We have just returned from an excellent cruise to the Baltic on Fred Olsen's Black Watch. We are veteran cruisers and had been to the Baltic once before (in 2002) but what attracted us to this cruise was that (a) It was out of the Tyne, which is only half an hour's drive from us, and (b) Some of the ports of call (Aalborg, Saaremaa Island) were off the 'beaten track' a little bit and allowed us to explore some lesser-known gems.
We like Fred Olsen because the ships and smaller and traditional, and actually LOOK like ships instead of floating blocks of flats. Also, because the Black Watch carries around 820 passengers it meant that we got to make a lot of new friends in the 13 nights we were on board.
Our cabin was a standard outside one on Deck 4 and had a couple of portholes. The cabin was quite spacious and had lots of wardrobe and drawer space, as well as tea and coffee making facilities. Two single beds were placed in an 'L' configuration, and the bathroom featured a large shower cubicle.
There was also a dressing table with chair, and a small table and chair as well as flat-screen TV. The cabin was kept clean and tidy by our cabin stewardess, although she often didn't make an appearance until mid-morning.
Cabin 4085 is right opposite the Hair and Beauty Salon which opens at 8.00am each day, so if you're a late riser there will be a fair bit of noise from that time onwards, usually the staff chatting and laughing. I found it very handy on formal nights just to nip across to get my hair put up - in fact I would highly recommend Mark, the hairdresser; he did fantastic up-dos for me for only 20 quid which is less than I pay back at home. Lots of people complimented my hair on the formal nights (three in all).
We dined in the Glentanar restaurant and the food and service were exceptional. The menus gave an excellent choice and it was difficult to decide what to have! Service was very quick and the staff were polite and friendly and soon learnt everyone's name. :-)
Lunchtime we tended to use either the Garden Cafe self-service buffet (again, superb food) or the Marquee Deck buffet right at the top of the ship, which allowed us to have snacks and drinks al fresco by the pool.
We were using the new Fred Olsen 'all-inclusive' drinks package for the first time and this turned out to be excellent value for money; we'd certainly choose this option again as we saved a substantial amount off our onboard account.
I must say that the evening entertainment on the Black Watch was excellent. The Show Company put on several productions which were refreshingly different and original, instead of the well-worn musical theatre excerpts a lot of ships seem to put on these days. The guest performers included jazz singer Suzi Woods, a really funny Geordie comedian called Dave Kristian, one-man-band and comic Bruce Thompson, and a couple of shows by the Black Watch Crew, as well as the orchestra's tribute to the Big Band era. There wasn't a duff show among any of them and we enjoyed their performances very much.
Resident entertainers who performed in various venues around the ship included classical strings "The Rosario Trio", Irish folk singer Pat Shannon, and male-female singers/musicians duo "Serendipity" which all created pleasant background sounds.
Our ports of call included (in order) Aalborg (Denmark), Warnemunde (Germany), Saaremaa Island (Estonia), Tallinn (Estonia), St Petersburg (Russia) and Copenhagen (Denmark.)
We had an overnight stay in St. Petersburg and should also have been visiting Karlskrona in Sweden, but technical problems with one of the tenders meant that we had to miss this port, so we had an extra day (and overnight stop) in Copenhagen instead. Much as I love Copenhagen, we've been several times before so we'd have preferred to go to Karlskrona (where we haven't been), but sometimes changes in cruise itineraries are unavoidable.
The ports of call were all excellent; while we did book some of the organised excursions in some ports there were other places, such as Aalborg and Copenhagen, which made it very convenient for doing your own exploring.
During the day there was a full programme of indoor and outdoor activities, but a lot of the time we just spent on the pleasant open decks (there are lovely cascading decks at the stern of the ship) whiling away the time chatting with our fellow passengers and making the most of the all-inclusive drinks ;-)
There were three black-tie nights and three 'themed' nights (Nautical, Rock 'n' Roll and British red/white/blue) and most of the passengers did dress up and get into the spirit of the thing.
We had a brilliant time on a ship full of character with a friendly bunch of passengers, great food and excellent entertainment. This was our fifth cruise with Fred Olsen and we already have another two booked for next year. :-)