I was one of the guests invited to Dover to see HRH The Duchess of Cornwall perform the naming ceremony for Saga's new 554 cabin ship, Spirit of Discovery, designed as a British ‘boutique’ hotel on the sea. What's more, it's the first cruise ship to be named at the port for over a decade.
The sun shone at the afternoon garden party, believed to be the first to be held on a quayside. I have to say it all looked very pretty with Yorkshire grown grass adorning the harbour and lots of traditional bunting, masses of flowers, foliage and parasols. The British theme continued with a parade by The Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines Collingwood and specially blended Spirit of Discovery English sparkling wine from Balfour Hush Heath Estate, served at afternoon tea in the marquee. A Spitfire flew overhead too.
click on images to enlarge © Mike Pickup
Lots of dignitaries and celebrities had come along to enjoy the festivities and in a little game of 'spot the celeb' I saw Dame Esther Rantzen, dancer Wayne Sleep, Falklands War hero Simon Weston and several minor actors and actresses.
The Duchess, in a navy coat dress and cream and navy wide-brimmed hat, named Spirit of Discovery with a jeroboam of the aforementioned English sparkling wine. It sounded like a cannon going off against the side of the ship and set off a cloud of red and green confetti.
image of The Duchess © Gilly Pickup
During a tour of the ship HRH met musician Jools Holland. She told him that last time she named a ship, Cunard's Queen Victoria in 2007, the bottle of Champagne would not break even although she pressed the button several times. Eventually, someone had to physically smash the bottle on the side of the ship! No such hiccups this time though - which must have been something of a relief for her!
Part of her duties at the ceremony included cutting a cake. No ordinary cake though, this splendid affair was a two-metre long replica of Spirit of Discovery, designed and made by Mark Tilling, winner of Bake Off Crème de la Crème. I don't know where the cake was headed, as it wasn't cut into pieces for the guests or dignitaries so I hope perhaps it was donated to a hospice, hospital, children's home or similar worthy recipients.
HRH is the patron of the charity Silver Line, which provides a 24-hour telephone service for older people who feel lonely or isolated. The charity is Saga’s first national charity partner. During HRH's speech she said of the charity, “Since its launch in 2013, it has received over 2 million calls and the support of Saga will ensure that its vital work can continue.”
Robin Shaw, Chief Executive Officer of Saga Travel, said, “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.”
The occasion celebrated the start of a significant new era for Saga Cruises, the only remaining British registered, independent cruise company. Spirit of Discovery is their first commissioned ship. She has been registered in the UK and her port of registry, London, is displayed on the stern. Sister ship, Spirit of Adventure, will also fly the Red Ensign at her launch in 2020.
The inaugural cruise of Spirit of Discovery, named ‘A British First’, departs from Dover on 10 July to sail around the British Isles.
I'm Gilly, award winning journalist, travel writer and author of 11 books. My byline appears in national and regional newspapers and magazines. Website gillypickup.co.uk