A week of laughs and luxury on a cruise to Norway’s fabulous fjords had me hooked…
I admit it was with some trepidation that I embarked the Saga Sapphire cruise ship in Dover – I had heard all the tongue-in-cheek jokes about this travel bastion of the over-50s. But I love an ocean cruise, so I know a good one when I experience it – and this one had me riding along on the crest of a wave.
The staff were the most smiley, efficient and obliging I have ever come across, the food sublime, cabins ultra-comfy, and everyone was there to have fun and see a bit of the world, and we certainly did.
My friend and I joined the good ship Saga Sapphire (720 passengers, 415 officers and crew) in Dover, having been whisked door-to-door by our own chauffeur – which is a big bonus for those who find the ‘getting to and from’ part of a holiday the most stressful. No worries about traffic, parking or lugging heavy suitcases – Saga takes the strain. And no airports either if you take a cruise like this, which leaves from a UK port.
The fabulous fjords
Our destination was the ‘Fabulous Fjords’ of Norway and seven days of relaxation, sightseeing and fun. I could actually feel all the pent-up stresses draining away as we raised a glass of champers to a fun-filled week and sailed serenely out of Dover.
After settling into our cabins, which were kept immaculate throughout by our friendly stewards, it was time for dinner in the Pole to Pole restaurant – the main dining room. The food was excellent, and vastly superior to other well-known cruise lines I’ve sailed with. And so was the restaurant itself – instead of one huge dining area, it was divided into separate rooms and cubicles. It had a really nice feel to it, and the staff were unbelievably efficient. I only had to glance in the direction of a waiter and he was there like a shot.
I loved the entertainment too, and there was plenty of variety. First night we had the ‘Welcome Aboard Show’ led by the dynamic cruise director Jo Boase, and featuring the resident troupe singing and dancing their hearts out. We loved the ship’s pianist Martin Orbidans who hung out in our favourite Cooper’s Bar and had a smooth line in patter that got increasingly fruity as the night wore on. And there was a procession of talent on stage every night, including my favourites, the talented Kenny Martyn, master of clarinet, alto saxophone, banjo and ukulele, and girl band The Rockettes, who had us on our feet dancing – a lot.
One thing that Saga does very well is catering for its single guests. There was a ‘Singles Mingle’ on the first day, attended by all the solo travellers – more than 40. Friendships were quickly made among the ladies, who then had companions for excursions and mealtimes.
Days at sea are a whirlwind of activity – from line dancing, quizzes and carpet bowls to aerobics, bingo, talks and concerts, you are never going to get bored. However, if you just want to chill, then you can curl up in the Drawing Room on Deck 11, where you will find the comfiest sofas, books, computers, free tea, coffee and cake, and, in our case, a great view of the North Sea. We also visited the Spa, where the sauna, steam and whirlpool were just the job.
Apparently the average cruise passenger gains around 7lbs in just a week, and I can believe that. I had to be incredibly disciplined because food features with alarming regularity, is absolutely divine (the Norwegian seafood buffet was amazing), and can be accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol at very reasonable prices. With breakfasts, mid-morning snacks, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and late-night snacks, if you are going to indulge heavily it might be a good idea to do an exercise class or two, visit the gym or make a few circuits of the deck. I stayed off cooked breakfasts, stuck to soup and salad for lunch, and mainly fish dishes for dinner – but it wasn’t easy. The array of cheeses on the lunchtime buffet in The Verandah restaurant was my particular weakness and the pride and joy of French Executive Chef Thierry Cherronet. Even with ‘being good’ I managed to gain a couple of pounds – must have been all the cocktails and wine.
Arriving in Norway
And then there was Norway. The fjords were carved by a massive sheet of ice that covered Northern Europe in a succession of ice ages. As I peered up at the spectacular snow-capped mountains, dotted with immense waterfalls, I could appreciate the immeasurable power of those forces of nature. The scenery held me entranced – I was happy to just sit and watch, mile-after-breathtaking-mile. But, that would have been to miss the excursions that gave a fascinating insight into the country…
in Flam we boarded the famous railway for the 12-mile trip on one of the most scenic train routes in Europe. My camera went into overdrive as we trundled through breathtaking mountain gorges, stopping at the thunderingly dramatic waterfall of Kjosfoss where we were rather amused by the blonde-haired nymph in a red dress, who apparently represented the spirit of the falls, dancing around to very loud music.
We woke the next morning in Skjolden, located at the end of Sognefjord, the world’s longest fjord. This place is so beautiful, so still and peaceful, the air crisp and clear, that I could have stayed forever. The surrounding cliffs rise almost sheer from the water to heights of more than 3000 feet, and we could see Saga Sapphire way below us.
In the afternoon we had a blast on a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) ride along Sognefjord. The young guys in charge got us kitted out in waterproof all-in-ones with hoods, which seemed a bit over-the-top until we actually got out onto the lake where they provided some protection from the freezing wind and spray – but it was lots of fun and probably not the first activity you would think of for the over-50s brigade, so good on you Saga.
The next day we had sadly reached our last port, Bergen, the royal capital. In fact, Queen Sonja was there that day to open the Bergen International Festival, so we got a glimpse of the Norwegian monarch as we wandered around this gorgeous city. We rose very early that morning as we had a highly-coveted invitation from Captain Philip Rentell to join him on the Bridge as Saga Sapphire arrived in Bergen. We felt very privileged to watch the ship being adeptly manoeuvred into dock.
And so concluded our four-day Norwegian odyssey. I loved this trip and the Saga experience, and will certainly travel with them again.
Article written by Denise Barkley and first published in The Oxford Times, August 2015 edition. Excerpt reproduced with permission.