WITHIN the last two months the British cruise industry has welcomed the arrival of Saga Cruises, 58,250gt, Spirit of Discovery, and bade farewell to P&O’s iconic, 1995 built, 69,153gt, cruise liner Oriana.
Although separated in age by 24 years, they not only have similar tonnages but dimensions too, with length and breadth at 236 metres, 31.2 metres, and 259 metres and 32 metres respectively. Both ships have been described as classic British cruise ships, purposebuilt for the British cruise market. Coincidentally, they were both constructed at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. Perhaps it is there though the similarities end.
In her design, the Spirit of Discovery offers the – over- 50’s travel specialist – guests a celebration of British artists and landscapes, and an array of restaurants with cuisine refl ecting the myriad of destinations she will visit throughout the world. Every guest of the 999 capacity she is able to carry will be accommodated in a cabin with an average deck area of 215 square feet including a balcony. Her eSiPod propulsion system delivered by Siemens claims to be low-noise, low-vibration and superior to conventional diesel electric systems. The new vessel was christened at the £250 million pound recently developed Western Docks in the port of Dover on 5 July in a ceremony performed by her Godmother, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall. Five days later, the fi rst guests embarked Saga’s reported £346 million vessel for her 13 nights, maiden voyage around the British Isles, aptly named – A British First.
Earlier in the year, the keel laying ceremony was held for Spirit of Discovery’s sister ship, the Spirit of Adventure, Saga cruises’ second new build. Spirit of Adventure is expected to enter into service in summer 2020.
Robin Shaw, CEO of Saga Travel said: “Our decision to build two boutique cruise ships, Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Adventure for our guests heralds a new era in the history of Saga cruising. Both ships have been designed to epitomise Saga’s British boutique cruising concept and they are the fi rst small, luxury ships to be built by a British company, for the British market, in more than four decades.”The Spirit of Discovery has been registered in the UK and proudly displays London as her port of registry. Spirit of Adventure will also fl y the Red Ensign.
At the time of her build in 1961, P&O’s, 44,807grt Canberra, did and would for more than the next 30 years defi ne the British cruise market. She was built by Harland & Wolff, in Belfast, and originally had accommodation for 556 fi rst-class and 1716 tourist-class passengers. From 1974 – when cruising – she could carry 1,641 passengers. She was a popular ship from her fi rst voyage. However, by the early 1990s it was apparent that a replacement for her would be required sooner rather than later and an order was placed with Meyer Werft to build what would become the second vessel to carry the name Oriana. Although considered at the time, no British shipyard felt able to compete for the order. Following her delivery voyage from her builders to Southampton, she was offi cially named by Her Majesty the Queen on 6 March 1995. Robert Tillberg, who was responsible for much of her design work, had spent a great deal of time onboard the Canberra to assess the needs of the British market. The result of his work was considered to be both elegant and traditional, including the design of Oriana’s single funnel bearing a resemblance to the prominent feature of the twin funnels on Canberra. The new vessel undoubtedly brought with her standards of accommodation and amenities which were a benchmark for others to follow. Arguably, one of the most noticeable differences from the Canberra and other contemporary passenger/cruise ships was Oriana’s entire deck of staterooms and suites with balconies. Conversely, of the 780 cabins on the Canberra which remained in service until 1997, 236 were without private facilities, let alone balconies. Following the introduction of Oriana the desire and demand for balcony accommodation grew enormously, culminating and evidenced by the design of the new Saga vessels. Oriana was powered by conventional diesel engines, equipped with twin rudders, bow thrusters and a stern thrust. In the mid- 1990s she was considered highly manoeuvrable and was capable of an impressive 24 knots. During her period in service she safely circumnavigated the globe on many world cruises. I am sure history will record she was extremely popular with the many thousands of passengers, including myself, who have had the pleasure and privilege of sailing aboard her. When she sailed up Southampton Water for the fi nal time in early August at the conclusion of her 18 nights, Norway and North Cape cruise I suspect it wouldn’t just be the grass in the adjacent Mayfl ower Park that was dewy, but many an eye on board as well. She may be gone to new horizons in the Far East but her loyal following with precious memories of her will ensure she is never forgotten.