We booked "cruise only" as we live too far from Manchester or Gatwick to book flights with indeterminate timings. Flew from Heathrow to N. Tenerife which also gave us chance to stay a couple of nights either side of the cruise in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. We wanted to go on a smaller ship and Braemar was just right. We booked a balcony cabin and were upgraded for very little more to a De-Luxe which totally spoiled us for next time as having looked around other decks, the ordinary cabins looked a bit small. It was nice to have a balcony for a bit of private space as the sun deck we christened "sardines deck", better to sit on the after-decks - much pleasanter. We cannot praise the staff enough. What a friendly hard-working bunch they are - nothing is too much trouble. Our cabin stewardess was exemplary, waiters were courteous and efficient and bar staff so attentive. The food was just superb. We were in the Grampian restaurant and had as requested a table for 2 but used the Palm's Cafe on formal nights as I'm afraid we don't pay lots of money to be told what to wear although we'd never dream of attending a meal other than in smart clothing - but comfortably casual. Congratulations to the Chefs for the special seafood and Asian buffets on the day we were at sea. The former was in the Thistle restaurant which we believe served all inclusive guests and the atmosphere seemed a little less friendly than the Grampian. We preferred the Palm's Cafe buffet for lunch as you can pick the light salad choices. Lunch and breakfast could be a bit frantic at busy times. The ports of call were all great and had their own character. We didn't do shore tours. We find walking around and visiting a local bar gives you more of a taste of the character of the island/port although it was a long walk on El Hierro! Some guests found it uninteresting but it was unique in its tranquillity and calm and we enjoyed our walk and the lovely little bar in the town. We weren't looking forward to Agadir but thoroughly enjoyed a walk through the fishing port and boat building yards and a cheap and enjoyable lunch in a small cafe behind the beach front area. People were cheerful and friendly and I think respectful dress including headscarf were appreciated in the traditional areas.
In all were were impressed with Fred Olsen's service although we have no other experience for comparison. A future cruise will depend on the ease of flying to the departure point or we would go from Southampton given interesting destinations. Minor niggles include the closure of our "local" bar on our deck 8 - the "Observatory" for a private party while entering the port of Funchal. Closing a public facility for whatever reason for the benefit of a few is not fair - we paid a lot of money for our cabin and don't expect to be denied a service. We think that the idea of some staff working for tips is unfair. We paid the standard sum as it would be difficult to single out individuals for reward as they are all so good and we visited so many areas on board. Why not pay all staff fairly and charge accordingly? Charging extra for shuttle buses to port was a bit unfair on the less mobile guests. We are used to long walks so we didn't need them but I can't remember mention of any charge at the time of booking or on the web site. The wifi service was dire and ridiculously expensive. We found service ashore most times but when at sea all day reluctantly paid £5 for 25 mins but due to the lack of speed hardly got anything done. People who work from home or are club volunteers monitoring their organisation's web site need better than this. Most of the time we couldn't get Ch5 on the cabin TV where the information videos on ports of call were. We found it strange not to be able to bring back a bottle of local wine to drink in our cabin; it felt like we were returning to England each day. We felt a bit like captive customers here but would never go all inclusive as the choices available were not to our taste (why go all the way to Spanish Islands to drink Boddington's!) The cabin shopping was useful as a decent bottle of gin was quite reasonable.
Overall we had a memorable experience and cruising is an ideal way to see lots of different places. Despite the niggles mentioned we would go with Fred again without hesitation. We aren't attracted by larger ships despite having conversations with other guests regarding the merits or otherwise. The lack of sun deck or pool space is no bother - pointless getting an all-over tan when you have to wear winter woollies on return home. We are restricted to winter months for travel because our summer is taken up by other activities but a cruise provides a welcome break from the misery of English weather. We were impressed by our first ever cruise and life on Braemar.