time slots for boarding and testing. Guests must show proof of travel insurance and NHS Covid-19 vaccinations.
- DINING: Tables farther apart and improved buffet service where passengers choose their meal and chefs then plate up.
- THEATRES: Have a reduced capacity. Sit with friends and family but leave an empty seat between other guests.
- MASKS: To be worn in public areas but not when eating and drinking.
- SOCIAL DISTANCING: Passengers and crew respect one another’s space.
- GOING ASHORE: Only on tours and within a bubble. This rule will relax once it is safe. Coach drivers and guides are Covid-tested.
- GYMS AND SPAS: Book a time slot.
- SWIMMING: Numbers in pools reduced.
- HOT TUBS: Recommendation to share only with friends and family.
- BARS: Drinks have to be ordered from a waiter. No bar stools.
- DANCING: Is allowed in small numbers.
For one couple, this cruise is much more of a personal celebration — and it started with a quiz.
Lynne Heathcote, 67, and Roger Wall, 78, met on Saga’s original small ship Spirit of Adventure in 2010 and four years later their romance led to marriage.
They are on the new Spirit of Adventure to mark their seventh wedding anniversary.
‘Lynn joined our quiz team and we started chatting so I invited her to join us for dinner. We enjoyed each other’s company and on sea days we’d have lunch together,’ says Roger.
Every public space has sumptuous styling, a distinctive colour palette in each area and deep wool carpets
Spirit of Adventure has been built for a mainly British market and passengers’ input has been considered
WHAT’S NEW IN THE WORLD OF CRUISING?
The Government has given the go-ahead for international cruising from Monday — and after a successful summer of sailing in UK waters, cruise lines are ready to re-introduce overseas itineraries.
Fully vaccinated cruise passengers can visit amber-listed countries without having to quarantine on return.
It also means people arriving at UK ports, who have been fully vaccinated in the U.S. or the EU, will not have to quarantine.
All cruise lines have upgraded their health and safety protocols, with most insisting on all adults being double-jabbed as well as taking a lateral flow test before embarkation.
Andy Harmer, Cruise Lines International Association managing director for the UK and Ireland, says: ‘The resumption of international cruising is very good news and follows the successful restart of domestic sailings, so now is an ideal time to book up if you’re looking to start exploring overseas destinations again.
‘Travel agents and cruise lines can advise on the overall onboard experience, as well as conditions for getting back on ships, such as testing requirements.’
Here are some of the new measures:
- On-board testing includes a daily saliva test on Viking Cruises.
- There will be daily temperature tests on TUI’s Marella ships.
- SagaCruises and Marella Cruises have received the top-rated Lloyd’s Stay Safe certification.
- All pre-embarkation testing is free, so no-fly sailings from a UK port to overseas will now be a particular plus, together with designated boarding times for reduced queues.
- With the Foreign Office having advised against cruise ship travel abroad since March last year, it is likely there will now be a huge surge in bookings and deals will soon disappear.
- For further convenience and safety, companies such as MSC charter flights to ports including Barbados, Dubai and the Red Sea, while destinations such as Antarctica, Svalbard and the Russian East will be attractive to travellers wanting to avoid busy parts of the world and revel in the wilderness.
The couple have sailed more than 150 nights and Lynn says: ‘It is the crew who make all the difference. Everyone has been so welcoming and now we feel our love boat story has gone full circle.’
New-to-Saga guests Jacquie and Martin tell me how they are immediately impressed by the classy decor. While drinking coffee on an emerald-green velvet sofa in the atrium and listening to the classical ensemble, Martin says: ‘We really love our cabin and the public spaces are bright and airy.’
In fact, there’s a surprise around every corner, from The Supper Club cabaret restaurant that is as wide as the ship to speciality restaurants including the high-end Italian dining room, Amalfi.
Saga cruises are all-inclusive so that means a chauffeur to and from the port, drinks, use of the cavernous spa and no tips
GRAB THESE GREAT DEALS BEFORE THEY SAIL AWAY
Join Norwegian Jade’s sailing to Crete, Mykonos, Rhodes and Santorini (pictured)
HOT IN ICELAND
Join Borealis’s first international sailing, from Liverpool on August 14, to see the whales, waterfalls and geysers of Iceland.
The nine-night sailing explores the unspoilt Isafjordur and Westfjords as well as the capital Reykjavik.
Details: From £1,599 pp (fredolsencruises.com, 0800 787 0733).
Join Norwegian Jade’s sailing to Crete, Mykonos, Rhodes and Santorini with long days in port to make the most of the sunshine — depart on September 26.
You can upgrade for £99 pp to have an open bar, wifi, tours and speciality dining package.
Details: From £722 pp (iglucruise.com, 020 3733 5305)
There is fun for all the family on MSC Grandiosa’s Mediterranean sailing from Genoa on October 4. Calls include Barcelona, Valencia, Civitavecchia and La Spezia, while on board there are West End-style shows, laser tag games and children’s clubs.
Details: From £459 pp (msccruises.co.uk, 0203 426 3010).
Dive into one of the swimming pools on board MSC Grandiosa
FLOATING BED TO THE MED
Keep it simple with Sky Princess’s No-Fly Mediterranean Adventurer sailing to Spain, France, Italy, Sardinia and Gibraltar. The 14-night round trip departs Southampton on October 21.
Details: From £1,429 pp (rolcruise.co.uk, 0800 204 4660).
Put a Queen Mary 2 festive markets’ cruise at the top of your Christmas list to set sail from Southampton to Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Bruges. The ship will be decorated for the December 10 sailing with a giant Christmas tree and a gingerbread village.
Details: From £599 pp (cunard.com, 0344 338 8641).
Look forward to an Alaskan Autumn on Regent Seven Seas Mariner on September 7, 2022 — a seven-night sailing including flights, a three-night pre-cruise land programme in Vancouver and free shore tours.
Details: From £5,064 pp (panachecruises.com, 0161 513 8200).
Seven-night sailings on the MSC World Europa from Dubai start in December 2022. This ship will be powered by liquefied natural gas, and calls at Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas Island and Doha in Qatar.
Details: From £699 pp (msccruises.co.uk, 0203 426 3010).
SLOW BOAT HOME
Book (very) early for a slow route home from Hong Kong to Southampton on Arcadia’s 35-night sailing on March 9, 2023.
Prices include outward flight with calls to Chan May and Phu My in Vietnam, as well Singapore and Port Klang and Penang in Malaysia.
After that, you stop at Colombo in Sri Lanka, Dubai, Muscat in Oman, Valletta in Malta and Cadiz in Spain.
Details: From £4,479 pp (pocruises.com, 03453 555 111).
On an inaugural sailing, dining experiences can be mixed, but a meal in Khukuri House, the first Nepalese restaurant at sea, was beautifully presented and the service impeccable.
Spirit of Adventure creates a sense of occasion and everyone is in cocktail dresses and tuxedos for the first of three formal nights.
In the Playhouse Theatre, West End singer Kerry Ellis tells her sing-along audience she has ‘never seen so many sequins’.
‘It’s heartwarming to watch this huge Saga family pick up where they left off before the pandemic,’ says Lesley
Guests have to be double-jabbed, and also have a lateral flow test before boarding cruises
Saga offers six UK cruises next month including the six-night ‘Westward to the Isles of Scilly’ on Spirit of Adventure. Depart Tilbury on August 10 with calls to Portsmouth, Falmouth, Isles of Scilly and Portland. Prices from £1,112 pp (saga.co.uk/cruise, 0800 056 9947).
She is emotional to be back on stage and passengers return the warmth, thrilled to enjoy live music again. No wonder everyone’s happy. The sea is calm, the pool is open and drinks are served on the deck. Saga cruises are all-inclusive so that means a chauffeur to and from the port, drinks, use of the cavernous spa and no tips.
Chargeable tours are well-priced, including a visit to Hadrian’s Wall from Newcastle costing £49. Calls into Belfast, Holyhead, Liverpool, the Isles of Scilly, Bristol and Falmouth all feature complimentary tours because protocols mean nobody can leave the ship without being on an excursion.
Guests have to be double-jabbed, and also have a lateral flow test before boarding cruises. Embarkation on this sailing took only 30 minutes at Tilbury’s Windrush Terminal.
Nobody was sent away after the testing, says CEO Saga Cruises Nigel Blanks.
‘We have done everything to ensure passenger safety and continue to review all procedures.
‘On this cruise we have nearly 800 on board instead of the full capacity,’ he adds.
‘A ship is cold without people. I stood on the gangway with a sense of pride and a lump in my throat as we were finally welcoming guests on board.
‘I hope we can soon sail farther afield.’
And if rivers float your boat…
River cruising enjoyed brief renaissances between the first and second lockdowns — but now they are fully resuming across Europe.
To join them, you can either fly, take the ferry or travel on Eurostar. Meanwhile, long-haul is taking off with deals including free business flights and balcony upgrades.
River cruises have introduced similar protocols to ocean cruising, even through they deal with smaller numbers of around 150 guests.
One of the joys of river cruising has always been to hop on and off the ship to walk into cities such as Cologne, Avignon and Amsterdam.
So in the short term, the current requirement to join escorted tours — rather than roam cities at will — restricts the freedom to explore.
MEET A MONK
River cruising enjoyed brief renaissances between the first and second lockdowns — but now they are fully resuming across Europe. Pictured is a river cruise in Budapest
Scenic’s 15-day Jewels of Europe river cruises start on September 20. Sail from Amsterdam to Budapest along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. Highlights include a medieval feast at Marksburg castle and meeting a monk at a Miltenberg monastic brewery. In Vienna, you can listen to a classical concert in Palais Liechtenstein.
Details: From £4,395 pp (scenic.co.uk, 0808 3017599).
Pedal around Phnom Penh on a cycle-rickshaw and see the temple city of Angkor Wat in Cambodia on a 15-day river cruise on Viking Saigon. Its Magnificent Mekong itinerary includes an eight-day cruise and hotel stays in Hanoi, Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City. This fly-cruise departs on December 6.
Details: From £6,895 pp (vikingcruises.co.uk, 0800 458 6900).
PORTS AND PORT
Guests on MS Douro Elegance’s Douro, Porto and Salamanca River Cruise enjoy eight free tours including lunch and a flamenco show on the September 17 sailing from Porto, Portugal.
Castelo Rodrigo and Mateus Palace gardens are also on the itinerary. Plenty of chances to sample a drop of local port along the way on the eight-day trip.
Details: From £2,439 pp (rivieratravel.co.uk, 01283 523 431).
CRUISE AND RAIL
Elegant: Pictured is a luxurious suite on the new river ship SS Venezia, with its Venetian-inspired interiors
Combine the glamour of train travel with a cruise on the new river ship SS Venezia. This 12-day holiday through the Swiss Alps from Zurich to Venice starts with four nights on the Golden Eagle Danube Express followed by a seven-night sailing with visits to a gondola-building shipyard, a private after-hours visit to St Mark’s Basilica and an overnight mooring on the island of Burano. Sailings are in 2022.
Details: From £9,999 pp (uniworld.com, 0808 168 9110).
Save £1,117 pp on Emerald Destiny’s Danube Delights seven-night cruise on August 27, 2022 with calls to Regensburg, Passau, Durnstein, Vienna and Bratislava. The fly-cruise offer also includes an upgrade to a French balcony cabin, free drinks and no tips.
Details: From £2,594 pp (panachecruises.com, 0161 513 8200).
Floriade, the Netherlands’ International Horticultural Expo, is held once every ten years and passengers on MS Serenade’s Dutch Waterways’ sailing can see the garden festival during the cruise starting on April 13, 2022. The sailings last eight days and only require a £49 deposit, with a choice of travel from regional airports, by Eurostar or Channel ferry.
Details: From £1,499 pp (titantravel.co.uk, 0808 239 1194).