Set against the backdrop of White Cliffs and Dover Castle, a water cannon and flotilla of small craft welcomed the 999-passenger ship as the first vessel to sail into the port’s new Berth Four.
Flying the red ensign
A welcoming party on the harbourside cheered and waved as the ship sounded her horn, and the elegant vessel looked resplendent with a navy hull, golden yellow funnel and red ensign flag.
After five years of planning, Saga Travel CEO Robin Shaw was visibly excited and said: 'This ship is transformational for us. Our customers will experience a boutique ship like no other. She is absolutely stunning.
'Our passengers do want a big ship so we have built this ship for a British market with London hotel-style speciality restaurants, a superb spa, a theatre and an Art Deco-influenced Lido area.
Stylish and a little quirky
'She is stylish, even a little quirky, and filled with stunning artwork by British-based artists, which we are sure our customers will love. The centrepiece, a magnificent bronze relief spanning three decks of the atrium depicts scenes of the British Isles, including the Saga head office in Folkestone.'
Drives like a Rolls-Royce
Capt. Julian Burgess, who sailed the ship from Meyer Werft to Dover, said his new vessel ‘was like driving a Rolls-Royce’.
After cutting the ribbon to welcome the first visitors on board the 58,250gt ship he said: 'Spirit of Discovery handles beautifully; she has the latest technology with a superb manoeuvring system and I feel very honoured to be master of such a superb ship.'
Berth Four is a 300-metre multiple-purpose berth, the longest at Dover, and Barbara Buczek, Port of Dover’s chief commercial officer said: 'The berth is the first part of the port’s £250m regeneration programme and it is tremendously exciting to welcome Spirit of Discovery as we have such a great connection with Saga Cruises, who are based in Kent.
'Saga’s first ship, Saga Rose, first sailed from here 20 years ago, so we have had a long relationship with the cruise line. This new British ship sailing into the new berth made this a historic day.'
Spirit of Discovery will be christened by godmother Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, on July 5. The inaugural cruise, ‘A British First’, departs on July 10 for a 13-night sailing around the British Isles and Ireland.
Spirit of Discovery is the first of two ships being built for Saga. Sister Spirit of Adventure will enter service in summer 2020. Both ships have an overall length of 236 metres with a beam of 31.2 metres.