During our cruise, daytime entertainment included deck games like hoopla and golf, cards in the reasonably large card room next to the Internet room, films that were not new releases but less than a year old, and live music. The splendid Coral Club, with panoramic views and room for 163 people, was busy from late morning with activities like the Morning Quiz, Easy Listening with The Braemar Orchestra, an Afternoon at the Races -- a fun £1-per-bet event -- the Afternoon Quiz and bingo, which costs £2 a card. On longer cruises, there are often comedians, typically aimed at a British sense of humour, and magic shows. The daytime activities would also include guest lectures, again with a British angle, such as historians or other academics. The Vistas themed cruise programme, aimed at passengers who want to learn something new, include food and wine cruises with television expert Jilly Goolden, garden visits with television gardener Charlie Dimmock and "Antiques Roadshow" cruises.
In the evening, the supper club-style 378-seat Neptune Lounge had a different show each night. We had already heard that Fred. Olsen singers are among the best on the cruise circuit, and we are happy to confirm that. The West End to Broadway songs were both well chosen and sung. However, these are not shows with a storyline, so they don't appeal to everybody. Equally, many passengers choose to sail with Fred. Olsen for the dancing -- there are four dance hosts for singles -- and it was the Coral Club where the party people ended up for dancing and for and late-night cabaret, since the Skylark Club -- the former disco -- was incorporated into the gym (see 'Spa and Fitness', below).
We loved the sophisticated Observatory Lounge bar with its views over the front of the ship, where the barman's name was Angel and his cocktails just as memorable: margaritas were £4.25 and bellinis £5.10. A gin and tonic or pint of lager was £3.10, and a glass of house white wine was £3.75. The Scottish-themed Morning Light Pub, with its tartan carpet and Highland regalia, was very popular, and the two gaming tables for roulette and blackjack were nearby in the Braemar Room. During summer cruises, though, many passengers would probably favour the outdoor Marquee Pool and LidoBars.
There was also a choice of shore excursions every day, which included a 10-hour trip to Paris, including a river cruise and driving tour plus free time for £70 per person. Shorter tours included a coach tour of the Normandy countryside with a visit to a family-run farm, where there was Christmas shopping for local products like calvados, cider, biscuits and cheese. This cost £50 each.
Braemar Public Rooms
Most of the public rooms are grouped together on Deck 5 around the Braemar Room, a long lounge with comfortable armchairs and sofas that is the ideal place for a quiet read or cup of coffee. You can borrow books from the lovely library, decorated in restful shades of rust and teal, which is next to the lounge and where there are also comfortable chairs and small tables. The card room next door has a similar colour theme, as does the adjacent midship Internet room. You can buy packages for the Internet, as well as Wi-Fi access to use with your own laptop in the hotspots around the Braemar Room. Hotspots include the Morning Light Pub and library, as well as the Internet room. Packages cost from £5 for 20 minutes to £50 for 300 minutes, with £10 and £25 packages in between. As with all cruise ships, the Internet service fluctuates and is particularly slow at peak times (evenings and sea days).
The Arts & Crafts Room on Deck 3, previously the gym, is now used for some lectures but mostly for the enrichment programme's craft sessions. It has a large screen as well as comfortable chairs.
The Boutique Shop, selling clothes, jewellery, perfume and gifts, is also on Deck 5 near the photo gallery and reception. The smaller Port Shop, for toiletries, sweets and other essentials, is on Deck 7 near the Fitness Centre.
Editor's Note: Smoking is banned in all indoor areas on Braemar. Smoking is only permitted on cabin balconies and in certain outdoor deck areas.
Braemar Spa & Fitness
The Fitness Centre has a prime position on Deck 7 with views over the back of the ship out to sea. It's large for the size of the ship and well-equipped, with several treadmills, cross trainers and bikes, weight machines, exercise balls and mats, and a wooden floor space ideal for exercise classes.
This was once the dance floor for the Skylark Club, and the room is one of the best gyms we've ever seen on a mid-sized ship in terms of space, equipment and views. Personal training is available for £30 an hour, and Pilates, yoga, stretch and other exercise classes are held every morning in the gym (possibly outdoors in summer) and cost £5. During longer cruises, there may be some free stretching or exercise sessions, plus dance classes that include ballroom or line-dancing.
The Atlantis Spa and beauty salon is quite compact, but it's an extremely friendly place where passengers can swap gossip and chat while they wait to be transformed. A 60-minute Collagen Smoothing Facial costs £58, or you can choose the 75-minute Silicium Lifting Facial for £66. Like most of the treatments these are aimed at the more mature passenger to treat fine lines and wrinkles or aching feet, backs and legs. Pedicures cost either £25 for 30 minutes or £35 for an hour, and you can also get a wash, cut and blow dry for a reasonable £35 to £40. There is also a very small sauna and steam room in the spa changing rooms, which can be used for free.
Outside, there's the complimentary Walk A Mile With A Smile session at 8 a.m., when a fitness instructor leads power walking five times around the deck. The two pools are just about big enough for swimming, rather than just dunking your body, and there is a golf net where you can improve your technique. You might just prefer, though, to sit in one of the two whirlpools and relax.