This was our first cruise with Fred Olsen. Previously we've been on two cruises with P&O. Overall, it was friendlier and more laid back than P&O, more helpful staff and much better food. However, a major drawback is lack of availability of active onboard activities. Also, expect a less comfortable ride.
One might have thought that the embarkation process would be smoother on a smaller ship, but in fact the opposite was the case. We stood in line at the airport for an hour or so as we waited while a limited number of buses went back and forth from the airport to the cruise ship, a journey of around 20 minutes in each direction. Thankfully we were not at the back of the plane else we might have been waiting an hour or two longer.
The Braemar has a friendlier ambience than the Azura or Ventura. As with P&O, fellow passengers are almost exclusively Brits. With a smaller number of passengers on board, it seems other people tend to be friendlier, and it is more likely you will bump into the same people again. Also, it felt much less crowded as people seemed to disperse more evenly around the ship. On the bigger P&O ships, at certain times such as breakfast, there is a mad rush with too many people trying to sit at not enough tables, and other passengers are viewed by many as an inconvenience. On the Braemar, most of the other passengers were friendly, and overcrowding was never a problem.
The ship was considerably bumpier, and this could be quite disconcerting. There were at times sudden jolts and wine half leaping out of the glass (though it never actually did). So probably not to be recommended if you suffer from sea sickness! A couple of nights,it was really bumpy for several hours, the ship creaked and juddered and shook, during which time we both felt rather ill and could not sleep. You could literally feel yourself moving across the bed. A story we heard of a fellow passenger actually falling out of bed was very believable.
This time we had an outside cabin (i.e. with porthole) and this is well worth a small extra cost. It is so nice to have some natural light, and you have some idea what time of day it is.
The cabin was a little noisy with constant background noise, presumably the ship's engine, which made about as much noise as a rather loud fan.
The room was slightly smaller than on P&O. There was no fridge in the cabin. The toilet flush didn't work properly - generally not everything would flush down.
The ship is a bit dated, not that this bothered us until one night we returned to our cabin to find a waterfall down one of the cabin walls apparently due to a leaking pipe above. Luckily none of our belongings were by the affected wall. We were quickly and efficiently moved to another similar but slightly better cabin, and the next day some fairly undrinkable "sparkling wine" and chocolates arrived as a token of apology. To be fair, they dealt with the situation pretty well, but some proper champagne would have been nice!
Breakfast and lunchtime buffets were good, somewhat better than with P&O. There was also the option to be served at the table with some other good choices not available in the buffet. The pizza available on deck was ok, but nowhere near
as good as the ones from Frankies on P&O.
However, the evening meals were much better, particularly for vegetarians and others with special dietary requirements. At the start of the cruise, there was a special meeting about how the chefs could help with our needs, and it was very much the case that they would go out of their way to help, providing alternatives as requested if you didn't like the menu. On a couple of occasions, there was no vegetarian option for a certain course, but whenever this was the case, if asked the waiters were quick to come up with a decent alternative.
In general, the attitude of the staff was very helpful and they were prepared to go out of their way to be of assistance.
There was organised bridge, which had not been available on our P&O cruises (think only available on P&O if "enough" sea days). It was good to have an organised duplicate on the sea days, but the attitude of the organiser was disappointing: results took days to come out, there were no notes for the beginners course, seemingly to try to get beginners to buy a book the organiser had written and had on sale, and times were changed to suit the organiser.
In short, she was more interested in her own (free!) holiday and promoting her own agenda than looking after the passengers.
There was unfortunately only temporary table tennis, a table being put up in the skylark room at certain times for a tournament. While this was friendly and good fun, unfortunately the room was poorly lit and it was difficult to see the ball. It was a shame not to have a permanent table or two perhaps on the deck, so that you could have a game amongst yourselves rather than only being able to play in tournaments where you inevitably sat around watching far more than
actually playing so that everybody could have a game.
The situation with shuffleboard and quoits was similar, safety reasons being cited for not leaving the equipment available permanently. As a result, we only managed to play shuffleboard and quoits once each during the entire cruise, whereas on P&O, we had played shuffleboard most days.
For us, this was by far the biggest negative on the cruise, as we enjoy having the opportunity to take part in active games at times which suit us rather than only having very limited times available, which more often than not we couldn't make due to a clash with some other activity. Even when you could make it, as everybody only had the option to play at that time, there were long waits to play.
It was a similar thing with darts, a board being set up only at a certain time of the day with a large group playing.
Internet cost is similar to P&O. Definitely recommended to bring your own laptop if you may need to do much. I had problems on the pcs in the internet room with software I needed unavailable. Unfortunately, you can only get a connection from the internet room or close to it, but not from your cabin. The connection is very slow, and unreliable. It could take a couple of minutes to open a webpage, during which time you are charged for the connection.
Internet is way too expensive considering the quality of the service provided.
Dance classes unfortunately clashed with the duplicate bridge. Would be nice if they could put the dance lessons at the same time as bridge lessons, so that everybody has the opportunity to learn one thing without a clash with something else.
Drinks seemed marginally more expensive than with P&O, but still good value for anyone used to London pub prices.
Entertainment was ok, but not as good as P&O. The theatre company were nowhere near as good as on P&O.