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|The Saga Ruby 2012
Fjordland Vistas Cruise Part 3
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We arrived into Stavager early and this enabled Saga Ruby to turn so she was facing outwards for departure. Her berth was alongside the Old Town, in the same spot as the QE2 in 2008. We finally disembarked just after 10.00 to watch the Rodne ferry trip along the Lysefjord depart on time. Thankfully we had not booked our tickets. Indeed the weather was not very good and the spectacular views would have been limited.
We walked out along the quay to the cathedral and then alongside the lake, stopping to see the Stavangeren which was marked on the map as a special feature. It seemed to be an old wooden theatre. Returning to the lakeside we continued to the Theatre, and then up the hill towards the Stavanger Museum, passing the Council buildings with their ornate brickwork. . We had not been to the Museum before and as the skies darkened it seemed a good idea to get indoors. Entry was 60 krone but 40 krone each for old folks, and the tickets were also valid for the Canning Museum and the Maritime Museum although with one day ashore it is too short a visit to complete everything. The Museum was built in 1877. It was recommended we started in the basement and climbed upwards. In the basement there is an excellent collection of stuffed animals and bones. We prefer to see real examples instead of computer images because it is only by having the real animals that children can appreciate the texture of their skins and their different sizes. We had seen polar bears and other native Norwegian animals in other museums, but the little wild cats, and leopards and cheetahs, were much smaller than we imagined in comparison to the local wolf and fox. Skeletons of whales showed typical sizes, and of course in Norway it is still allowed to hunt for whales and sell the meat in the fish markets. We tasted some in Bergen which was smoked and it is very dark and rich. The Museum also has a good collection of stuffed birds, including some very beautiful coloured, almost fluorescent, birds from South America. Some had bodies only the size of a finger nail. The two special exhibitions were about beavers, and about babies. Both were interesting. Children in Norway certainly would not believe the old fashioned 'baby and stork' stories after seeing the clear displays of mannequins showing the growth of embryos at different stages.
After an excellent 5 course lunch including salmon en croute as main course we went out again into the Old Town. Our free entrance to the Canning Museum tempted us to look inside again, and we were attracted by the smell of smoked fish and burning wood. Some little herrings had been smoked, only for a few minutes, and the results were there for tasting. Pauline does not like fish with small bones but Pete pronounced them very good. We spent our last 20 krone on a tin of the fish to take home. Our Global Tax Refund on board ship, for the nice Dale jumper, was paid in sterling so at the end we had just 3 krone coins left – pretty new coins which might make good earrings.
We received our provisional cabin bill today, which showed that we had been given £25 each to spend as first time cruisers. This meant we had £26 in credit. We wondered what to do, and decided to purchase the photograph taken at the Captain's Welcome Party (good value at £10.99) and then buy three bottles of Saga Ruby wine from the Duty Free Shop to take home. Our final bill was just £0.22 on our credit card.
Although this was a day in port, it had also been chosen to be a Formal Dinner. No menus are presented to passengers on Saga Ruby but we asked for the menu from this evening as a s souvenir.
Caviar served with Wholewheat Pancake and Condiments
Vegetarian Terrine of Artichoke, Broccoli and Carrots with Fresh Pesto
Traditional Haggis wae Bashed Neeps an Champit Tatties with a Wee Dram
Fresh Fruit Cocktail
From the Tureen:
Beef Consomme with Profiteroles
Chilled Prune and Brandy
Fresh from the Garden:
Assorted Garden Greens with Artichokes, Marinated Red Kidney Beans and Onion
Balsamic Vinaigrette, Blue Cheese or Italian Dressing
Lobster 'Thermidor' - Lobster with Dijon Mustard, Cognac, Cream and Parmesan with Sauce Bearnaise. Mixed Wild Rice
Rack of Lamb with Minty-Mustard Crust on Natural Jus. Potato Gratin
Beef 'Wellington' – Filet of Prime Beef with Duxelle and Ham Wrapped in Brioche on Truffle Juices. Chateau Potato
Vegetarian : Warm creamed Spinach and Duxelle Tart glazed with Mornay Sauce. Garlic Mashed Potatoes
'Pavlova' – Soft Meringue Filled with Whipped Cream and Berries.
Choice of Ice creams.
Cheese Plate with 5 selections
It was so hard to choose but Pauline eventually selected the traditional haggis which came with a glass of whisky, beef consomme, and beef wellington, followed by the crème brulee. Pete had the caviar, then beef wellington with a lobster on top to make 'Surf and Turf', followed by the Pavlova. Our waiter suggested the double main course combination when we asked for advice. We had brought our camera because we knew it was a special meal and we like to take photos of the food. At the end there was a procession of staff, with the chefs, waiters, bartenders, and cabin steward/esses walking through the restaurant and all carrying fireworks. Everyone was enjoying the evening and all the staff were smiling.
We knew that it had been possible for passengers to be offered tours of the galley, just like on the Queens, but that was not allowed now. However Bridge visits were possible, and to our delight they were scheduled while the ship was moving at sea. We have only once been invited onto the Bridge while at sea, and that was a very special treat; usually visits have been only while the Queens are in port because of safety considerations. In contrast we did a tour of the Bridge of the HMNZS Canterbury during the Art Deco festival at Napier, New Zealand in 2011 and there were 'Do Not Touch' signs everywhere but otherwise she was open to visitors and children of all ages could sit in the chair and pretend to be Captain.
Having queued to collect our ticket we reported to the meeting point at 10.00 and spent an interesting 30 minutes on the Bridge. We collected an information sheet with technical details about the ship, the Bridge, the Engine Room and Crew numbers. We already knew that there were 677 passengers, but there are also 385 crew, including 7 Deck Officers, 12 Engine Officers and 21 Hotel Officers. Most importantly there are 29 cooks, pantry personnel and bakers, and 105 waiters, bartenders and deckstewards, and 40 cabin steward/esses.
Unfortunately the Bridge visit coincided with the second lecture by the former Olympic athlete Dame Mary Peters in the Ballroom, followed by instructions on disembarkation. We watched these on the TV in our cabin and had not realised that the disembarkation lecture would also include a procession of waiters and cabin steward/esses so that they could be applauded.
After yet another serious 5 course lunch we were not hungry in the afternoon but duty led us to go to the special Viennese Tea with music by the Covent Garden Consort string quartet. This was a special effort by the chefs, with an ice sculpture and a selection of excellent cakes, including Sachertorte, Linzertorte and Black Forest gateaux. We watched others pile their plates high and wondered how anyone could eat so much so often without gaining weight. Our seven days on board had been perfect, we had eaten moderately but not to excess, and we knew we had gained weight. A longer cruise, or a sector of a world cruise would be a gastronomic delight but a dietary disaster.
This evening the Captain and his officers hosted a Farewell Cocktail party, with the usual choices of sparkling wine, G&T, and whisky and ginger. We spent time chatting to the Captain and to the Hotel Manager and mentioned the Final Saga Ruby World Cruise in 2013. The response was that there were not enough people who wanted to go on the World Cruise, and that it was too expensive to do it when the ship was only part-full. We knew from QE2 days what can happen and we did benefit then from free upgrades but it is not good commercial business. When we got home we found a letter waiting for us which stated that the Saga Ruby was going to be retired in January 2014, when she returned from her Christmas cruise to the Caribbean. We wished the officers had felt able to tell us the news while we were on board, but perhaps they did not know that it had been made public.
We made sure we finished dinner early enough to get a seat in the Ballroom for the final Cabaret Showtime, then turned our watches back by one hour to UK time, put out our suitcases for collection and retired for the evening.
Breakfast and disembarkation were efficient. There were free newspapers while we waited to be called to our luggage, and porters helped us with the two suitcases at no charge. Our Saga chauffeur car was waiting to take us home, and the only slight problem was the congestion where the M26 joins the M25, so we were delayed by 45 minutes. It was an excellent holiday, and when we opened our post we received a refund for £157 from Saga because our cabin had been reduced in price since we booked and they operate a Price Guarantee system.
In so many ways it is a contrast with our Cunard cruises on QM2, QV and QE although it is so similar to our trips on the QE2. In conclusion, we would definitely cruise again on the Saga Ruby and are looking at the brochures for one last trip before she retires. However, our choices for Norway or the Canaries work out at £1000 per person for 7 days (scaled appropriately for longer cruises) and a cruise on the Queen Victoria from Southampton to Egypt in November with an ocean view cabin is just £1099 each (plus gratuities and transfers) for 21 days. Maybe we should do both !
The first question we have found that everybody asks is "How does the Saga Ruby compare to the other cruise liners you have been on?" As our regular readers will know we have been great fans of Cunard and have completed nearly 600 days on their ships starting with the old Cunard Countess, then many years on the QE2 and more recently we have shared our favours between the three new Queens, the Queen Mary 2, the Queen Victoria and the Queen Elizabeth. We have tried to be completely objective and fair, arguably too fair, in the following comparison.
Transfer house to ship
Cunard - not included although some cruises have free parking in Southampton
Saga – included car to Southampton (>75miles) or shared car to Dover (75-150 miles) – porters with prepaid tips
Cunard - $11 or $13 per person per day and 15% added on bar and entertainment bills
Saga – included and bar bills are exactly as priced and we never observed anybody give extra tips which is common on Cunard.
Cunard Grill cabins have balconies, three seater settees, two beds which can be made into KingSize and bathrooms with bath and shower. They match the best Saga Ruby suites.
Cunard Britannia ocean view cabins are all identical with a two seater settee, two beds which can be made into KingSize, and bathrooms with showers. Some views are only of a lifeboat.
Saga Ruby ocean view cabins vary, some are twin beds some convert to kingsize, there is an armchair, bathrooms are large and have showers and some have full baths.
All cabins have a small fridge and safe, two wardrobes and lots of drawers.
All ships have self-service laundrettes and paid laundry and dry-cleaning services.
Cunard Grills – All meals are served at your permanent table any time during published opening times.
Cunard Britannia – Open sitting for breakfast and lunch. Two sittings for dinner at fixed times.
Saga Ruby – Open sitting for breakfast and lunch. Dinner at your permanent table (18.45 to 21.00)
Meals on Saga Ruby were generally much better quality and better selection than Cunard Britannia although everything was plated apart from extra vegetables. Cunard Grill restaurants also have an A La Carte Menu and do a lot of silver service and overall have a significant edge in service and food.
Restaurant staff uniform is less formal with Saga Ruby; Cunard Maitre d' wears formal morning suit attire with tails on Formal nights and never is seen in an Officer uniform.
Lido/Kings Court Self Service
Cunard – Very large self-service cafeteria open 24 hours.
Saga Ruby – Same food as in the main restaurant, but self service. Extra tables laid outdoors and in the Ballroom for busy times. Similar hours to the main restaurant. Ground coffee, fruit juices and ice-cream all day.
Saga Ruby – The View restaurant is included but can only be booked for one dinner during the cruise and gets booked up early in the cruise.
Cunard - Todd English and Verandah restaurants cost extra, and offer lunch at sea and dinner every evening.
Cunard have a fully served Alternative Dining option in the Lido during the evening, at a fairly nominal additional cost (~$10).
Cunard Room Service – Limited choice in Britannia staterooms because of 24 hour dining in Lido
Saga Ruby – Good choice of Room Service 24 hours a day.
Cunard White Star afternoon tea in the Grills Lounge and the Queens Room is an elegant ceremony, but the sandwiches and cakes on Saga Ruby are better and include a wide selection of diabetic and gluten free cakes, jams etc.
Price of extras
Cunard drinks are much more expensive than Saga at current exchange rates. For example we paid $62 + 15% for Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc on Queen Elizabeth whereas on Saga Ruby we could have had a 2006 Chateau Talbot (3rd growth claret) for £58. Most Saga wine was around £13 - £20 per bottle and with no compulsory 15% tip.
Tours seem to be similar prices, although Saga is priced in sterling and Cunard in USDollars.
Saga Ruby has 677 passengers compared with 2014 for Queen Victoria/Elizabeth and 2620 for Queen Mary 2. Size matters, but the type of passenger is important too and Saga is predominantly British and everyone we met on our cruise was friendly, interesting to talk to, and we would be very happy to have them as neighbours. Cunard is much bigger and the range of passengers is much wider, especially on World Cruises.
Entertainment and Public Rooms
There are two formal nights on 7 night cruises, and Captains Welcome and Farewell Dinners. Cunard Queens are famous for their two storey sumptuous West End -style theatres with Theatre Boxes (at an extra $55 + 15%). Saga Ruby has a smaller basic Theatre which is used as a Cinema and for lectures. The Cunard Queen's Room is similar to the Saga Ruby Ballroom and used for music and dancing. Saga Ruby has no Casino, and no Bookshop. Even when full Saga Ruby did not feel crowded and we never found any queues anywhere. Cunard ships can have queues for afternoon tea, for entry into dinner and for disembarkation at ports.
The movement on and off the Saga Ruby is much faster as there are limited security checks with metal detectors and x raying of luggage only under exceptional circumstances after the initial boarding.
You are able to bring drinks on board Saga ships however their bar prices are so low they say nobody bothers (from a staff posting in January 2009 clarifying the position in an internet conference). We have always found Cunard to be very flexible but strictly it is a single bottle for a special occasion and you pay corkage if you drink it in the restaurant of about $15 plus gratuities.
Saga Ruby also allows visitors subject to advance checks on ID, whereas Cunard does not.
Saga passengers have to be over 50, unless they are over 40 and accompanying an older passenger.
Cunard World Club rewards passengers who have taken one or more cruises: Silver (1 cruise), Gold (2 cruises or 20 days), Platinum (7 cruises or 70 days), Diamond (15 cruises or 150 days). Saga has a Britannia Club Bronze (35 nights), Silver (75 nights), Gold (150 nights) and Sapphire (500 nights) and Free cruise (1000 nights). Benefits seem very similar although Saga also offers discounts on purchases on board.
Cruise basic cost comparison including gratuities and transport, ocean view cabin
Saga – 7 night to Norway in August 2013 Today’s price from £1029 (including current £125 offer for past passengers)
Cunard – 7 night to Norway in June 2013 Today Internet price £1084 plus £60 (tips) plus £75 (share of taxi to Southampton). GetAway fares when available are much cheaper.
Standard pricing is therefore cheaper with Saga, but we take advantage of Cunard last-minute offers and so do not expect to pay these prices.
| Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Layout revised: 11th June, 2015