Black Watch Cruise to the Baltic November 2013 to December 2013
Initially I would like to say that I have never written or posted before, and I have cruised on six occasions previously with Cunard, Princess, and Carnival.
I travelled with my wife in an inside cabin (we reasoned it would be dark most of the time), and booked approximately three months before the time.
On contacting Fred. Olsen direct to book we took advantage of a cut price £699 plus £10 per day each for an all inclusive drinks package. This sounded great value to us, and indeed on the face of it, for a Baltic cruise, it was.
The problems started immediately, a few days after we booked, and paid in full, having been told that availability was very limited, the price was cut to £499 and then £449. At this point we were told we had the last deck 3 inside cabin. On speaking to other passengers this turns out not to be correct, as they had booked last minute deck 3 inside cabin for £449. This is £250 per passenger cheaper, and we still had to pay £48 to change dining which costs the company absolutely zero. These new improved prices continued until we set sail. The cruise was not full.
I understand 'supply and demand' and did not expect any refund, but very reasonably asked if it was possible for an upgrade for the differential in prices, and we were told that we would be put on a waiting list - never to be mentioned again!
OK I thought we have just been unfortunate, we booked at the wrong time, let's enjoy the cruise.
Problem number one. We asked for late sitting, but were told it could not be guaranteed. No problem we thought, we can just change this with the Maître d. on board as is common on cruises. Yes you've guessed we were allocated early sitting. This is now the utterly scandalous part. We were charged £48 to change times, despite there being a queue of customers wanting to change both ways. I suggest if you are mistaken enough to sail with Fred. Olsen at any time in the future tell them you prefer the opposite sitting to the one you really want, as this is clearly company policy to fleece their clients. I actually saw an old lady in tears about this £48. We even found another couple who would happily swap with us, but to no avail, both couples would have to pay the £48! Sheer unadulterated robbery!
As to the rest of the cruise, I am now comparing to other cruise lines
The cabins are tired, but kept clean (no three pin plugs). The cabin temperature is totally uncontrollable, I can only thank goodness it was not the Caribbean as sometimes it was unbearably hot. The shower temperature also had a mind of its own with no rhyme nor reason to the controls.
The ship is small, and seemed busy even although the cruise was not full.
The staff tried their best, but were clearly not trained to the correct standard.
The excursions are OK , but in common with others are over priced.
The entertainment staff (although new) were excellent.
The restaurant and cafeteria - do not be misled into thinking that food is available all the time. Nothing was available on embarkation, the cafe/ buffet is only open during restaurant hours, and when we are told that breakfast is 7.30 to 9.30 it actually means ALL the food is TAKEN AWAY at 9.25. Do not dare to arrive at 9.26! This is policy in the only two eating places on the ship. We were actually asked to move on one occasion to let staff clear away. Make no mistake this is not what is now expected on modern day cruise ships i.e. food / snacks available at any time, this is more like 1960s holiday camp behaviour. There is no snack bar, if you want fed you must be seated at least half an hour before the allotted closing time, which, for breakfast, is earlier than any hotel or cruise ship I have stayed in anywhere around the world. The cafe / buffet is often used for themed nights (Chinese / Indian buffet evenings etc.) which leaves no place to eat except the one restaurant. When this happens entrance to the cafe / buffet is only by pre booking a table.
The food itself is average 3 star at best
Our first night was spent at anchor in the middle of the English Channel with broken steering.
We could not visit Helsinki as it was too windy!
Unfortunately we were returning home when the worst storm in years visited the Baltic. In this case the Captain made a wise choice and sheltered in Hamburg until the worst had passed. This left us on board for two extra days, totally unavoidable. It mean't that we missed all our pre - booked connections to get from Dover to Scotland, which we then had to rearrange. Big hearted Fred. Olsen allowed us one free call connected by them and made in public, and 25 minutes free Wi-Fi which was actually much slower than my mobile 3G, anything else was chargeable. Just try arranging an insurance claim, taxis, overnight accommodation, and two separate rail journeys with one call, and 25 minutes of internet access which was slower than old fashioned dial up!
There is no self- disembarkation, strictly not allowed. We were rescheduled to arrive in Dover at 5 pm, but had to give up our cases on retiring the previous evening. We were then ordered to vacate our cabins by midday, which meant that the passengers had to sit about the ship with coats, overnight clothes, hand luggage, and anything else they required for a minimum of five hours. You could not make it up.
When our on board account was delivered to the cabin, it was, of course, incorrect. We had been charged for Internet use, and not credited with a returned electrical adaptor. As always the error was on the side of Fred. Olsen.
On final afternoon, I attempted to get a soft drink at 15.31, but without any prior warning, was told that the bar had closed at 15.30 cheers Fred!
Conclusion - a total rip off by a money grabbing company. This is the very opposite of modern day cruising. I asked customer services for a refund of my £48, but was told this was not possible. I consider that scenario, the eating arrangements, and the pure lack of assistance over our arrangements totally unacceptable.
One star out of five (only the entertainment staff deserved any stars)
Michael & Mary Grubb