A weekend on the ship
February 28, 2010 - 4:11 pm
The last couple of days have been very positive and the whole ship is coming along nicely.
The library and show lounge look great with their new wooden furniture. Shackelton’s bar has also been completed and our bar staff have been busy making it clean and shiny, as you can see.
Last evening all the show lights were put on and it looked spectacular… bring on the dancing girls! Due to the galley being serviced, we cooked our traditional Sunday roast in the Verandah kitchen and it was lovely.
I am delighted to say that as every day passes the ship becomes more alive. The staff are incredibly enthusiastic and I can see in their faces that they, like me, really like this new ship of ours.
The engines are in place and we are now raring to go to our next port of call, Southampton. This will be our final push and then we’re all ready for you to come and join us.
I have just spoken to David Warden Owen and he has informed me that Alistair McLundie is arriving tomorrow. I am really looking to forward to seeing him, mainly because I can wind him up over various matters. But in all seriousness, it will be great to see the new father.
Old friends and colleagues
February 26, 2010 - 2:18 pm
I’ve heard from my colleagues at the Saga Head Office that you’ve all been enjoying reading this new blog… not bad for a guy from Austria, eh?
I’m very pleased to announce that all of the crew are now on board and we’ve just had our first crew meeting in the Verandah Restaurant. Although I said in a previous blog that all of the loose furniture will arrive in Southampton, we have managed to already fill the restaurant with a lorry load full of chairs.
Captain David welcomed all the new crew and officers aboard and discussed the task ahead, enthusing and encouraging everyone as usual. David and I also had a chat about Captain Alistair McLundie recently becoming a father, and needless to say we are all delighted for him and Jenny. I am also pleased to say that the boy has his mother's looks….
I know that I am digressing but as our Saga cruising family reunites on a daily basis, I cannot help but think about my old friends and colleagues.
Here in Swansea, we shall have a quiet weekend due to the rugby game, which of course Chef Gavin has to go to, being that he is a butch, bald man from Australia. The three Austrians on board were invited, but we consider it a far too brutal game and frankly I am not sure if my French manicured nails could endure it!
Thank you for logging on and reading my blog. Have a great weekend and I look forward to telling you much more next week.
February 24, 2010 - 5:24 pm
The last couple of days on the ship have been incredibly hectic, but in a very positive way.
I am happy to announce that by yesterday evening the Verandah galley was in full working order, so much so that we were able to make fresh chips in the new deep fat fryer.
All of the restaurant and buffet equipment is now in place, and the Library and Dining Room have also been completed… all we need now is the loose furniture, which will arrive in Southampton. We’ll have lots to carry onto the ship before we start our Shakedown cruise, but I have no doubt we can do it all.
All the cabins are ready to be cleaned and dressed. Again, a mammoth task but with more crew arriving tomorrow, not a problem at all.
Today, Alfred (the Food and Beverage Manager) and "Boldy" (aka Gavin Baxter) finished the Grill area next to the Sundowner Bar, and I can't wait for them to get that big grill all fired up. The most important step now is to pass the MCA inspections and we are off to Southampton.
I shall miss Wales. I even suggested to Lyn that we should move there. I’ll give you her answer when I see you on one of our forthcoming cruises… I hope that you’ve booked your place!
February 21, 2010 - 4:42 pm
Excellent progress has been made in all areas of the ship - the passenger cabins are almost done and the finishing touches are now being applied to these.
We’re going to be setting sail for Southampton on Wednesday. I am certain that by now Bob Keslo, our Project Chief Engineer, has all of his ducks in a row. After all, he is Scottish and some say that they make the best engineers.
The Dining Room and Verandah Restaurant have been completed, and the Sun Downer Bar is 95% finished now. The large parasol by the Sun Downer is up and looks very stylish. Once we get to Southampton, we will be loading up all of the loose furniture, linen and crockery… basically everything that turns this magnificent ship into a floating hotel.
Jeffrey, our Public Rooms manager, has just returned from his vacation with a great tan. He made a big mistake of mentioning how pale I look – we’ll see who looks pale after 12 hours in the cold, washing the deckchairs!
The atmosphere on board is great and everyone is eager to get to the finishing line – it’s wonderful to see everyone back and smiling. The food is fantastic and every Saturday we go out and have a few drinks together.
Talking of food, it turns out that a few of our contractors have been reading this blog and took particular interest in Gavin’s Christmas potatoes. Needless to say, when Gavin greeted me this morning it wasn’t with "Good Morning, Horst"!
I had a visit from the new cast of our entertainment group – are they getting younger every year or am I simply getting older? This is their first time with Saga and they are a completely British group, both cast and owner. I like that - we have plenty of talent in this country without having to go overseas for it. They will be entertaining our passengers with some fantastic new shows
Anyway, I have to go now and see how Jeffrey is doing with those deckchairs…
Switching on the dough roller
February 18, 2010 - 4:51 pm
Not long now until we sail for Southampton…
We’re all looking forward to cruising down south, although I should point out that we’ve all enjoyed being here in Wales for the last four months. The move to Southampton represents yet another important milestone for us on the road to completion, at which point we can welcome aboard our customers, and the crew and I can go back to our regular duties.
The main excitement of the day was switching on the gigantic dough roller in the kitchen and… it worked! You should have seen us all – a bunch of grown men arguing over who gets to turn the switch.
Tomorrow we are going to clean all the cabins thoroughly. With all the crew we now have on board, I’m sure our progress will be nothing but positive.
I am pleased to announce that the Verandah Restaurant is now finished. All that’s left is an ATD (Attention To Details) inspection to ensure that everything works perfectly. Chef Gavin and Food and Beverage Manager Alfred are very eager to get going and, assuming that we are happy with everything, we shall have a Farewell Lunch Buffet for the Welsh Dignitaries on the day before leaving.
I’ve got to go now and inspect the Dining Room, which is now 90% completed.
The photo shoot
February 16, 2010 - 4:51 pm
Today we welcomed aboard a camera crew to shoot the next Ocean Cruise brochure.
Some of our Filipino crew were happy to take a break from their work for a couple of hours, get changed into their new uniforms and pose for the camera.
Those of you who have cruised with us before may recognize the gentlemen pictured here as they have been with us for a long time.
They are Arnel Pantig, Alo Wilson and, of course, the ever-smiling Resti, whose talents not only include being a superb Sommelier, but also a hairdresser, masseur and chiropractor.
All three gentlemen helped a lot today and I thank them for their positive attitude.
We have moved to our layover berth. This makes us all feel quite impatient, wanting to get the entire hotel operation moving ahead at full speed. However, we must be patient and not get ahead of ourselves.
I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing many of you join us for the special lunch and dinner events in early March when the ship arrives in Southampton.
Introducing Gavin Baxter, Executive Chef
February 15, 2010 - 3:52 pm
Exciting news today - the ship is now fully afloat and it successfully passed its Inclining Test.
Today we cleared half of the Verandah Restaurant for a photo shoot. I can now envisage how the entire restaurant will look when it’s finished, which will be in a couple of days. All in all, it looks superb.
The kitchen for the Verandah Restaurant looks stunning and Gavin Baxter, our Executive Chef has now arrived. He’s a great Chef, but I’m not sure if this Australian is going to fit into our pristine show kitchen - he might spoil the view! Sorry Gavin, no hard feelings.
Over the course of these blogs I would like to introduce you to some of the key members of our crew that will be sailing aboard Saga Pearl II. To all those who haven’t met Gavin, I can assure you that he’s a very pleasant guy and a very good friend.
Here’s a little secret between you and me – during one Christmas Day lunch on board Saga Ruby, Gavin’s kitchen ran out of roast potatoes, an unforgivable crime I’m sure you’ll agree. If you meet him, make sure to give him a little bit of grief over this incident!
It is very encouraging for me to see my colleagues arriving and to have a great team getting the Saga Pearl II up to the usual high standards our customers have come to expect from Saga. In the Library, bookshelves after bookshelves are being filled. This incredibly well-stocked library is a serious business – even as someone who rarely has the time to read a book when at sea, I’m really enjoying seeing it come to life.
On the top deck, the Sundowner Bar is taking final shape and I can see that this area being a very relaxing place. On cruises to warmer climates, such as our Grand Voyage to South America departing in January 2011, or even cruises to Norway’s fjordland and the Baltic, you’re going love this public area. We’re going to have late-night snacks and drinks in this area, and I’m sure you’ll want you to stay up all night and watch the sun come up.
There are about 60 old friends (crew members) arriving tomorrow so I better get some rest before they all need my attention. It’ll be great to see them all back and doing what they do best - looking after you.
Welcoming back the crew
February 11, 2010 - 5:30 pm
I had an early start this morning only to find out that it was going to be one of those challenging days. Some problems during the night had caused a few technical issues in the crew cabins and getting to the bottom of these can be quite frustrating sometimes. However, before long it was all sorted and we soon kissed and made up, if you know what I mean.
I’m delighted to announce that the ship is now afloat and we shall leave the dock and go to a layover berth next week.
The Verandah Kitchen is nearly complete. The corridor carpets have been fitted and the Amtico flooring (wooden floors) has also been installed in the Library and Verandah. We are also working on the Officers cabins and other crew cabins.
I am pleased to say that we welcomed back more crew today and they will be able to help the contractors bring on all the loose furniture and fittings. We don’t need a gym work-out at the moment - this is far better and I love it!
It’s great to see my loyal and dedicated hotel crew, who had previously worked with me on the Saga Rose, arrive at Saga Pearl II after their holiday in the Philippines. I’m also looking forward to a further 60 hotel crew members joining next week.
I’ll say goodbye for now as I’m off to snowy Kent for the weekend - after all, it is Valentine’s Day.
A day of visits
February 10, 2010 - 3:13 pm
Today we had a visit from the Welsh Assembly and the local council: they are very proud that Saga Pearl II is being refurbished in the UK. I took them on a tour of the ship and showed them the progress we have made over the last few days.
Work on the seating and buffet areas in the Verandah restaurant means we will soon be able to test the equipment and clean things up ready for service. The Dining Room is looking good too, with the ceiling painted and the furniture being assembled ready for installation.
With the banquettes now fitted in the Shakelton Bar this area is nearly complete, and the Lounge has been fitted with its elegant wooden panels, although the seating arrangement here is still being discussed.
Special lighting has been installed in all of the public areas, which will enable us to set the mood in each area. I am looking forward to seeing this as I've been told it is even more advanced than the system used for the View restaurant on Saga Ruby.
Captain David Warden-Owen joined us today and it is good to have him on board. He will now stay on until the Inaugural Cruise, when Captain Alistair McLundie – who is now a proud father – will take over.
Winding up the Welsh
February 7, 2010 - 8:30 pm
We have spent the last three days working very hard to strip out the rest of the passenger cabins so that the remaining refurbishment programme can get underway.
The crew worked 14 hours a day, filling a total of 30 container-sized skips. Everything was thrown in by hand via scaffolding tower and we discarded about 700 wall panels – all very good exercise!
The main galley is being repaired next week which will mean I have to clean it beforehand - that won't an easy task either.
Oh well, I've got to go now and wind up a few Welsh men about their girly rugby playing…
Working with the contractors
February 4, 2010 - 7:00 pm
We were working very late last night to get the crew cabins ready so that people could move in, but there was a problem with the vacuum toilets that took some time to be resolved, so the contractors were moved to a hotel for a couple of nights instead.
It can be quite daunting at times to work with all of the contractors, but for me that is all part of the fun.
Today we started to strip out the last of the cabins so that the contractors could refurbish them. The corridors were full of furniture which our hotel team cleared rapidly. This then gave me another job – looking after the rubbish skip!
I also checked on the progress of the large medical area. The doctor's consultation room is spacious, as is the waiting room, and the refurbishment is going well – lots of new wallpaper and fresh paint.
Back in my cabin where I am writing this blog there is unfortunately no respite from the refurbishment, as someone is nosily grinding the floor outside my cabin.
Feeding an army
February 3, 2010 - 5:30 pm
The crew, who number only 80 at the moment, are working very hard to make this project a success. They never moan, even when I ask them to tackle various odd jobs which arise during the day.
There are also many contractors working on board – 234 people in total – all of whom we have to feed, which accounts for the huge delivery of food and drink today.
To load all of the items we form a human chain, making sure that it goes as fast as possible, as we have to work to an allocated time so as not to delay other dock workers.
We have three messes running; one for the contractors, one for the crew and one for the Officers. In fact we are almost running at full passenger capacity. Which reminds me, I need to go and show them how to make proper meatballs…
An early start
February 2, 2010 - 8:30 pm
An early start today as I had to move to my new cabin. The outfitters handed over 22 cabins to us which we will now clean and prepare for occupation.
Saga Pearl II's cabins are of a high standard - modern with a classic look. The wood veneer, carpet and furniture work superbly with the blue-and-white striped bedding, giving an overall yacht-like style to the cabins. The bathrooms have been transformed to make the most of the space and the majority have walk-in showers, which most of our passengers prefer.
Of course for those looking for more space we have a number of larger cabins and suites with baths too.The newly-built suites will be furnished in the same nautical style and have spacious balconies, especially those at the aft.
The forward suites look great too and will offer plenty of space and storage for a long winter voyage. Indeed, all the cabins have good wardrobe and storage space (although seemingly never enough for most ladies!)
Today the corridor carpets and stairwell carpets came up, ready to be laid then covered by plastic sheeting to protect it while we finish off other parts of the ship. It's back-breaking work but has to be done.
The Sundowner Bar is still a work in progress but is a small area so I am confident it will come together in time.
Outside, the ship is now fully painted in Saga colours and the name has just been added, giving us all a sense of excitement and anticipation as she starts to take shape.
I must dash now, as I have to order the food and look after the galley operation before having a quick dinner myself.
Coming along nicely...
February 1, 2010 - 11:30 pm
The Library and Shakeltons Bar are coming along nicely and the Verandah Restaurant is now at that exciting stage where we can start cleaning it up and adding the finishing touches.
We’ve been helped with this project by a Welsh firm called Harris Pye and I’m really pleased that we are supporting the local community in this way. The space looks great and the show kitchen is much larger than I thought it would be – I'm sure that Gavin Baxter and his team will enjoy serving their delicious cuisine here!
The cabins are being completely refurbished but progress has been hindered because of a logistical problem: we have too many people occupying the cabins that need to be refitted, and nowhere to move them to as all the local hotels are full. We are looking further afield for more hotel accommodation and then have to plan the subsequent shuttle services and meal times.
Elsewhere on the ship, I am looking forward to seeing the Discovery Lounge put back together with its high-tech quality sound system. The space is much larger than I think most people were expecting and we will be able to offer a wide variety of entertainment there, as well as have plenty of room in which to serve our renowned afternoon teas.
As for the crew, they are working hard and looking forward to being joined by a few more of their colleagues on the 10th.