Yesterday was a day at sea. The weather was fine with calm seas, blue skies and bright sunshine, so during the day the passengers had a fair idea in which direction we were sailing. But what would be our next destination.
After breakfast the lecturers, instructors, entertainment staff, beauticians and hairdressers were busy organizing activities and treatments. Today’s extra surprise was the Grand Spanish Fiesta Luncheon. The preparation for this, mainly outside, affair started the night before and continued during the morning, with the whole outside deck dining area decorated and dressed up with flags, balloons, lights and different food stalls. A great setting and atmosphere for the occasion.
A good half an hour before the start of the luncheon, we were treated to a wonderful natural phenomenon. The sky on the sea side of us was dark and heavy with black clouds and rain. In this area we witnessed several active water spouts (which are like mini tornados). We could see the surface water being sucked up high into the sky. This was accompanied by spectacular lightning and thunder. This show lasted for about 30 minutes. In the meantime I had instructed the navigator to change course to avoid the rain, which he dutifully did. The luncheon was a great success. The hot and bothered, dressed in Spanish costumes, staff and officers cooled down after lunch by jumping in the pool to the delight of the passengers.
After a day of relaxing or taking part in the many activities, and classical tea with musical accompaniment by the Billroth Quartet, the evening started in the Discovery Lounge with pre-dinner drinks and a show by the Saga Orchestra presenting their “Music of the Legendary Glen Miller”, celebrating the big band musician, arranger, composer and bandleader from the swing era and pre-dinner cocktails in Shackleton’s with “the king of the keys. After dinner the Discovery Lounge hosted a performance by Grafitti Classics, a mixture of multi instrumentalists and vocalists presenting a most amusing comedy show, which our passengers absolutely loved. This was followed in Shackleton’s by Late Night Live Dave Peterson till late.
Today we arrived at the pilot station of our seventh mystery port at 7 am. Today’s port is the fourth of the new ones for Saga Pearl II. The pilot boarded promptly at 7 am and after entering the port, swinging the ship 180 degrees and bringing her sideways to the berth we were safely moored at 8 am.
Motril, the biggest town on the Andalucían Costa Tropical, is home to a thriving commercial, fishing and leisure port. The subtropical climate enables the cultivation of exotic fruits and crops such as sugar cane, oranges, lemons, apples, avocadoes, mangoes and bananas.
In our tried and tested fashion, immediately after I informed the passengers of the name of the port, the weather and how long we were going to stay, Tom, our Shore Excursion Manager, followed my announcement with the information regarding the complimentary half day tour, which would run during the morning. The tour today was:
Fantastic Flamenco at the “Casa Los Bates” and visit to the Ron Montero Cellar: The tour started with a visit to the wonderful 19th century, Italian style manor house. It is set within tropical gardens with romantic fountains, 100-year old pygmy palm trees and other flora.
Nowadays an historic hotel, it was the charming setting for the exclusive performance of the Andalusian Flamenco. After enjoying some light refreshments, while admiring the stunning views, our guests continued on a panoramic trip through the typical Andalusian white villages to the Ron Montero rum distillery. Here they were told about the 1000 year history of sugar cane production, the process of making rum and of course got to test the end product.
For those of our passengers, who wanted to explore Motril independently, there was a shuttle bus from the ship to just centre of town.
Soon after everyone was back on board and the pilot had boarded the ship, the lines were cast off, the ship crabbed sideways to the exit, left the port, disembarked the pilot and set course for our next mystery port. Our departure today was celebrated with a Sail Away Party featuring White Sangria and musical accompaniment from the Explosive Production Singers with the sounds of Motown.
The evening started in the Discovery Lounge with pre-dinner drinks and a performance by the Billroth Quartet with their “Russian Reflections” and pre-dinner cocktails in Shackleton’s with “the king of the keys”. After dinner the Discovery Lounge hosted a Solo Concert by International Variety Pianist Adam Johnson.
Yesterday was a day at sea. The weather was again fine with calm seas, blue skies and bright sunshine, so our passengers had a rough idea of where we were. But what will be our destination. After breakfast the lecturers, instructors, entertainment staff, beauticians and hairdressers were busy organizing activities and treatments. After a day of relaxing or taking part in the many activities and the classical Viennese afternoon tea with musical accompaniment by the Billroth Quartet, the evening started in Shackleton’s with “the king of the keys”.
After dinner the Discovery Lounge hosted a performance by the Explosive Productions Singers and Dancers with their show “Let’s Swing”, a high energy song and dance extravaganza featuring the classic tracks from the days of Big Band and Swing. This was followed in Shackleton’s with Late Night Jazz with the fabulous Saga Orchestra and Dave Peterson.
Today we arrived at the mouth of the river Tagus at 6 and after a 10 mile sail we arrived at the pilot station at 7 am. Soon we were sailing further up this river passing wonderful scenery and interesting sights along its shores. We swung the ship 180 degrees in front of the berth and were safely moored, into the current, at 8 am.
Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, lies on the north bank of the river Tagus, the longest river of the Iberian Peninsula. It is home to parks, shaded squares and wide boulevards, which contrast vividly with the ancient cobbled streets and Moorish architecture. The natural harbour, which is one of the most beautiful in the world, was the one from which Vasco de Gama set off from. Starting the foundation of a world power and making Lisbon into an influential City.
Immediately after I informed the passengers of the name of the port, the weather and how long we were going to stay there, Tom, our Shore Excursion Manager, followed my announcement with the information regarding the complimentary half day tour, which would run in the morning today. The tour was:
A Taste of Lisbon by Tram: The tour started with a ride in one of the wooden bodied trams, which are among the city’s icons, for a journey through Alfama and Barro Alto, two of the oldest districts of the town. Next stop was the palatial neo-classical Palacio Ludovice, which houses the Port Wine Institute, where our passengers could taste some white and some Tawny port. This was followed by a relaxing panoramic coach drive through Lisbon before their return to the port.
For our passengers, who wanted to explore Lisbon independently, there was a shuttle bus from the ship to the centre of town.
Soon after the pilot had boarded the ship, the lines were cast off, the ship left the berth and set course down river for a scenic sail to the pilot station. Here we disembarked the pilot, continued down river to the open sea and we set course for our home port of Dover. Passengers in the meantime were entertained with a Sail Away Party with champagne and with a musical accompaniment from the Explosive Cast and the Saga Orchestra.
The evening started in Shackleton’s with pre-dinner drinks where “the king of the keys” Dave Peterson stroked the ivories. After dinner the Discovery Lounge hosted the Saga Pearl Crew Show, a fun filled evening of music, dance, song and laughter. A very much enjoyed experience.
The last two days of my Mystery Cruise have been sea days, which gave our passengers lots of time to digest and discuss the experiences we have shared.
On the first sea day, after a day of relaxing or taking part in the many activities and an afternoon tea dance, the evening started in the Discovery Lounge with my Farewell Cocktail Party. This was a party with a difference. In Lisbon The Three Singing Waiters had joined us and during the party they gave a surprise performance. This was a wonderful and comical presentation of the Three Tenors.
After dinner the Discovery Lounge hosted a performance by the Explosive Productions Singers and Dancers with their show “Music of the Night”, their own rendition of classic musical masterpieces by the genius that is Andrew Lloyd Webber. This was followed in the Shackleton’s Late Night Jazz with the fabulous Saga Orchestra and Dave Peterson till late.
On the second day at sea, after a day spent relaxing or taking part in the many activities and an afternoon tea during which the Three Singing Waiters gave another performance, which was very warmly received, the evening started in the Discovery Lounge. This included pre-dinner drinks and a classical concert by the Billroth Quartet and in Shackleton’s Bar with pre-dinner drinks and “the king of the keys”. After dinner the Discovery Lounge hosted a performance by Graffiti Classics with another show full of song, dance, music and fun. This was followed in Shackleton’s with Late Night Jazz from the fabulous Saga Orchestra and pianist Dave Peterson.
Tomorrow we will arrive early in Dover. The final destination of this very successful Mystery Cruise. Here I will hand over command to Captain Wesley Dunlop. Also joining is our new master Captain Nicolas Sunderland, who will take over command during the coming Baltic cruise. I wish them fair weather and smooth seas, and all readers a bon farewell and happy reading.
Well Hello Ladies and Gentlemen! It’s delightful to be back on-board our ‘little gem’. I joined the vessel early on the morning of the 7th September and my handover with Captain Kees Spekman was completed in double quick time, allowing Captain Kees and his charming wife Tina to head home for a well deserved rest following what proved to be a most successful mystery cruise.
This will only be a short tour of duty for me as I am on-board to hand over the ship to Captain Nick Sunderland who is shadowing me for this two week cruise to the Baltic Capitals. Having met Captain Nick last week in Head Office it was great to be able to catch up with him again this morning. Nick is a great chap with a warm personality and I’m quite sure he is going to have a long and successful career with us and I know many of our cruisers are excited to meet him in the near future.
As always our turnaround days seem to pass in the blink of an eye and in no time at all I was standing on the Bridge giving the order to cast off as I passed on the intricacies of a Dover departure to Captain Nick. This cruise is a special one in that every single passenger is a newcomer to Saga cruising and in order to ensure a suitable ‘wow’ factor right from the start we were treated to a fantastic aeronautical display from the chaps at Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar as a Spitfire and a Hurricane went ‘up diddly up up’ to cheers of appreciation from our newly embarked guests.
Following the display, full speed was then set towards the River Elbe and the entrance to the Kiel Canal. Transiting the Kiel Canal is an operation that involves no less than five Pilots and two Helmsmen. One pilot for the Elbe, one for Brunsbuttel locks, two for the canal transit itself with the Helmsmen and the last pilot boarding at the Kiel-Holtenau locks to take us out into the Baltic Sea.
We arrived at the first pilot station shortly after 1pm and on our trip along the River Elbe there was a chance meeting with what is to be my next command, the beautiful ‘larger gem’ Saga Sapphire as Captain Krzys Madjinski steered her towards the end of her Baltic cruise. A great moment for all concerned, and as always waves and cheers were the order of the day as both ships passed in the River.
KIEL CANAL FACT FILE
Length: 98.729 kilometers
Depth: 11 metres
Width at water level: 162 metres
Width at bottom of canal: 90 metres
Clearance height of all bridges: 40 metres
Maximum speed: 15km/h
With only one set of locks available at Brunsbuttel delays were inevitable and sure enough on arrival at the locks we were duly informed we must proceed to anchor for 5 hours. By 8pm we made our entry into the first set and thankfully from there on our transit was completed without delay and we even managed to catch up on some of the lost time. We exited the canal and dropped our last pilot off at the Kiel lighthouse at 5am the following morning and then set full ahead to our first port of call Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland.
After yesterday’s transit through the Kiel Canal, today was to be officially our first port of call and saw us visit Visby in Sweden. The entrance to the small inner harbour is always a challenging one in that speed must be maintained to navigate through the narrow breakwaters. The brakes were applied quickly in order to complete a sharp turn to starboard and make for the berth, which may of been a little daunting to the first time visitor perhaps.
Situated on the island of Gotland approximately 60 miles from the Swedish mainland, Visby is a beautifully preserved medieval port which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Known as the town of roses and ruins this unique location is one of the most important reminders of the Hanseatic League, featuring cobbled streets and architectural relics of bygone times. The imposing two-and-a-half mile city wall located here dates from the 13th century and is a monument to the great wealth accumulated here during the era of successful merchant trading.
With our gangway duly landed our passengers were eager to explore this beautiful destination. A myriad of tours were on offer and one of the most popular proved to be Visby and Central Gotland. This excursion visited just some of the many highlights of this historic port. The first stop was at Almedalen where again our passengers were able to get some incredible photographic memories before continuing to a medieval church and then onto Gnisvard to have a look at the burial mound. From here they made their way to Hogklint, which enjoys breathtaking panoramic views across the city and is home to wild coastal flowers and sea birds. The tour finished with a guided walk around the Old Town in Visby, which is lined with cobbled streets and has a bustling atmosphere.
Following departure our evening's entertainment began in style with our resident King of the Keys and Clive Carrington taking to the piano in our Shackletons Bar where many passengers chose to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail.
This evening's Showtime saw us welcome award winning virtuoso instrumentalist Suzanne Godfrey to the stage as she presented her show Mancini, Movies and More... to a most appreciative Discovery Lounge.
We now set a course due north to one of my absolute favourite Baltic ports, the Swedish capital of Stockholm.
We arrived at Sandham Pilot Station as planned at 0400. I had pre-warned our passengers to be up on deck nice and early, certainly for the last hour or so, as in my mind the sail through the archipelago to the heart of the city is one of the most beautiful in Northern Europe, if not the world. Sadly however at 0630 we managed to find some dense fog, a real pea souper in fact, which remained with us right up to the berth! I prayed the fog would clear for our departure so that the early risers would be rewarded, albeit 12 hours later than expected!
The archipelago is said to consist of around 30,000 islands and islets. But then the difference between a large rock and what constitutes to be an islet is not really well defined so this number is largely based on opinion! The whole area is subject to land elevation with the archipelago rising around 3 mm every year. As such, before the Viking age much of the emerging land mass would have still been under the surface and the contours of the land would resemble little of what is visible today.
Now the location of many summer homes, the archipelago was unsurprisingly primarily the domain of fishermen up until the end of the Second World War. Now it seems that there is some sort of summer house or hut on every island and rock big enough to put one on! That being said there is still a lot of greenery and the largely wooden residences don’t detract from the natural beauty of the area but somehow add to the visual spectacle by adding a splash of vibrant colour to the muted greens, greys and browns of the natural environment.
With our gangway ashore by 8am the Gamla Stan, where Stockholm originally started over seven centuries ago, is where I’d urge the independent traveler to start exploring the royal and political capital of Sweden. Only the official capital since 1634, Stockholm spreads gracefully from its historical origin over 14 islands, connected by a total of 40 bridges with each island district possessing a unique character. Though not a big city like London or Paris, Stockholm is nevertheless too large to fully explore in just one day, but from my experience the Gamla Stan and its adjacent island districts present the best destination to make the most of our nine hour stay.
Thankfully my earlier prayers were answered and glorious sunshine burned its way through the morning fog, leaving a perfect evening to enjoy the breathtaking views as we wound our way back towards the pilot station.
We arrived to pick up the pilot with the sun still shining on us, literally. Though expected to be a little colder here in Helsinki, 18 degrees Celsius is perfectly acceptable from my perspective, and that of the pilot, he told me that in September the average temperature is 8 degrees C!
Making our way to the berth involved navigating though a narrow cut with a fortress on the port side which, when translated, is called Helsinki Castle. Originally built under Swedish occupation to defend against a sea attack from Russia, apparently it never got to fire a canon as the invading Russian military marched overland instead, bypassing its defences.
Captain Nick took to the controls today for our berthing manoeuvre which involved swinging the ship through 90 degrees and then backing down onto the berth. I must admit it’s never easy having to hand over the keys to your Rolls Royce for someone else to ‘park’ but Captain Nick did a fine job and the manoeuvre was completed with ease.
Finland’s capital grew up around its harbour on the Baltic Sea, gradually expanding into the metropolis of today. Over half a million people live in Helsinki and as many more in its visionary satellite towns. But in spite of its size and sophistication the city preserves much of the charm of a small 19th Century seaport. Helsinki was a Swedish outpost until the early 19th Century when it became the capital of the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland, an event that triggered a building boom. More expansion came in the 1920s, following Finnish independence.
Today many of our passengers took the opportunity to enjoy Helsinki on one of our organised excursions and The ‘Sibelius Experience’ proved to be one of the most popular. This tour combined the highlights of Finland’s beautiful capital with a visit to the home of the country’s most famous composer. It gave our guests an introductory tour of the city where they could see lively Market Square, the Old Church and the Swedish Theatre, marvel at the impressive Parliament Building, and the National Museum. As they drove through Hesperia Park and Toololahti Bay they caught a glimpse of the Olympic Stadium before continuing to Ainola for a tour of Jean Sibelius’ home. After the tour of the house it was but a short drive to see the landscapes that inspired the great composer. Before heading back to the ship our guests were treated to a thirty minute recital of some of Sibelius’ greatest works.
We now make our way to the eastern extremities of the Gulf of Finland and our next port of call, St. Petersburg in Russia.
Like Venice and Amsterdam, St. Petersburg is a floating city, crouching on the water, crisscrossed by rivers and canals, sewn together by hundreds of bridges, ceremonial, quaint or humdrum. The principal waterway is the River Neva, leading eventually to the Gulf of Finland. Inside St. Petersburg the Neva is contained within granite banks, but its influence on the city is constant. When the long winter’s ice suddenly shudders and cracks, the river rejuvenates the city. On the light nights of summer, when night never really falls, the twilight sky meets the grey murky waters of the easternmost part of the Gulf of Finland almost seamlessly.
Much of St. Petersburg’s charm stems from the grand architectural plan of squares, parks, boulevards, palaces and monuments that was begun by 18th Century architects imported from Western Europe. The rules of the game rarely wavered: the object was to design a capital fit for an imperial power, self-explanatory in its nobility and grace.
Arrival into St Petersburg involves a long pilotage of 30 nautical miles across the Nevskaya Inlet between the cities of Kronshtadt and St Petersburg. This large expanse of water gives the illusion of a vast bay, but the reality is that most of it is merely a couple of metres deep and that the only navigable waters are the narrow canal ways marked by stick buoys that are maintained by dredgers and crisscross the Inlet.
Arriving at the pilot station for 0400 we proceeded inward past the sea defences at Kronshtadt and onward towards our berth right in the heart of the city by the ‘Lieutenant Schmidt’ bridge. The sea defences really are a wonder of modern engineering, the encompassing barrier that connects Kronshtadt with the mainland has only the one opening to the south of the island, with two large gates that can close to prevent flooding in the event of persistent westerly winds. Passing Kronshtadt, still a base for the Russian Navy but in a somewhat dilapidated state, the morning sun reflected off of the dome of the Cathedral like a beacon, marking the way and ensuring that the island didn’t go unnoticed as we made our way towards the former capitol city and home to the Tsar’s.
For our two day stay in St Petersburg there were numerous tours available, too numerous to list in a short blog and certainly too numerous to cover in only two days, hopefully leaving something “for next time”. It was hard to imagine in the pleasant sunshine we encountered on both days that, in the weeks to come, ice up to 3 feet thick will be blocking the waterways here, and that icebreakers will be in use to maintain the main routes.
With all aboard on Monday evening we bade our farewells to Mother Russia and proceeded out and into the Gulf of Finland once more, westbound this time, towards one of my absolute favourite destinations - Tallinn in Estonia.
Tallinn is a city where the cosmopolitan brushes shoulders with the medieval in a tale of three cities: the ancient citadel, the old town, and the modern city. Capital of the Estonian Republic, the coastal settlement is only 53 miles from Helsinki across the Gulf of Finland, midway between St. Petersburg and Stockholm. The citadel, known as Toompea Castle, sits on a craggy hill peering down on a fascinating amalgam of medieval rooftops and winding cobbled streets, punctuated here and there by graceful spires and turreted towers. During a turbulent history, the people of Tallinn frequently united to face a common threat. First it was the Danes who took the settlement in the 13th century. Tallinn became a flourishing trading centre as a member of the Hanseatic League, and went on to serve many masters. Swedish, German and Russian occupiers all left their mark. Finally, at the end of World War I, an Estonian state was established with Tallinn as capital. After World War II it became a reluctant member of the Soviet Union, until independence was declared in 1991.
The weather so far this cruise had been remarkable, however this morning saw us greeted with some strong winds which gave me an excellent chance to show Captain Nick how the ship handles under more challenging conditions. With our gangway duly landed at 0900, our passengers were eager to explore this Baltic gem which is certainly one of my favourite destinations.
A popular tour today proved to be the ‘Panoramic Tallinn’ excursion. This 3 hour tour took our passengers right into the heart of the city towards Cathedral Hill, stopping at the Tall Herman Tower, one of the three remaining towers of the Knights of the Sword Castle. From nearby Cannon Tower one could admire the panoramic view of Tallinn’s Upper Town, with its numerous churches and spires. The tour then continued towards Kadriorg Park and the baroque place designed as a summer residence for Peter the Great. As our guests were driven through the park they paused at the Song Festival grounds, a natural amphitheatre with a capacity for 15,000 people, making it a perfect venue for Estonia’s national song festivals. After stopping at the seaside restaurant for refreshments and folk music, the tour continued on to St Birgits’s Convent to see the best example of local limestone architecture.
We departed shortly after 6pm and a day at sea beckons, most welcome for our passengers (and yours truly!) before our next port of call, Ronne on the Danish Island of Bornholm.
Our call today was scheduled to be at anchor off the west coast of Bornholm and the island’s capital of Ronne, however yesterday I received word from our local agent there that they were expecting strong SW’ly winds and moderate swells which would have made our tender operation something of a non-starter. Not to be deterred we came up with a suitable alternative on the island’s east coast where the weather was to be more sheltered and so it was that we arrived off the charming little town of Gudhjem.
The Danish island of Bornholm lies approximately 150 miles east of Copenhagen and it’s slow pace of life makes it an ideal tourist getaway. The centre of the island is a mixture of forests and wheat fields while the coast is dotted with quaint fishing villages……such as Gudhjem!
I must admit as we approached several miles off the coast the wind was still howling at a force 6-7 but one thing I’ve learned during my time at sea is that patience truly is a virtue. As we continued to close on the coast and eventually dropped our anchor less than half a mile from the harbour entrance, the wind abated leaving ideal conditions with which to run our tenders ashore.
Once of our most popular tours today was ‘Panoramic Bornholm’ this took our passengers on a drive through the island’s capital of Ronne continuing on in a north easterly direction along the coast road, where they were able to see how the coastline slowly changes from a flat sandy landscape in the south to the more rugged, rocky hills in the north of the island. A short photo stop followed at Hammershus Castle ruins, which date back to 1255 and are among the largest in Northern Europe. The tour then continued along the east coast road, through charming small villages and towns before crossing the island so our passengers could enjoy the farmland and the lovely drive through Almindingen, one of the largest forests in Denmark.
With our anchor fully ‘home’ at 6pm our entertainment started in style with a classical concert from the Romanza Quartet as they presented their show ‘All About Mozart’, this was followed at 9.30pm by main Cabaret Showtime where we presented the talents of ‘Harry the Piano’ the man who truly can play anything on the piano!
Very early this morning we picked up the pilot for Warnemünde, and brought the ship into this picturesque seaside resort on the German Baltic Coast. The sun had not yet risen but one could already see a few towels on the deckchairs that line the beach near the mouth of the river..........! We headed further into the main basin, swung the ship around, and then came alongside at the prime berth.
The reason for our early start was because we had fifty passengers heading out at 7.30am for the twelve hours “Best of Berlin” shore excursion. The fascinating sights the passengers witnessed were well worth the scenic drive from Warnemünde through the Lakelands of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Once in Berlin their tour began in the former East Berlin, passing Alexanderplatz, home of Berlin’s Television Tower. Stopping for a photo at the Dome of Berlin on Museum Island, they then continued to the Brandenburg Gate and Gendarmenmarkt for another photo stop. The drive carried on through historic Nikolaiviertel and boarded a pleasure cruiser for a sedate cruise along the Spree, past sights such as Bellevue Palace, Museum Island, the Chancellery and the Reichstag. A three course lunch and drinks were served onboard before they disembarked at Charlottenburg Castle. They then enjoyed a champagne reception on top of the Reichstag, with its cupola and breathtaking views of the city. Finally, passing by Potsdamer Platz, they took a look at the notorious Checkpoint Charlie border crossing before returning to Warnemünde.
The second of our morning tours to leave today, at a much more sensible hour, was titled Rostock and the KGB. This scenic excursion began with a drive east along the coastline, passing woods, fields and beautiful old fishing villages. To start this tour our passengers enjoyed a cruise along the River Warnow to Rostock with tea or coffee and cake being offered along the way. Once in Rostock they started their guided walking tour, which took in the town’s distinctive red-brick architecture and Hanseatic ambience. The tour then continued past the university, New Market, the beautiful City Hall, the remnants of the old city walls at Kropliner Gate and Stone Gate, as well as Fischerbastion and the Convent of the Holy Cross, home to the cultural History Museum. There was also the opportunity to visit the Stasi Museum, the interrogation centre of the KGB of East Germany. After this, and having enjoyed some free time in Rostock to explore the shops and cafés, our passengers visited St Mary’s Church at the Goat Market where they were able to take pictures of a unique astronomical clock, one of Rostock’s best known landmarks.
The final tour to leave departed in the afternoon and was the famous ‘Molli and the Minster’ excursion. Starting by driving through the countryside of former East Germany, our passengers stopped in Bad Doberan at the 700 year old Minster, a red brick church surrounded by beautiful parkland and houses with relics dating back as far as the 14th and 15th centuries. Following this they left Bad Doberan on board the Molli narrow gauge steam train and enjoyed a journey to the beach resort of Kuhlungsborn on this vintage steam hauled train. Having arrived at their destination our guests were able to relax with coffee and cake before exploring the romantic beach promenade and enjoying a stroll along the seafront.
We were not due to sail from Warnemünde until 8pm, so many passengers and crew took advantage and enjoyed a stroll ashore in the early evening sunshine. With the all day shore excursion passengers safely back from Berlin, we were ready to let go the lines and head for our last Baltic port of Copenhagen.
With the weather in our favour once more with sunny skies and, more importantly, more moderated breezes, Copenhagen looked like it was going to prove a popular destination with our passengers.
With a plethora of tours on offer one that caught my eye was ‘Copenhagen by Foot’. This tour started with a walk along the waterfront where passengers could see the enchanting Little Mermaid which has been a symbol of Copenhagen for decades. They continued through Churchill Park with its Anglican St Alban’s Church, the Resistance Museum and the Gefion Fountain. Passengers then moved on to Amalie Garden and the Amalienborg Palace. Having walked across Palace Square and then to the charming quayside area of Nyhavn, they stopped off for refreshments at a local café. Finally they went to the King’s New Square where they could see the Royal Theatre designed during the 1870s to rival the Paris Opera House.
We departed in the early evening, bathed in more glorious sunshine, and now make our way south through the Drogden Channel to make our exit from the Baltic sea through the Kiel Canal.
Following a somewhat longer than expected transit of the Kiel Canal (sadly German efficiency was not on our side again!) we continued to sail down the European coast of the North Sea and were docked in Ijmuiden, the gateway to Amsterdam, this morning. Amsterdam is the cosmopolitan capital of the Netherlands and one of Europe’s truly great cities, where elegant canals and waterways wind their way through its heart. Much of the city’s charm dates from the 17th century, and an abundance of attractive houses from this era line the narrow cobbled streets.
Today in Ijmuiden we had numerous tours on offer for our passengers. First to leave was ‘A Taste of Holland’. The tour started with a drive trough typical Dutch countryside to the small town of Zaandam, north of Amsterdam. As our guests walked through the quaint streets they caught a glimpse of what Dutch life once was. They had the opportunity to witness the Old Dutch craft of clog making or relax at an outdoor cafe. Heading to the typical village of Edam, they noticed the unique Carillon Tower with its bells, the numerous canals and the drawbridges that cross over them. The last stop was to a cheese factory, where our guests could sample some of the products before returning to the ship.
The second trip to leave this morning was the ‘Highlights of Amsterdam and Canal Cruise’. With 100 bridges and 60 miles of canals lined with picturesque gabled houses, Amsterdam is a unique and fascinating place to explore. The tour started with a short drive to the 17th century Westerkerk (Western Church) were Rembrandt is reputed to be buried and there is a small statue of Anne Frank nearby, before visiting the Anne Frank House. The passengers were able to see the original diary on show there. They also saw the small former hiding place, which remains in its original condition, before leaving this moving museum to embark on a tour along the Amsterdam canals aboard a glass topped canal boat. On this cruise they were able to enjoy such sites as the baroque Royal Palace at Dam Square, the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), Mint Tower and the 15th century Weepers Tower.
The last tour to leave was the ‘Panoramic Amsterdam and Canal Cruise’. This tour started with a revealing coach tour of Amsterdam, passing the Baroque style Royal Palace at Dam Square which serves as the Queen’s residence when she is visiting the city. Next up was the 550 year old Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) where Queen Beatrix was crowned in 1980, and the fascinating Mint Tower built in 1618 over a medieval gate. Then it was on to the central railway station which was constructed on an artificial island of wooden piles, and the 15th century Weepers Tower, where the wives of sailors watched their husbands depart for sea. Finally there was the opportunity to discover Amsterdam by canal boat. This tour through the city’s canals, once the hub of Amsterdam’s commercial life, passed along canals lined with houses that were originally workshops and stores.
All aboard was set for 6.30pm and shortly afterwards we departed for our last port of call, Dover. As we head back to Dover tomorrow I can reflect on what has been a very enjoyable and successful Baltic cruise. The overnight stop in St Petersburg has given our first time Saga cruisers the chance to explore more thoroughly and, without exception really, the weather has been splendid throughout.
Our call to Dover tomorrow will be tinged with sadness for me. I will officially handover command of this beautiful ship to Captain Nick Sunderland - whom I know will do a sterling job and has a very long and successful career ahead of him with Saga. I’m sure you’ll join with me in wishing Captain Nick, together with his crew and passengers, smooth seas and fair winds for his first trip in command. I’ll now be heading home to Norfolk to see my family, albeit for a short while, before heading off to Canada for a week’s familiarisation on Saga Sapphire with my old (apologies Philip!) mentor Captain Philip Rentell before officially taking command of her at the end of October. In the meantime I’d like to thank all our passengers and crew who have sailed with me on Saga Pearl II - I’ll miss you and the ship dearly, but look forward to exciting times ahead on Saga Sapphire!
After a rather rainy arrival, open bridge wings meant getting caught in a shower, Captain Dunlop handed over command to me at 0900. The day I have been looking forward to for a long time had now, finally, come.
It was a busy day, it being our turnaround day, and the heavy showers in the south-east slowed down our port operations and meant we had to monitor closely our departure time. But our shore operations team did a great job and got all our guests on board in good time. So with the help of a harbour tug, and our friendly Dover pilots, we turned round in the harbour and dropped the pilots off just after the breakwater. We then had a fantastic show by 2 spitfires from Biggin Hill. What a great privilege it is to see these still in flight – marvellous!!! We then proceeded to full ahead for the 3 sea days down to Madeira.
Well we have certainly been lucky with the weather! Our crossing of the Bay of Biscay went very well for this time of the year, and the more we went south the better and warmer the weather. We had a great turnout for Captain Sunderland’s FIRST Captain’s Welcome Cocktail reception party on the second sea day. The weather just got better, with warm temperatures and sunshine – how great!!!
After three days at sea, we docked in the port of Funchal at 10am this morning. It was a beautiful and sunny day, with temperatures set to reach 21 degrees. Many passengers had opted to go on one of our organised shore excursions and there was a variety to choose from including; ‘Scenic Madeira’, ‘Four Wheel Drive Safari’, ‘Botanical Gardens and Monte’, ‘Levada Walk’ and the ‘RIB Adventure’. With such a variety of tours, there is something for everyone.
However for those passengers who were not on tour, there was a complimentary shuttle bus which ran continuously throughout the day to and from the town centre.
This evening the Cruise Department hosted a sailaway party out on deck, allowing passengers to enjoy the beautiful views as we sailed from Madeira, with music from The Saga Orchestra.
This evening’s entertainment began with a pre-dinner classical recital with The Orion Quartet and our main Cabaret Showtime featured Virtuoso Instrumentalist Andrew Skrimshire.
We sailed overnight and docked in our second port of call this cruise which is Santa Cruz in La Palma. Again it was a beautiful morning and passengers were up early ready to enjoy an exciting day in a different port.
The Tours on offer today included La Hacienda and Silk Museum; Taburiente National Park; A Forest Walk in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve; And Wine Tasting at San Antonio Volcano. Many of the passengers opted to go on one of our excursions today and the weather did not disappoint, reaching 24 degrees.
Passengers also had the opportunity to venture ashore independently and it was a pleasant stroll into town. Passengers were able to make the most of their time in port as we didn’t set sail until 7pm.
This evening I hosted my first Britannia Club Cocktail Party in the Discovery Lounge, and on this cruise we have over 160 Britannia Club Members on board.
After dinner, our Production Showtime featured the Explosive Singers and Dancers with their tribute to Elvis Presley entitled ‘Love Me Tender’.
We arrived early in Santa Cruz, Tenerife and once the ship had been cleared by the local officials, passengers were able to go shore. There was one morning Shore Excursion taking passengers to Mount Teide. For those passengers who were not on an organised tour, there was a shuttle bus arranged by the Port Authority which took passengers to the terminal and then they could stroll into the town.
There were a number of afternoon shore excursions today, which gave passengers the opportunity to explore Santa Cruz on their own in the morning or alternatively relax on board until their tour departure time. This afternoon there was a trip to Puerto de la Cruz, A ‘Northern Delights’ tour and also a ‘Gardens of the Valley’ Excursion.
There was the odd rain shower this morning, however it brightened up in the afternoon and the temperature was still very warm. We were scheduled to remain alongside until 10pm and to make the most of this late departure we held a BBQ and deck party on our Aft Deck. The Food & Beverage Department prepared a mouth-watering feast and the deck was filled with passengers enjoying the Al Fresco Dining experience.
After dinner a local folkloric group came on board and performed a show of traditional song and dance from Tenerife, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. After the show, the local entertainers disembarked and we said farewell to Santa Cruz. The party out on deck continued with music from The Saga Orchestra and the Explosive Singers. Passengers stayed up late enjoying the balmy evening, the beautiful views and the dancing on deck.
We only had the short distance of 69 miles to sail to our next port and this morning at 8am we docked in the port of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria.
The tours on offer today were a trip to the smallest and most southernmost resort, Puerto Mogan, for passengers to explore on their own. An ‘Essence of Gran Canaria’ and ‘Island Discovery’ were popular tours and a few adventurous passengers went on a Submarine Adventure.
The port is located very close to the centre of Las Palmas and passengers could enjoy a pleasant stroll into the town. There were plenty of shops and restaurants and a lovely beach for passengers to enjoy – all within walking distance of the ship. It was a stunning day with temperatures reaching 27 degrees.
All passengers were on board and we were ready to sail at 6pm. This evening’s entertainment began with a pre-dinner classical concert with The Orion Quartet. After dinner, our main Cabaret Showtime featured Comedy Vocalist, Paul Fredericks.
At 8am this morning we docked in the last of the Canary Islands which is Arrecife on the island of Lanzarote. Passengers who had booked on our organised tours were up early and ready for another exciting day in port. It was a beautiful sunny morning and the weather looked set to remain sunny throughout the day, reaching 25 degrees.
The selection of tours today included a transfer to the resort of Puerto Carmen; ‘Fire Mountain’ – where passengers explored the volcanic landscape; ‘Northern Highlights’ – giving an overview of the island; ‘A Visit to Cesar Manrique Foundation’; and a ‘Volcano Trek’.
Today we leave the Canary Islands and head back up north towards our next port of call which is Lisbon in Portugal.
Tonight was formal night so our passengers were dressed in their finery for a sumptuous dinner. This evening’s entertainment featured Multi-Instrumentalist, Anne Raynor followed by a late night Cabaret in Shackelton’s Bar with our Explosive Vocalists.