Perhaps our expectations of a cruise were too high, but speaking with other new cruisers who were doing the same as us on this 'taster weekend', I don't think so. This was Fred Olsen's opportunity to capture a new market and they failed miserably.
Firstly admin: I had to call Fred Olsen twice to tell them that we hadn't received our tickets and in the end were issued with an e-ticket. They managed to send the bill to the right address so why not the tickets?
The ship was delayed getting into port so embarkation was delayed by 3 hours. Fortunately we were emailed by FO to alert us to this so didn't leave home until later in the day, but many passengers didn't or couldn't. Needless to say check in was horrendous - lengthy queues and disorganisation ruled the day.
This set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Queues and lengthy waits for everything including breakfast seating and drinks just made what should have been a relaxing break into alot of frustrating hard work.
We booked a superior outside cabin which was reminiscent of a ferry cabin, and though it was clean, was very shabby and in much need of decoration and a new bathroom.
We were booked into the Spey restaurant for dinner and even though on second sitting, we felt rushed all the way through. Waiters were surly and it was very difficult to attract their attention particularly at breakfast time when it was hard to get coffee and toast served in time to go with the rest of the meal.
On the third morning we went into the Ballindalloch restaurant for breakfast and have to say that service was marginally better in there.
Food could hardly be called 'fine dining'. It was adequate 'function catering' if rather boring - alot of it was based on roast meat and veg, starters and desserts were OK if generally tasteless. It's a pity that 'hot' food arrived at the table tepid, and cold food really was very chilled.
We ate once in the Palms cafe - afternoon tea on the day of embarkation - after that we avoided it like the plague. It was noisy, tables were dirty, glass seating dividers were smeared with grease and upholstered seating was badly stained... not nice.
The Captains Welcome Cocktail party was a joke - more rugby scrum mentality and shockingly bad service. The party took place in the Neptune lounge. It took us 30 mins to get a drink and no canapes got as far as the area in which we and 40 others were sitting. To us, it just felt like a 'hard sell' for tours, future cruises and of course the obligatory photo with the captain.
Outside sitting areas were generally tidy and there appeared to be enough loungers and chairs, but then it was a bit breezy so maybe not everyone wanted to be outside. It did became quite difficult to move around when everyone sprawled out on loungers and grouped them together. It was also worrying to see passengers sitting in jacuzzis holding drinks in glasses, despite their being notices displayed forbidding it. Staff didn't seem to care.
We will probably try cruising in the future, but definitely not with Fred Olsen.