Ready at last, Sapphire is a little gem, glowing with fun and surprises

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sapphire.jpgIt’s taken six months, and – thanks to some unexpected delays – a little bit longer. It’s cost £25 million. And from what I saw yesterday, the creation of Saga Sapphire has been worth every minute and every penny.
The vivid blue of her newly-decorated funnel shone out across a grey day in Southampton as passengers arrived at the City Terminal and when they stepped aboard into the deck 7 reception area they were greeted by a spectacular 22-ft high sculpture consisting of a shoal of 1,395 fish.
fishes.jpgDesign duo Scabetti have created a similar work for Rick Stein’s fish restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall. This version, with the silver darlings huddled in a feeding ball, fills the Sapphire’s newly-created three-deck atrium; look carefully and you’ll find one – just one – fish with a bright red eye.
That’s the first of a whole host of quirky features aboard the ship. It seems like the design team have gone out of their way to change the Saga image. Anyone expecting a pipe-and-slippers, deep-cushioned leather armchairs, gentlemen’s club atmosphere is in for a big surprise. This is Saga’s biggest ship to date – a third larger than Saga Ruby, yet carrying only 40 more passengers and with 35 more crew – and it is determinedly different. It’s also the first Saga ship with wi-fi internet access, and passengers can take iPads out on loan.
I had imagined that the name of Cooper’s Bar was linked to barrels, but no, the joke book cushions, the pictures on the walls and the over-sized red fez lampshades leave you in no doubt it’s a tribute to comedian Tommy.
serpent.jpgIMG_8484.jpgcameralamp.jpgsweets.jpgeggchairs.jpgThe deck 11 Drawing Room – which combines the roles of relaxing bar, observation lounge, library and self-service coffee and snack bar – is a veritable gallery of collectables on a grand scale. It’s almost as if a well-heeled and imaginative Saga cruise passenger had assembled the souvenirs from a generation of travelling and put them all on show in the same room.
There’s a fearsome serpent carved from a tree root on one wall, a pair of armchairs whose tapestry covers advertise a Beatles concert at the Town Hall ballroom in Abergavenny, lamps created from vintage cameras and leather boots – you could spend a week in here and find something different every day. Out on deck at the Beach Club, the fish and chip bar is flanked by two little huts; one dispenses ice cream, the other is filled with jars of boiled sweets (allegedly the produce of Mrs McLundie, wife of the Captain).
Passengers were tucking into afternoon tea in the ship’s Britannia Lounge as I explored the ship. Back on deck seven the Pole to Pole restaurant is the main dining room, seating 620. Cleverly segregated into separate sections, themed by the continents, it remains an intimate space, never overpowering. Some corners almost feel like private areas, although they remain open and connected with the rest of the room.
Two decks higher is the 64-seat Asian restaurant, East To West and the 100-seat Grill, which can accommodate another 100 outside on the Verandah – and also features some unusual (and possibly uncomfortable) egg-shaped hanging chairs.
The main restaurants operate on an open-seating basis, although maitre d’hotel Trevor Walford can arrange fixed tables in Pole to Pole for guests who prefer it. The big surprise is that there is no casual buffet venue – all the restaurants provide full waiter service.
Before the refit the ship – originally built as Europa for Hapag-Lloyd and more recently sailing as Bleu de France – had only six balcony cabins. Now it has 65, and a further 58 cabins have been converted for single occupation. Decor is cool and contemporary, decorated with a palette of soothing silvers and golds and a blend of dark and blond woods. All have flat-screen TVs and DVD players (on which to view the Top 50 films available on free loan), and generous bathrooms come with deep baths and gallons of toiletries rather than the mean miniatures available on most ships.
A quick refreshment in the Aviator Bar, a tribute to Biggles and Amelia Earhart, brought my all-too-brief visit to a close, and I departed the ship as passengers were being called to their lifeboat drill. I can’t wait to return to spend more time on Saga Sapphire during a Baltic cruise in June. If you can’t wait to see more of the ship, I’ll have some more pictures on here later today.

By | 2017-06-15T15:59:49+00:00 7 May 2012|Cruise news, Cruise ships, New ships|1 Comment

About the Author:

John Honeywell is a travel writer specialising in cruise ships and cruise travel. Winner of CLIA UK's Contribution to Cruise award 2017.

One Comment

  1. philip 17 May 2012 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    does any one have any real pictures of the cabins on the saga sapphire

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