Braemar Cruise Review by bullshead: Britain-on-Sea in the Caribbean
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Britain-on-Sea in the Caribbean
This was our second Fred. Olsen (FO) cruise in six months (first was Black Watch to Arctic in June), and the first on the Braemar. Being an FO fly-cruise, the 2 Monarch flights from the UK were exclusively for FO passengers, which made for a good atmosphere (where the free drinks helped to compensate for the cramped conditions). A major FO plus is that you check your bags at, say, Gatwick and the next time you see them they're in your cabin. All customs/immigration matters are also dealt with for you making for a very smooth embarkation (other cruise lines take note).
Braemar is a good size (700-odd pax) but FO is about to rebuild it to 1000+ therefore we won't be repeating this experience (we don't fancy anything with more pax). Smallish size makes for a more interesting itinerary (eg. Port Antonio, Jamaica; Bequia etc) but you still get parked up next to megaships who double a Caribbean island's population at a stroke. Layout was not as good as Black Watch (which has a great More Observation lounge above the bridge, and a better wraparound deck); the Braemar's promenade deck has many narrow sections, meaning you have to walk in single file, especially if plenty of people are walking off those calories. The food was OK but disappointing given it was Christmas. We ate mostly in the Thistle (a la carte) restaurant, 2nd sitting (you'd be mad to go first) on a table for 6 (we were not optimally matched). We can recommend special buffet dinners (eg. Indian/Chinese) in the Palms Cafe. Food service was OK, whereas the winelist was praiseworthy for both its breadth and good value (but too few winewaiters to deal with the demand). Our cabin was quite good, but we'd traded up to restricted-view on top deck (7) which meant we were ideally located. The age range WAY older than we had expected for the Caribbean at Christmas, but most people we chatted to were interesting/GSOH.
Entertainment was not our scene but if you're an ITV viewer/Sun reader rather than a BBC viewer/Times reader you'll probably enjoy it. This cruise was more suited to children than most, but the FO experience is not particularly one for kids (unless perhaps there are lots of them and they're travelling with much loved grandparents). FO is definitely a cruise line to choose if you fancy getting your best duds on, but don't necessarily fancy Cunard, P&O etc. FO excursions were WAY too expensive, given you could replicate most of them by grabbing a taxi for 25% of FO's prices. The only day we tendered ashore showed up the fact the FO is no good at this (our only other experience was on the Royal Clipper, which was exemplary); having to sit in the gloom of the Neptune lounge for over half an hour waiting to be given a tender ticket by some administratively ineffective girl while the Caribbean sun was beating down outside was not a highlight of this holiday. Disembarkation at Barbados was always going to be a nightmare but this was eased by immigration being processed onboard at breakfast time, in the same way as the outbound was taken care of (again, other cruise lines take note). In summary, not a cheap holiday but enjoyable and we would certainly undertake a Caribbean cruise again if we could find the right combination of interesting itinerary, smallish ship and good onboard experience. Less
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