We have just returned from a wonderful cruise aboard Fred Olsen's Braemar.
This was the third time that we had sailed on the ship, the previous two cruises were when the ship was in the Cunard fleet and was known as the Cunard Dynasty.
Fred Olsen had made several changes to the ship. First of all a few years ago, they cut the ship in two and extended it creating more cabins, deck space and introducing a new restaurant. The passenger capacity increased from 800 to around 1000 berths and is a perfect ship to cruise on.
Our check-in was pretty speedy compared to the last cruise with Princess at Southampton, where we had to queue up outside the building and were nearly 3 hours going through the check-in procedure! So this was nice, straight in with a seat to wait to be called through and pretty quick desk check-in.
Our last few cruises have been on the mega ships with more than 3000 passengers and we straight away settled into our comfortable floating home. Its an easy ship to get around and best of all there are no queues.
We were fortunate to be allocated the Grampian restaurant and I would encourage you to choose or request this at the time of booking. As we booked late we could only get 2nd sitting, but we were rewarded with a table that gave us the most fantastic sea views through a huge round window (like a giant port hole approximately 8 feet in circumference). The highlight one evening was watching a school of dolphins swim and play just off the port side as we sailed between the Outer and Inner Hebrides and this was accompanied by a family of swallows, with their new born, just flying by the window and landing on the deck.
In terms of food served we were generally satisfied apart from the Rock and Roll themed Menu which was generally pretty poor. Burgers served in the restaurant and the sort of stuff you would expect on a TGI Friday menu - but worse! Otherwise the meals and menu choice was pretty good and considering the price we paid for the cruise - it was exceptional value. Others with far reaching expectations probably would not be satisfied and we did hear crumbles.
My only negative about the restaurant were:
Breakfast - many passengers would come up from the main restaurant and so we had to queue and could not use our own table. The maitre d walked through the restaurant and was not really hands on to problems. The waiters served tea/coffee as the desert was delivered and therefore it was cold and the tea/coffee was served from pots that unless they were fresh, were generally only lukewarm. There was just so much wastage. We ended up asking for fresh hot boiling water and adding a tea bag - which really was the only way to get a decent cup of tea that was hot and even then the waiters would fetch or use a lukewarm pot, so you had to continually ask for 'Hot Boiling Water', which the waiters were generally reluctant to go to galley for.
My mother had cause to complain about an Indian waiter (we won't say his name).
On several occasions he was seen picking his nose in full view of everyone in the restaurant and we raised this with the maitre d who promised to take action. Needless to say the waiter carried on and failed to wash/clean his hands and serve food! Fred Olsen seemed to take precautions in providing anti bacteria hand cleaners at the restaurant entrances. This was not supervised and as well as waiters, other passengers would nonchalantly just walk past them. Its no wonder norovirus spreads and its these folks who probably carry the infections.
We visited the main restaurant on one occassion and were so glad we were not allocated to dine in there. The dining room is crammed tight and Lunch is self service and is just like a bun fight!
The sun deck was vastly improved, with two swimming pools and two hot tubs. The swimming pools were heated, but the water was dirty. We came out with rashes.
The pool water was only changed once in 9 days.
We enjoyed the sailway parties from Dublin and Belfast under clear blue skies.
Dancing to a live band at the rear of the ship. If you want a seat, you need to get there around 45 minutes - 30 at the latest. We have to knock the pushiness of the waiting staff at the sailaway party! They were obviously under orders. as soon as you appeared it was like being greeted by timeshare touts and if we said no twice we said it over twenty times! This ruined the ambiance of the sailaway. Yes we do like a drink, but to be in your face every 30 seconds is well over the top and Fred Olsen should review the clients experience at a sailaway. It ruined it for us.
On a more positive note, I liked some of the change on board the ship that Fred Olsen have made. The Observation lounge/bar, just under the bridge. This was previously a gymnasium. It was nice for a pre or after dinner drink.
Entertainment on board was limited and the dance group performed pretty much repetitive boring routines that are very dated. That aside, the singers and the bands were pretty good with entertaining shows. The highlight was the crew show and some very talented individuals,e specially the waiter who performed a comic sketch as a ventriloquist! So why waste a budget when you have the talent in house! This is how the good old days of cruising use to operate with talented crew performing and keeping the passengers entertained!
Now for the real moan of the cruise. The port lecture was the worst we have ever been to. Despite the lounge being full, the presenter was so full of himself and what he had done and where he had been. He did not know the times the ship was in port - saying he would have to check and his port information was pathetic. You may as well picked up a map and studied it yourself. His voice was so boring he sent half the audience to sleep and many just got up and walked out. He would point out landmarks in the town and was quoted saying, I think that has moved!
He pushed the ships tours and quoted for Belfast if you want to visit the Titanic Exhibition then unless you book the ships tour you probably wont get in! We took the complimentary shuttle bus to town and got a lift to the museum. We walked straight in and purchased tickets for the next tour! Three of us got in for Â£38 which was not even the cost of one on their sightseeing tour!
Needless to say we did not book any ships tours as we found the presenter awful and uninspiring and full of useless information which he provided to fill his port lecture. Worst of all though, was the presentation was on a loop on the in cabin TV entertainment system. Fred Olsen need to closely look at this sector as it is affecting their on-board revenues and income potential and almost everyone we cam across on the cruise was of the same opinion.
Our ports of call sailing from Dover was Dublin, with an overnight stop.
There was a shuttle bus operating, but you had to pay Fred Olsen.
Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands
Invergordon in Scotland.
The cruise also provided 4 days cruising at sea.
For some reason Fred Olsen cancelled Holyhead. To us they missed out on probably one of the best ports of calls in a Round Britain Cruise. Whilst there is not much at Holyhead, the tour options are fantastic with fantastic scenery of the Snowdonia National Park mixed in with the historic Welsh Culture and their UNESCO world heritage Castles, which you can visit at Conwy, Caernarfon and Beaumaris on a day ashore.
We had booked a private tour with Boutique Tours of North Wales and had to consequently cancel. Boutique Tours were pretty informative with their information and options. We had used them before on a previous cruise last year when we called at Liverpool. We were fortunate to come across him as a friend recommended him when they cruised into Liverpool. They have a lovely Mercedes Viano, which is a nice spacious and comfortable vehicle. One bit of advice, they only have the one vehicle and you have to book early to take advantage of their services.
Although the itinerary was not a great one, the mixture of cruise days at sea and ports was well balanced. Our only real negative was Fred Olsen had cancelled the port of call to Holyhead in North Wales before the cruise operated and there was no reason provided. So despite not visiting Holyhead, the weather on our cruise was outstanding and we had sea conditions that resembled cruising the Greek Aegean Seas - beautiful blue calm waters with a smooth ripple and wake from our ship cruising at a very relaxed rate of knots.
To finish with, we have to say that value for money this was a really enjoyable cruise and just let down on the few areas that we have highlighted. We found that the majority of passengers had booked via a heavily discounted late offer from just Â£299 and many of the dining experiences we encountered, guests were asking what you paid and this became a very sensitive subject and one or two became annoyed as the conversations progressed with people gloating over what they paid and taking pleasure out of upsetting other folk. We just did not enter the conversation as we said it was a present from our mother who was travelling with us and we said it would be rude to ask her what she paid!