We thoroughly enjoyed this, only our second, cruise. We were particularly lucky in that our dining arrangements, in the Grampian Restaurant, were with two other couples with whom we got on extremely well. We had really great fun at mealtimes in the evening, helped no doubt by the fact that the table was hosted by an officer on each of the formal nights.
The cabin was adequate. Because we had such good weather, we were able to spend most of the daylight sailing time on deck. It would not have been so good if we had wanted to spend lots of time in the cabin. I had originally wanted to go for a Marquee Deck cabin (which would have given a bigger balcony) but they did not look much better inside and the balcony can be overlooked from Deck 9.
The embarcation process was relatively fast and efficient. So we did not need to wait too long in the relatively uncomfortable departure facilities at Dover.
Undoubtedly one of the highlights of the cruise is the way in which the crew are so helpful and cheery (although that comment does not extend to some of the Beauty Centre staff who are of course working for a franchise).
Overall, we preferred the Braemar to the Barmoral on which we had our first cruise: the only drawback being the location of the spa/fitness centre on Deck 3.
We never experienced any real problem getting places to lie/sit on the Marquee Deck during the glorious weather we had for most of the cruise.
Some of the shore visits were not so successful.
First we visited Gibraltar on the day of the colony's National Day so all of the shops (except those selling tourist tat) were closed. The provided tour was reasonably interesting, but I'm afraid that our overall impression is that Gibraltar is a bit of a dump. Probably the best way to see it is on a shore tour from a cruise ship.
The next port was Cagliari in Sardinia. We called at this port on a Sunday. Guess what, the shops were shut. Cagliari is quite pretty and has some moderately interesting things to see, but if, as here, the Cruise Company promotes the port as a shopping opportunity it does not help if there are no shops open.
The next Port was Naples. We docked shortly before 1pm (when the shops closed) and had to be back on board by 5.45 (but the shops did not re-open till 4.30). Again much was made by the Cruise Company of the shopping opportunities in Naples.
Our next ports of call were Civitavecchia (for Rome!) and Livorno (for Florance!). Each city is a good two hour drive from the respective port. The advance literature did, of course, make that clear, but in each case the journey took rather longer - Italian traffic - so the tours of each of those cities was somewhat rushed. In each case lunch was included. Unfortunately, in Rome it was virtually inedible and the wine provided was undrinkable!
On the other hand, in Florence, not only did we dine in a splendid room in the Palazzo Borghese but the food was of a reasonable standard as was the wine. These issues are of significance because our experience of eating on Fred Olsen cruises is that the food on board is of a very high standard.
But the really irritating thing about the Rome tour was the cost, £85 per head. Frankly it was a rip off. There is no doubt that the guide engaged in Rome itself was an excellent guide, but we were also provided with a separate Guide for the coach trip from the port to Rome and back. It is really not clear to us what her function was but her presence no doubt contributed to the cost.
The preblem with the Florence tour was that although the literature made it clear that the tour was not suitable for passengers with limited mobility, one of the party in our group neede to use a triangular walking support and could only move at a very slow pace. This meant that the guide was constantly being asked to slow down. In consequence we were at least half an hour late in getting to the lunch venue and then the amount of free time after lunch was severely curtailed (and in Florence the shops were open!).
The highlight of the port calls for uns was Elba. It is a delightful island with, of course, the historical link to Napoleon.
But, as mentioned, overall we had a wonderful time on the Braemar and will certainly sail on her again.