Sponsored by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines
For once, it’s smooth sailing on the motorways as we drive from north Cambridgeshire to Dover, where I’m boarding Boudicca for a Baltic Sea cruise with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. It’s been well over a decade since I first hit the high seas, and then on a very different kind of ship, so I’m practically a cruise virgin.
On this voyage, I’ll be visiting Scandinavia for the first time. We’ll sail through the Kiel Canal and are due to visit Stockholm and Copenhagen, as well as stopping at three islands: Danish-owned Bornholm; Swedish Gotland, for the port of Visby; and Mariehamn, capital of Finland’s Swedish-speaking Åland islands. It’s an intriguing itinerary; practically all Baltic cruises include the long haul east to St Petersburg, and this one doesn’t, but I’m attracted by the idea of exploring smaller ports and the promise of two new capital cities.
The ship’s name intrigues me. Boudicca, queen of the Iceni people of eastern England, was a Celtic hero who led a successful rebellion against occupying forces of the Roman Empire in AD 60 or 61. As I now call East Anglia home, she seems a fitting ship on which to explore the lands of Britain’s later invaders, the Vikings. My musings are interrupted by the fresh, briny smell of the sea. As we round a hill, I catch my first glimpse of Boudicca, gleaming whiter than the famous cliffs of Dover. At the terminal I meet up with my friend Moira, a first-time cruiser and my companion on this trip. We were born three days apart and have both recently celebrated our birthdays, so for us, this cruise is a belated celebration. We’ve brought handsome war chests, filled with smart frocks and glittery shoes. The chance to dress up in a bit of evening glamour thoroughly appeals. As our suitcases are tagged and whisked away, all that’s left to do is kiss our husbands goodbye, check in, and walk on board, pinching ourselves.Lang, our smiling cabin stewardess from Thailand, shows us to our port-side, terrace balcony suite on Lido Deck 7. At around 260 square feet, it’s spacious and beautifully posh, decorated in soft grey tones with teal blue accents, and contemporary artworks. One painting shows a female swimmer in a graceful, mid-air dive, a perfect metaphor for the excitement I feel as I plunge into this seafaring adventure. Our cabin has all the comforts of a home- from-home, from the sofa and interactive TV to the kettle and mini-fridge. The bathroom has a tub and shower. There are even fresh flowers, a fruit bowl and an ice bucket with champagne chilling on the coffee table. We set off to explore the ship from the top down, but get no farther than the sun loungers around the Deck 9 pool. The sun has come out to see us off, making our 5pm sail-away past the cliffs of Dover all the more magical. Later, it melts into a fiery red sunset as we enjoy our first dinner aboard ship. Clinking our wine glasses, I christen our cruise on Boudicca with the words from the birthday card Moira sent me: Let’s carpe the hell out of this diem!Tip of the day:If like us, you have several cameras, Kindles and phones to charge each night, we recommend that you bring an octopus USB charger on board as the number of electrical outlets is limited to two in most rooms for safety reasons. We also recommend that you bring adaptors on board as all ships feature 2-pin (round pin) Continental style plug. However, if you forget, these can be borrowed from the Guest Services desk or purchased from the ship's Port Shop.
So This Is Cruising!Thanks to the food, wine and wonderfully comfortable beds, we oversleep. But isn’t just relaxing what a day at sea is all about? Over a late breakfast at the Secret Garden buffet, we discover that isn’t necessarily the case.In the Daily Times newsletter which lists the day’s activities and entertainment, we find a dizzying variety of things that could fill every minute. There really is something for everyone. Bingo, bridge and crafting aren’t our cup of tea, but we fancy taking in some of the lectures, exercise sessions and maybe a dance class, along with enjoying the ship’s facilities. Vowing to divide and conquer, we set off to seize the day.While Moira heads to a talk about the Vikings, I aim to learn more about the ship. I’m impressed by the swift, smooth service in the restaurants and variety of dishes on the menu, but I wonder how people on special diets would cope, so I listen in on a meeting held just for guests with special dietary needs. “You are not a number,” insists Executive Chef Dirk Helsig. He explains how, with advance notice, you can order dishes that are gluten-, lactose- or sugar-free from the á la carte menus, and they’ll be prepared in a separate area of the kitchen. Information on food allergies or requests for special ingredients are linked to a guest’s room and table number. On our cruise, the chef reckons there are some 40 to 60 guests with particular dietary requirements, but this careful planning means they will be able to enjoy the same great dining experience as the rest of us.As we part, we touch elbows, rather than shake hands. Hygiene on Boudicca is impeccable, from the cleanliness of the buffet areas to the hand sanitizer dispensers outside the restaurants to the push-button lavatory doors that open hands-free with a press of the elbow. The more I explore, the more I’m impressed by the thoughtful details and procedures that keep the ship running smoothly and safely behind the scenes.On my way through the Lido Lounge, I spot Steve Harvey, who gives the port presentations. These useful talks are full of history, highlights and practical information for upcoming shore excursions. I stop to ask him a question and end up chatting with Eric and Pauline, a delightful couple from Ramsgate and the first of many regular Fred. Olsen cruisers I’ll meet.Already, it seems easy to make friends on this ship. A lively get-together for solo travellers, who are welcomed with sparkling wine and mimosas, is also taking place in the lounge. There are solo traveller breakfasts and afternoon coffees throughout the cruise. On port days, you can meet people to go ashore with – or keep you company on board. And in the evenings, dance hosts Martin and Jill make sure everyone can enjoy a turn on the dance floor. Each day, at precisely 12 noon, the captain makes an announcement from the navigational bridge, giving our longitude, latitude and other details about our voyage. It’s been a mere 18 hours since we left Dover, and we’re travelling at an average speed of nine knots. But the most pertinent information for me is that the temperature in the swimming pools is 26°C, and the hot tubs are a deliciously warm 35°C. After lunch, while Moira takes in a Pilates class, I head for deck 6. Although the sky is cloudy and the air has a breezy chill, I embrace the Scandinavian spirit and plunge into the salt water pool. The gentle rocking of the ship creates ocean-like waves that make swimming difficult. So I just relax in a hot tub, gazing blissfully at the open sea with nothing but the horizon in sight. Back in our room, Moira and I munch afternoon canapés – one of the many perks of our Suite Dreams package – as we don our glad rags for the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Reception. It’s the first formal night of the cruise!Descending the stairs, we’re swept into a sea of dark suits, dinner jackets, glittering gowns and cocktail dresses. We join the queue for a photo with the Captain Mikael Degerlund, who cuts a striking figure in his white dress uniform. Then we blend into the excited buzz of the Neptune Lounge as waiters serve champagne, drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Captain Mikael, who’s from Finland, has spent 40 years at sea, starting with seamen’s school in Mariehamn at the age of 15 and working his way up the ranks from deck hand to captain on a variety of vessels. On stage, his delightfully droll humour entertains the crowd as he ‘interviews’ the senior crew members to kick off this welcome party. After the show, we’ve been invited to dine at his table, which is beautifully set in the Tintagel Restaurant. Among our dinner companions are Chris and Maggie from Yorkshire, who are on their 16th Fred. Olsen cruise; Judith and Eric, regular cruisers who have stayed on board for an extended cruise from Bordeaux; and Terry, who has clocked up 700 nights at sea, over 500 of them with Fred. Olsen. They are full of genuine enthusiasm for this cruise line. Chris and Maggie like its smaller ships which can sail up rivers and closer in to ports where the large cruise ships can’t go. Judith also loves the cruising experience on a smaller ship and the friendliness of the staff. “The customer service is exceptional,” Chris agrees. Terry sums it up for all of them when asked why he chooses Fred. Olsen: “It’s got the best food, the best staff, and very caring people.”I have drawn the lucky straw and am seated next to Captain Mikael. We chat cordially over a gala menu that features an Oslo platter with Norwegian gravlax and caviar, and an outstanding chateaubriand bearnaise. And what does the captain, with his broad experience at sea, like best about working for Fred. Olsen? It’s the chance to sail an exciting variety of routes. Next month, he’ll be taking Boudicca on a six-month world cruise. While some cruise lines that cater for a younger crowd are doing away with formal nights, Captain Mikael assures me that will never happen on Fred. Olsen ships. “Our cruises are traditional and stylish. They don’t try to change,” he says. And I’m glad to hear it. A cruise like this, which captures the old-fashioned glamour of travel, is a perfect antidote to the stress of the modern world. This has been a splendid and elegant evening, a perfect ending to our first full day at sea. Tip of the day:Need a wake-up call? You can easily set one on your interactive TV, under the Guest Services menu. And if you miss the port talks, you can find replays on the TV too
Through the Kiel CanalSometime in the wee hours, we arrive at the Kiel Canal. This North Sea to Baltic Sea transit through Germany will save us around 250 nautical miles and afford some lovely scenery. But as I peer through the curtains at the wind turbines whirring round ashore, it’s clear we’re stationary. Two of the locks that handle larger vessels are broken, and we’re in a queue outside the western entrance at Brunsbüttel. As I leave the cabin, I meet Captain Mikael coming up the stairs. He tells me we should be able to enter the lock at 10am, so we’re not too far behind schedule. I have time for a leisurely breakfast of Greek yogurt, homemade granola and goji berries. When I hear the engines revving up, I take a tip from Chris, last night’s table mate, and head up to Deck 10 for the best view.A blast of bracing wind hits me as I join a shivering but jolly crowd, cameras in hand, to watch as we enter the lock. From here, we have a birds-eye view of the captain and officers on the bridge wings, carefully maneuvering the ship into position, while the crew on the foredeck below toss ropes and tie her securely in place behind a ferry. Above us, another crewmember lowers the mast in preparation for the bridges ahead. Once secured, it takes only about 10 minutes in the lock. Then the gates open, the ferry sails out, and the captain sounds two deafening whistle blasts that nearly make me drop my camera. As if on cue, the sun breaks through and we’re on our way.The scenery is idyllic. Lush strips of woodland line both banks, with waterside paths that are busy with joggers, cyclists and dog walkers. Low slopes covered in crops or pastures rise gently behind. I see mallards and their ducklings paddling along the banks and a large bevy of swans. In the Observatory Lounge, birdwatchers train their binoculars on buzzards, heron and common cranes.The architecture surprises me; instead of the traditional German villages I’d expected to see, there are canal-side houses with striking, contemporary designs. We pass several ferry crossings and sail beneath 11 bridges. As we pass under the Rendsburg High Bridge, the captain sounds the whistle and a canal-side restaurant lowers its flag out of respect to us as people on the terrace wave.We see a host of other vessels on our eight-hour journey through the canal, from small sailboats to an enormous container ship that seems to pass inches from our cabin. We are one of the largest, though. With a length of 205.47 m, Boudicca is just 20m short of the maximum ship length permitted in the canal. She is able to take us through this beautiful passage where larger cruise ships can’t go. The weather is changeable all day. In contrast to the sharp wind on the foredecks, the aft decks bask in sunshine and the pools are busy – in between the sudden rain showers. I dart inside and out all day with my camera, sharing tips on the best vantage points with Alan, another keen photographer I meet on deck. Later I discover that he and his wife have the cabin right next door. Small ship, small world. Having indulged in the pistachio sponge dessert at lunchtime, the afternoon’s Legs, Tums and Bums exercise class is in order. The fitness centre has an impressive array of equipment, and best of all, with its Deck 10 location and floor-to-ceiling windows, I don’t miss any of the scenery as I atone for my sweet tooth. Around 5pm, another rainshower sends me back to the Observatory Lounge. Just as I’m wondering if there is a free seat at the front, a couple stands up to leave and I nab their table. “It took three seconds to fill that seat!” says the man at the next table, laughing. I message Moira to join me for a pre-dinner G&T as we enjoy the view.That evening, we’re at our assigned table in the Indian Ocean Restaurant with our friendly waiters, Ronnie and Alpher. This is Boudicca’s new restaurant. It offers the same menu as the Four Seasons and Tintagel, but in a smaller, more intimate setting, decorated with themed furnishings such as colourful cushions, framed saris and conch shell necklaces on the walls. The food is impressive. Each night we have a choice of two starters, three soups, two salads, five main courses plus vegetarian and British dishes of the day. And then there are three desserts and a selection of ice creams and sorbets. At breakfast and lunch, there are daily menus as well as buffets. Tonight I choose a chilled tropical soup and a plaice and salmon roulade. The last of the Kiel Canal slips past the window as darkness falls. By the time dessert arrives, we are through the locks and into the Baltic Sea.Though this first sitting at 6.15pm sometimes feels too early, the advantage is that we have longer to enjoy the ship’s fantastic nightlife. Tonight, the Boudicca Show Company – an energetic troupe of four singers and four dancers - presents a West End-quality stage show of songs from hit movies. The musical artists in the Neptune Lounge are backed by the talented Boudicca Orchestra. Moira and I are impressed by the excellent sound system in the theatre, and the skills of the sound and lighting team that make the nightly entertainment first class all the way.Tip of the Day:While photos from the front of the ship are always impressive, vary them with interesting angles from the rear decks that capture the atmosphere of the ship.
An Unexpected Day at SeaIt’s Wednesday morning, and we should be in Rønne, on the small, rocky Danish island of Bornholm. But when I pull back the curtains, I find we’re still at sea. In fact, we have been and gone, and the captain announces regretfully that the wind and waves were too strong to land.By the time we finish breakfast, he’s returned for another try. We gather on deck to watch. Beyond the rock jetties, Rønne’s pretty red roofs and church spires look inviting. But I also see the crashing waves and the pilot boat struggling through the white caps to make it out of the harbour. We all wait hopefully as the captain makes a valiant effort to dock the ship. But the weather gods win the day, and we head out to sea once more.Although it’s a shame to miss this charming island, I’m not entirely disappointed at having an extra day to enjoy the ship. On deck 4, I find the sauna and steam rooms, and the Atlantis Spa. We peruse the shelves of novels and reference books in the library, and drool over the array of handmade chocolates on display in the Bookmark Cafe. This is where I’d spend my time on a rainy day, but in spite of the wind, the sunshine outside is calling.Moira and I had been booked on the Taste of Bornholm excursion. Instead, we console ourselves with a taste of Boudicca. Following another tip from Maggie and Chris, we find a sheltered spot for lunch at the Poolside Grill. Here we feast on deliciously light fish-and-chips and salmon brochette, then top it off with a bourbon treacle tart and pineapple cannelloni with white chocolate. After that, there’s only one thing to do. We join the parade of passengers taking their daily constitutional around Deck 7. Five laps equals one mile. I doubt we burn many calories, as we make too many stops and lose count. We chat with a man from Lancashire, and Moira tells him he’s going in the wrong direction. “Everybody tells me that,” he replies, “But I say no. I see smiles on people’s faces, and you just see the back of their heads!”Back in our cabin, Moira finds music on our TV and we listen to a Vivaldi concerto as we dress for dinner. As if to make up for her bad behaviour at Rønne, Mother Nature gives us one of the most beautiful sunsets of our cruise. The deep red lingers on the horizon long after the sun has plunged into the sea.Rommel, our wonderful maitre d’, has arranged for us to dine at a later sitting tonight in the Four Seasons. My hearts of artichoke starter, chilled coconut soup and main course of seafood jambalaya is one of my favourite meals of the cruise. Moira orders a good bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from the wine list.We admire the restaurant’s colourful, abstract landscapes by the Norwegian painter Thore Heramb. There are beautiful paintings throughout the ship, and I learn that Fred. Olsen Jnr, the company’s chairman, is one of Norway’s biggest art collectors. These works are all part of his private collection. He personally oversees their placement, and no one moves or changes a painting without his approval.Tip of the DayThe all-inclusive drinks package, at £19 per person per day, includes house wines and spirits, soft drinks and a cocktail of the day. But if you do purchase a premium spirit, liqueur or bottle of wine, you’ll get them at half price.
Gotland, Island of Sun and WindAfter four days at sea, we take our first steps on dry land. We are docked at last, at Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland. Waves are crashing over the quayside as Billy, the excursions director, directs passengers to their tour coaches. “Walk fast,” he tells us, “there’s a big one coming.”We board our coach for the Gotland in a Nutshell tour. Our guide, Carin, welcomes us to the island of sun and wind, and we’ll get some of both today. This is one of the most popular summer vacation destinations in Scandinavia. The four-hour tour packs in several stops, and inevitably some feel a bit rushed, but it’s the best way to learn about the island and see the landscape in a short time. Bro Kirke, one of the island’s 92 medieval churches, is fascinating with its ancient picture stone and praying chamber. We also visit the evocative ruins of Elinghem church and the former fishing village of Lickershamn with its impressive sea stacks. At Krusmyntagården (herb garden), we try a traditional saffron pancake topped with berries that grow only on Gotland. But the highlight of the tour is Visby itself. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is arguably Scandinavia’s best-preserved medieval city. A magnificent, 13th-century city wall encircles the historic centre, running for over 3 km (2 miles) with 36 towers still intact. We stroll past pastel-painted cottages on cobbled lanes to visit St. Maria’s Cathedral, two ruined stone churches and other sights. Our photographer friend Alan is also on our coach. His wife has chosen a different tour. Although this is only their second cruise, he says they feel perfectly comfortable going separate ways on the shore excursions so they can see more places of interest. After the tour, Moira and I stay on in Visby to explore the town further. Gotland sheepskins are prized for their ultra-soft wool, and we find a great display of them in a shop set in a former tannery. At another woollens shop, we buy lovely socks and hand warmers made on the island.We catch the free shuttle back to the port, and brave the wind to capture the perfect photo of the waves crashing high in front of Boudicca. After putting our feet up on the balcony for a while, we re-fuel with afternoon tea and cake in the Secret Garden. Then I watch an amazing ice-carving demonstration on Deck 7. In half an hour of furious hacking, chopping and scraping, the carver, who is from Bali, transforms a three-foot-high block of ice into a bear holding a fish. His usual job? He works in the kitchen, carving vegetables and doing the cheeses. After another great dinner, it’s another great evening of song and dance from the Boudicca Show Company in the Neptune Lounge, where we share a table with Roger and Jenny from Bexhill. They are gold members in the Oceans Club loyalty scheme, meaning they’ve cruised more than 101 nights with Fred. Olsen Cruises.We order the daily special, Around the World cocktails, which include gin and crème de menthe, among other ingredients, to polish off the best day yet. Tip of the day:Sweden aims to be a cashless country by 2023, and many shops, museums and restaurants will only accept cards or mobile payments. Cards are widely accepted throughout the Nordic countries, so currency exchange may be unnecessary.
Stockholm: Welcoming and WalkableWe’re up early for our arrival into Stockholm. Sweden’s beautiful capital spreads over 14 islands, and we watch its colourful buildings slide by the window over a breakfast of eggs Benedict and avocado-kiwi smoothies. Today, we’re exploring the city on our own. Dietmar, the ship’s hotel manager, used to live in Stockholm, and he shows us a walking route that will take in many of the highlights. We catch the ship’s free shuttle bus into the city centre, then walk a short distance to the ferry which takes us to Djurgården, where several key attractions are located. If there’s one must-see sight, Dietmar tells us, it’s the Vasa Museum. This colossal Swedish warship sank in Stockholm’s harbour on its maiden voyage in 1628. Over 300 years later it was raised and restored in all its magnificent glory. After 90 minutes, we have to tear ourselves away from this impressive ship and its fascinating exhibits.We can’t resist a stop at the nearby ABBA Museum. Then we carry on, and cross a bridge to the cobbled quayside of Strandvägen, which is lined with bars and restaurants. As we stroll along we can see Boudicca in the distance through the masts of the boats moored in the harbour. Scooters and bicycles zip along the bike lanes of this tree-line boulevard, backed by grand apartment buildings. It’s easy to like this handsome, liveable city.We cross another bridge to Gamla Stan, the city’s medieval old town. The sky darkens as we pass the Royal Palace on our way to the Nobel Museum, situated on a colourful square of ochre and rust facades. We end up exploring its cobbled streets in the rain. But that’s the thing about shore excursions. They give you a taste of places you want to come back to. And Stockholm is definitely one of them. Back on the ship, we’ve picked the perfect night to try a special, al fresco dining experience at the Poolside Grill. The tables are beautifully set with white linen and aquamarine blown-glass plates. The soft, neon-blue lighting of the pool glows behind them. We’ve bundled up, but the overhead heaters are cosy and I’m soon shedding layers. I order charred scallops, followed by tender filet mignon with a lobster embellishment. It’s prepared in the open kitchen alongside. Service is friendly and attentive, and with the twinkling lights of Stockholm all around us, this is an elegant dinner I’ll never forget. Tip of the day:Instead of visiting a gallery, buy a ticket to the Stockholm Metro. With more than 90 stations decorated with fascinating art, it’s been called the world’s longest art gallery.
Åland: Archipelago CultureI’m up at dawn to watch a hazy sun rise over the city. Boudicca slips quietly away, winding her way through hundreds of wooded islands and rocky islets of the Stockholm Archipelago. Some are dotted with homes and boat ramps, and I wonder if anyone is awake to see us gliding by like a great white ghost.After lunch we arrive at Mariehamn, capital of Finland’s 6,700 Åland islands, an autonomous, Swedish-speaking region. This quaint town is rich in maritime history; it was once home to one of the world’s largest commercial sailing fleets and it’s also where our captain attended navigational school all those years ago. This is the first time he’s returning as captain of a cruise ship. A handsome, four-masted barque, the Pommern, faces us along the pier. Now a museum ship, it’s the first stop on our Historical Maritime Åland tour, and a fascinating look at one of the last windjammers to ply the grain trade route between England and Australia. We then drive through town to see its distinctive wooden houses, and on into beautiful countryside, before stopping to browse the local foods and crafts at the annual Mariehamn Festival.Back on board, we quickly change for British Night. This is an optional, but popular theme night for many cruisers. While the scene in the dining room is more subdued than I’d expected, most people have made an effort to embellish their outfits with a bit of red, white and blue. In the Neptune Lounge, it’s a different story. Here, we find a sparkling sea of Union Jack hats, shirts, bow-ties and waistcoats. Flags and song sheets are handed out for a Last Night of the Proms-style sing-along, which is rousing good fun. It’s followed by ‘Britain Rocks’, another fabulous show from the Boudicca Show Company celebrating British music through the decades. There are more than 700 guests from nine countries on board this cruise. With the British decidedly in the majority, I wonder how the other nationalities feel? Americans Pam and John discovered Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines on Cruise Critic, and have flown from Connecticut to celebrate Pam’s birthday with this Scandinavian cruise. “We’re on a communal table of six for dinner, and we were afraid we might be sitting on our own after two nights,” John admits. “That couldn’t be further from the truth!” says Pam. “We’ve made some lovely friends here, and they even sent me cards on my birthday.”Moira and I head to the Lido Lounge. where the young Clarity Duo is playing rock ‘n’ roll hits from the 60s and 70s. With our energy still high and a chance to sleep in tomorrow, we order drinks and hit the dance floor.Tip of the DayPack something red, blue and white in your suitcase and join in the spirit of British Night.
The Golden Cup - and Other TeasIt’s a warm and sunny morning, perfect for a poolside breakfast. Over a peach sundae with yogurt and chia seeds, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, I gaze at the sparkling blue Baltic and rejoice that today is a sea day. I take in a ‘New to Fred. Olsen’ presentation by Laura, the future cruise sales manager, to learn more about Boudicca and her three sister ships, Black Watch, Braemar and Balmoral. She explains the Oceans Club loyalty scheme, and the low-deposit offer for first-time cruisers. Based on my conversations with fellow passengers, it doesn’t surprise me to hear that 71 percent of the guests on this trip are repeat cruisers. Or that Fred. Olsen has been voted the cruise line with the best itineraries, including Grand Voyages that take you around the world. For the next few hours, I relax on my sunny terrace balcony, daydreaming of future cruises while thoroughly savouring this one. Later in the afternoon, Moira and I try something new: a rare tea tasting in the Oriental Room. This elegant room was specially designed by Fred. Olsen Jnr, the company chairman, and it’s my favourite lounge area on the ship. The teas, which are supplied by the Rare Tea Company of London, are sustainably grown and hand-picked for the best flavour. After a welcome drink of Royal Tea, made from oolong tea, gin, lemon and sugar, our servers explain the intriguing tea menu and help us choose. We sample varieties of black, white, green and oolong teas, as well as herbal infusions. Each tea is served in a glass teapot that shows off its unique leaves and colour. My favourites are the delicate Jasmine Silver Tip, and the Chinese Oolong, distilled six times and known as the Golden Cup. With live music from a classical piano concert drifting in from the adjacent lounge, it’s a relaxing and uncommon experience. The genteel setting brings to mind the tea clippers of days gone by. As it’s a calm day, our request for a bridge tour is granted. It’s fascinating to see the array of navigational charts and equipment. We spend a pleasant half hour with the amiable Captain Mikael, who is happy to answer our questions and explain how things work. We’re surprised to learn that the ship is steered by computer, and that he doesn’t do anything but supervise the other eight officers who are qualified to run the engines. But of course, the final responsibility is his. As the sun sets, I’m sorry to see this perfect day at sea come to an end, although it’s not quite over. After dinner, singer Rob Linacre croons hits from Frank Sinatra and Michael Buble to send us off to bed. Tip of the Day:From paper straws to products free from microbeads, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines is committed to reducing the use of plastics across its fleet. To help with this cause, you can bring your own refillable water bottle, or purchase one on board in the ship's Port Shop; these can be filled in any of our bars, and there is water bottle filling across the fleet. Please also consider bringing your own reusable coffee or tea flask. All rooms offer complimentary tea and coffee making facilities for your personal use. Guests can also choose to visit the Tea & Coffee Stations on each of the vessels, which are open 24 hours a day.
Copenhagen: Sustainable and ScenicI’ve been looking forward to our visit to Copenhagen, and we cruise into the harbour beneath a gorgeous sunrise. Our pier is just a 10-minute walk from the iconic statue of the Little Mermaid. Billy has recommended the City & Harbour tour and it proves an excellent introduction to the city. It begins with a scenic canal boat ride that has us ducking under bridges and craning our necks upwards to see the ornate spires of historic landmarks. Along the canals, some distinctive modern buildings, such as the Black Diamond, have sprung up in contrast to the old gabled houses and tiled roofs. As we wind through Christianshavn, I’m fascinated by an enormous, angular structure with a smokestack belching steam into the air. This turns out to be a waste-to-energy incinerator that burns all of the city’s non-recyclable garbage and turns it into electricity. Designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, who believes buildings should have more than one purpose, the inclined top doubles as a ski slope. Back on the coach, as we drive past the city highlights, our guide Henrietta tells us that Copenhagen aims to become the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2026. Most people here use bicycles and public transport. There are bike lanes and cyclists everywhere, and some of the city squares are torn up with the construction of 17 new metro stations. It’s ironic then, that a traffic jam prevents us from stopping at one of the key attractions, the Amalienborg Palace, winter residence of the royal family. It’s nearly time for the changing of the guard, and the road is clogged with tour buses. We drive on, but those of us who want to spend the day in the city are dropped off at a nearby square before the coach returns to the ship. Moira and I are taking photos at Nyhavn, the colourful waterfront district, when we hear the stomp of marching feet on the cobblestones. Her Majesty’s Royal Life Guards are passing right behind us. We follow their bearskin caps back to the palace and watch the ceremony in one of Europe’s most beautiful squares. After stepping inside the Marmorkirken – the Marble Church – to see the sumptuous rococo interior beneath its enormous dome, we follow the self-guided walking route on our map. It leads us along the bright yellow houses of the Nyboder district, past Rosenborg Castle and through King’s Garden, where we find a statue of the fairy-tale poet, Hans Christian Andersen. When we reach the Round Tower, we’re seduced by the pedestrian shopping streets. I snap up a smart beaded jacket – on sale!I love this vibrant city, where every few steps bring another photo opportunity. But we’re hungry, so we head back to Nyhavn. The canal is lined with tall, brightly painted, gabled houses than now contain restaurants and bars. At random, we choose the blue one. It turns out to be the former ticket agency for the White Star Line, where Danish people bought tickets for the Titanic. Its cosy atmosphere warms us up as much as the delicious homemade fish cakes and spiced aquavit. Next time, I might even try the herring buffet. As we walk back to the ship along the waterfront, I know I’ll come back to Copenhagen soon. This has been the perfect day ashore, a combination of fun, informative tours and a chance to make my own discoveries. Tip of the day:Bicycles have priority here, so pedestrians must look out for them and stay clear of the bike lanes.
Skagen: Thrill Rides and Art GalleriesBad news and good news. Due to ongoing problems with the locks in the Kiel Canal, restrictions have been placed on large ships and we cannot return the way we came. But the chief officer suggests we stop instead at Skagen, at the northernmost tip of Denmark; not being allowed through the Kiel Canal, we’re passing here in any case. The captain agrees, so we get another port day. Boudicca has never been to Skagan before. We’re enjoying a surprise taste of the mystery cruises that Fred. Olsen is famous for, where each destination is kept a secret until the last moment. Boudicca’s sister ship, Balmoral, is currently on a mystery cruise and we spot her moored nearby. The crew swings into action to plan the day. Additional RIB tours are laid on to make up for the ones we missed on Rønne. These rigid inflatable boats, a new addition to the Fred. Olsen fleet, take you on an exhilarating ride that gets you closer to the coastline, beaches and wildlife of the port destinations. Appropriate clothing is provided, so in spite of the chilly weather, the tours fill up fast.A shuttle bus brings us around the large harbour, and my nose wrinkles as soon as its doors open. “It smells like fish,” one man exclaims. “It smells like money,” the driver replies.Even under grey skies, Skagan is cheerfully picturesque with its bright yellow houses and red tiled roofs. The main street is lined with restaurants, bars, art galleries and shops. Racks of clothing and stylish outerwear for the autumn weather have been wheeled out along the pavements for easy browsing. I’m tempted.We consider walking two or three kilometres out to the lighthouses and beaches, but with uncertain weather, we opt to visit the art museum instead. The Skagen painters were drawn to the area’s special light and unspoiled landscapes, and an art colony thrived here between 1830 and 1930. The museum is dedicated to their works, and features some of the finest paintings of the Danish golden age.I’m enthralled by the paintings and the stories behind them. It’s wonderful to discover these artists, especially painters like Anna Ancher, who succeeded at a time when women were not even allowed to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. We spend so long here that afterward there’s only time for a quick walk around the town before heading back to the ship.This is our final port. I hear Balmoral’s whistle blow as she sails away, and I feel the first pangs of regret that our cruise is drawing to an end. Fortunately, I have our second formal night to distract me. At the captain’s farewell cocktail reception, we sip sparkling wine as he interviews more members of the stage-frightened crew and gives out employee-of-the-month awards. Then we tuck into a superb meal: Mediterranean vegetable terrine, chilled vichysoisse and traditional beef Wellington, polished off with an amaretto parfait. Our evening entertainment is a treat, too. It’s the Boudicca Crew Show, where members of the staff get a chance to display their musical talents. Our 372 crew members come from all around the world, so we watch graceful Thai dancers, percussive Filipino dances with sticks and poles, and much more, amidst a swirl of bright national costumes. Members of the housekeeping and security staff reveal beautiful singing voices. As for who had the hottest dance routine – the engine boys with Hot Stuff or the deck boys with YMCA – well, Moira and I could be arguing that one for years to come. Tip of the Day:Special occasion? You can order a personalised cake or arrange a small party. Boudicca even has its own flower shop. Sorted!
Fond FarewellsOur last day at sea is a day of indulgence. Moira and I have each booked a hot stone massage in the Atlantis Spa. My muscles have taken a pounding on the cobblestones of the ports. Nok, my therapist, massages every inch from my toes to the top of my head, first with moisturising oil, then with hot, volcanic basalt stones which radiate warmth and deep relaxation. It’s absolutely heavenly. Chef Helsig fêtes our last lunch aboard with an amazing gala buffet in the Secret Garden. Platters of lobster, mussels, shrimp and giant prawns are chilling on huge ice sculptures; the carved ice bear is among them, clutching his frozen fish. The breads table is another work of art. There are whimsical cakes and even a chocolate fountain.Afterwards, I stroll around the ship, visiting my favourite corners. By now, it feels like a village, and I stop and chat with many of the friends I’ve made on board. We jot down emails and phone numbers. Alan and I promise to share photographs. After that spectacular lunch, I’m almost regretting the afternoon tea Moira and I have booked in the Observatory Lounge. I order China rose petal leaf tea and admire the tiered tray of sandwiches and mini pastries. The fresh scones are light and delicious, and you can’t beat the 180-degree view as Boudicca ploughs homeward through the waves. Now, when the sunlight breaks through and twinkles on the horizon, I think of the Skagan painters.Two hours later, I miraculously make room for one last delicious dinner in the Indian Ocean Restaurant: marinated palm hearts to start, followed by a chilled cream soup of kadota figs and a main course of fried red snapper, beautifully presented with avocado and tomato salsa, sweet potato mash and crispy prosciutto. Even on the last night, the dedicated kitchen team don’t cut corners. Service is as friendly and attentive as ever. Luckily Moira and I have nearly finished packing, so we can seize the night as well as the day. In the Neptune Lounge, Jenny and Roger stop by our table to say farewell as we wait for a last exuberant performance from the Boudicca Show Company. Afterwards, we head for the live music in the Lido Lounge. I grab a table next to Eric and Pauline, just as the Clarity Duo strikes up Brown-eyed Girl. Pauline is tapping her feet so I ask her if she’d like to dance. “He hates it when I do this,” she says with a mischievous grin, as she joins me. Soon, Eric is on the dance floor too, waltzing her away. Later, he tells me they’ve been married nearly 60 years. Chris and Maggie walk by on the outdoor deck and I beckon them inside. Soon they’re on the dance floor too. Dance hosts Martin and Jill join us, the hit tunes keep rolling, and before long half the lounge is dancing the night away. After the last song, Moira and I rush back to our cabin, throw our last items into our suitcases, and put them in the hallway minutes before the steward comes to collect them. We’ve travelled 2,182 nautical miles. It’s been a fabulous farewell to Boudicca, our queen of the seas, but hopefully not goodbye.Tip of the Day:There is live music for everyone’s tastes on board Boudicca, from rock and pop dance tunes in the Lido Lounge, to folk favourites in the Morning Light Pub, to easy listening cocktail music in the Observatory Lounge.Intrigued by Fred. Olsen's small ship cruises? Read more on Cruise Critic:One Great Reason Among Many To Try a Small Ship Cruise: Magnificent Ports of CallAll Aboard! Cruising the Baltic on Fred. Olsen’s Boudicca and Why Small and Friendly is the Way To GoA Land-Based Holiday Versus a Cruise? We've Done the Maths For You.Travelling Solo? Here's Why a Cruise Makes Perfect Sense For Your Next Holiday
When not on the road or the high seas, award-winning travel writer Donna Dailey divides her time between Arizona and the UK. Her writing and photographs have been featured in the Sunday Times, the Daily Mail, Essentially America and RCI Endless Vacations, as well as numerous travel guides for DK, Fodors and Insight Guides.