Built in Finland, this ship started life in 1972 as the Viking Star, and at the time was regarded as one of the most luxurious cruise ships in the world. After two brief acquisitions by other cruise lines, it was bought by Fred. Olsen in 1996 and renamed Black Watch. In common with the rest of the Olsen fleet, Black Watch has a devoted following of regular cruisers; and the majority say they would never want to sail on any other line.
Our view of the ship is unique, because we were passengers on the sailing from the Azores to Madeira in July 2016, when a fire broke out in the engine room. The almost exclusively British passengers remained calm and co-operative, and we were able to gauge the reaction of the crew and staff in an emergency, which was absolutely superb. The crew extinguished the fire, but the ship was left with limited lighting and water supplies. This demonstrated the incredible loyalty and ingenuity of the Black Watch team, who managed to provide meals and a degree of entertainment as the ship made its way to Madeira, where the cruise had to be terminated and the passengers flown home. Nobody would want to be on a ship in that situation, but the way it was handled is a great tribute to Fred. Olsen's staff.
The first five days of the cruise were normal, and we were able to assess the qualities of the ship's facilities.
The sailaway (a party on the pool deck as the ship leaves port) when leaving the Azores were some of the best we have - seen on any ship, with passengers joining in improvised dance routines with the theatre company while the Black Watch orchestra played. Everyone was clearly having fun.
There's always a good attendance for the evening entertainment with much hilarious audience participation. Late nighters are catered for in the Lido Lounge, but passengers are mainly off to bed before the early hours.
The ship attracts mostly British passengers in the mature age group, although children are welcome on most sailings and a programme is provided for them. Ours was an adult-only cruise (18 years and over), but there were quite a few younger people travelling with relatives and all the age groups mixed well. Fred. Olsen passengers are mostly mature British couples. They are an extremely sociable and outgoing group, and passengers travelling alone soon make friends.
There are usually three formal nights and one special night. Formal wear is defined as dinner jacket or dark suit and tie for the men, cocktail or evening dress for the ladies. There was due to be a British night -- when guests are asked to wear something red, white and blue -- or if they aren't British their own flag colours. We only had one formal night as the rest had to be cancelled due to the onboard fire, but several people still dressed up quite a bit in the evenings. On the formal night the majority of men were in dinner jackets and ladies in some sequined outfits, and some more subdued. Normal evening wear is defined as smart casual; open neck shirts with collars for gentlemen and casual separates or summer dresses for ladies. Many ladies choose to wear - something a little more elaborate. Daytime wear is usually trousers or shorts and T-shirts. Passengers are asked not to wear swimsuits in the restaurants.
A gratuity of £4 per person, per day for passengers aged 12 and over is automatically added to the onboard account. This is divided between the cabin steward and restaurant waiter. Gratuities are discretionary, and can be adjusted or removed onboard the ship if passengers wish. They can also be pre-paid prior at the time of booking, with 15 percent charged as part of the deposit and the rest when the final balance is paid. The currency used on-board is pounds sterling.