We have recently returned from a Fred Olsen four night mini-cruise on the Braemar from Dover to France, Belgium and Holland. Last year, we went to the Norwegian fjords on the larger Olsen ship, the Balmoral.
I quite liked the Braemar although it is showing its age and our cabin, particularly the bathroom,was in need of some refurbishment. The television had a mind of its own and only worked when it felt like it.
I don't think anybody would ever describe this cruise as luxurious but more like a 1960's holiday camp on the high seas. I found that the cruise director's way of making his announcements, as if we were rather slow children, was a bit patronising but I can understand that his job would drive a lot of people the same way!
This is no more than a feeling but my impression is that Fred Olsen is watching every penny and is charging for everything. If they could, I think they would have charged for the air we breathed!
Check in at Dover was excellent as was disembarkation on our return
In my opinion the main drawbacks were:
There were definitely not enough restaurant staff and those they did have seemed stressed and rushed. They allowed queues to form outside the restaurants even when it was plain to those queuing that, inside, were empty, set-up tables. That said, the two waiters who attended to us were always courteous;
At breakfast time, which was largely a buffet arrangement, there was usually a shortage of food and utensils, particularly glasses. One morning I had the worst coffee in my life!;
The food, overall, was no more than moderate with an occasional good dish. It was mass catering and felt like it! It might have been better to have simplified the dinner menu by reducing it from five courses to three and putting a bit more quality into them;
I know this seems an odd comment, but I lost sympathy with Olsen after attending the lifeboat drill which seemed to be a poor attempt to impress everyone with a bit of drama. We were told that in the event of an evacuation we were to walk in a crocodile with our right hands on the shoulder of the person in front of us, reminiscent of the scenes shown on war newsreels of injured and blinded soldiers returning from France. With sizeable numbers of very young children and of elderly people with severe walking difficulties, this would have been unrealistic. It certainly was not required on the Balmoral last year and I have been unable to find anything which says it is required legally. If I am wrong and it is a legal requirement then it is a very stupid one which most other shipping lines are disregarding;
In this bizarre fashion we had to go outside to our respective lifeboats where we were given a further talk by a crew member with an electric megaphone rendered totally inaudible by the noise of the air conditioning outlet! This was not impressive and in our group helped reduce the whole drill to a matter for derision. Later in the cruise some passengers were spotted walking along each with their arm on the shoulder of the person in front of them, to the general merriment of their friends;
In writing this review it is not my intention to dissuade anyone from cruising with Olsen (we have no plans to cancel a cruise already booked on the Boudicca for next year) but to warn any readers not to expect pampering; This company is geared to processing large numbers of passengers and to keeping them under control; it does not attempt to provide traditional service. If you think of their quite nice old ships as a good way of avoiding airports and not having to struggle with luggage then you'll find it OK. At the end of the day you get what you pay for.