My husband and I have cruised many times before and this was our third cruise with Fred Olsen. Having enjoyed our two previous FOCL voyages we had high expectations for this one and we were not disappointed.
We flew from Manchester to Bridgetown with Thomas Cook airlines and I have to say the whole embarkation procedure, from start to finish, was very streamlined and efficient. Once we'd checked in our bags at Manchester we didn't see them again until they were in our cabin. On arrival at Grantley Adams Airport we were off the plane, onto the bus and taken straight to the ship, bypassing all the usual airport queues.
We boarded the Braemar just after 4.00pm and had our first glimpse of our cabin, a balcony one on Deck 7. While clean, comfortable and nicely decorated, our only complaint was that storage space was very limited; tiny wardrobes and drawers and very few shelves. The bathroom was also small but functional.
The Braemar has a good choice of places to eat or drink. We were allocated the Grampian Restaurant on Deck 8 and the food was always very nice, well presented and well served by our smiling waiter. For breakfast and lunch we tended to frequent the more casual Palms Cafe on Deck 6, which also allowed you to eat your meals outside at the ship's stern, affording great sea views. There was also the Marquee Pool Bar, which served casual meals (fast food) and snacks as well as drinks. There was always an excellent choice of dishes on offer, as well as lots of salad, vegetables and fruits if you were going for the healthier option.
To enjoy a drink, you could go to the Morning Light Pub (more like a normal lounge than a pub, I would say), the Lido Bar at the stern of the ship, the pool bar, the Observatory or the Skylark Club (which served as the nightclub and disco and hosted quizzed every night, and sometimes karaoke).
The entertainment was, in general, geared towards the older (60+ cruiser) cruiser so while it was very good, it wasn't exceptional. There was a comedian who told ancient jokes, a magician who actually grew on me throughout his two performances, an old-fashioned singer (very Frank Sinatra or Matt Munro) as well as the Braemar Show Company and ship's orchestra. We tended to go to the Neptune lounge for the evening's cabaret, but there was also another show featured each night in the Coral Lounge, so at least you had a choice.
We spent the first three days at sea en route to the Amazon and crossed the Equator at Macapa, for which the entertainment team put on a hilarious "Line Crossing Ceremony". Ports of call along the Amazon included Santarem, Parintins and Manaus on the way down (the ship stayed overnight in Manaus). Then on the way back north we dropped anchor at the tiny villages of Boca da Valeria and Alter do Chao. As we expected, some of the villages and towns were very primitive compared to what we're used to in Britain, but this was the whole point, and the attraction, of coming to the Amazon.
The weather was very hot and humid and we did have some days where it rained all day, but was still warm. Well it was the rainforest after all, and it didn't spoil our enjoyment of the cruise; there was still plenty to do below decks.
We found all of the staff and crew to be very friendly and polite and they smiled all the time. They would do anything to help. I would say that Fred Olsen Cruise lines do pride themselves on their excellent service and they did not let us down. We were also surprised and pleased at the complimentary drinks "on Fred" that pop up here and there; as well as the usual Captain's cocktail parties there were three occasions on which we had a free "champagne" breakfast as well as bottles of wine we won in the quiz.
We had a brilliant cruise on a lovely little ship in unusual surroundings and will certainly cruise with Fred Olsen again in the future.