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Rocking the boat! New Saga ship Spirit of Discovery has a Jools Holland club

The theatre is rocking as musical maestro Jools Holland pounds the piano at breakneck speed, prompting the excited audience to jump to its feet. As I join the crowds who've rushed to the front of the stage to dance to the intoxicating beat, I have to pinch myself when I remember this is a Saga cruise.

Admittedly we haven't set sail yet, but I'm among the first guests to experience life aboard Saga Cruises' new £346 million ship Spirit of Discovery on the day it was named by the Duchess of Cornwall earlier this month, virtually under the shadow of Dover's white cliffs.

Around 500 guests gathered for a quayside garden party to celebrate the launch of what Saga proclaims to be the most British of ships, celebrating the romance of travel, albeit with a modern twist.

Game changer: The navy and yellow funnel of Saga's Spirit of Discovery over the onboard Lido

Royal treatment: The Duchess of Cornwall attended the naming ceremony 

On stepping into the atrium a few days later as the ship departs on its inaugural voyage around Britain, I'm transfixed by the 26 ft-high bronze-effect centrepiece stretching up three decks - one of 1,200 precious works on board which carry a £1 million-plus price tag.

As I walk around, it's clear that Spirit of Discovery is a game changer with chic interiors in a palette of cool shades; petrol blues, smoky greys, fawn and ivory, inspired by London hotels.

Whether Saga cruising purists will be persuaded by this remains to be seen, though guests on the maiden voyage are positive, especially after enjoying the increased line-up of facilities; from the line's first purpose-built theatre to a spa with bubbling hydrotherapy pool and a library bursting with 3,500 books.

Striking a chord: Jools Holland will play concerts in The Club on three cruises in 2020

Another highlight is The Club by Jools. This Fifties-style steakhouse-cum-cabaret lounge was created with Jools Holland and struck a chord with me for its beautifully-cooked prime cuts served to the lilting backdrop of live musical performances.

The musician has signed up to play in this intimate setting on a trio of 2020 sailings, but such is the interest that he's set to play full-on gigs in the theatre, too.

The Spirit of Discovery is the first of two new boutique-style Saga vessels (Spirit of Adventure arrives in August next year).

With 999 passengers, it is Saga's biggest ship to date and the first to have been built specially for the line, but the company has cannily kept the passenger tally below 1,000 to justify its boutique claim.

Stylish: Each of the ship's 554 cabins has a balcony and sports Saga's yellow and blue colours

The 554 cabins are suitably stylish, each has a balcony, and 20 per cent have been designed for the legion of solo travellers that Saga attracts.

With its smart navy hull and distinctive canary-yellow funnel, Spirit of Discovery looks the part and I join other cruisers to stroll along its wraparound promenade deck (four circuits equals a mile), a traditional feature often missing from modern cruise ships.

The centrepiece of the outdoor decks is the charming art deco style lido pool, where I dangle my feet in the water and soak up its British seaside resort ambience, before sampling cocktails in the airy Britannia Lounge.

The Grand Dining Room, where guests can enjoy Saga's widest selection of restaurants ever

Mealtimes take on another stately Grand dimension with the Dining Room living up to its name for British fare and international dishes, with many ingredients sourced from around the UK. 

I prefer both the food and the service in speciality venues East to West and Coast to Coast, which serve Asian cuisine and seafood respectively for no extra charge.

The Spirit of Discovery doesn't just promise to rock the boat; it's shaking up Saga's image, too. You could say it has come of age. 

TRAVEL FACTS 

A ten-night round-trip sailing on Spirit of Discovery from Dover to the Iberian Peninsula includes stops at Bordeaux, Bilbao and Leixoes in Portugal. Departing on October 7, it costs from £2,737pp full-board including wine, gratuities and home-port chauffeur service (0808 278 3157, travel.saga.co.uk). 

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