First-time cruise experience: Scandinavia on Saga Sapphire

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New-to-cruise customer Sheridan McCoid puts her preconceptions to one side and enjoys a relaxing sail around Scandinavia on Saga Sapphire


I’d never been on a cruise. I’d never felt the need and also had a vague sense that it wasn’t for me; that it would feel a bit lazy, a bit over organised. Well, ship ahoy, and consider me converted after my  first brush with life on the ocean wave courtesy of Saga’s On the Trail of the Vikings cruise up into Scandinavia. Turns out it’s a delightful and relaxing way to travel.

The Saga Sapphire is a relatively small ship with 374 cabins over ten passenger decks, so it’s pretty easy to find your way around. Built in 1981, the ship joined Saga in 2012, and features numerous restaurants, two swimming pools, a large drawing room-cum-library, a spacious lounge with dancefloor and other smaller rooms for idling the time away with a book and a cup of tea or cocktail.

To join the cruise, we flew into Aarhus, up on the northeastern coast of Denmark. This is Denmark’s second largest city after Copenhagen, and one that is going places; it’s one of two (the other is Pafos in Cyprus) that has been named European Capital of Culture 2017. The place has a vibrant, youthful feel to it, all set against the backdrop of heritage and history. We packed in a lot during our 24-hour stay, including a visit to the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, which features Your rainbow panorama, a circular coloured glass walkway perched on the top of the building, with 360-degree views of the city.

The next day we joined the ship. First, we settled into our comfortable cabin and then went off for a wander and to get the lie of the land. Well, not the land. I’ve heard that, on some of the newer cruise ships, the focus is always inwards, but here there are views to the sea most of the time, often out to both port and starboard at the same time.

Over the next couple of days we slipped into the relaxed and friendly vibe, sharing tables with other passengers and hearing their stories. I spoke to Melanie from Peterborough who was celebrating her 60th birthday on the cruise, and also Jane and Richard from Ipswich, who had nothing but praise for Saga’s food, cabins and staff. They also told me how, on ex-UK cruises, it’s a relief to bypass the whole airport experience when going away on holiday.

There is also plenty of live music on board and we also sat for hours in the Drawing Room, took part in a general knowledge quiz, browsed the books in the library, fell in love with the blueberry pancakes at breakfast and ate them every morning for the rest of the cruise, listened to a talk in the Britannia Lounge, and generally enjoyed ourselves.

Next stop was Aalborg, where we strolled the streets and drank hot chocolate in the most hygge of cafés. But it was cold and, after a while, the warmth of the ship beckoned us back on board in time for supper.

Somebody once said that life is a series of gaps between meals, which is true, and so the seamless rotation of endlessly delicious food, peppered with tea and coffee stations with cakes and cookies to hand, plus a wonderful afternoon tea every day, sent me to the happiest of places.

The food was superb and plentiful throughout the day. Highlights for me were, as mentioned, the blueberry pancakes, plus a delicious beef teriyaki and a lavender panna cotta. Oh, and an amazing fish pie. And the chocolate tea was a real treat, complete with chocolate fountain and chocolate scones. We certainly did not go hungry.

That evening we set off for a 24-hour sail up to Oslo. Our first full day at sea and time to talk to the other passengers. I spoke to Sheila and Graham, who are both Diamond Members, meaning they have each notched up more than an astonishing 1,000 nights of Saga cruising.

“We’ve only ever cruised with Saga and our first one was to the Caribbean in 2000,” said Sheila. “We were immediately hooked. We’d never really travelled before and we’ve now been to so many places around the world, some of them we would never have dreamed we would see, such as Midway Island in the Pacific, a magical tiny triangle of land in the middle of nowhere and Spitzbergen right up in the Arctic Circle.

“It’s a great life, you can truly relax and we have made so many friends over the years. And we plan to carry on for as long as we can afford to and our health allows.”

We sailed into Oslo the following evening, and as we were leaving the cruise and heading home the following morning, decided to do a quick turn. It was cold and snowy, and under brooding skies we walked as big a circle as we could muster before, yet again, heading back to the warmth of the ship. So I can’t honestly give you my take on Oslo. It’s one to go back to.

Finally, a shout out for the staff. They were, without exception, rather wonderful – friendly, professional, smart and hardworking. And with a ratio of 415 staff to 720 passengers, the whole experience is one of total comfort. Plus, there’s this luxury: VIP car transfer is included in the cost of the cruise, meaning travellers are looked after from door to door and back again.

  • Scandinavian Cities on Saga Sapphire, departing Dover on May 10, 2018. Prices from £1,878 per person. See Directory on p65 for more details

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