by Lynn Houghton, Cruise Critic contributor
This sleek, Finnish built mid-sized ship designed for long distance cruising started life as the Royal Viking Star, entering service on June 26 1972. She was built by Wärtsilä in Helsinki as a six star vessel and owned by Royal Viking Line, as were her sisters, Royal Viking Sky and Royal Viking Sea, which followed in 1973. These elegant ships were considered to be amongst the most luxurious cruise ships in the world at the time.
In 1992 it was acquired by Norwegian Cruise Line and renamed the Westward, and in 1994 became the Star Odyssey and spent two years as a member of the now-defunct Royal Cruise Line.
Acquired in 1996 by Norway-based Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, it was renamed the Black Watch after a Scottish Regiment and nowadays is best known for its innovative worldwide itineraries, outstanding service and affordable rates. Since Black Watch carries primarily British passengers the U.K. influence is evident in everything from onboard activities and lectures to cuisine and currency (all charges are assessed in pounds). The ship inspires extreme loyalty among past passengers as on a typical cruise upwards of 50 percent may be repeaters.
The continuing refurbishment programme on Black Watch means she is an attractive vessel and an appealing option, especially for the older set looking for a relaxing and authentic cruising experience.
Black Watch Fellow Passengers
Fred. Olsen passengers are English, by and large, with the majority being from the Midlands and the North. There is a sprinkling of other nationalities but they speak English. The livelier passengers will end up in the Lido Lounge after the evening's entertainment but most turn in early. On ship days, passengers will often be found in the library or one of the lounges with a good book to keep them company. Fred. Olsen's Baltic and World itineraries attract an older age group, probably averaging 70, while on the Norwegian fjords or any other adventure cruises, the median age goes down.
Black Watch Dress Code
With effect from 1st July 2013, the line will be streamlining its various dress codes. The line will continue with its traditional Formal Nights -- usually three or four during a two-week cruise -- but the dress code for the remainder of the evenings on board will be simplified to ‘Smart Casual'. The previous dress code of ‘Informal' is being removed.
‘Smart Casual' dress code means jacket and tie, or open-necked shirt, with Chinos or smart, dark-coloured jeans for male passengers. For female passengers, the choice could be an elegant dress or casual separates. Shorts, flip-flops and baseball caps are not welcome on smart casual nights.
There are also a number of themed nights, including rock 'n' roll, tropical, international and nautical, but these last two are being phased out and less emphasis will be placed on the former. Some passengers go to great lengths to dress up on these evenings, the public rooms are decorated, the bar staff and waiters appropriately attired, and the entertainment is also themed. During the daytime, there is a wide variety of wear around the ship, depending on activities undertaken, but swimwear is not welcome in the restaurants and bars.
Black Watch Gratuity
Fred. Olsen have decided to follow other cruise lines and automatically add a £2 per passenger/per day gratuity for Restaurant Waiters and a £2 per passenger/per day for Cabin Stewards in accordance with the Berlitz guide. However, there is the option to vary the amount or even to pay staff in cash. This can be done with a gratuity variance form but must be done 48 hours before the end of the cruise.
There are no automatic gratuities on drinks or spa services (which is Fred. Olsen's in-house service).
Currency used on board is pounds sterling.
For us this cruise was absolutely perfect - we feel like we have been on holiday with a few hundred friends both fellow passengers and crew who were, without exception, extremely friendly. Leaving from Newcastle was very easy with lots of help ...continue
Once again Fred Olsen have pulled out all the stops here. We have been with other companies, but when we compare the standard, and in particular the food we find FO difficult to beat. We travelled the whole Norwegian coastline up to Honnigsvag, ...continue
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My partner and I, both mid 60s decided to try Fred because we wanted to go to the Baltic, and this cruise left from Dover, 2miles from our home ! We had previously cruised with P&O, Thomson and Saga. We had read reviews and quite a few were ...continue