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37 Fred. Olsen Europe - British Isles & Western Cruise Reviews

BACKGROUND INFORMATION This was an unusual cruise – 8 nights away, but never getting more than 175 miles from the home port, with overnight stays at all three of the ports visited and spending a significant amount of time sailing up and ... Read More
BACKGROUND INFORMATION This was an unusual cruise – 8 nights away, but never getting more than 175 miles from the home port, with overnight stays at all three of the ports visited and spending a significant amount of time sailing up and down rivers on a sea-going ship. Our main reason for choosing it was that we have never visited Amsterdam, Antwerp or Rouen and thought that a travelling hotel would be a good way of seeing them, and it achieved our objectives very well indeed. We found it a bit odd that excursions from Antwerp to Brussels and from Rouen to Paris were featured quite strongly, when Brussels and Paris are so easy to get to from the UK by Eurostar, and Antwerp and Rouen are such worthwhile destinations in their own right, but we’re all different, aren’t we? SHIP INFORMATION Braemar is a modest ship. It lacks many of the attractions of larger and newer ships, but suits people who like a more relaxed, low-key cruising experience We had travelled on it before it was stretched, and found that very good use has been made of the extra 32 metres, including an additional swimming pool, a very attractive observation lounge and a pleasant new restaurant as well as several new cabins. Being an older, screw-driven ship, there is quite a bit of mechanical noise and vibration, especially on the lower decks aft. Some forward cabins are also uncomfortably close to the bow thruster units which can lead to early awakenings, so midships cabins may be advisable if you are sensitive to such things. Braemar is also not the steadiest of ships, so open-water cruises on it are best avoided by people prone to seasickness. Internally, furnishings are pleasing and interiors are light, bright and airy. Braemar does not have a proper theatre, though, and the main Neptune Lounge is far from ideal as a venue for shows, with inadequate tiering, poorly arranged seating and some columns restricting views of what is going on on the stage. Talking about tiering, the tiered stern is magnificent, fully accessible to all passengers rather than just to those with aft-facing balconies as on most modern cruise ships. There is also plenty of sunbathing space on the upper decks, a full wrap-round promenade deck and access to the tip of the bow for Kate Winslet and Leonardo di Caprio impressions – just don’t stand on the rail to do them. EMBARKATION We parked our car on the pier at Dover, which was a very easy process with a short walk (or courtesy minibus ride) to the cruise terminal. The terminal does not have many facilities but the cafeteria is adequate and there is plenty of comfortable seating. Check-in was painless, with no noticeable queues, but embarkation did not start until 2pm which meant that most people had a significant wait in the departure lounge. ACTIVITIES There was only one “proper” sea day on this cruise, which limited the need to resort to activities as such. We normally go to series of talks, but only went to one talk on this cruise, which was all right but not outstanding, trying to cover eight centuries of Anglo-French history in one hour. A second day of cruising was spent navigating down the River Seine, which was delightfully scenic, so we had no need of organised activities. SERVICE Staff and crew were friendly and helpful. People who cruise regularly with Fred noticed cutbacks in staff, notably in the elimination of wine waiters, but we found the level of service in all areas to be at least adequate and often better than that. CABIN Although most cabins are small by modern standards, they do not seem cramped or claustrophobic. Ours only had portholes but was still light and airy. There is plenty of hanging space, but not much drawer or shelf space. Equipment is good, with a flat-screen television, a safe and an adequate supply of toiletries – oh, and the essential (for Brits) tea and coffee facilities. Everything worked, after we had tightened up light bulbs that had been shaken loose. The design of shower curtain made it very difficult to avoid flooding the bathroom when showering. There are no British-style sockets, so plug adapters are vital. DINING No for-fee speciality restaurants here, just the MDRs and the buffet restaurant and fish-and-chips-type meals from the open deck Marquee Bar in fine weather. We used the buffet for breakfast and lunch and our assigned MDR for dinner and were happy with the quality and choice in both locations. Our table companions disappeared off to the buffet for the Asian theme evening and pronounced it to be very good. There was a late-night chocoholics’ buffet on one evening, which looked good but not as lavish as we have seen on previous cruises. ENTERTAINMENT The song-and-dance performances by the Braemar Show Company were good, especially the singers who were definitely better than most in this kind of company. Other entertainment by hired-in performers was not brilliant, but the crew shows were excellent. PORTS OF CALL I will put more details into individual port reviews, but it was the itinerary that sold this cruise to us and we were not disappointed. We do not like the way that Fred describes times in port in advance publicity, just referring to early or late am or pm rather than giving times. This caught out several people who were expecting one and a half days in Rouen and elected to visit Paris on the first day in the expectation of a couple of hours in Rouen the next morning, but the “late am” departure turned out to be 10.15, too early for a look round the city when it is two miles from the cruise terminal. Our departures from Amsterdam and Antwerp were at 16.00 and 17.00 respectively, giving us almost two days in each of those cities. The cruise terminals in Amsterdam and Antwerp are close to the city centres and no shuttle buses were laid on, though in Amsterdam we resorted to a couple of short tram rides to get to the heart of the city because we knew we had a hard day’s walking ahead of us exploring the city’s canal rings. One of the canal bus routes stops very close to the cruise terminal. In Antwerp the ship docked within a few yards of the cathedral and the historic core of this fine city. In Rouen a shuttle bus service was provided for the first day, at a modest £5 for unlimited journeys. It was originally stated that it would finish at 7pm, but this was revised to 1am when the management were made aware of the late night son-et-lumiere at the cathedral. There were some major hiccups with the shuttle arrangements, but we were still glad we went to this fantastic free show. DISEMBARKATION We had a cabin on one of the lower decks and were travelling independently so we were some of the last to leave the ship, but we were still back at our car for 9am after a smooth disembarkation process. SUMMARY We enjoyed our cruise very much. Braemar has some shortcomings, but also some nice features that you don’t find on newer and larger ships, and made a perfectly adequate base for what was effectively three city breaks stuck together with no packing and unpacking to do between them.   Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
We booked our 3rd cruise on the Balmoral as a double special birthday treat. We had always wanted to see the parts of the UK this cruise was going to, the Scottish Western Isles, Orkney Islands, Northern Ireland, Dublin and Guernsey. We ... Read More
We booked our 3rd cruise on the Balmoral as a double special birthday treat. We had always wanted to see the parts of the UK this cruise was going to, the Scottish Western Isles, Orkney Islands, Northern Ireland, Dublin and Guernsey. We were exceptionally lucky with the best weather of the year. We booked late and could only get a cabin on deck 5 but decided to go anyway and wait listed ourselves for a balcony cabin which came up for us around 3 weeks before the cruise. It was even better as it was cabin we have had before and really like at the rear of the ship on deck 9. Everything on this cruise went according to schedule and although there were many ports with only tender access this was not a problem for us but was for some guests, but they did know this before they booked it is made quite clear! The weather was glorious and everywhere we visited was a delight, we didn't take tours in Dublin but just went into the city as we have holidayed there before and neither did we tour in Guernsey as we used to live there. The tours we did take in Mull, Orkney, Stornaway and Belfast (to Giants Causeway) were all well run and had excellent and above average guides they all ran on time and gave a full view of the place visited with lots of extra stories from our guides that seemed to have put a huge effort into their particular tour. The food on Balmoral is always excellent and not rushed, we always try to get into the Spey dining room but don't miss the Indian and Chinese night in the Palms cafe and this time we also tried the Spanish night all were first class and can be highly recommended. The entertainment was excellent as usual in particular the comedian Bob Webb was hilarious and had a full house for both sittings I hope we find him again on another cruise. Our cabin was kept spotlessly clean and this time because of the wonderful weather we were able to make full use of our balcony. There are a great deal of older people on this cruise line, we find this a bonus as they are polite and quiet and easy to talk to should you find yourselves on a table with them. We are not exactly spring chickens ourselves of course! We didn't quite get what we asked for in the dining table, we asked for a 6 and got a 4 but needn't have worried as we got along really well with our table companions. We are booked again on this ship for Christmas 2014 and I would do another one even sooner if we could. We love the Fred Olsen experience and would highly recommend it. Read Less
Sail Date July 2013
We have just returned from a wonderful cruise starting in Newcastle and going to the North Cape in Norway. The first two days were at sea, allowing us to relax. We then called at the Loften Islands before going on to Honningsvag and the ... Read More
We have just returned from a wonderful cruise starting in Newcastle and going to the North Cape in Norway. The first two days were at sea, allowing us to relax. We then called at the Loften Islands before going on to Honningsvag and the North Cape. Our return trip was on the 'inside passage' between the islands along the Norwegian coast to Bergen, before the final cruise back to Newcastle. This was only possible because it was a small cruise ship. The staff on board were absolutely wonderful and responded immediately to any requests. The food was excellent and there was even a simple menu which was available every day for anyone who did not fancy anything on the menu. We never needed it. The captain said that he hoped we would be able to visit Trollfjord, which is only accessible to small cruise ships, and this was a magical experience for everyone on board. To make a u-turn in a tiny fjord is something special. For those who wanted it, there was always plenty to do on board and for those who wanted to just sit quietly and read there was the opportunity. Although the tours seemed expensive they were no more costly than making private arrangements; it is just that Norway is a very expensive country. Read Less
Sail Date August 2012
We have just returned from a wonderful cruise aboard Fred Olsen's Braemar. This was the third time that we had sailed on the ship, the previous two cruises were when the ship was in the Cunard fleet and was known as the Cunard ... Read More
We have just returned from a wonderful cruise aboard Fred Olsen's Braemar. This was the third time that we had sailed on the ship, the previous two cruises were when the ship was in the Cunard fleet and was known as the Cunard Dynasty. Fred Olsen had made several changes to the ship. First of all a few years ago, they cut the ship in two and extended it creating more cabins, deck space and introducing a new restaurant. The passenger capacity increased from 800 to around 1000 berths and is a perfect ship to cruise on. Our check-in was pretty speedy compared to the last cruise with Princess at Southampton, where we had to queue up outside the building and were nearly 3 hours going through the check-in procedure! So this was nice, straight in with a seat to wait to be called through and pretty quick desk check-in. Our last few cruises have been on the mega ships with more than 3000 passengers and we straight away settled into our comfortable floating home. Its an easy ship to get around and best of all there are no queues. We were fortunate to be allocated the Grampian restaurant and I would encourage you to choose or request this at the time of booking. As we booked late we could only get 2nd sitting, but we were rewarded with a table that gave us the most fantastic sea views through a huge round window (like a giant port hole approximately 8 feet in circumference). The highlight one evening was watching a school of dolphins swim and play just off the port side as we sailed between the Outer and Inner Hebrides and this was accompanied by a family of swallows, with their new born, just flying by the window and landing on the deck. In terms of food served we were generally satisfied apart from the Rock and Roll themed Menu which was generally pretty poor. Burgers served in the restaurant and the sort of stuff you would expect on a TGI Friday menu - but worse! Otherwise the meals and menu choice was pretty good and considering the price we paid for the cruise - it was exceptional value. Others with far reaching expectations probably would not be satisfied and we did hear crumbles. My only negative about the restaurant were: Breakfast - many passengers would come up from the main restaurant and so we had to queue and could not use our own table. The maitre d walked through the restaurant and was not really hands on to problems. The waiters served tea/coffee as the desert was delivered and therefore it was cold and the tea/coffee was served from pots that unless they were fresh, were generally only lukewarm. There was just so much wastage. We ended up asking for fresh hot boiling water and adding a tea bag - which really was the only way to get a decent cup of tea that was hot and even then the waiters would fetch or use a lukewarm pot, so you had to continually ask for 'Hot Boiling Water', which the waiters were generally reluctant to go to galley for. My mother had cause to complain about an Indian waiter (we won't say his name). On several occasions he was seen picking his nose in full view of everyone in the restaurant and we raised this with the maitre d who promised to take action. Needless to say the waiter carried on and failed to wash/clean his hands and serve food! Fred Olsen seemed to take precautions in providing anti bacteria hand cleaners at the restaurant entrances. This was not supervised and as well as waiters, other passengers would nonchalantly just walk past them. Its no wonder norovirus spreads and its these folks who probably carry the infections. We visited the main restaurant on one occassion and were so glad we were not allocated to dine in there. The dining room is crammed tight and Lunch is self service and is just like a bun fight! The sun deck was vastly improved, with two swimming pools and two hot tubs. The swimming pools were heated, but the water was dirty. We came out with rashes. The pool water was only changed once in 9 days. We enjoyed the sailway parties from Dublin and Belfast under clear blue skies. Dancing to a live band at the rear of the ship. If you want a seat, you need to get there around 45 minutes - 30 at the latest. We have to knock the pushiness of the waiting staff at the sailaway party! They were obviously under orders. as soon as you appeared it was like being greeted by timeshare touts and if we said no twice we said it over twenty times! This ruined the ambiance of the sailaway. Yes we do like a drink, but to be in your face every 30 seconds is well over the top and Fred Olsen should review the clients experience at a sailaway. It ruined it for us. On a more positive note, I liked some of the change on board the ship that Fred Olsen have made. The Observation lounge/bar, just under the bridge. This was previously a gymnasium. It was nice for a pre or after dinner drink. Entertainment on board was limited and the dance group performed pretty much repetitive boring routines that are very dated. That aside, the singers and the bands were pretty good with entertaining shows. The highlight was the crew show and some very talented individuals,e specially the waiter who performed a comic sketch as a ventriloquist! So why waste a budget when you have the talent in house! This is how the good old days of cruising use to operate with talented crew performing and keeping the passengers entertained! Now for the real moan of the cruise. The port lecture was the worst we have ever been to. Despite the lounge being full, the presenter was so full of himself and what he had done and where he had been. He did not know the times the ship was in port - saying he would have to check and his port information was pathetic. You may as well picked up a map and studied it yourself. His voice was so boring he sent half the audience to sleep and many just got up and walked out. He would point out landmarks in the town and was quoted saying, I think that has moved! He pushed the ships tours and quoted for Belfast if you want to visit the Titanic Exhibition then unless you book the ships tour you probably wont get in! We took the complimentary shuttle bus to town and got a lift to the museum. We walked straight in and purchased tickets for the next tour! Three of us got in for £38 which was not even the cost of one on their sightseeing tour! Needless to say we did not book any ships tours as we found the presenter awful and uninspiring and full of useless information which he provided to fill his port lecture. Worst of all though, was the presentation was on a loop on the in cabin TV entertainment system. Fred Olsen need to closely look at this sector as it is affecting their on-board revenues and income potential and almost everyone we cam across on the cruise was of the same opinion. Our ports of call sailing from Dover was Dublin, with an overnight stop. There was a shuttle bus operating, but you had to pay Fred Olsen. Belfast Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands Invergordon in Scotland. The cruise also provided 4 days cruising at sea. For some reason Fred Olsen cancelled Holyhead. To us they missed out on probably one of the best ports of calls in a Round Britain Cruise. Whilst there is not much at Holyhead, the tour options are fantastic with fantastic scenery of the Snowdonia National Park mixed in with the historic Welsh Culture and their UNESCO world heritage Castles, which you can visit at Conwy, Caernarfon and Beaumaris on a day ashore. We had booked a private tour with Boutique Tours of North Wales and had to consequently cancel. Boutique Tours were pretty informative with their information and options. We had used them before on a previous cruise last year when we called at Liverpool. We were fortunate to come across him as a friend recommended him when they cruised into Liverpool. They have a lovely Mercedes Viano, which is a nice spacious and comfortable vehicle. One bit of advice, they only have the one vehicle and you have to book early to take advantage of their services. Although the itinerary was not a great one, the mixture of cruise days at sea and ports was well balanced. Our only real negative was Fred Olsen had cancelled the port of call to Holyhead in North Wales before the cruise operated and there was no reason provided. So despite not visiting Holyhead, the weather on our cruise was outstanding and we had sea conditions that resembled cruising the Greek Aegean Seas - beautiful blue calm waters with a smooth ripple and wake from our ship cruising at a very relaxed rate of knots. To finish with, we have to say that value for money this was a really enjoyable cruise and just let down on the few areas that we have highlighted. We found that the majority of passengers had booked via a heavily discounted late offer from just £299 and many of the dining experiences we encountered, guests were asking what you paid and this became a very sensitive subject and one or two became annoyed as the conversations progressed with people gloating over what they paid and taking pleasure out of upsetting other folk. We just did not enter the conversation as we said it was a present from our mother who was travelling with us and we said it would be rude to ask her what she paid! Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
We like the "Balmoral" as it is large enough to have all the facilities but small enough to remain personal and friendly. Embarcation was the only poor point on a 5 night mini cruise taking almost 2 hours from arrival to ... Read More
We like the "Balmoral" as it is large enough to have all the facilities but small enough to remain personal and friendly. Embarcation was the only poor point on a 5 night mini cruise taking almost 2 hours from arrival to boarding ship. Everything else was a major plus point making this the most enjoyable cruise we have taken. The cabin was well appointed, immaculately clean and maintained so,comfortable beds and with a good roomy en suite with shower. The food was superb with an excellent choice in the breakfast, lunch and late supper buffets we used, with efficient and friendly service in the main dining room. The bars and lounges supplied drinks at normal Uk pub prices,without pressure and NO service charge. The entertainment was by far the best we have experienced with excellent quality shows in the theatre from the Balmoral company plus great shows from comedian Lloyd Davies and fine singer Bruce Anderson. The entertainment team were also excellent throughout the ship with fine singing and entertainment from Jamie Clark, lovely vocalist Jessica Samuel and good music from Frankie Jones and the Q-Tones. On the sea days there were excellent well supported lectures. The fitness and beauty salon are attractive and well equipped. Overall a great holiday break and great value for money. Read Less
Sail Date April 2012
This was the second time that we have cruised with Fred Olsen with our first being away back in 1989! The UK itinerary was the attraction coupled with the convenience of the walk on at the port of Rosyth after a short car journey of 45 ... Read More
This was the second time that we have cruised with Fred Olsen with our first being away back in 1989! The UK itinerary was the attraction coupled with the convenience of the walk on at the port of Rosyth after a short car journey of 45 minutes.Embarkation was very smooth although we did arrive far too early for the start of boarding at 2.30pm. We were very impressed with our Balcony suite on Bridge deck 8. Large sleeping and lounge area with spacious illuminated closet, drawer and storage space.The bathtub was very small but the toilet overall was spacious with unusually lots of toiletries. The ship has a good amount of open deck with adequate sunbathing areas. There was plenty of space with little sense of over crowding mainly because of the weather coupled with the average age of the passenger must have been in the region of 157!!!! There are lots of small public rooms, bars and lounges with a tranquil observatory lounge on deck 9 at the bow. The main dining room is divided into three ares with bland seating without ample space between each table giving a sense of overcrowding. Breakfast and lunch is open seating with mostly repetitive buffet food. The usual jockeying passengers trying to weave a safe return to their table with copious amounts of food!! The Neptune Lounge was the most used venue for the small scale high energy production shows, cabaret acts and guest lecturers. I have to say they were all excellent. A special mention for the resident comedian onboard going by the name of Barnaby for performing his two 45 minute gigs without one swear word or blue material!! The ships tours which were on offer we did not take advantage of for obvious reasons. Outrageously overpriced and not good value for money. I can understand the comfort and safety of a ships tour when abroad with the language and custom difficulties or a bit infirm. But, DIY sightseeing in the UK could not be more simple and made very easy with information available at all ports of call. My main gripes: Long lines at the cramped buffet, not enough wine waiters with poor wine selection plus the over priced house wine at nearly £4.00 a small glass!This is comparable with the larger cruise companies. This cruise ship suites the older British couple looking for realistic pricing with exception to the house wine! Good value for money with British food and entertainment. If you like napkin folding,line dancing and bingo, carpet bowls, Vera Lyn and prunes for your breakfast, then this is the cruise for you!! Fortunately for me it is still a bit early for the Sing Along A Max with afternoon tea and scones before Bingo!!! Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
The itinerary for this cruise to Spitzbergen was excellent. Being quite a small ship (some 900 passengers) we were able to sail between the Norwegian coast and the many coastal islands. Much of the area is almost deserted and the views ... Read More
The itinerary for this cruise to Spitzbergen was excellent. Being quite a small ship (some 900 passengers) we were able to sail between the Norwegian coast and the many coastal islands. Much of the area is almost deserted and the views were terrific for much of the journey, including a memorable visit up Trollfiord, where we seemed to just squeeze through. Svalbard was magical but we were only able to make one stop (at the tiny scientific settlement of Ny Alesund)as the fiord entrance to our second one (Longyearbyen) was blocked by sea-ice due, apparently, to a particular set of climatic and wind conditions. The weather was reasonably kind; mostly dry with 5 degree C temperatures and moderate winds. The other ports of call in Norway, including Bodoe, Lifoten Islands (a welcome but unexplained last minute addition to the itinerary), Honningswag (for North Cape),Tromso and Bergen were all very attractive. We were pleased that in all cases the ship was moored close to the centres of the towns and, as not particularly agile OAP's we were mostly able to walk round the ports. We rented a car at Bodoe (cheaper for 4 than the tours) and took short but interesting tour at Bergen; otherwise we strolled around. The service on board was efficient and mostly cheerful and friendly. The reception desk was sometimes not very good; there seemed to be a problem with understanding English for anything but the routine questions. The food was mostly good and occasionally excellent. Wines at £13 a bottle and up were cheaper than on many other cruises. The evening song and dance shows were severely limited in scope by the facilities. My wife liked the Fourth Dimension trio who performed most evenings in the Coral Lounge, although I found them over amplified. The comedian was worth seeing both his shows; old fashioned material but not rude and quite funny. We can get bored on 'days at sea' and there were 6 or 7 of these. One of the themes of the cruise was Bridge, and as very modest players we found this excellent. On all days at sea, there was an hours lesson in the morning (one for intermediates and one for beginners) and then about 3 hours of duplicate play in the afternoons. All this was run most efficiently and in a very friendly manner and was an unexpected bonus on the holiday. There were also some port lectures (quite good) and other general lectures (Concorde, Bletchley Park etc) which were reportedly good.There were some shortcomings. Our cabin (3051) was rather small, and particularly short of drawer space. We managed, but I would not wish to make a long trip (4 weeks or more) in it. The airconditioning did not work at first, but was repaired fairly quickly (change of controller required) when reported. Our friends in the next cabin also had similar trouble, which took longer to fix. Also, quite often, one of the 4 elevators was not working for short periods. Do they do any preventative maintenance? At these high latitudes, satellite services (television and Internet) suffer badly. I was frustrated by the frequent reference in the Daily Times to 'occasional poor reception' when there was absolutely none for most of the trip. I found that information on location, weather prospects etc. was poor. There were screens dotted around the main deck purporting to show location but their scale was such as to make the information indecipherable. Weather reports seemed to consist of out of date notices telling us what the actual conditions were the day before, with no hint of any forecasting; important in those climes. The captains daily report at noon was OK if you didn't miss it; it wasn't repeated. Overall, a lovely, interesting trip, but the ship could be better run. Read Less
Sail Date July 2011
We've travelled on Fred Olsen ships before, and on one or two of the larger ships (Royal Carribean and Ocean Village), but for a summer holiday for my husband and I, our 11 year old son, and my 80 year old parents, we chose a week on ... Read More
We've travelled on Fred Olsen ships before, and on one or two of the larger ships (Royal Carribean and Ocean Village), but for a summer holiday for my husband and I, our 11 year old son, and my 80 year old parents, we chose a week on the Black Watch sailing around Iberia. Although the Fred Olsen ships are not aimed at families with children we had taken our son once before, and he quite enjoyed it. My parents have very low mobility, so a smaller ship was a must this time, and the Black Watch was ideal. Embarkation was very easy. We arrived to the cruise terminal in Southampton at our allotted time (about 1pm), leaving our car with valet parking and our cases with staff. We queued for around 20 minutes or so to check in and then waited in the lounge until boarding. The waiting area was clean and spacious and it wasn't long before our number was called. Our cabin was an outside three berth on main deck. There was plenty of space, and loads of storage. One of our suitcases was too large to store under the bed, and the cabin stewardess took this away for us, and returned it on the last day. My parents had an inside two berth on the deck below. This was smaller, but they were happy with the size and space available. Our cabin was ideally located for us - being right by the stairs leading up to the pool above. It did suffer from some vibration and noise when the ship was manoeuvring into dock, but otherwise we had no noise problems. We'd asked for first sitting and to share a table with my parents and this worked well. The waiters are superb. I had been on the Black Watch back in April with my mother, and one of the waiters passing me in the corridor on the first day of this holiday not only remembered my name, but asked how my mum was, and even remembered which table we had been on! The food was excellent. There was a good selection and it was beautifully presented. Our son wasn't too keen on the sauces, and the waiter was very helpful and flexible with his choices. More than once he had two main courses instead of a starter - nothing was too much trouble. My mum can only eat gluten free food, and this was superb. Her special bread arrived on the table as she sat down each night, the waiters were knowledgeable about what she could and couldn't eat, and the chefs would prepare special versions of the main courses. My dad is diabetic and this was also very well catered for. I can't think of any other holiday where the different requirements of all our family members were met so well. There were two formal nights on board and most people dressed the part (including the children). There were three 'theme' nights, a country and western, tropical, and British (red white and blue) night. Unfortunately our ticket pack only mentioned the country and western night, not the tropical or British night, so we did not pack any suitable clothes. As a result the second two theme nights were not as well supported by the bulk of passengers. The entertainers onboard the Black Watch were good, if a bit predictable. The Black Watch Show Company (four dancers and three singers) put on four shows with plenty of energy. There was a very good comedian and magician too. A bonus was having Jim Bowen (of Bullseye fame) as one of the guest speakers, and he was extremely good and very popular. One of our favourite parts of the ship is the Lido lounge on Deck 7 where we would end up most nights listening to a Duo (called Timeline) and a piano player (called Alan, I think) who would alternate during the evening. And also loosing our money on the roulette table just outside the Lido bar! As mentioned before, Fred Olsen Ships are not aimed at children, and they do have an 'older' passenger profile. But with this break being during the school holidays it did attract families. There were around 60 children on board, and the ship had some children's representatives and a 'Junior Cruiser' programme for children. This was mainly taken up by the younger children. Our son was friendly with another boy on board who was slightly older and they amused themselves - joining in with events aimed at all cruisers such as the Dolphin Racing, and Wii sports, but also using the pool, the putting green and other facilities, or just finding a quiet spot on the ship and playing with their consoles! On the final day the Cruise Director as part of his thank you to staff praised all the kids - and I have to agree. All those we saw on board were polite, well behaved yet having fun. It was a pleasure to see them and from what I could see the generations all mixed well. There were four ports of call on the itinery: La Coruna, Gibralta, Lisbon and Vigo. The main problem was that we did not have enough time in the ports. Most stops were only half days (especially in Gibralta) which made trips on shore too rushed. We also felt that the shore excursions were too expensive, and child prices were almost as much as adult prices. We did most of our exploring independently (of which more below). I have never been a great fan of the port talks on board, usually finding that they provide limited information about the port, and are mainly a way of selling the port excursions. However, alongside the standard port talks there were three port 'enhancement lectures'. These were excellent, providing the history of our ports and lots of ideas of things to do in them. We got many ideas, and would like to return to all of these ports for longer in the future. La Coruna We berthed near the town and walked into the 'old town' where we saw traditional dancers in the Maria Pita Square. We then walked to Roman Tower of Hercules, a lighthouse that has been round for almost 2,000 years. There was a small charge to go in, and we climbed the 239 steps to the top. Well worth it for the views. We then walked back to the ship as we had to be back by early afternoon. This was quite a long hike in total for us, but there were trams available which we saw others catching. Gibralta It was a fairly easy 20 minute walk to the main shopping street, and we continued walking to the cable car for a trip to the top of the rock. Unfortunately the cable car was closed due to strong winds. We decided to walk up the rock which in hindsight was not a good idea, even though we are keen walkers. The Rock is not designed for walkers - it is not clear where to go, and we kept having to step off the narrow roads to let tour buses and taxis past. We did not have enough time to visit the main attractions such as St Michaels Cave as we had to be back at the ship by lunchtime, and were also unlucky enough not to see a single ape! However the views from the (empty) Ape's Den half way up were great, and we had a nice walk back into town, picking up our duty free from the many cheap booze shops on the way. Gibralta was very busy the day we were there. We were moored next to the Independence of the Sea (our ship looking like a dinky toy). So there were lots of tour buses and competition for the taxis. Some friends of ours who had done the ship's tour of the rock said there were 'traffic jams' of the tour buses trying to get up the rock. And they also didn't get to see any apes! Lisbon We were berthed a couple of miles from Lisbon and the ship provided a shuttle bus service (£5 each, with our son at 11 travelling free). We wanted to visit Lisbon's Oceanarium as this is one of the world's largest aquariums, but thought the ship's trip (at £140 for the three of us) was too expensive, so we did it ourselves. We took the shuttle into Lisbon and then the Metro to the Oriente Station. The metro was incredibly easy to use - the ticket machines even have a button to press to get the instructions in English, and the return trip cost around 6 euros for the three of us. A family ticket to enter the Oceanarium was 29 euros, and we thoroughly enjoyed it, spending nearly 2 hours there. If you are visiting Lisbon with children I would recommend it. We returned to Lisbon centre, did a little sightseeing and relaxed at a cafe before boarding the last shuttle bus back to the ship at 3pm. Vigo Vigo was our last port of call, and again we only had half a day there, having to be back on the ship by lunchtime. We berthed near the town. It was very hot, so we ambled up to the old castle and explored an iron age settlement. Then returned to the town, admiring the many sculptures, relaxed in a cafe and then returned to the ship. Final disembarkation was as easy as embarkation on the first day. Our car was waiting as we stepped off the boat. And we're already planning our next cruise! 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Sail Date August 2010
We have previously cruised on the very big RCI ships. We fancied a quick summer getaway cruise to get some sun, so booked a late deal with FO. Embarkation at Dover was very slick,easy and friendly. As we got on board we found the ... Read More
We have previously cruised on the very big RCI ships. We fancied a quick summer getaway cruise to get some sun, so booked a late deal with FO. Embarkation at Dover was very slick,easy and friendly. As we got on board we found the ship much much smaller than we are used to, but clean and nicely kitted out. Our inside cabin was small and set out as two single beds, we asked our attendant to convert to a double and she did this within half an hour. Although small, it was clean and we had everything we needed including tea and coffee making facilities. The cabin did creak at night in the rough weather which was a bit disconcerting and kept us awake. The ship was quite unstable in the rough weather we encountered. The thing that struck us the most was the age of the other passengers; probably 80% were over 65, quite a few singles travelling alone. We did feel sorry for the younger couples on board with children. Seating aroung the ship was generally occupied with sleeping elderly. However, we were there to have good time, so we made the best of it. The food was excellent. You could have 5 courses if you wanted, the portions were just right, not too excessive, and great variety every day. We could not fault the food. The waiter service was not as polished as RCI but they did try hard. Drinks were very reasonably priced all round and we appreciated the absence of the dreaded service charge. We were able to tip as we saw fit and that was a bonus. Unfortunately, we were struck with bad weather. Our first port of call was Fowey, which we were looking forward to visiting, but it was closed. We headed for Porto, we hoped we would get there sooner but the captain went slower to get there at the scheduled time, so we had an extra sea day with not much to do. When I say not much, it was so not much. Extra activities were scheduled but did not appeal to the younger passenger. The weather did improve slightly later on but was so disappointing for August, they had better at home, but this was not FO's fault. Entertainment was generally very good and we enjoyed talks by Sir Bernard Ingham. The rest was not Hollywood, but Ok; we were getting used to the slower pace and our expectations were lowered. Have to say the staff overall were excellent - majority Phillipino. The cruise director seemed too young for his audience and out of his depth. All in all the bad weather made a huge difference to our enjoyment, there was not enough for younger(50's!)passengers but we can't deny that there's an obvious allegience to FO and the quiet and friendly atmosphere on board if that is what you want. If you want endless doing nothing and reading, this is for you. For us, if we had known the age range of the passengers we would not have booked. Would we go with FO again? On reflection, maybe (later on!) In the meatime we have booked our next trip with RCI. Read Less
Sail Date August 2010
First of all, I must reiterate what many folks have mentioned in regards to the crew onboard the Braemar who were all very friendly. I must say in addition that all of the folks from Fred Olsen with whom I was in contact with on the ... Read More
First of all, I must reiterate what many folks have mentioned in regards to the crew onboard the Braemar who were all very friendly. I must say in addition that all of the folks from Fred Olsen with whom I was in contact with on the telephone or via email prior to our cruise were also tremendously helpful, professional and friendly. I sure hope that the powers-that-be from Fred Olsen Cruise Lines read this review and see that all persons involved receive the promotion or recognition that they so deserve. Embarkation was a breeze. We arrived to the cruise terminal in Dover around 12:30 p.m, and were allowed to start in line for the embarkation process very shortly upon arrival. There was also a nice little snack bar area and tables where you could get a bite to eat and a beverage. Once we completed the initial embarkation process, we went on into the waiting area of the terminal for boarding. Our numbers for boarding were called right around 2:00 in the afternoon. We got to our cabin, and our luggage had already arrived. We found our cabin to be very clean and average size as far as cruise cabins are concerned. Jeneth was our cabin steward, and she did an amazing job keeping things so clean and inviting. Our bottle of wine which I had previously ordered was waiting for us upon arrival. Meals were fabulous. We had the first dinner seating, and thoroughly enjoyed our dear sweet table mates Jane and Ted. I really can't complain one iota about the quality of the meals,either. I felt like the portions were reasonable, particularly if you wanted to be able to enjoy all five courses and not feel miserable after doing so. I also felt like there was a nice variation of different foods offered which would appeal to every taste. The entertainers onboard the Braemar have a lot of talent. The singers and dancers all did a nice selection of shows including showtunes, pop, oldies, big band. There are some great musicians on that ship! The comedians onboard were also hilarious. My husband and I still catch ourselves repeating some of their lines for a little extra chuckle. The ports of call were actually what drew our interest to this particular cruise. I will go into more detail as to what we did in each port down below. If I have to criticize anything on this cruise, the tendering service was one thing that seemed to disappoint a number of folks and consequently receive a bit of complaints. There were only two ports where we had to tender, and we were fortunate to be able to get off on the earlier tenders to shore both times. However, they probably would have benefited from running more tenders two and from shore. We, as well as many other folks, ended up having to wait a good while in line to get back to the ship. We also heard a number of folks complaining that they were not able to tender to shore until about noon in one or both of the ports, and therefore unfortunately did not have a better part of the scheduled time in the port of call. We enjoyed the afternoon tea time. Since we yanks are not normally accustomed to that nice little time-out period during the day that the British routinely enjoy, it was a nice little treat to relax with some tea or coffee and delicious little sandwiches or sweet cakes. We did not pay the extra fare for the white-glove service -- maybe another time. One thing that we had to get used to on this particular cruise was that not being a EU citizen, we had to surrender our passports to the reception desk just about every evening before arriving in the next port of call. The folks at reception were very patient with us, and were very understanding of our lack of comfort with this particular policy. We eventually got used to it, though, and it certainly did not hamper our ability to have a good time. Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
First timers with Fred Olsen Line This was our 12th cruise and the first one with Fred Olsen on the Balmoral.We selected this cruise because we wanted to sail from Dover/Southampton and avoid the present problems associated with flying. ... Read More
First timers with Fred Olsen Line This was our 12th cruise and the first one with Fred Olsen on the Balmoral.We selected this cruise because we wanted to sail from Dover/Southampton and avoid the present problems associated with flying. The checking in procedure was brilliant, we were invited for lunch on the Balmoral prior to departure which was a lovely touch and were in our junior balcony suite with our luggage waiting by 2.30pm. The size (more cupboard and drawer space than any other ship ever),decor,cleanliness and layout of the cabin was very good and the bath tub with shower was an added bonus. The balcony also was larger than most of the ones on other ships. Our stewardess was very helpful on the few occasion's we asked for something and the fresh flowers and fruit placed in our cabin made us feel special. Although the in-service cabin menu had a limited selection, when we did order food it was delivered very quickly and was excellent. In cabin tea and coffee making facilities was another great service not often supplied by cruise liners Our request to change our evening dining to 2nd sitting and to have a table for 2 was done immediately. We dined in the Avon restaurant which had wall to ceiling windows which made the outlook breathtaking. The food was very good,the menu changed daily and there was sufficient variety to suit everyone.This high quality food was served in all three restaurants. Our waiters (Nestor and Roland) were from the Philippines and they gave excellent service, were courteous,efficient and sometimes very funny. The main reason we selected this cruise was the itinerary as there were many ports of call we had never visited especially the ones in Scotland. We booked our excursions prior to departure via the internet. All excursions started and finished on time and were good value for money. My husband and I are in our early 70's and are both in good health, it appeared that over half the passengers were aged over 60 years and a number had mobility problems. Fred Olsen crew were marvelous to those passengers who needed assistance on the excursions especially when the trips needed tenders to get off and on the Balmoral. No wonder many of the passengers are repeat cruisers. The evening entertainment was excellent and as well as the two formal evenings there was also a "western evening" where the crew put on a show and a "British evening" with a sing a long and lots of flag waving. There was no casino as such on board just one blackjack table and a roulette table but these did not appear to be very popular anyway. This is the only cruise line we have travelled with who have not automatically deducted gratuities from your on-board account but allow the passenger to decide the remuneration. This in fact resulted in us giving more to the ones who had given us a good service. Also all drinks were as cheap as chips!. What wonderful value for money Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
As a regular cruiser with Fred. Olsen having taken several longer cruises eg sectors of the world cruise I decided to take a festive short cruise to escape the Winter weather in the UK. It was my third cruise on the "Balmoral" ... Read More
As a regular cruiser with Fred. Olsen having taken several longer cruises eg sectors of the world cruise I decided to take a festive short cruise to escape the Winter weather in the UK. It was my third cruise on the "Balmoral" and it still impresses me as a real ship compared with the floating blocks of flats which seems to be the model for modern cruise ships. The ship is well maintained although, being an old vessel, it occasionally has its problems. Getting to Dover to board the ship had its problems due to the closure of the Channel Tunnel and the consequent traffic problems on the motorway leading to the port. The ship was tastefully decorated for the Christmas season and the atmosphere was really festive. Christmas was very traditional with carol services, a visit from Santa Claus (mainly for the children on board !) and festive fare in the restaurants. New Year was equally enjoyable. On New Year's Eve there was a splendid banquet which included haggis and a "wee dram". After this meal there was an entertaining cabaret in the Neptune Lounge. Towards midnight the deck party really came to life with champagne flowing, lots of music and general enjoyment to welcome the year 2010. The ship's first port of call was scheduled to be Leixoes (Oporto) but due to rough seas the port was closed and the call cancelled. In succession we visited Funchal (Madeira), Santa Cruz (La Palma), Fuerteventura, Las Palmas (Gran Canaria), Arrecife (Lanzarote) and Santa Cruz (Tenerife). We were blessed with fine weather, warm enough for the odd swim in the sea as well as in one of the ship's pools. In the early days of the cruise the seas were relatively smooth as we crossed the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay. As we sailed down the coast of Portugal we were met with some rough Atlantic weather. The ship rode the waves pretty well. The cruise was enhanced by the performance of the crew and the staff. The Captain led the way with enthusiasm and he mixed well with the passengers. The Cruise Director worked hard and kept the entertainment going. The "domestic" staff, as usual, were great. They come from the Third World, mainly Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and India and with their courtesy, efficiency and smiling faces make it a pleasure to travel with them. The entertainers were good and I was particularly impressed by most of the performances of the Balmoral singers and dancers. The crew show (which I did not attend) was, apparently, as good as ever. On the downside, the ship had a serious outbreak of the gastro-bug (Norovirus) which struck down more than 200 people. From speaking to some of the sufferers they were treated by the medical staff with great professionalism. Overall I enjoyed the cruise and look forward to joining the "Black Watch" (and possibly the "Balmoral") in 2010. Read Less
Sail Date December 2009
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