Firstly I must recommend the services of the Baggage Handling Company as advertised in the Fred. Olsen brochure. Their arrangements were excellent. The cases were collected from home a couple of days in advance and in the cabin on boarding. On the return they met us in the arrivals hall and the cases were delivered home the next day. This allowed us to travel with just hand luggage. Wonderful.
Arrangements at Portsmouth worked well with the transfer bus meeting us at the station although the stop wasn't obvious. Check in was OK although you're left to sit around waiting for your number to be called. This gets you on to another bus and taken to the ship where you file up the gangway. After the usual security arrangements/ cabin card issue we were directed in the general direction of a lift that was being used for baggage. No advice of where another lift was or on what deck we might find the cabin. All a bit chaotic and a flavour of what was to come. When we got to the cabin Sali soon appeared and told us she would be the steward and showed us where things were and how they worked. The cabin is made up of 2 rooms, a day room with TV, sitting area, dining table, fridge, tea coffee making etc, and the bedroom. Both have plenty of storage space although it would be nice to have a TV in the bedroom.. The bathroom has a full size tub with an over shower, don't expect power shower, separate toilet both with wash basin and mirror cupboards. The cabin we found cold and reported it. A maintenance man did fix it although the following day it was so cold I was forced to sit in my winter anorak. When I complained again I was informed they had a major equipment problem. Why didn't they come and tell us this instead of waiting for complaints? The bath/ shower gel ran out and Sali said she'd get it filled. 4 days later she was still waiting for her supervisor so I reported it to Debbie in guest relations and it was filled within a couple of hours. Now you're also provided with a drinks tray which has a decanter of gin, whiskey and brandy. After a week they needed filling and again this didn't happen until I complained to Debbie. I'm not blaming Sali but if things don't happen when she reports them, the system should pick this up. I also found it odd that you get complimentary spirits but are expected to pay for bottled water. There's also a balcony with 2 upright chairs and 1 steamer. Not much room for anything else but as we didn't go for the sun it was ideal for the quick dash outside when we were told the northern lights had appeared.
The restaurant. We were allocated a table in the Four Seasons and although requested a table for 2 was initially placed on a table for 4 even though the restaurant was half full for the second sitting. Dining is allegedly open seating for breakfast and lunch on most days but you will be directed to where they want you to sit which may be with others and not necessarily in the restaurant of your choice. Due to an outbreak of Norovirus the restaurants weren't, as it became self-service, although you didn't serve yourself. You had to stand in a queue and wait for a member of staff to put your choice on a plate before taking it back to the table yourself, by which time it was cold. A bit like I remember the school canteen. There wasn't enough staff at the food stations and when you got back to the table you then had to wait for things like sachets of condiment, cruet, preserves, sugar and milk. There was nothing other than cutlery on the table. I suggested to ease this chaotic situation that sittings should be introduced for breakfast and lunch but Fernando the maitre'd thought this might upset the first dinner sitting passengers. One evening when this open sitting operated we were in and out of the dining room within 30 minutes. This is not what I want on holiday. The attempted control of norovirus has been taken to new heights of inconvenience without success. Fortunately we didn't succumb.
Luckily we did see the Northern Lights which was the reason for the cruise. Cannot comment on any of the shows as we didn't go to any.
On returning to Portsmouth although we had priority disembarkation, when called to leave we had to wait at the gangway while numerous crew members filed on without any security check or hand sanitation. This filled the area to congestion with the female member of security staff totally losing control.