There’s something behind a name and determining fate, with the Spirit of Adventure – Saga’s newest cruise ship – needing just that to make it to her inaugural voyage on Monday 26 July, almost a year after she was ready to first take passengers on board.
The pandemic disrupted the delivery schedule of the Spirit of Adventure - sister ship of the Spirit of Discovery - with the 58,250 (gross) tonnage vessel handed over by the shipbuilder in September 2020. She was due to take to the waters last year but, because of Covid-19 and subsequent national lockdowns, has remained berthed and waiting to take to the seas.
But, in the spirit of adventure, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Saga have worked hard to adapt to the changing needs during lockdown, to ensure the minimum amount of disruption to the building and certification process. And, as the cruise ship industry returns to our shores, the boutique vessel is also ready to begin her service.
Chris D’Alcorn, Technical Manager with UK Maritime Services, a part of the MCA, said: “The Spirit of Adventure has seen a change from our normal way of doing things, with COVID forcing us to work remotely.
“Saga have had to wait quite a while for this maiden voyage, she was delivered in September 2020 and left the yard but due to the pandemic has been laid-up in Tilbury, just waiting for her inaugural trip.
“But I am very comfortable with how it has all come together. I’m very pleased to see her finally sail.”
The ship will depart on her inaugural cruise from Tilbury today, sailing under the Red Ensign of the UK Ship Register. Both the Spirit of Adventure and the Spirit of Discovery are sailing under the UK Flag.
James Langley, Marine and Technical Operations Director at Saga, said: “This is an incredibly exciting day for us at Saga as we welcome guests onboard our newest ship, Spirit of Adventure, for the very first time.
“The MCA has been an important partner in helping us to reach this milestone after Adventure’s entry into service was delayed due to the pandemic, ensuring we had a safe layup and supporting us to overcome numerous challenges.
“We’re extremely proud to fly the British Ensign on our ships and look forward to continuing to build our relationship with the MCA as we embark on this exciting new chapter for Saga Cruises.”
Chris added: “Saga is such a British brand, catering to the UK public, so we’re pleased that they have decided to go with the UK Flag, it’s a big symbol.
“This also sees a return to the UK Flag after several of their ships were flagged elsewhere, we’re very pleased that their chief executive saw the value in a return to the UK Ship Register.”
So what have the UK Flag offered in the past year, to justify this return?
Chris emphasised the flexibility of the UK Flag over the past 18 months and a huge change in attitude towards a more digitally-savvy approach.
“As a flag we are normally more hands-on, but the world situation forced us to adapt, we did and we delivered it remotely for the first-ever time,” he said.
“I wonder if companies have considered whether they are simply flagged to the cheapest or the one that offers the best value, and we think, with the services and expertise we have at our disposal, we offer great value.
“We offer a full service from the early stages all the way through to a maiden voyage and even beyond – that expertise and previous experience in the cruise ship market is invaluable.
“The UK Flag will always provide support and extensive industry knowledge.”
He explained that the more adaptable thinking, coupled with continued passion and commitment, has paid dividends across the past year and a half with the UK Flag emerging with a new lease of life.
“It’s been a very busy time for the flag, possibly busier than it has ever been as we have been providing above and beyond support; this is now our ‘new normal’,” Chris said.
“We offered flexibility on the ship build itself [with the Spirit of Adventure] and on making sure we work together to get around some problems that came up as a result of the unique COVID situation. We have tried to always be a voice on the end of the phone, whenever that might have been needed to everyone involved, from builder, to operator.”
Spirit of Adventure has 10 passenger decks. It features five restaurants and several bars. Outdoor facilities include an observation deck, a promenade and terrace, pool, sports court and deck games.
Entertainment and wellbeing facilities include a 444-seat theatre, the Britannia Lounge with a dance floor and live entertainment, a library, a spa, a gym, shop and medical centre.
The company have implemented a rule that guests must have received both doses of the vaccine to be eligible to travel, but have also reduced capacity to accommodate social distancing, doubled the amount of medical teams onboard and increased the crew to customer ratio to enhance cleaning.
The measures led to Saga being awarded Shield+ accreditation by Lloyds’ Register, the highest health and safety award.
A spokeswoman added: “We understand how important safety is for our customers and that’s why we have done everything we can to reassure them as they travel with us.”
Safety also remains among the most important aspect of a new build, delivery and maiden voyage to the MCA as well.
Chris said: “Safety is still key and remained at the core of everything we did; at no point was safety compromised, we just found new ways to do the same old things, this will help us all moving forward.
“The vessel has changed their mustering system [the traditional method of delivering safety training] to its customers as well, by offering it by video instruction or in your cabin, rather than having everyone in the same room.
“The flexibility actually led to a great team dynamic, we all adapted and worked together to find new and innovative ways of doing things – an example of a real success story for all.”