Braemar Cruise Review by vanessa wallington: Iceland in 70 Degrees, a rare, wonderful combination
Iceland in 70 Degrees, a rare, wonderful combination
Well first let me say my husband and I are not fussy travellers, we don't grumble if there's only 2 grapes on a plate instead of 3 (like someone on our table did) but we do expect value for money and on this cruise we certainly got that. We booked last minute so got a very good deal but even those paying top whack seemed very satisfied. Secondly, this has the view of a genuinely disabled passenger, but I won't harp on about it - we are not yet retired so were 'young ones' on this cruise.
Embarkation was smooth, well organised and swift - as soon as I was spotted struggling on two sticks a wheelchair arrived and I was escorted aboard. Our inside cabin was clean and more than adequate,see cabin report. The ship itself was well thought out, but the Neptune Lounge, where the major entertainment was found wasn't quite big enough and it was sometimes difficult to get a seat. There was a large library, good sized card room, plenty of places to sit, relax and in the case More of 75% of the passengers, doze off in the afternoon!
Day one cruising and getting to know the ship, found all the eateries and generally had a good day.
First port of call was Invergordon, Scotland and instead of getting the excursion, we decided to wing it and made our way down to the tourist Information tent, set up especially for the ships visit. They were putting on a small local 3 hour trip for £25 each so we hopped aboard with 4 others and had a wonderful time - we didn't go to any of the usual tourist attractions like Loch Ness, instead we visited Nigg church, saw castles, went to the Dalmore Whisky distillery for a video and wee dram, can't remember it all but we all enjoyed it and the driver was informed and friendly. We then pootled around Invergordon itself (only 250 yards from port) before returning to the ship and rated this a sucessful day.
Cruising again and got involved with the quizzes, bingo (unheard of for me but I enjoyed it) pottered around the 2 boutiques, not very big but not very expensive either, got chatting to other passengers, the atmosphere aboard was very friendly. We discovered the Observatory where we spent many an evening peering out to sea in a vain attempt to spot a whale, we did see quite a few dolphins though.
Then Iceland and a small town Seydisfjordur - what a quaint place. We decided to try and see what was about and after a half hours potter around the village (that's as long as it took and I walk very slow) caught the local bus to the next town. This cost about £7 each return and took 45 minutes each way with 20 minute stop at the town. We learnt we could have got an earlier bus to spend more time in the larger place but 20 minutes was really enough for us - it was the scenery we wanted and what scenery there was! Small waterfalls, the odd farm settlement, lovely landscape, we loved it.
Back aboard and an overnight sail to Akureyri. Never saw much of the place as we had booked our blow-out excursion, £132 each for a whale watching and sightseeing day. Drove for over an hour to the whale watching port where we got aboard to be given mittens, blankets and wet coats! Hello, this is going to be cold...yep! Freezing in the mist and no marine life for 2 and a half hours when the shout rang out, dolphins at 9 o'clock - never saw them, everyone ran to that side and as I am slow I couldn't get there or see over the heads of everyone. Then the cry, whale! My husband manhandled me onto a bench but all I got was a glimpse of fin and gone....! It is a long time since I have felt so disappointed, 3 hours in the cold, misty, damp weather and no real sighting of anything, but we understood that sightings are not guaranteed and the weather hampered any viewings. Lunch lifted the mood in a smart little restaurant, service a bit slow but a good meal, then off to the whale museum (kinda rubbed it in we hadn't seen the real thing!) and a slow drive back for a tour around Akureyi - the tour guide was very informed and spoke excellent english, looked like a lovely place.
A day cruising and we slept in so late we missed breakfast! Must have been the rigours of our whale watching attempt.
On to the highlight of the tour, Reykjavik. WOW! What a place, without doubt the cleanest city I have ever seen. It has undergone a 20+ year improvement plan and the architecture is wonderful, the city spacious and 2 days was not enough, we want to go back and spend a week there. We had met 2 couples on board and decided to hire a taxi for the day between us as the excursions were very expensive (£132 each for the Golden Circle and £78 for the Blue Lagoon) We paid £300 between the six of us for a 6 hour tour with Siggi, our excellent driver who took us all around the Golden Circle - the advantage is not only monetary, we could also stop as long as we liked at all the tourist attractions - at the Geysers we stayed for an hour and stopped for a coffee too but the waterfalls, although beautiful were a bit dodgy underfoot and as our companions were all 75 and over we stayed only a half hour at each of them. The landscape is incredible - I found it hard to take in the Lava Fields caused when a volcano erupted thousands of years ago, the lava ran 80kms across Iceland and still nothing grows there after all these years. The lava fields are so barren and then suddenly you are back to green and plentiful again.
After a fabulous day we asked about the Blue Lagoon on day two and Siggi did us a deal - £100 for the Lagoon and tour of the city all in. We met him at 9.30 and he gave us a great 3.5 hour tour, taking us all around the city (we discovered later he had added a couple of places that the ships tour never visited) and the Blue Lagoon is amazing - we spent over an hour wandering around the place (but never went in) stopped for a coffee and relaxed. Lovely. Please note we were blessed with the weather - Siggi said the temperature was the highest it had been for ages, the skies were blue, it was warm and sunny, I dare say the whole place wouldn't have quite the same magic in the rain.
Farewell to Reyjkavik and very sad. A day and a half cruising and then the Faroe Islands. Now, I will tell you I am a bit anti Faroes due to their passion for clubbing whales to death on the beach in their annual ritual but I must say we liked it. Scenery very like Scotland/Lake district, and we decided to take the Panoramic coach tour and our guide, Hilda, was excellent. At a couple of stops I didn't get out of the coach as it was difficult terrain and we sat chatting to the driver who gave us loads of info on the place, it seemed a very friendly island (unless you are a whale) but bear in mind we only met 2 Faroese!
Cruising overnight yet again and finally Dublin. We had paired up over the cruise with a great couple from Lancs and decided to go to Dublin together. A free shuttle was provided by the ship which dropped us off just around the corner from the hop on, hop off tour bus, and we boarded what must have been the best bus of the place - our driver was a comedian who regularly sang to us and we were loath to get off! Decided to visit the Jameson Distillery and lucky for us both my husband and our friend were picked to do the whisky challenge.... several whiskies later (and the ladies got a double too) we staggered out in fits of giggles and worse for wear to wander over the bridge and into the oldest bar in Dublin, the Brazen Head, est 1199, for lunch and a guiness. Can't remember much about the remainder of the afternoon but the photos show we enjoyed ourselves!
Back aboard and the trip home, a kind of slow depression came on us as we realised our holiday was all but over...then it happened - we were stern of ship when I saw a spurt of water and a huge black and white head came up once, twice and then dived deep into the sea, a killer whale! At last! My holiday was complete!
Back home and an early alarm call at 4 am when the engines roared to dock. Early breakfast then a quick easy disembarkation, we were on the road by 9 am.
Overall I would rate this cruise 9 out of ten, the food was excellent, the staff excellent, friendly and helpful, entertainment good (catch the comedian, he's great) my only 2 complaints would be 1. the in-cabin tv did not give much, just intermittent world news and a couple of odd channels, would have liked a better choice of film (pay to view aimed mostly at kids) and a channel that you could watch in the evenings as you snuggled down to bed. 2. the excursions were expensive but luckily not compulsory. Not much to moan about.
My biggest bugbear was the passengers pretending to be disabled, and there was several of them. As I booked late I was unable to take my wheelchair aboard as the spaces had been taken but some of those who did take them didn't seem to need them until excursion or disembarkation! One woman in particular ran about ship all fortnight (not a limp or a stick, even in rocky waters) and her chair suddenly appeared once we got to port so she could jump the queues. As someone disabled since childhood I was furious but accept Fred Olsen can do nothing about it - they had at least provided wheelchairs on ship so I used one of those on board and managed to get about on my two sticks at most of the ports. But it is infuriating, rather like the Blue Badge scheme when so many abuse the system and make it so difficult for the genuinely disabled. But I didn't let the b****ds spoil my holiday!
Can't praise this trip highly enough, it had everything if you like dramatic scenery, wildlife (there were several excited birdwatchers aboard) good food, good company and excellent service. We found the overall feel of the ship very friendly and relaxed but we are outgoing and social by nature and met some lovely people aboard. Of course there was the odd sourpuss but they're everywhere in life! Iceland may not be to everybodys liking but we absolutely loved it and are definetely going back one day, the sooner the better. And we've already booked another Fred Olsen cruise.......
Invergordon, not on the list!
Quiet pleasant town, about 250 yards from port. Bus stop in main street for Inverness. Small supermarket, tourist information, charity shop, pub. Not a place you could spend 6 hours in, you need to get the bus, a tour or taxi to explore. Tourist information tent set up on the way into town with very friendly people there to help you. If I go again I would rent a car via the internet for the day to go explore, or get the local tour available from the tent.
Seydisfjordur - not on list
Tourist information is just inside the cafe after you clear customs, then a short walk into the village. This is very small with little in it, a coffee shop, a couple of gift places, a bar, all these surround a small lake. Very lovely village but you need to get out and explore more - the local bus goes to the next village but if you don't fancy that this may be a place where you should get one of the excursions as there's not much else to do.
Akureyri - not on list
We took an excusrion from here so can't give much advice. Sorry. It is a large town/small city and looks to have lots going for it, other passengers rated it highly. We did the tour of the city and would like to have had more time there to investrigate
Reykjavik - not on list
On arrival you go out through customs, just a few yards from the ship. There is a shop there with loads of tourist leaflets and you can hire a car or book tours. We found a chap touting taxis outside the shop and 6 of us booked one between us - it sounds expensive at £300 for the day, but between six it is less than half the price of the ships excursion and you have more control. The taxi driver was knowledgable and knew exactly where to go. We had thought of hiring a car (around £200 for the day) but would have missed an awful lot, where do you go? This was the place to go whale watching - there were two or three tours from the ship (and you could probably get one from the shop too) and they all saw loads of whales and dolphins. The city itself is some way from the port so you would need a bus/taxi to get right to the city centre, well worth the trip, the streets and shops are quaint, easy walking by the look of the pavements and very clean. Some of the tourist attractions are some way out of the city (the water carriers for example were on the edge with a view over the entire city) so you would need some mode of transport to see it all. The old harbour is a long walk away but interesting. Bear in mind we saw all this from a car so difficult to work out walking distance but it all looked a long way to me!
Do the Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon trips one way or another, it really is too good to miss.
We were booked on the panoramic trip so left the ship and got straight on the bus. Toured the capital Torshavn and ventured out to a small village where there was an old viking settlement, and on to a wood cutters place near the sea (inaccessable to any one with walking difficulties) It is lovely scenery wise, saw a bit of wildlife, mainly birds and hares, and some of the beaches. Only 5 hours here so little to do, don't know if there was a tourist information place anywhere, but the tour is well worth the money (£26) Less
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Cabin review: Braemar
We were at front of ship in an inside cabin so slightly noisy from the engines, but quiet otherwise. Good wardrobe space, several drawers, plenty of storage overall, could have done with a few more hangers. Comfy single beds, 3 different lights so you could read without disturbing your partner. En suite small but efficient, shower was easy to regulate, corner cupboard for all your bits. Pleasantly decorated, clean. all you needed really.
Port and Shore Excursions
Plenty of places to eat and drink, our paninis at the Brazen Head Inn were only 6 euros each and came with salad, there were two huge paninis on the plate and I struggled to eat them. Lovely though.
Didn't see tourist Info, the best bet is to look it all up on the internet beforehand and plan your day