New ship Spirit of Discovery has been designed to please Britons who account for 98 per cent of Saga Cruises passengers, says Robin Shaw.
‘We are a British cruise line for the British public, unashamedly so,’ the CEO of Saga Travel told me in Dover, where the ship will be named by Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, tomorrow.
‘There is nobody else building ships of our size dedicated to the UK market. We homeport out of Dover and Southampton, 98 per cent of our guests are British, all the artists on board are British based and we moved to the UK flag with this ship,’ said Shaw. ‘Some of our customers like to see the Red Ensign on the back of the vessel.’
Designing Spirit of Discovery – the cruise line’s first newbuild – was ‘a long process’ but ‘we are over the bloody moon’, Shaw said.
Saga consulted three focus groups – existing customers, cruisers with high-end lines and people who went on luxury holidays. Although some loyal passengers questioned the need to make the new ship all-balcony, there was a general demand for a variety of eating and entertainment options.
‘Existing customers wanted a promenade deck and many people said it was important how the ship looked,’ said Shaw. ‘We have a proper raked stern of the vessel where people can walk from top to bottom. We think we have designed a proper looking ship. We did dabble with a different coloured funnel but went back to yellow so there is an element of tradition there.’
The 999-passenger ship carries more people than the old Saga favourites but in much more space, he added.
Shaw congratulated newbuild director David Pickett and design agency SMC for the cool, modern interiors. ‘They spent a huge amount of time visiting top-end London contemporary hotels to get ideas for what we wanted on our ship, which was to try to deliver that kind of “boutique hotel” theme – personalised service, fine dining, bespoke design, almost a little bit quirky. That’s what we’ve tried to create with the spaces,’ he said.
‘Hopefully customers will be impressed by the design features, the art and the whole way the ship fits together.’
Shaw is also proud of the link with Jools Holland, who will bring his band on board ‘on a number of cruises each year’.
Asked how Spirit of Discovery would compare with its Saga predecessors, Shaw said: ‘This is a brand new ship, so this is different in many ways. We have maintained the Britannia Lounge which is a major venue for us but, again, the design of that has been brought massively up to date and is more spectacular than before.
‘The thing that hasn’t changed – and why Saga Cruises has been successful for the last 20 years – is the service and the crew we have on board. Every cruise line will tell you that but I honestly believe that we have something quite special.
‘We have the lowest crew turnover in the industry, I think – less than two per cent – which is pretty staggering and that will stay the same, the “nothing is too much trouble” ethos.
‘This ship gives us the platform to raise the bar in everything we do, not just on the customer front. We also have a ship that’s sustainable in many ways, employing the latest technologies to reduce our carbon footprint per passenger.’