The ship sails in Northern Europe, the Mediterranean and Canary Islands in the summer and transfers to the Caribbean and Amazon away from the cold wet British winters. Fred Olsen operate a series of fly/cruise from various regional UK airports during the Caribbean season. Their arrangements in this regard can only be described as outstanding. You check your luggage in at the airport and you next see it in your cabin. On arrival by air at the departure port, coaches meet guests at the bottom of the aircraft steps and transfer them directly to the ship, thus avoiding the associated airport hassles. At the end of the cruise, Immigration procedures are carried out on board the vessel, as is the airline check-in - luggage is security tagged on board and transferred directly to the aircraft's hold. At the airport passengers enter through a special airport security screening area directly into the departure lounge.
THE SHIP - Braemar is 19,098 tons, has seven passenger decks, carries 727 passengers (standard occupancy) - maximum 819 and has a multi-national crew of 320. There are an assortment of cabins - there are a number of cabins for single guests. Cabins are somewhat small (approximately 140 square feet) but are extremely comfortable and feature television, hairdryer and safe. There is limited drawer space. Soft furnishings, the use of mirrors and discreet lighting tends to make them seem larger. En-suite shower rooms are compact but adequate. There is good shower pressure and piping hot water. High quality soaps and shower lotions are provided but no shampoo. Bathrobes are not provided in the lower grade cabins. Towels are large and fluffy. No ice is provided in the cabin nor is drinking water, though one can purchase bottled water. They say that it is perfectly safe to drink the tap water. There is also a very limited room service menu which is not available 24 hours a day or on the days of embarkation or disembarkation. Bed coverings are by means of duvets.
There are two restaurants on board, the formal Thistle Restaurant and the informal Palms Cafe. Both are open for breakfast. lunch and dinner whilst the Palms Cafe is also open for the mid-night snack. In both restaurants it was pleasing to find spotless starched linen tablecloths on the tables for all meals accompanied by well starched napkins in the Thistle Restaurant. The food in both restaurants was varied, well presented, wholesome and plentiful - hot food was indeed hot and salads crisp and fresh. However the quality of the tea served left a lot to be desired. Service was quick and efficient but could not be described as discreet or subtle - this is an area that needs some fine-tuning. In saying that the waiters were always friendly and eager to please. Tables are mainly for 6, 8 or 10 guests with a limited number for 2. Afternoon tea is served daily either on deck (weather permitting) or in one of the lounges - these were disappointing and lacked imagination and variety.
There are three lounges on board, the Neptune Lounge - the main entertainment lounge - the Braemar Lounge and Coral Club. Additionally there is a night club/lounge - the Skylark Club. Seating in the Neptune lounge is close together, there are a number of pillars that block the line of sight to the stage. The Braemar Lounge is relaxing, spacious and stylish. The Coral Club is mainly used for dancing and for quizzes.
Entertainment on board is varied but limited owing to the size of the vessel. There is a young and enthusiastic entertainment team on board whose aim is to try to please everyone. Don't expect Broadway or Westend style production shows as seen on larger cruise ships - they just do not have the space or the staff to present same. However, they do try hard and the standard of entertainment is certainly acceptable.
Other areas for guests include a fitness centre, a beauty salon, and Internet Centre - though prices for the use of this facility are expensive, a card room, library and well stocked shop/boutique. There are also two gaming tables, some slot machines and a children's room.
There is a large amount of deck space, a heated seawater swimming pool, and two whirlpools. There are ample sun loungers though the majority of these are badly stained and are in need of a good cleaning. Other than this the whole ship was spotless both inside and outside. Some loungers have padding though the majority do not. Tables and chairs abound and one of the most delightful areas on the ship is the terraced areas to the aft.
Guests should note that there is noticeable vibration to the aft of the vessel, especially when the ship is maneuvering in and out of port.
There are numerous bars on board offering an extensive beverage menu - the cocktails lacked quality, quantity and were grossly over-priced. Some of the bar waitresses tended to be aggressive in their approach to sales. There was however an excellent reasonably priced wine list. (Care should be taken not to have individual bar sales targets displayed in passengers' view).
The currency used on board is the GB pound (sterling). 15% is included in the cost of drinks from the bar or wine in the restaurant. A gratuity to the cabin attendant and dining room waiter is suggested at £2.00 per person today.
On this cruise, the BM068R (10 - 24 November 2003) - Braemar visited the following Caribbean Islands - Barbados, Bequia, St Lucia, Dominica, St Kitts, Antigua, Tortola, Dominican Republic, Curacao, Grenada and Trinidad. Professionally produced and coloured port information leaflets were available for most of the ports of call. These were most informative - there was also a guest port lecturer on board. The itinerary was port intensive with only two days at sea during the 14-day cruise. One point to note is that in many ports of call, there is a very steep inclination on the gangway. On ports where tenders operated, these operated efficiently, with very little waiting times.
Braemar operated a full excursion programme at most ports of call. These were somewhat expensive and reports suggested that they lacked quality and content. I was disappointed in the tours that I took from the ship, so much so, that I cancelled a numbers of tours and obtained better quality tours quayside in most of the ports.
Guests on board tended to be in the age range of 60 plus, with a sprinkling of those of lesser years. In saying that all were very friendly and certainly knew how to enjoy themselves, the young and the old mixed well together and the ambience on board was more like an extended family rather than just cruise ship passengers. There were no children on board on this particular cruise.
In summary, this ship is a "gem". It's the sort of ship where you just stand after that first exploration after you come on board for the first time, in disbelief that such a ship actually exists in this age of the mega liners. You feel totally at ease - you feel at home here - It's friendly, welcoming and different - I will be back and soon I hope.