We've just come back from a transatlantic repositioning cruise to the Caribbean on Fred Olsen's Braemar. We are fast becoming seasoned cruisers and, having done this cruise with P&O two years ago, can make valid comments comparisons. Overall Fred Olsen is really very good - a bit of thought to some minor niggles and it could be excellent.
We had an outside cabin on deck 2 that was kept spotless by our hardworking cabin girl. The cabin was made up, as requested, as a double. But with the dressing table and chair, tub chair and small table there was not enough room to manoeuvre around either side without performing acrobatics so we had it made up as two singles and that gave much more room. There was plenty of storage space and the suitcases slid under the beds. The bathroom was small but adequate with a good shower and, hurrah, a non-clinging shower curtain. Good quality shower gel and hand wash.
The beds are quite hard but comfortable and have duvets with good quality bedding.
Deck 2 is quite low down and so we spent time just kneeling on the beds watching the waves and enjoying the 'final rinse' when the waves splashed over the windows darkening the whole cabin - frightening the first few times it happened.
The lifeboat drill was a bit worrying; we had a roll call and cabin numbers were called out where there appeared to be no occupants while some cabins were missed off the roll call. As the weather was bad we were glad that our meeting point was the library.
I was looking forward to enjoying Fred Olsen's service standards as I'd read so much about it - and I was not disappointed! Every staff member was friendly and polite - even the 'known miseries' at reception. The bar staff remembered your name within a day or two and your preferred drink/s - even down to how I like my G&Ts.
I think Braemar is beginning to show her age but overall the ship is clean and tidy and very easy to get around and navigate. There are plenty of public loos that have the new Dyson air hand dryers, what a clever invention, to save time, really get your hands dry and reduce paper towel waste. There are plenty of bars and lounges to sit and have a drink or watch the world go by. Our favourite was the Coral Lounge, while we found The Observatory lacked atmosphere. The Neptune Lounge is a nightmare, the seating arrangements are badly laid out and there are too many pillars that limit many of the audience's views. First sitting dinner people are asked only to see one show; but they seemed to see the first show in the Coral Lounge then come to the second house of the Neptune lounge show. This meant many of the second sitting dinner people could not get into the main show. Also, two people took up settees designed for four and others were reserving seats. I think it was a mistake to have dancing in the Neptune lounge between shows as this encourages people to stay in the lounge or hog seats. Sometimes it was difficult to get a seat in the Coral Lounge show due again to first sitting people wanting to catch both shows.
Drink prices are the same as UK pub prices. The wine list is excellent and a bottle for dinner was so easily ordered via the interactive section of the TV - as was room service breakfast (that arrived dead on time).
Apart from the problems with the lounges the entertainment was really good - a good idea to have two shows at night. The resident Braemar band and 4th Dimension group were excellent. Lee Carroll was the comedian - I'd heard the jokes all before but he was funny. Anthony Stuart Lloyd was a brilliant singer - and a lovely person. The Braemar show were very good - the shows are not our type of thing but seeing them on the TV cruise programme showed how talented they were. Jackie Probert, the assistant cruise director, has a lovely voice and she's a great personality. It was lovely to see Dong the lighting/technical guy being allowed to show his singing talent - certainly miles better than the resident's band singer! The speakers were awful; no presentations skills at all - death by very bad PowerPoint.
Anthony Borradaile was the cruise director and was very good - not full of himself like others we have experienced.
Hurrah for Fred - the buffet was not a rugby scrum. People waited to be seated at laid tables so you could settle yourself prior to diving in! This made for people actually having conversations with the people on your table. This was also good for making return visits to the serving stations. Waiters were quick to clear plates and pour/top up water. The Thistle restaurant was my favourite of the two main ones and we were allocated to it for dinner. We tried the Grampian for breakfast and lunch but found it lacked atmosphere. Given there was a choice of soups for lunch and dinner in all restaurants we did not have soup spoons.
This is the best food we have ever had on a cruise. I think Fred's secret is to have less choice which means better cooking and the quality is very good. I have never eaten so much beef; all of it so, so tender and the slow roasted belly of pork was to die for (all you could hear from out table that night was the ooing and ahhing of delighted people). The puddings are lovely; they must be I am usually a cheese and biscuits person and think I only had that twice.
The pool area was nice and large - but suffered the usual sun-bed blocking. The pools and jacuzzis were refreshing and cleaned/topped up often. The changing room was a good idea; and came into its own on disembarkation day for a post sunbathing shower and freshen up before the journey home.
We were late out of Dover as the weather was awful (and we could not pass Balmoral who was berthed in front of us). The weather for the whole crossing was excellent and the rather smooth (got to 4-5 max. last time we had about 7-8s). The weather was excellent for the crossing too (cool and windy for the first day or two down to Madeira but we could sit out in a jumper). We hit the Caribbean on the back of hurricane Thomas so the seas were choppier than expected and the weather was changeable for the first few days. We had to miss out first Caribbean port of call, St Maarten, as the sea was too choppy and windy to berth or tender. After 7 days at sea that was a bit of a downer! But we pushed onto Tortola in awful weather and arrived in a downpour to overnight. Not many people went ashore that night as it was dark and tipping down and people were unsure of their surroundings.
The sail away parties were fun - especially the British night out of Tortola with the people in the massive Norwegian Dawn enjoying our party. But, and for me this is a big but, the sailaways are at the back of the ship and there is not room for everyone to see the entertainment and/or join in. There is so much room on deck 9 (loose one of the golf net thingies to make even more) that the band can be up there with people partying on the sun deck (deck 8). I was not the only person disappointed with the tropical night - on a sea day and with no deck party. I felt so let down as on our previous repositioning cruise this was the highlight of the cruise - it was all rather flat on Braemar.
There was loads to do if you wanted to. The dolphin racing was a laugh and the crew tug of war was great fun. The spa was OK with reasonable prices. There is a good sized, well stocked library.
The photographers were a bit in-your-face (I am not one for having my photo taken when I am eating!) but you were not pressed at all to buy any photos and they were a reasonable price.
There was a good balance of formal/informal/casual nights. But we were told in our pre cruise information that there was only three formal nights; onboard we found out there was four - a nightmare for us ladies! Most people dressed up to the nines on formal nights but some people's idea of informal is my idea of casual and their ideas of smart casual is my slobbing out!
We took a couple of excursions that were good - but I think we'd do them independently in future. It was good to be able to book/pay online in advance.
Our flight home was delayed; by, at first three hours, then four. I was delighted as this gave us an extra day and meant we did not arrive home at some ungodly hour of the day. This is where Fred really stepped up, keeping us fully informed, we were kept on board and an early evening buffet was provided. I am sure an afternoon tea was provided as I saw some people with sandwiches and cakes during the afternoon. When we finally disembarked we were only at the airport about forty minutes until boarding. This is the second time I have paid for an upgraded flight - even with the additional extra baggage weight and leg room it is not worth the additional money and I will not bother again. This is the second time I have paid for an upgrade and I felt the same on our previous flight - this confirmed it is a waste.
Overall a great cruise and we will cruise with Fred again, picking them over another company if there was a choice given the itinerary/dates. If the niggles can be sorted out I would've given 5*. The niggles are not a show-stopper but little things that stop a great cruise being outstanding.