We were really not surprised to find both Braemar and Fred Olsen Cruise Lines listed in your Editor's Pick Awards.We have just returned from a very enjoyable cruise on FO's Braemar, to the Baltic. This was our second cruise with FO, but the warmth and friendliness of this ship exceeded our expectations. It has an intimate feel to it, and with just 900 passengers, it was quite commomn to meet up again with passengers with whom you had shared breakfast or lunch.
Our outside cabin was on Deck 6, close to the Forward staircase and so convenient for access to most parts of the ship. The cabin was small, but well-planned and with a big picture window behind the bed. Hanging space for clothes was fine, but drawer space was fairly minimal.
We ate in the Grampian Restaurant on Deck 8, and would recommend this as the best option, since it is smaller, but more spacious and bright than the Thistle on Deck 4. Service from all staff was very friendly and efficient; nothing was too much trouble. We had booked second sitting Dinner, but there was always the option of eating in the Palms Cafe, on a buffet basis. The German and Seafood buffets there during our cruise were particularly good. Our only real complaint was the lack of FRESH milk, the first time we have encountered this on a cruise. UHT or sterilised milk (which tastes foul in tea) was the order of the day, forcing us to look for fresh milk on our shore visits!
Guest entertainers included a comedian (Peter Anthony), singer (Andrew Robley) and illusionist, with classical concerts from a delightful young flute and harp duo, but the ship's own team of dancers, singers and musicians were more than a match for them. We particularly enjoyed a visiting Folk dance and Song Group (Nevsky) when in St Petersburg. The venue for most events was the Neptune Lounge. We've noticed some really adverse comments about this room on this website, and we have to say that we agree with them all. It just doesn't work, either as a lounge or theatre, with separate seats dumped in front of (lower) sofa seating, and no room to access either. We've written to FO about this, and hope they'll put it right, since it spoils an otherwise very attractive ship. The excellent dance hosts led the dancing here before Dinner, but the whole place became impossibly congested as first sitting diners came in for the show whilst late sitting dancers and diners were trying to leave!
We enjoyed all the ports of call, though we were very disappointed that the visit to Bornholm had to be cancelled due to very high seas. Klaipeda could probably be happily left off future itineraries, and we would urge FO to plan for more time in Stockholm ---- we had barely 4 hours here, just not enough! We don't normally take the ship's excursions, but did so in St Petersburg because of the special situation there (passengers cannot leave the ship independently unless they have a visa). These proved very successful, especially the half-day visit to the Yusupov Palace, where Rasputin was murdered. This was one of the few palaces to escape damage in the war, and even included a fabulous little private theatre. A big bonus in St Petersburg was being allowed a berth right in the centre rather than being banished to a lonely quay somewhere in the industrial port. The panorama of the city unfolding in the pink light of dawn was quite unforgettable!
All in all we had a great time; we've already booked our next cruise on Braemar, when she visits the Caribbean in 2011!