I was lucky to win this cruise in the magazine Cruise International. I was aware beforehand not to expect any facilities for children but still decided to take my daughter and, almost 3 year old, granddaughter. I had problems getting a cabin and then its suitability. Please go to the end of the review if you are interested in the details.
Leaving from Dover we were able to hop on a high speed train from St Pancras and use Fred Olsen's shuttle service to get to the dock. Checking in and boarding through security was tedious and took about an hour and a half.
We were unfortunate in the weather, at least at the start of the cruise, as we were sailing into a deep depression forming in the Bay of Biscay. So for the first day and a half it was dull, rainy, windy and rough. Tough for all the family.
The cabin was bigger than we expected and well furnished. As were the public rooms and the rest of the ship. Plenty of wooden deck space for walking and jogging and a large pool deck with Jacuzzis. Mostly deserted during the cruise my daughter and granddaughter enjoyed both on the slightly warmer days.
We avoided the main dining room on the formal nights as I had neither dinner jacket or dark suit and found the designation old fashioned and frankly silly. Although many passengers were happy to accept the code. We also found it easier some nights to use the buffet so that my granddaughter could get a plate of food she found acceptable. I was disappointed that no effort was made by the dining room staff to help in providing suitable food or generally bring her something she could cope with. We even had to ask for a suitable glass for water instead of the large, slim stemmed glasses provided. I can understand why Fred Olsen might not feel the need to provide children's' facilities on the Braemar but the dining room could, and should, have done better.
The food itself varied from OK to some good courses and the general service was only adequate (worse that any of my previous cruises).
I should tell you here that all the staff on board were very friendly and it wasn't long before it seemed that they were all greeting my granddaughter by name.
The other public rooms were all well appointed and comfortable but got a bit crowded on 'at sea' days due to the weather.
We didn't visit the main show room but did go into the cabaret room on 3 nights to listen to an excellent 4 piece group called 4th Dimension. My granddaughter and 2 friends had a wonderful time on the dance floor which had very few other dancers.
We arrived in La Pallice, a short free coach transfer into La Rochelle. The weather was dry and quite pleasant. The next two days would be the same until we reached A Coruna when it became cold and rainy.
They have a new aquarium there which was great fun and well worth a visit. We also had lunch which was way better than you might expect at a tourist attraction. Worth trying even if you don't want to go to the aquarium.
The small harbour - La Vieux Port - was very picturesque, as was the surrounding streets and buildings.
Next day we were in Getxo for Bilbao. We didn't fancy the hour round trip into town so got out our bucket and spades and went to a beautiful broad beach 5 minutes walk from the ship.
The next port of call, Aviles, was the best. It turns out that we were the first ever cruise line to dock at the new terminal right in the centre of town. As we approached up a narrow channel both sides were lined by people welcoming our arrival and more were at the quayside. We were next to the impressive new Centro Cultural Internacional Oscar Niemeyer and then a short walk across an amazing bridge into the old town. We strolled through charming squares, cobbled streets and a lovely park ending up in a pavement cafe in the Plaza de Espana drinking a cafe solo.
And at our departure the crowds waving goodbye were huge. Lots of waving and sounding of the ship's horn.
A Coruna was disappointing for us due to the cold, rainy weather so we weren't ashore for long.
The weather on the trip back to Dover was cold, windy and overcast but the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel were fairly calm.
Two highlights of this part of the voyage were the schools of Dolphins we saw on our penultimate evening and a very traditional afternoon tea served by white gloved staff in the Observatory bar with its large picture windows overlooking the bow. The tea was a very reasonable Â£6+.
Overall the cruise was disappointing. The weather didn't help of course but I would rate the food and restaurant service as average, certainly worse than my previous cruises. The cabin was good (except for the particular problems below) and cabin service very good. Two bonuses were very few tannoy announcements and we weren't pestered by the photographers.
The general atmosphere was old fashioned/traditional with quite a high average age for the passengers. If this suits you then you might enjoy the Braemar.
[Finding a suitable cabin was difficult. My prize was an outside cabin which unfortunately could not accommodate an extra bed so it was either a case of upgrading for over Â£500 or going to an inside cabin and a bunk bed but still paying and extra Â£150. I chose the latter.]
There were still 2 basic problems with the cabin. My granddaughter wasn't used to a bed yet and tended to roll off so we had to put one single bed against the wall and then push the other against it. And the ladder to access the upper berth was only designed to be used at the side of the bunk so any double bed configuration meant that I had to use the ladder at the end of the bunk where it was not safely secured.