Black Watch Cruise Review by David Williamson: FROM LIMA TO SOUTHAMPTON VIA PANAMA CANAL & CARIBBEAN
FROM LIMA TO SOUTHAMPTON VIA PANAMA CANAL & CARIBBEAN
Travelled with my wife, this was our first experience with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, after having done the obligatory research initially.
A well organised event - a Fred Olsen charter flight for some 370 cruisers aboard a Pullmantur Air Jumbo 747 from Gatwick to Callao (Lima) was a pleasant experience, perhaps the most comfortable charter we've ever travelled on, with comfortable seats, plenty of legroom, seemingly continuously being fed & watered, toilets regularly cleaned by cabin crew during flight (something regular airline could learn). Upon arrival in Lima, clear directions through all formalities and onto the coaches taking all to the ship.
The Black Watch itself is a tired old lady, but with a certain faded dignity - our cabin, rather optimistically called a "Superior Outside Double" was for us rather small and cramped, with no room for twin beds side by side, all be it with a small picture window as against portholes - one bed was along a cabin wall, the More other against the outer bulkhead, set in "L" shaped configuration. Clear signs of wear & tear (scratch marks on dressing table, one draw not fitting properly, loose shower head, etc), but comfortable beds none the less. The in cabin TV was still was still one of the old box type, with sometimes a fuzzy picture - these days, we would have expected a slim flat screen set. The air conditioner struggled in the South American climate, even at the coolest setting, and sound insulation between cabins was an issue. Everything generally worked OK though, and unlike some cruise liners, tea/coffee making facilities were in situ.
The Glentanur Restaurant was well fitted out, service quite attentive, with variation and quality of food generally very good indeed, as was the service. However, the finesse wasn't quite there, when compared to other cruises we've made on larger vessels - for example, all main dishes came with veg already on the plate, whether you wanted any or not (on the RCL and Celebrity boats, these were served separately by your table waiter, with more choice), and the waiting staff could have had a little more training (e.g. waiters often taking short cuts by leaning over and in front of you when serving other diners, rather than going round the table to serve them). We never used the Garden Cafe, or the Marquee Grill, so cannot comment.
The entertainment provided in the evenings in the Braemar Lounge was excellent, and frankly exceeded expectations. The Black Watch Show Company provided quality floor shows, clearly well rehearsed on every occasion, and the quality of "imported" acts also in the same bracket. Upon arrival in St Johns (Antigua), there was to have been a changeover of entertainers & lecturers, but due to a flight cancellation at Gatwick, the replacements never arrived. The Cruise Director, Ashley Bolton-Burrows and his team pulled out all the stops, and provided alternative entertainment every day & evening, by organising crew talent (and it's surprising what can arise from below deck..!) into performing for passengers, and persuading some passengers to give talks on some of their experiences. Full marks must go to him and his staff.
All (other) lounges and bars were pleasant, as were the staff servicing them, and drinks were about UK pub prices, with minimum price for a bottle of wine about Ã£15 - Ã£16 (for the dining room as well).
The library had a large selection of all types of reading matter, so there was never any shortage. The Wifi was available, but only at certain "hot spots", and VERY costly (Ã£25 purchased 146 mins of online time, about 18p per minute - and the connection is SLOW..!)
During the voyage, a minor epidemic of "stomach flu", or some such tummy bug made a threatening appearance, with about 40 of the 721 passengers affected but the stringent hygiene practices and restrictions put in place kept matters from getting out of hand, and all credit due to the Doctors and their staff.
Previous research seemed to put the average age of the predominantly British passengers as +/-60, but it certainly appeared to be MUCH more than that - my wife and I are in our mid-70s, and we felt (and looked) like young striplings by comparison to some.
Taking the voyage as a whole, we THOROUGHLY enjoyed the complete experience, and the "friendly" atmosphere the ship and her crew generated - one can understand why Fred Olsen have such a loyal following. Would we rate the Black Watch 4 or 5 star..? No, 3 - 4 star is about right. Would we cruise on the "Black Watch" again..? Probably not, simply because we prefer cabins with balconies so that we can sleep with fresh air and not canned air, which we think caused our coughs & colds.. (there are balcony cabins on the Black Watch, but one of those costs an arm & several legs..). Would we use Fred Olsen again..? Yes, probably, as we like Fred Olsen as a cruise line, but only when they get hold of some more modern ships. Meanwhile, we'll stick to balcony cabins on other vessels... Less
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Cabin review: Black Watch Superior Outside Cab Main Deck 5037
Rather small for a cabin described as a "Superior Outside", with beds in an L-shaped configuration Poor sound insulation between cabins - conversations & laughter clearly audible through bulkhead. In-cabin TV still old style box-type, with poor picture. Air-conditioning struggles in humid exterior climate.