A celebration of the best of British as HRH The Duchess of Cornwall names Saga’s first-ever new-build ship
Sparkling wine from Kent, grass from Yorkshire, a stirring military band and Welsh male voice choir were all part of a quintessentially British celebration in Dover that saw HRH The Duchess of Cornwall christen Saga’s cruise ship, Spirit of Discovery.
There was a garden party atmosphere at the event on Friday (July 5) as the sunny quayside was transformed with marquees, bunting, trees and a lawn. Over 500 guests gathered to watch the Duchess of Cornwall become godmother of the 999-passenger vessel, the first cruise ship to be named in the Port of Dover for more than a decade and the only small new-build ship to be launched in the UK for several decades.
Built at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Germany, Spirit of Discovery is the only ship built and delivered exclusively for the British market this year and has been registered in the UK.
Reflecting Saga’s British heritage and long association with Folkestone, Kent – where the holiday company for over-50s has its headquarters – instead of a traditional bottle of Champagne, a jeroboam of Hush Heath English sparkling wine from the winery in Staplehurst was cracked across the bows, before eco-friendly confetti was fired into the air.
Saga recently launched its first ever strapline, “keep doing” as a reference to its relevance to an age group that is healthier and more adventurous than ever before, and in her speech The Duchess of Cornwall amused guests by quoting the words of poet T.S. Eliot who mused about middle age: “The years between fifty and seventy are the hardest. You are always being asked to do more, and you are not yet decrepit enough to turn them down.”
HRH also made reference to the charity Silver Line, which provides a 24-hour telephone helpline for older people who feel lonely or isolated, and of which she is patron. Silver Line is also Saga’s first charity partner and she added: “Since its launch in 2013 it has received over two million calls and the support of Saga will ensure that its vital work with continue.”
The christening ceremony included a rousing performance by the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Collingwood and moving songs from the Morriston Orpheus Choir. There were more poignant moments with a flypast by a First World War Spitfire set against the backdrop of Dover’s famous white cliffs. The ship was then blessed by the Right Reverend Trevor Willmott, Bishop of Dover.
HRH was given a tour of the Spirit of Discovery, Saga’s first-ever brand new vessel, which has been designed and built to be a “boutique” hotel on the sea with the needs of British passengers in mind, such as kettles in every cabin and menus featuring favourite dishes and staples such as Marmite at breakfast, along with international cuisine. She viewed some of the 400 plus pieces of original artwork commissioned from British-based artists, including a striking glass work created by sculptor Peter Layton and inspired by the Royal Gardens at Highgrove.
Another centrepiece at the christening was a two-metre long cake in the shape of Spirit of Discovery, made by Mark Tilling, winner of television’s Bake Off Creme de la Creme.
Robin Shaw, Chief Executive of Saga Travel, told guests: “This is an immensely proud moment for Saga. We started this journey to build something special some three and a half years ago, and today we are honoured to be joined by our godmother, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall. We firmly believe that Spirit of Discovery creates a new British quality standard in the cruising market, and we can’t wait to welcome guests on board.”
In the evening, after a gala dinner guests were entertained in the theatre – another first for a Saga ship – by Jools Holland, who has a dining and live music venue, The Club by Jools, named after him on Spirit of Discovery.
The occasion marked the start of a new era for Saga Cruises, the only remaining British registered, independent cruise line. Spirit of Discovery is the first ship to be docked, and named, at Dover Western Docks following a £250 million redevelopment of the area.
Spirit of Discovery’s maiden voyage will take passengers on a sailing around the British Isles and she will then sail all over Europe and beyond, including cruises to the Norwegian Fjords, the Mediterranean and Baltic. Every cabin on the ship has a balcony and around 20% are dedicated single cabins.
A second sister ship, Spirit of Adventure, is currently being built at Meyer Werft and will be launched in 2020, marking the retirement of Saga’s other current vessels Saga Sapphire and Saga Pearl II.
Look for our full cruise report on Spirit of Discovery coming soon, and for more information please visit https://travel.saga.co.uk
Known as the ‘River Cruise Queen’, Jeannine Williamson is an award-winning travel writer, cruise expert and our cruise correspondent, who has clocked up thousands of nautical miles.
Photographs courtesy of Saga Cruises