This was our first experience with FOCL and the Braemar. The cruise was 10 nights around the UK from Southampton; up to the first port of Leith for an overnight, then Dundee, Invergordon, Scrabster, Oban and Belfast. The first and last ... Read More
This was our first experience with FOCL and the Braemar. The cruise was 10 nights around the UK from Southampton; up to the first port of Leith for an overnight, then Dundee, Invergordon, Scrabster, Oban and Belfast. The first and last full days were days at sea and the cruise had two formal nights.
The Braemar was slightly smaller than we're used to. We've sailed most often with Thomson on their smaller ships (Spirit and Celebration), we've sailed on much larger ships but small ships are our preference. The ship is well laid out. The side-wards on theatre fore is a first for us but the seas were kind enough that we didn't have many problems with this. Space was never an issue, getting seats in restaurants, bars or the theatre wasn't ever a problem. There's plenty of choice of seating areas during the day and when at sea. Decor is pleasant and areas are well lit.
We're active DIY port visitors so we didn't spend that much time on daytime activities. Quizzes seemed good, although we missed most of them as we were out in the daytime and the evening quizzes clashed with our late dining timing.
The service from all staff was excellent throughout the cruise. Cabin stewards, waiters and bar-waiters, entertainers, reception staff, ships crew - can't fault anyone and would commend Fred for the work ethic and approach of the whole ship's staff. We rarely have to compalin about anything, but did as a neighbouring cabin was waking up with very loud TV for the first few days at 6:30 (we're on holiday, I don't want to be woken up early every day!), we complained at reception not expecting anything and the issue was somehow resolved, and the same member of the team asked us next time he saw us if it was better! This attention to service was very noticeable - staff bothered to remember who they had spoken to and to follow up where appropriate.
Ports and excursions
We always have to book last minute due to work constraints, so booking excursions can be problematic. On a cruise like this with 'signature' excursions (Braemar games, visits to Glamis and Cawdor castles) we were not surprised but still slightly disappointed not to have any availability on those obviously very popular trips. As mentioned we prefer to 'walk ashore' and do our own thing and this itinerary was good for that - only Oban was a tender port, Belfast had free shuttle buses to get into the city centre. Although we rarely do ships excursions on cruises anyway we were shocked at how expensive Fred's excursions are, they really were pricey compared to any other line we've been with - some eye-wateringly so (£200+pp for the dearest!).
The port selection was excellent, we saw a wide variety of places and much of the beauty of Scotlands dramatic coastlines. There was the temptation at Scrabster or Oban to get a local ferry to one of the islands but the time in port didn't mesh well with ferry transit times and schedules so we didn't risk it. The overnight in Edingburgh was great, we got to meet friends who live there, and even had time to walk from Leith to the Parliament area and back (and up Arthur's Seat while there!), Dundee's dock area and centre were well worth walking around, the docks are actively being developed with restaurants and bars, there's a few very good sights in the centre worth a look including the McManus museum. Invergordon is tiny but the murals are nice to look at and the surrounding area is pretty. Scrabster was a low point, mainly because that was our one awful-weather day. We took the free shuttle into Thurso and walked around a bit, had a coffee and cake in a nice café but that was the limits of our patience with the downpour. We stayed in Oban to walk around, good vistas from the hill behind the town! Belfast we did a walking tour with a local guide and it was fascinating (though took up 2 hours)! My only recommendation to FOCL would be to amend the itinerary to call at at least one island as they are tantalisingly close as you sail around.
We made our own way to Southampton before the cruise and back from it afterwards. Nothing to comment on here. Embarkation itself and disembarkation afterwards was quick and easy - no fuss.
Our inside cabin was an anchor fare - so no choice over what cabin we had. It was at the front on deck 4, so some trepidation over seasickness if we had rough seas. The weather was kind, we only had bad seas on one night in the end despite all the storms brewing in the Atlantic. The first half of the trip up the east coast of the UK couldn't have been smoother. The cabin was spacious enough for our needs with a good amount of storage. Bathroom was standard for this class of cabin. We had a twin cabin and the steward made it into a double on our request, another stress of booking so last minute, we'd have been annoyed if the beds were fixed as separate.
We were very impressed with the food standard throughout the cruise. We ate on late service (8:30) in the Grampian. Excellent service from our two waiters and very good food throughout the cruise. We ate in the Palms buffet for breakfast and lunch as we normally do on a cruise. Interesting that on the Braemar staff seat you according to how busy the restaurant is - if it's busy you might be sharing, otherwise they find you a table of your own. Never had that in a buffet restaurant before - it makes for less chaos and 'running to grab a table'. Food was good in Palms for both times as well, very impressed with the lunch options overall. As with CMV, FOCL meal times are quite restricted - food isn't available mid afternoon. That's a bit annoying if you come back from an excursion or shore visit a bit late - we barely made lunch twice although the staff were very good about allowing us to grab a plate before they cleared. Unlike CMV, Fred do at least have a supper club - though eating this late we didn't need to use it. Normally we'd chose first sitting as we find it easier to organise our evenings when dining earlier but then the temptation for midnight snacks is always there! Alcoholic drinks seemed very reasonably priced, although the attempts at pushing cocktails of the day (which were not discounted?) was a bit annoying in the bars.
Very good shows from the company on board, they danced and sang very well. A more segmented show team than were used to - not gender balanced (no male dancers?) and the dancers didn't sing at all. Musicians were good overall in the bars, we listened to the pianist and the guitar/singer a few times each. The ship's orchestra were very, very good as well - it's nice to have live music for the shows. We weren't as impressed with the comedian/impressionist but then we weren't the target audience for the cruise perhaps (well below the average age...).
This cruise made a very positive first impression on us. Overall the cruise was good value and the ship and crew were welcoming and professional. The intinerary was interesting, though we were a bit frustrated by missing the castles. Food onboard was excellent, and the drinks selection was good. Would recommend! Read Less