The Neptune Lounge, the ship's main show lounge, is spacious enough to seat 400 passengers for twice-nightly performances. Don't expect anything too cutting edge there. Competently performed small production shows are on offer, alongside some decent singing, comedy and magic acts, but you won't see anything to set the world on fire. The variety, though, is excellent, and the shows and guest acts are tailored exactly to the tastes of the age group, ranging from Swing and Rat Pack to ABBA.
This is a civilised, very British ship for people who like to dress for and take time over dinner (the main event of the evening). They largely regard showtime as an opportunity to be gently entertained while sipping digestifs. Because the shows are so popular, the Neptune Lounge tends to fill up quickly after the first dinner seating, often with standing room only. It's where the buzz happens at night. Waiters circulate to take drinks orders before the show, but there's a small bar on the side that also fills up quickly; you can see the stage from there, although not fully. The later show is less busy.
The tiny casino on Deck 7 has two gaming tables and, blessedly, no noisy slot machines. It was not exactly packed at night, but some people did play the tables. When the facility was closed during a bout of norovirus onboard, a fair amount of passengers expressed their indignation.
People gather in a few different locations during the evening. My favourite pre-dinner drinks spot was the Observatory, which had a pianist, a friendly bartender and sweeping views of the sunset. Most passengers, however, would hover around the bar outside the dining rooms before dinner, partly because a wonderful Filipino singing group played there every night and partly because it was a convenient spot from which to join the dinner queue promptly as soon as it began to form.
Fred. Olsen has recently re-launched its ArtsClub, the onboard enrichment programme that used to offer activities like music appreciation and watercolour painting. The new name for the programme is Vistas, and it's been expanded to include new speakers, activities and excursions (for which you have to pay), tailored to the theme or location of the cruise. Vistas isn't a series of theme cruises, but rather optional entertainment that varies in theme from cruise to cruise. Several Boudicca cruises have Vistas themes at no extra cost, including Gardens and Gardening, Ballroom Dancing and Comedy. Sometimes, there's a token charge for materials. For example, there was a £10 cost for the fortnight for the watercolour classes that were set up in the Heligan room during my cruise.
The busy programme of regular onboard activities during the day includes everything from quizzes, crosswords and bridge to a selection of fitness classes, table tennis, shuffleboard, darts, putting and carpet bowls. Because Fred. Olsen passengers are typically keen dancers, there's opportunity for dancing to The Boudicca Orchestra in the Neptune Lounge before the nightly shows and at occasional tea dances. All the daytime entertainment is pretty low-key, though; there's no loud entertainment team trying to round people up for knobby knees contests or anything equally undignified.
The shore excursions offered generally reflect the higher age of the typical Fred. Olsen passenger and are mostly coach-based. We found a few more adventurous and imaginative options available, though. On Canaries sailings, for example, a hike is offered on La Gomera, and in Santa Cruz, Tenerife, passengers can join a new Markets and Chocolate Tasting tour or a 4x4 safari around Madeira. There are also gentle hikes and activities like whale-watching. Fred. Olsen has an affiliation with Ramblers Worldwide Holidays (designated on the Web site by a figure with a walking pole), and certain cruises are designated walking cruises (bookable through Ramblers). These packages include a serious hike on every port day, some quite challenging; packed lunches; a Ramblers reception; and afternoon tea on one day. Ramblers passengers all eat together during the early seating.
Boudicca Public Rooms
Travellers who prefer small, intimate bars to barn-scale, open-plan facilities will be very much at home on Boudicca, which has all sorts of nooks and crannies in which to read or doze. The best venue for drowsing over a book and watching the world go by is the Observatory, an airy lounge with large windows set high on Deck 9.
The ship also has a well-stocked library, a larger card room in which regular bridge sessions are held, and an Internet cafe. For £5, you can buy 25 minutes of Internet time. The library is also a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Boudicca possesses a few onboard shops: One offers the usual logowear and evening attire. A jewellery shop sells everything from Timex watches (Timex is owned by Fred. Olsen) to £4,000 diamond earrings. A Port Shop was added in 2011, and it displays duty-paid goods, which means that the shop is allowed to open when the ship is in port. This is particularly handy, as it means you can buy essentials like sunblock, insect repellent and books at any time, rather than having to wait for international waters.
Note: Smoking is banned in all indoor areas. Smoking is only permitted on cabin balconies and in certain outdoor deck areas.
Boudicca Spa & Fitness
There is a roomy gym and aerobics space on Deck 10, installed in the January 2011 refit. For the target market of the ship, you can't help wondering if this state-of-the-art facility was the wisest investment. Classes, however, have a good turnout and include Zumba and fitball, as well as yoga and Pilates. Some carry a charge of £5, while more basic stretch and aerobics classes are free.
Those who prefer to take their exercise in the fresh air should head to the Sun Deck (Deck 10), which has a ball games court, golf driving nets and boards for traditional cruise pursuits like shuffleboard and deck quoits. You can walk right around the Sun Deck; several people are often out strolling in the early mornings. There is sunbathing space and plenty of white, plastic loungers up there. But there is no pool, and the lurid blue Astroturf flooring is a little off-putting.
On Deck 6, you'll find an exceptionally large, deep lap pool, as well as a tiny Swimex pool -- in which one person at a time can swim against a strong jet -- and two hot tubs. This is actually a really pleasant area, with a wide expanse of wooden decking, faux greenery, new-looking metal deck furniture and loungers, as well as tables and chairs. On a sunny day, this is certainly the place to be, although there are also loungers on the broad, teak promenade areas, port and starboard, on Lido Deck.
Although the gym has moved, the sauna, steam and changing rooms are still hidden away down on Deck 4, almost invisible among the cabins. A small beauty salon, also on Deck 4, has two treatment rooms -- one for facials, the other for massages. It is likely to book up quickly, so schedule any treatments you want early in your cruise.
Run by Fred. Olsen itself, the salon offers facials from £33 for 30 minutes, reflexology at £55 for 60 minutes, and 75-minute hot stones massage for £66. A lot of the facials are geared toward the mature skin, using luxurious Thalgo products. There are also a couple of treatments you won't find in other ships' spas. The Indian Head Massage is £40 (including a wash and blowdry), and a traditional Thai massage with a Thai therapist is £55 for 60 minutes.