The Black Watch is a small ship with around 800 passengers but this is so much better than the super cruisers with thousands of people on board. Our first experience of this vessel was from Dubai to Southampton a few years previously so I was looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with her.
We drove to Dover, a distance of 110 miles and all motorway (M20). Porters were on hand to take our single piece of luggage and then we located our pre booked parking space on the quayside after which we strolled back to the Check In area. This area is bright and welcoming but if you want a sandwich or cuppa from the cafeteria you pay over the odds for it. Forget about the joining instructions in your pre cruise booklet as on check in you are given a number so it's a first come first serve basis for boarding. Gold Members go first however.
Once onboard the cabin was easily located on deck 4 forward. As our booking was 'cabin detailed on arrival' we had no say in where our cabin was located and I would have preferred one more midships. However the seas were not going to be rough so cabin location was not an issue on this occasion. The cabin was spacious enough, two portholes, one permanent bed and a sofa bed in L shape configuration.
Since sailing on her before, the Black Watch has been refurbished. The only major difference as far as I could see was the inclusion of 'The Courtyard' (Bar, seating, piano and new entrance to the Garden Cafe. My own opinion but I preferred the old setting where you could sit quietly and if so minded view brilliant models of Fred Olsen vessels. These are now scattered around the decks making viewing less pleasant.
The main dining room, the Glentara Restaurant was clean and bright and the waiting staff were attentive and always smiling. The food was excellent and if you have a big appetite there is no problem in asking for a double portion.
I was glad to see the 'Board of Trade sports day' was well run. For the uninitiated that last sentence is Merchant Navy speak for Lifeboat Drill. Our Muster Station was the Glentara Restaurant and after the roll call and life vest instruction we were led conga fashion to our lifeboat station. Our 'Coxswain' was one of the singers onboard and after the drill I asked him a couple of questions re launching procedures. He failed to reassure me that he would know what to do in a full emergency.
Sailaway was quiet and beautiful as we turned west out of the port into the setting sun. Next stop Rouen where we arrived around 09.00hrs the following day. Excursions were few, Paris, Monet's Garden and Rouen Experience. We plumped for Monet's Garden which meant an hour and a half drive by coach. We couldn't understand why the excursion did not leave until 13.30 but the brilliant guide explained that the afternoon light showed off the Lily Pond to its fullest. Well worth the trip but and independent visit would have been cheaper by Â£10-Â£15.
The entertainment on the first night was very good, the singers and dancers performed with gusto and the sound was brilliant for a small vessel. The other two nights were a comedienne magician and a comedian. I declined to attend these performances preferring to be entertained by an excellent duo in the Lido Bar. The last morning we used the ships shuttle (Â£5pp) to visit Rouen city. The weather was not really in our favour as it was windy with rain squalls. We were dropped a short walk from the Cathedral Notre Dame which opened at 09.00hrs (Closed on Mondays). Venturing in to get out of the rain it was dark and not a patch on some other Cathedrals we have been in around the world. It was then the turn of the Tourist Information Office located opposite the Cathedral where I was able to obtain free wifi access. Afterwards we aimlessly walked round cobbled streets and rickety buildings soaking up the atmosphere which was dampened slightly by the wet weather. Having walked for an hour or more, we spied the Tourist Train which was about to leave. Costing â‚¬6pp we traversed more of the city that we had missed by foot and it was a welcome hour's trip out of the rain. Afterwards it was a mad dash to get the last shuttle bus back to the ship. Oh by the way our cabin was just three cabins down from the gangway so it was easy to hop on and off during the stay.
The ship sailed at 13.30hrs and after cruising past the extensive dock area we were soon cruising along the River Seine passing beautiful scenery and the occasional riverside school where children came out to wave as we passed. The Captain obliged by giving long blasts on the ships horn. It was an excellent experience. Leaving the river and pilot around 20.30hrs we headed back to Dover in slightly choppy seas arriving around 06.30hrs. We had to vacate our cabin by 08.30hrs but disembarkation went very smoothly and we off the ship by 09.30hrs heading for home and looking forward to our next cruise 5 days hence.
If I had one criticism it would be the occasional waft of, I assume, diesel fumes or was it sewerage. Not sure but it did not detract from the overall experience.