Stylish Baltic cruise on a floating boutique hotel

Wayne Sleep with Marion Ainge
Wayne Sleep with Marion Ainge

Marion Ainge enjoys a Baltic adventure on Saga’s Spirit of Discovery.

Diminutive ballet maestro Wayne Sleep assures me the best things come in small packages.

On a 14-night Baltic cruise, Wayne is a guest artist/speaker on Saga’s new Spirit of Discovery, designated a small ship with a 999 passenger capacity. And what a beauty she is!

This £436m floating, boutique hotel features a private balcony in every cabin. Spacious, double stateroom cabins are neutrally-furnished in contemporary style, with inspiration gleaned from top London hotels. One fifth of these accommodate solo travellers.

Saga’s pick up from home chauffeur service takes me to Dover (and return). I feel quite emotional as I board this amazing new ship. A butler greets me in my cabin, which I’m surprised but delighted to discover is a suite, with sitting room, dining table, bar and adjoining bedroom, with sumptuous bed linen. Double sliding doors in each room open to a full width balcony.

After unpacking, I have a bath, but the challenge is getting out as it’s very deep. At only 5ft tall, when sitting down my elbow height doesn’t equal that of the sides. There’s a grab rail at the back but the bath end slopes down so I can’t reach it. Anyway, I’ll leave it at that, but I’m here to tell the tale!

This ship exudes class with an impressive art collection comprising bespoke pieces and another which reflects the palettes of the British Isles. Fresh, light and elegant public areas include The Grand Atrium and The Living Room which are the heart of the ship. Tastefully designed with luxury fittings, guests relax with a daytime coffee or meet for pre/post dinner drinks.

Saga’s signature, double-height Britannia Lounge, which accesses the Britannia Balcony, features spectacular views from panoramic windows.There are additional bars, fitness centre, well-stocked library, sun-deck, wellness spa, beauty salon, hydrotherapy pool, sauna, steam room, treatment rooms, two swimming pools and a promenade deck.

In The Playhouse, entertainment includes port lectures, classical music performances and West End-type shows. Here, Wayne Sleep amuses a capacity audience with talks of tours with Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, plus clips from his ballet performances. Wayne invites me to pose with him for a photograph. We take up the position of Swan Lake’s Dance of the Cygnets.

A variety of great food, expertly prepared and presented, is an intrinsic element of a cruise. And this is exactly what Saga cruisers have come to expect. Besides the Grand Dining Room, there are other options, including al fresco areas, plus three speciality restaurants (no extra charge).

Jools Holland is the face of The Club steak house, designed as a classic 1950s cabaret club with, of course, a piano. Jools will be on several 2020 Spirit of Discovery cruises.

The Coast to Coast fish restaurant and the Asian East to West showcase divine eating experiences in sublime settings.

Our first port of call is Gothenburg and as I step on to the quay, bittersweet memories of a past romance, which began in this city, come flooding back. Within the Haga, one of the oldest parts of the city, the pedestrian street, is lined with characteristic, well-preserved houses, plus lively cafes and bijou boutiques.

The central part of stunning Stockholm comprises 14 islands. On a guided boat tour, we enjoy an amazing journey through narrow passages to the outer archipelago. Within the charming, walled, cobblestoned old town of Tallinn, Estonia, stallholders in the bustling, colourful market are clad in traditional dress.

But the most dazzling gem of the Baltic treasures is St Petersburg. The grandeur, the opulence, the scale of this city is breathtaking. On our two-hour visit to the Hermitage Museum, we marvel at paintings by masters such as Rembrandt, Titian, Da Vinci and Picasso, and stand in awe at monumental displays of ancient marble sculptures. Around 400 majestic rooms are spread over three floors of five interlinked buildings.

The five-domed, iconic Church on Spilled Blood boasts an elaborated multi-hued façade. It stands on the spot where Alexander II was murdered in 1881. With around 180 fountains and water features, it’s easy to see why the imposing Peterhof Palace and Gardens are often called the Russian Versailles.

The cruise also includes Helsinki, Copenhagen and Aalborg, in Denmark. In 2020, Saga’s Spirit of Discovery will be joined by her younger sibling, Spirit of Adventure. They will be big footsteps to follow, but I, for one, cannot wait to meet her!

Standard balcony twin cabin from £3937/mid-ship suite from £7027

A similar Saga Spirit of Discovery cruise departs June 2, 2020 from Dover

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