We boarded Saga Sapphire in Southampton, and once we were settled we made our way to the Drawing Room for afternoon tea, a lovely way to start our cruise with sweet and savoury treats and live orchestral music. After donning our fetching orange life jackets for the lifeboat drill we gathered out on the veranda with our Buck's Fizz and mulled wine to keep us warm. As we listened to the band out on deck and watched the passengers (a few in festive jumpers) dancing along, it was definitely beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
The Drawing Room is a great place to meet before or after dinner, with a singer and keyboard player on hand to entertain. I even had a twirl around the dance floor with one of the gentleman hosts on the first evening, and worked up an appetite for my fantastic dinner in the main restaurant. There was a good choice of dishes on offer and wine is included with lunch and dinner to toast the meal. If you wish to dine at the speciality restaurant there is no additional charge, but booking is required. Solo travellers are also well looked after, with tables to join if you wish as well as solo meet-ups to get to know your fellow travellers.
Drinks were very reasonably priced on board, and all prices are in sterling so there are no hidden exchange rates or additional gratuities to contend with. What's more, all 2018 cruises on Saga Sapphire (and selected itineraries on Saga Pearl II) are fully all-inclusive, so there's even more incentive to give Saga a try this year!
The excellent facilities include the inviting outdoor pool area, with plenty of seating and covered areas for those warmer cruises. During our cruise the pool had been emptied - as you can imagine, it was not quite the weather for al fresco swimming - so we took solace in the indoor pool in the Spa area, which was a nice relaxing space.
The size of Saga's ships will be particularly appealing to those who are still mourning the demise of Swan Hellenic, and there are plenty of ex UK departures to choose from. Saga also offer various themed cruises throughout the year, and ours was a special Rock 'n' Roll cruise. The take-up on the dance classes was unlike anything I've seen before, and there was plenty of time to practise on the dance floor in the evenings.
There was also plenty of entertainment on board for the non-dancers, including a pianist in the more intimate Cooper's Bar, evening shows in the Britannia Lounge, and carpet bowls and trivia quizzes throughout the week. There is also free WiFi throughout the ship, so keeping in touch is easy if you wish to do so.
After a day at sea we were excited for our first excursion to Bremen for the Christmas Markets, where we were dropped off right in the heart of the action. The next two days involved afternoon excursions to Amsterdam where we strolled along the scenic canal streets, and in Bruges we made the most of the many chocolate shops on offer!
It was a really lovely time of year to visit these ports, and the timing of the excursions meant we got to see the Christmas lights in all their glory as the sun set each day. By the end of the cruise my Christmas spirit was well and truly restored!