Yesterday was a day at sea, so after a leisurely breakfast our passengers began to think about which of the many activities they would participate in. In the evening the Newcomers’ Cocktail party for our first time Saga Cruisers gave me the chance to have a nice chat and to welcome them to the family. There was also Brad and Lillian’s Piano and Violin concert in Shackleton’s and following dinner Explosive Productions Singers and Dancers performed their show Thank You for the music.
This morning we arrived at Malaga, located on the famous Costa del Sol. To the east the coast along the region of La Axarqua is scattered with villages and sleepy fishing hamlets. The region, surrounded by the Penibeetica Mountains, is the gateway to many of Andalusia’s enchanting villages, towns and cities which our passengers could explore.
Mijas and Wine went to this picturesque village in the foothills of the Sierra de Mijas, at a height of 1280 feet above sea level. After a wander through the traditional rural village, with spectacular views of the coast and the surrounding wooded mountains, our passengers visited an Andalusian Wine House to learn how the famous wines are produced and stored. And of course there was some tasting!
Paella & Countryside ventured into the heart of the Guadalhorce Valley for a visit to a traditional farm, where after a guided tour everyone was invited to participate in preparing and eating a paella dish.
Leisurely Malaga & Flamenco offered a panoramic tour of Malaga and its surroundings. This was followed by a visit to the Flamenco Museum with a performance of authentic Flamenco music and dance.
Vintage Car & Hat & Couture Museum took our passengers to the Malaga Automobile Museum located in the spectacular Tabacalera Building, formerly a tobacco factory. It houses exhibitions of cars, hats and haute couture.
For passengers who wished to explore independently it was only a short walk into town.
Our earlier departure gave our passengers the opportunity to indulge in a Mediterranean Lunch on the open decks, and an afternoon horse race session in Shackleton’s. The evening offered pre-dinner cocktails and cabaret in Shackleton’s featuring Explosive Production Vocalist Lauren accompanied by pianist Paul Rogers, while after dinner Showtime featured the violinist duo String Dolls.
After a pleasant afternoon and evening at sea we arrived at the pilot station, located at the mouth of the River Guadalquivir, at the early hour of 00.30, for our 55 mile sail up this river. This includes the use of one lock and passing through one opening bridge. Our sail up the river and berthing must be done on the flood tide to ensure sufficient water under the keel.
At 7 am we were safely moored in downtown Seville, once the centre of the entire Moorish kingdom. It is situated on the banks of the Guadalquivir River and famous for its vibrant Flamenco, fiestas, gypsies, bullfighting and of course oranges. Attractions include the Gothic cathedral, Alcazar, an ornate royal palace, the old Jewish Quarter and Plaza de Espana, one of the most impressive squares in whole of Spain.
We were in this port for two whole days so time for our passengers to explore Seville and its surroundings:
Seville & Wine Tasting. After a scenic tour of Seville the coach travelled along the old road to Bodegas Oliveros. Here there was a guided tour through the vineyards and the winery with information regarding the production and ageing of its outstanding red wines. Of course a wine tasting and nibbles were included.
A Glimpse of Seville. This tour covered the most impressive and famous highlights of this charming city.
Discover Italica. This was the first authentically Roman city in Spain located just 6 miles from Seville. This tour visited the excavated remains of this historical city finishing with a scenic drive past the main highlights of Seville.
Flamenco Museum & Performance. This tour went to the Flamenco Museum, which is the key to access the magic world of Flamenco music and dancing. After a guided tour there was a stunning performance, which included some of the more than 50 different styles of dance.
Cordoba Highlights. This excursion began with a charming drive through the Andalusian countryside to Cordoba, which, a thousand years ago, was one of the world’s largest cities, with a population approaching one million. Our passengers visited the huge Mezquita and enjoyed a walking tour through the town.
Seville, Cathedral and Alcazar. Our passengers saw and visited some of the most famous and important highlights of the beautiful Andalusian city of Seville.
After a busy first day Showtime featured local performers with their Sevilla Flamenco, and Dancing Under the Stars on the open decks with music from the Saga Orchestra and the Explosive Production Singers till late.
On the second day, after a day of sightseeing or just relaxing, all on board was at 6.30 pm. Soon after the pilot boarded the ship. As we did not swing the ship on arrival yesterday we took the ship off the berth sideways and reversed through the opened bridge to the turning basin near the fixed highway bridge. After swinging the ship we proceeded to the locks. Soon we were on the river proper and making our way down river for the 55 mile return journey to the pilot station where we arrived at 1 am, disembarked the pilot and set course for Dover.
On board in the meantime the evening offered a pre-dinner classical concert by the Lirica Piano Quartet in the Discovery Lounge or pre-dinner cocktails in Shackleton’s. Showtime featured Vocal Harmony Quartet “Crescendo” presenting their show “Rilassante”. Late Night Life in Shackleton’s saw the Cruise Team perform a 60s’ Sing Along till late.
After a pleasant sail down the Guadalquir River we disembarked the pilot at 1.30 am on the morning of 05 September. From here we would have three pleasant days at sea to digest all the experiences of this cruise so far and to relax on the way to our last port of this cruise, Dover.
On Tuesday, 05 September there was a wonderful Spanish Food Festival Luncheon on the open decks with musical accompaniment from the Saga Orchestra, and a classical afternoon tea with musical accompaniment from the Lirica Piano Quartet. The evening offered a pre-dinner cabaret and cocktails with Explosive Productions vocalist Francesca, while Showtime featured a performance by violin duo String Dolls. This was followed by Late Night Jazz in Shackleton’s with the Saga Orchestra, and some surprise performers!
Wednesday included a plaque exchange with RN liaison officer Lieutenant Commander Steve Creek, whom I mentioned in my first blog of this cruise. There was a midday classical concert by the Lirica Piano Quartet and a question and answer session with the Explosive Production Team. The evening began with the Farewell Cocktail Party at which I had the pleasure of presenting the nominees, runners-up, and Employee of the Month for August.
Thursday, the last full day of this cruise, included a noon farewell classical concert and a sumptuous chocolate tea, with musical accompaniment from our very own Saga Passenger Choir. Showtime featured vocal harmony quartet “Crescendo” with their show “Armoria.
Tomorrow we will arrive in Dover nice and early for a slightly different day than usual. The passengers will disembark here and the ship will begin to be made ready for our yearly National Trust for Scotland (NTS) charter. I will be keeping the blog, so watch this space.
Yesterday we arrived bright and early at the Dover pilot station and were berthed at 7 am with the assistance of a tug as it was quite breezy. So with everyone breakfasted, our passengers began to disembark, although some Scottish passengers have stayed on to sail up to Greenock. The NTS team boarded so they could begin to make preparations for their upcoming cruise.
After meeting with the different heads of department my wife and I enjoyed a “well-deserved” lunch. Soon after lunch the ship was ready for departure. The pilot boarded, we let go of the lines, swung the ship with the assistance of a tug boat as it was still breezy, and left the port. Once clear of the harbour we disembarked the pilot and set a course for Greenock.
Today, after a leisurely breakfast, there were activities organized by the Cruise Staff, lectures and afternoon tea at which our passengers could taste the cakes they had seen demonstrated earlier in the day. I hosted my Cocktail Party in Shackleton’s, which was also the venue for an after-dinner Jazz Session with the Saga Orchestra and pianist Brad Moodie.
Tomorrow morning we will be at the pilot station at the civilized time of 7.30 am. The pilot will guide us the 22 miles towards our berth at Greenock, where the the NTS will embark their passengers.
Today we were fully prepared for our NTS cruise. The NTS team has taken over the shore excursion office as their working base and the Briefing Room will serve as their NTS shop. We had some last meetings to ensure all was OK for the NTS team and we were good to go.
Embarking passengers were welcomed by the NTS team and Piper Billy Hepburn, and by 6 pm all were on board. We carried out the compulsory safety drill for all passengers and ready for departure just before 7 pm. We left the berth and set off for our 22 mile trip to the pilot station. Here we disembarked the pilot and set course for our first port, Douglas on the Isle of Man.
The evening in the meantime offered pre-dinner cocktails in Shackleton’s, dinner, pre-show music for dancing and The Welcome on Board Show in the Discovery Lounge, presented by the NTS Cruise Director Elaine McDaid.
Cruise Director Elaine is supported by Head of Fund Raising & Cruises Ali Macleod, Cruise Administrator Katy Robinson, Cruise Assistant Lauren Mckenzie, NTS Shop Manager Margo Perry, Chaplain The Reverent Professor ABT McGowan and Rangers Richard Luxmoore and Shaila Rao.
The Entertainment Team, led by Robert Lovie, consists of Singers Debra Stuart, Alistair McDonald and Richard Morrison, Pianist Michael Barnett, Fiddler Claire Telford, Accordionist Wayne Robertson, the Sirocco Winds Trio and Piper Billy Hepburn.
Lecturers are: Head of Archaeological Services at the National Trust for Scotland Derek Alexander, Naturalist John Love, Horticulturist David R. Mitchel and Senior Curator at the Scottish National Gallery Dr. Frances Fowly. A full team to keep their passengers busy and entertained.
Today we arrived at the anchorage just after 7 am and were safely at anchor at 7.30 am. The anchorage of Douglas is on the west side of the island, which is sheltered from the prevailing conditions, which were strong westerly winds and west south westerly swells. We were nicely tucked in close to the port.
Douglas, the largest town and capital, lies at the mouth of the river Douglas. The island has a proud heritage and a captivating story, stretching back thousands of years, to tell. It is said the island and its inhabitants have been protected from invaders by the sea deity Manannan. At midsummer the present inhabitants still offer bundles of reed, meadow grasses and yellow flowers to this deity in a ritual “paying of the rent” accompanied by prayers for his aid and protection.
Today we used our ship’s tenders to transport passengers between the ship and the port. As soon as the ship had been cleared everyone could proceed ashore.
Snaefell Mountain Railway began with a scenic coach journey to the charming village of Laxey, home to the only electric mountain railway in the British Isles. Here they boarded the train for a 5 mile double track climb to the 620m summit of Snaefell, the highest point on the Isle of Man.
Manx Highlights was a panoramic drive along the original course of the world famous TT motorcycle races, a visit to Snaefell, and also to the former mining village of Laxey, home of the iconic Laxey Wheel, which stands at over 22m high.
Southern Panorama took the passengers to the south-eastern corner of the island and the ancient town of Castletown, the first capital of the island. From here they continued to Peel, which is known for its lovely harbour, castle, cathedral and Victorian beachfront promenade. Next was Tynwald, the location of the world’s oldest continuous assembly.
Cregnesh and started with a visit to the heritage village of Cregneash, which is now a living museum. Next stop was the Sound Visitor Centre, with its spectacular panoramic views to the Calf of Man, a small island separated from the mainland of Mann by racing tidal currents through the Calf Sound. From here they journeyed to Castletown and the medieval Castle Rushen.
Castletown gave an in-depth visit and history of this ancient town and surroundings.
Coastal Walk took our walkers to Castletown from where they set off to walk a spectacular section of the Isle of Man’s long distance coastal path.
Of course there was lots to do and see for those passengers who wanted to explore independently. With the last tender at 4.30 pm there was just time to make the tail end of afternoon tea.
The evening started with my Welcome on Board Cocktail Party, during which I introduced my management team and gave the passengers an idea of what was ahead of us. After dinner there was music for dancing followed by Showtime featuring Alistair McDonald with his show Songs from Here, There and Other Places.
This morning we arrived at the pilot station at the very civilized hour of 9 am. The reason was that we had to arrive around high water to ensure sufficient under keel clearance on our way to the berth. The pilot guided us the 11 miles up to the berth. After swinging the ship 180 degrees we were berthed at 11 am.
Waterford, founded by Viking settlers, is Ireland’s oldest city. Its turbulent history is reflected in the city’s striking variety of architectural styles. The city is famous for its manufacturing of fine glass products, shipbuilding and being the launch city of Ryan Air. Sadly the first two are not in business anymore.
As soon as the ship had been cleared passengers could proceed ashore and shore excursions dispatched. Today’s tours were:
A Stroll through Waterford. This tour offered a guided walk through the heart of the Viking city of Waterford.
Lismore Castle Gardens. This tour started with a scenic drive to the heritage town of Lismore, located on the tree-lined Blackwater River. The passengers visited the 7 acre walled gardens of Lismore castle, which overlooks the river.
Waterford Crystal. On this tour the passengers visited the modern House of Waterford Crystal. Here they were offered a tour of the showrooms and exhibition area which took them through the full production process. The tour finished with a scenic drive through the city and a visit to the picturesque village of Faithleg.
Mount Congreve Gardens. The passengers were taken on a 6 mile drive to the magnificent 700 acre estate of Mount Congreve. The 70 acres of wonderful gardens, were created by Ambrose Congreve and Dutch gardener Herman Dool and have been lovingly tended for over 60 years.
Yesterday we’d had to make an important decision. After keeping a close watch on the weather forecast for the west Irish coast it became clear that the prevailing conditions would have a serious impact on our upcoming calls to Glengariff and then the Aran Islands. Together with the NTS team and the operations department in Saga Head Office it was decided to call at the much more protected port of Cobh for a visit on 13 September. For 14 September we opted for a day at sea following the sheltered east coast of Ireland to Killybegs, for our call on 15 September as per itinerary.
All on board today was 9.30 pm. Soon after we left the berth, sailed the 11 miles down the river, disembarked the pilot and set course for our next port, Cobh.
On board in the meantime the evening offered a pre-dinner lecture, dinner, pre-show music for dancing and Showtime featured the Sirocco Winds Trio with their show “Bach Goes To Sea”.
This morning, we arrived in Cobh. Situated on the south coast of County Cork, it was one of the major transatlantic ports and departure point for 2.5 million Irish people who emigrated between 1848 and 1950. It is an attractive town with a cathedral, interesting Heritage centre and brightly coloured houses along streets that climb the steep slope of a hill.
The tours today were:
Bantry House and West Cork took passengers on a journey through picturesque West Cork with its rugged mountains, peaceful loughs and attractive villages. First stop was the Heritage town of Clonakilty for a walk around and refreshments. The coach then continued to Bantry House and Gardens. After a guided tour of the house passengers could spend time in the gardens. From there it was on to the stunning Gougane Barra Forest Park, a 1000 acre Irish National Park spanning the Shehy Mountains.
Blarney Castle began with a panoramic drive through Cork city before the short drive to the village of Blarney. The village lies in the protective shadow of the ruins of historic Blarney Castle. After a good look around, kissing the stone, an Irish coffee and a wander around town it was time to return to the ship.
Panoramic Kinsale went past rolling landscapes of fields, flowers and hedgerows, through tunnels, over bridges, along rivers and by small villages to the pretty little town of Kinsale, believed to have been founded in 1177. It has a unique character owing to the fact that it was an important navy base for over 300 years. This is reflected in the many 18th century structures which stand alongside Georgian Homes and Dutch influenced architecture.
As we were berthed down town it was only a short walk to town and the train to Cork for those passengers who wished to explore independently.
All on board today was 10.30 pm. Soon after we were leaving the berth, sailed the 8 miles down the river, disembarked the pilot and set course for our next port, Killybegs.
On board the evening offered a pre-dinner lecture, while after dinner Showtime featured a Ceilidh and Scottish Dancing with the entertainment staff, and a special guest appearance by dancers from the Attridge Academy of Irish Dancing.
Yesterday we made the most of the protection of the east coast of Ireland and stayed close to land because of the prevailing strong north-westerly winds and swells. This afforded our passengers some spectacular scenic cruising.
After breakfast the teams on board offered lectures and entertainment, which included a morning piano recital by Michael Barnett, Wildlife spotting with the Orca Team on the Sundeck. At noon there was my Captain’s Fish and Chip Shop, followed by a special London – Paris Afternoon Tea. The evening featured vocalist Debra Stuart performing her show “With a Song in my Heart”.
This morning we arrived at the Killybegs pilot station at 7 am. Shortly after the pilot boarded we entered the port, swung the ship 180 degrees off the berth and were moored at 8 am
Killybegs, situated close to Donegal, is the largest fishing port in Ireland. Surrounded by a deep fjord-like inlet, it has been inhabited since pre-historic times.
The tours today were:
Glencolmcille and Slieve League. The journey began with a scenic drive to Glencolmcille, with its wild and rugged scenery. In Glencolmcille passengers visited the Folk Village which depicts bygone lifestyles in south-west Donegal. From here the coach took everyone to the dramatic cliffs of Slieve League which, at 600 metres, are some of the highest in Ireland.
Walking in the Bluestack Mountains. A specialist mountain guide escorted passengers on their circular walk in the foothills of the Bluestack Mountains.
Scenic Donegal. This excursion took passengers on a scenic drive through sleepy towns to the area known as the Rosses. Here they visited Dungloe, the host town for the annual beauty pageant, which sees young women from Irish emigrant communities around the world compete to win the title “Mary from Dungloe”. From here the tour went to the village of Crolly.
Donegal Bay Cruise. This tour visited Donegal, at the point where the River Eske flows into Donegal Bay. After a guided tour through the town there was a cruise of Donegal Bay.
For passengers who wished to explore independently a shuttle bus was running between the ship and the centre of town.
All on board today was 4.30 pm. Soon after we were leaving the berth, sailed out of the port, disembarked the pilot and set course for our next port, St. Kilda.
Before dinner there was time for a lecture. After dinner there was music for dancing, and Showtime featuring Accordionist Wayne Robertson and Violinist Claire Telford with their show ”Diversity”.
After a bit of a bumpy ride to this most inspiring archipelago in the British Isles we arrived at the south east corner of Hita at 8 am. It was still a bit windy, but as the forecast was for conditions to improve we first did the now traditional scenic cruising.
We rounded Hirta in a clockwise fashion following the south coast, up the west coast and along the north coast. From here we sailed straight east to the south-west point of the little island of Boreray. Here again we followed the west coast north, through the gap between the island and the stack, known as threading the needle, along the north coast and south along the east coast. At the south point we sailed west into the anchorage of Hirta, where we were at anchor at 11 am.
Today we used our ship’s tenders to transport passengers between the ship and the port. As soon as the ship, the tenders and the zodiacs were ready everyone could proceed ashore where they were free to roam or to take a cruise around the bay in one of the zodiacs. The last tender from the shore was at 7 pm.
After retrieving our tenders and zodiacs we heaved anchor and made an anti-clockwise trip around Hirta. A farewell to the island after a very successful visit.
Mull is the largest of the Argyll islands and the fourth largest in Scotland. It has a rich cultural history and some of the most stunning seascapes in the country. Tobermory, established in 1788, is an attractive town with a superb natural harbour lined with brightly coloured fisherman’s cottages.
Today we again used our ship’s tenders to transport everyone ashore.
Burg and the Fossil Tree began with a scenic drive to Tiroran. From here passengers were transferred by 4x4 vehicle to the Tavool Outdoor Centre for a walk to the tip of the Burg peninsula. Burg was home to 50 people until the Clearances of 1840, and this walk took them back to this period.
Aros Park Coastal Walk was a walk into Aros Park, just south of Tobermory. Here there is an assortment of flora and fauna associated with coastal and forest habitats including tree, wild flowers, birds, butterflies, mosses, lichens and funghi.
Duart Castle began with a scenic drive to Duart Castle. This 13th century castle is perched on a rocky promontory known as Dubh Ard and dominates the surrounding area. The castle was the home of the Maclean clan.
Western Mull Panoramic was a tour around the Isle of Mull. It offered a taste of the natural beauty by driving through moorlands and gentle undulating countryside, beside tranquil lochs, rugged coastline and beautiful bays.
Mull Eagle Watch took passengers on a drive through rugged landscape to the Mull Eagle Watch hide and viewing area. Here a wildlife ranger explained the habits and life cycle of the white-tailed eagle and helped passengers spot them.
After retrieving our tenders and zodiacs we set sail for some scenic cruising clockwise along the coast of Mull and the Firth of Lorn on our way to Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland. On board in the meantime there was a Communion Service opened by the Filipino Choir and led by Reverend Professor Andrew McGowan.
This evening dancing was recommended to stay warm at the Ceilidh Under the Stars on the outside decks.
This morning we arrived at the pilot station at 7.30 am, as this is a port we can only call at on the rising tide because of our draft. The pilot guided us the 11 miles up the river, which serves as the border between Eire and Northern Ireland.
The seaside resort of Warrenpoint sits on the northern shore of Carlingford Lough, surrounded by the granite Mountains of Mourn. The town is famous for Narrow Water Castle, which defended the river estuary. It developed in Victorian times from a fishing village into a summer resort with a promenade, bandstand and swimming baths.
As soon as the ship had been cleared passengers could proceed ashore and the shore excursions were dispatched. Today’s tours were:
Castle Ward took passengers to the Ward Estate, home to one of the finest castles in Northern Ireland and Castle Ward Manor. Passengers had a guided tour of the house and there was time to explore the gardens.
St. Patrick’s Country began with a scenic drive to Downpatrick, the medieval capital of County Down and the burial site of St. Patrick. Visited were Saint Patrick Centre and Down Cathedral. There was also time to explore the town. From here they travelled to Saul, the place where St. Patrick and his companions were offered shelter. This was also where he died and ruins mark the site where an abbey stood to commemorate his life and work.
Mountains of Mourn was a panoramic tour of the region, surrounded by the Mountains of Mourn, the highest of which is Slieve Donard at 850m. They drove past pre-historic sites and Norman castles and the towns of Rosttreveor, Klikeel and Newcastle.
The Cooley Peninsula was a trip through an area of diverse landscape and spectacular scenery featuring mountain ranges, fertile plains, wide valleys, forests and long beaches. There was a stop in the old Norman town of Castleford.
For passengers who wanted to explore independently we were berthed only a short walk from town. My wife and I took the opportunity to do just that in the autumn sunshine.
It was a “Grand Night for Singing” at Showtime this evening with vocalists Alistair McDonald, Debra Stuart and Richard Morrison.