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8 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2015
On board the Black Watch is like stepping back in time. The decor and fittings are very 1970s although clean, there is no WOW factor anywhere on the ship. This was our first cruise and based our poor experience it could be our last. ... Read More
On board the Black Watch is like stepping back in time. The decor and fittings are very 1970s although clean, there is no WOW factor anywhere on the ship. This was our first cruise and based our poor experience it could be our last. The boarding process at the port was one of the worst travel experiences I have had. Hundreds of passengers crammed into a hangar waiting their numbers to be called and we waited for 1hr 50 minutes and were the last to board even though we arrived exactly at the time we were instructed to on our boarding instructions. There was no explanation given just occasional apologies. So we arrived at our cabin fighting disappointment at our introductory experience with Fred Olsen. The next blow was that we learned that we would not be stopping at our first port of call, la Coruna, due to some mechanical problem. This port and the onshore trip to Santiago was the reason I booked the trip. The food was good. The alcohol reasonably priced and the service of a high standard with one or two surly exceptions. The shows were unoriginal. There was a very good comedian. The onboard activities were ok. The highlight of the trip was the Observatory Lounge where we enjoyed lovely cocktails while listening to an excellent trio. We met people who we will keep in touch with. Overall we both feel we spent a lot of money on a poor holiday and that same sum could have got us a luxury hotel for longer. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2015
As seasoned travellers with many years of road tripping under our belts (to most parts of the UK, Europe, Eastern Europe & Canada) we wanted to try a tour of Norway, a country we'd never been to before but had been considering for ... Read More
As seasoned travellers with many years of road tripping under our belts (to most parts of the UK, Europe, Eastern Europe & Canada) we wanted to try a tour of Norway, a country we'd never been to before but had been considering for quite some time. However, as we started planning it, it became evident just how expensive such a trip would be, plus there was also the issue of there being no ferries to Scandinavia from the UK anymore, which would have meant a very long drive via Holland, Germany, Denmark & Sweden before we even reached Norway. We’d never tried a cruise before, but as an alternative to a road trip we looked at some Norwegian offerings, which appeared to be a more cost effective way of getting / staying there than going by road. We eventually ended up booking with Fred. Olsen for a cruise on the 'Black Watch' leaving Liverpool on 11th May bound for the Norwegian ports of: Alesund, Hellesynt, Gerainger, Olden, Bergen, Eidfjord & Stavanger. The Black Watch is quite small for a cruise ship, it accommodates just over 800 passengers, its compact size meaning it can access the smaller fjords. Being so early in the year meant that we were the only ship in most ports on a given day which was a plus.. The first thing that struck us about the ship as we embarked was how 'well used' and dated it is. On board it's quite jaded in places and in need of a good spruce up and some modernisation. Some people - Fred. Olsen and a few dedicated fans of cruising - call it charm, we call it, 'wearing out'. The exterior of the ship also looks quite bad with it's many “battle scars”, looking at it close-up at the ports of call reveals some nasty looking dents in the hull, and some rust appearing in several places. There seems to be a never ending painting programme going on to cover up the rusty bits. In every port we called at, out came the bucket of paint & rollers to conceal a bit more of it. What this poor 43 year old lady really needs is to go into dry dock for a spell and have the rust properly treated – or better still she should be gracefully retired as her best days are most certainly now behind her. We’ve been on nicer cross channel ferries. When we booked the cruise, we opted for the 'all inclusive' drinks package at £220 for the 2 of us. Like a lot of other things with Fred. Olsen the details of this were very vague until we got on board and found out that 'all inclusive' actually isn't. Water is available at the bar as part of the deal but only by the glass so it can't really be taken back to the cabin and is probably only the tap water anyway. Bottled water in the cabin has to be requested and paid for. Coffee and tea and a kettle is provided in the cabins but in the bars aren’t covered under the all inclusive deal. Only very cheap wines and spirits are part of the all inclusive package on-board, the house “whisky”, as an example, is some cheap Spanish brew which is quite rough, if you want even the lower end brand blended Scotches, like Bells or Grouse etc you have to pay a 50% surcharge – despite it being listed as only 10p dearer than the nasty house whisky in the bar price list. The same applies to other spirits and wines, although it has to be said the red 'house' wine is more palatable than the spirits. For draught beers there’s very little choice – lager or Boddingtons bitter were all that was on offer in the bars. No Guinness or any other dark beers on draught – only tins & bottles which again are not part of the All Inclusive package so attract the 50% surcharge . Olsen need to be a little more transparent regarding things like this because the way things stand it's all just a little too vague in the pre booking information and can catch out the unwary. If we'd known beforehand that the all inclusive package included only the cheapest unbranded whisky and other spirits that nobody outside of the ship has ever heard of we'd never have taken it, we'd have paid for our drinks as we went along and bought the cheap branded stuff on offer, but having to pay 50% extra, even for the likes of Bells, Grants and Grouse made us feel a little cheated. Calling it 'all inclusive' is very misleading. We used the complimentary cabin service on a few days when we arrived back at the ship too late for lunch or dinner and found it very good. Our order was usually at the cabin door within 10 mins of phoning it through. Only things like sandwiches & soup and a few deserts were available but they were of good quality – better than the main restaurant food in some cases. Food in the main waiter served “Glentanar” restaurant was pretty average at best, with more emphasis being placed on the presentation rather than the taste & texture. To be honest it's all just a bit pretentious on what is a rather tatty little ship, especially the formal evenings where passengers have to dress accordingly for dinner. A lot of folk did seem to like that sort of thing though, which only added to the pretentiousness of the whole affair. We only ate in the main Glentanar restaurant on a couple of occasions, on our second and final visit our rather pompous waiter was quite rude to an elderly gent at our table who had complained about his soup. On that particular night we had what was allegedly pheasant which it has to be said was disgusting, it all looked very nicely laid out on the plate in nouveau cuisine fashion, but eating it was like chewing an old inner tube. I'm no expert on pheasant but I'm sure it shouldn't have been that tough and dry. After that experience we elected to eat in the Braemar Garden Café which is a self service buffet restaurant and the food all the better for it. This was a far less ostentatious atmosphere and the waiters were marginally more pleasant. We didn’t eat too may lunches on board, preferring instead to stay out using the limited time available to explore wherever we were docked, as no matter where we’d arrived it was always more interesting than on board the ship. We partook of breakfast most mornings, but found the cooked offerings to be invariably cold to lukewarm. The first morning we tried it the fried eggs were barely warm, as were the beans, sausage and bacon. The cold scramble egg was the particularly unappetising “piece de resistance”. The following few mornings were no better in either restaurant so we opted for the cold continental breakfasts after that which were an improvement even if the croissants were miniscule. We'd booked a couple of shore tours before we left home. The first was from Gerainger by coach up the Eagle Road which was spectacular and well worth the cost. Sadly the second one from Stavanger was a huge disappointment. This one consisted of a trip on the so called Jaeren Railway to Egersund which cost us £75 each. It promised wonderful views as we travelled through the “Breadbasket of Norway”. The reality was a ride by coach through Stavanger at rush hour to the railway station, where we got on to a commuter train. We then travelled for over an hour and a quarter through some pretty underwhelming countryside to the lacklustre town of Egersund where we then boarded the coach for the run back to Stavanger by road which was only slightly better. We did have an hour to kill in Egersund though so rather than stay with the tour guide (who at least had the decency to look a bit embarrassed), we took off to find a coffee shop instead. Talking to other participants of this tour back on the ship afterwards it transpired that we weren't the only ones who felt disappointed by it. We could probably have done the same trip ourselves for less than £20 Norway is undeniably beautiful, the cruise showed us a mere glimpse of what this wonderful country has to offer and we will return there, but next time will be a road trip - and hang the expense, it'll be worth it. As far as cruises go for us, never again. I'm too young even in my mid 60s. If this particular cruise is typical of most then they seem geared more to passengers in the 70 – 80 age group who's idea of fun and adventure appears to be stuffing themselves with as much food as possible, a game of bingo and a quiz chucked in now and then.... and dressing up for dinner whilst on an ageing ship being the icing on the cake. Just short of 3 days to get to and from Norway is excessive, and boring, I’d have preferred a quicker cruise and more time in Norway. Having experienced the open road for years, we simply felt trapped inside the ship. Having too little time to explore the places we saw became frustrating as we had to keep a constant eye on the time in order to get back in time for departure and we hated the stress of clock watching whilst on holiday. I can see the appeal of cruising for some people, but it's not for us I'm afraid. In future I’ll be firing up my car or the motorbike again and taking off for some real travel adventures Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2015
I was desperate the see the Norwegian Fjords, which by the way were spectacular, so my sister and I booked a trip with Fred Olsen which included the all inclusive drinks package. Embarkation at Liverpool was a breeze and the baggage ... Read More
I was desperate the see the Norwegian Fjords, which by the way were spectacular, so my sister and I booked a trip with Fred Olsen which included the all inclusive drinks package. Embarkation at Liverpool was a breeze and the baggage handlers at the port were slick and fast, however, you do have to fight through all types of walking sticks, Zimmerframe walkers and very slow infirm passengers. My sister and I, although not young, felt like teenagers in comparison as the average age on board was in the region of 70+. Although on the fully inclusive (FI) package, which is good value for money, the rules around what is included in the fully inclusive package is ambiguous and at best vague. This is compounded by the staff offering you items that are not on the FI package, although knowing that you are on the FI package. The result is that you find yourself being charged for a drink that you didn't realise you'd bought? There is a form of stealth sales that goes on as I think the staff receive an incentive to sell drinks and on several occasions I found that I'd unwittingly bought a coffee or a glass of wine in error. The other irritant is that on the occasion that you do order a drink on the FI package you're still expected to sign for the price of it which left us with a tree's worth of paper receipts. Make sure you always check the receipt which has a printed 'FA' on it if you've achieved the fully inclusive package as the staff don't tell you. We found this helpful piece of information from a fellow passenger. All communication is provided whilst on ship via a daily paper put into your room by the evening service staff. This is useful and provides you with all the information you need with regard to sailing time, ports of call, activities and services. We didn't pre-buy port and shore excursions but used the hop on, hop off, facilities that is available at each port. They were perfect for us as it gave us the opportunity to see what we wanted to see and was much cheaper than the excursions. Our cabin was small and dated but was kept super clean by our Cabin Attendant who was fabulous. Everything onboard is chargeable including the cabin bottle of water. We were on deck 5 which is perfectly based for reception, the restaurant one deck below and to disembark which is on deck 3 and the spa which is on deck 3. You don't have to use the lifts and can get everywhere fast. You'll never get in the lift anyway as 2 walkers fill the entire lift and there are only 2 lifts in the centre of the ship. The food is good although typically British themed with it's target passenger being the older demographic. I was however, so tired by the end of the trip by the continual chorus of 'Happy Birthday to you' which is sung by the staff and an attempt to get you to buy your table a round of expensive liqueurs. Although, we met some lovely passengers, the more mature passenger can tend to feel superior and will reserve the best seats, push you out of the way and tell you to move if you're in their way, although they've reserved seats for their friends. You having to stand wherever possible to enjoy the evening is an insult to them. Some would go into the library and put all their belongings down and then disappear for a couple of hours, returning at their leisure expecting their seating to be there waiting upon their return. This resulted in my sister and I roaming around the ship looking for somewhere to sit during inclement sea days, eventually going back to our cabin. The only place that would guarantee us an escape from the infirm was the Gym which was well equipped, clean and tidy with showers and a steam room. The most modern part of the ship in fact. On day 8 of our trip there was a terrible smell across our deck which was attributed to the water refuse tanks being full. They had to dump it into the sea but because we were still in the Fjords the ship had to keep hold of it. All deck passengers complained and we were offered a move to another deck but only for the night which meant we would have had to pack up and then move back - we declined and stayed wishing we'd brought pegs with us for our noses. The reception staff are all poe faced women who know nothing and are accountable for the same. We had several encounters with them and at no time do their faces crack into a smile which is accompanied by 'the computer says no' mentality. The 'can do' ethos is nowhere to be found on this ship. The restaurant staff are polite and friendly, however, have to be because the Management in charge seem to run the place with a fear culture,as we saw staff being told off in public areas in view of passengers which was very uncomfortable to witness. We would cruise again but not on this line - an expensive disappointment to say the least. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2013
Just returned from my first and probably last cruise. Norway itself, the scenery, the inner passage and most of the tours were wonderful, unfortunately the cruise experience itself was not good -- particularly due to the poor condition of ... Read More
Just returned from my first and probably last cruise. Norway itself, the scenery, the inner passage and most of the tours were wonderful, unfortunately the cruise experience itself was not good -- particularly due to the poor condition of our 'superior' outside cabin and the fear of contracting norovirus (almost half of the passengers came down with it). In addition the only reason for us going on this cruise was to see the northern lights and we were disgusted that more was not done by the ship to assist us in this aim. CABIN. (Superior outside, deck 5). Reasonable size. Condition poor. It may have been 'superior' 20 years ago but is decrepit and rather dingy now. Dread to think how we would have coped if we had contracted norovirus and been banged up in it for 4 days, as some folk were (you had to stay in your cabin for the length of the illness + a further 48 hours after the last symptoms occurred). Rather like living in an old run down caravan that someone else has had the sense to scrap. NOROVIRUS. The ship blamed the passengers for bringing this on board and for spreading it. No responsibility was taken for the fact that the previous cruise had also suffered from norovirus and only a few hours were devoted to carrying out a 'deep' clean before we boarded. There was no way that sufficient time was allowed to effectively clean the ship before we boarded -- were the carpets steam cleaned and the curtains and bedspreads all washed? No. I am certain this virus was present on the ship (carried on fittings and in the ventilation system) when we boarded and this was the major cause of our outbreak. The continual spraying of passenger hands was probably ineffective as alcohol based sprays do not work against norovirus - apparently chlorine based ones are better, but we would have been able to smell this in the spray if chlorine had been used. In addition at no time did I see any of the staff spraying their hands and the bad practice of waiters handling used crockery and cutlery and then handing out food to passengers would have caused cross contamination (no plastic gloves used). So, Fred Olsen stop blaming the victims for this awful outbreak. NORTHERN LIGHTS. To see these was the sole reason for us booking this cruise, I quite accept that they are a natural phenomenon and no guarantees can be given but I did not expect the captain to put the smooth running of the evening meal above the passengers desire to see the lights. On the evening that we left Tromso there was apparently a brilliant display of the lights above the ship. Unfortunately we were on the late sitting for dinner and one of the last tables to be served, no announcement was made in the dining room so we completely missed seeing the lights that night. If we had been told as soon as desert had been served we could have skipped coffee and seen the display. We finally got a good sighting of the lights on the night before we got into Kristiansund. Unfortunately we struggled to see them as all the deck lights had been left on and the crew refused to switch them off ... as the captain was asleep and no-one else had the authority to do so! Great! Fred Olsen should think a bit more about what customers want from this cruise -- it would have been quite safe to turn off the deck lights on the upper decks only and to have left them on around the stairways and lower decks -- as was done on other nights. We also went on 2 of the 3 evening tours arranged by the cruise to search for the northern lights. I would not recommend these -- passengers were taken on approx. 4/6 overheated coaches a long distance (90 mins +) from the ship, this was not only to get away from light sources (not much of a job was made of this -- one night we were near a lot of houses and another night we were next to a busy, for Norway, road) but mainly to take us to a large field where a lot of coaches could be parked and a small amount of infrastructure such as a large tent provided and bonfires could be lit. You would be much better advised to use the local information centre and book a tour with a local guide, in a minibus. Other passengers used these and they reported a very good experience with the guide taking them to many different vantage points and really having a good knowledge of where and what to look for. They did not have to endure a long trek out of Tromso or Alta and the price was similar for the local guide as for the cruise tour. DOG SLEDDING and ICE HOTEL tours. These I cannot praise enough. Both were excellent. I would recommend booking the dog sledding privately just so that you can go for a longer period than the cruise tour allows - also try out driving the sled yourself, it's great fun. TOILET BLOCKAGES. Several passengers (including us) suffered from this at different times on the cruise (and no we did not flush anything we should not have done!). Not a good experience when you do not want to use the public loos in case of contracting norovirus and no one contacts you to say the problem has been fixed (the engineers work on it outside of your room); you have to ring Reception back to ask. Some passengers also suffered from very poor water pressure. One night we had no water at all for a while, we were told this had affected several other cabins. All problems you don't need when norovirus is present and you are trying to be hygienic. So now you can see why this is likely to be my last cruise! Certainly my last one with Fred Olsen. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2011
Myself and my husband are brand new to cruising and thought we would try a mini cruise to 'test the water'. Fred Olsen was recommended by (an older) relative, as it is a smaller ship and not overun by kids.Perhaps our ... Read More
Myself and my husband are brand new to cruising and thought we would try a mini cruise to 'test the water'. Fred Olsen was recommended by (an older) relative, as it is a smaller ship and not overun by kids.Perhaps our expectations of a cruise were too high, but speaking with other new cruisers who were doing the same as us on this 'taster weekend', I don't think so. This was Fred Olsen's opportunity to capture a new market and they failed miserably.Firstly admin: I had to call Fred Olsen twice to tell them that we hadn't received our tickets and in the end were issued with an e-ticket. They managed to send the bill to the right address so why not the tickets?The ship was delayed getting into port so embarkation was delayed by 3 hours. Fortunately we were emailed by FO to alert us to this so didn't leave home until later in the day, but many passengers didn't or couldn't. Needless to say check in was horrendous - lengthy queues and disorganisation ruled the day. This set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Queues and lengthy waits for everything including breakfast seating and drinks just made what should have been a relaxing break into alot of frustrating hard work.We booked a superior outside cabin which was reminiscent of a ferry cabin, and though it was clean, was very shabby and in much need of decoration and a new bathroom.We were booked into the Spey restaurant for dinner and even though on second sitting, we felt rushed all the way through. Waiters were surly and it was very difficult to attract their attention particularly at breakfast time when it was hard to get coffee and toast served in time to go with the rest of the meal.On the third morning we went into the Ballindalloch restaurant for breakfast and have to say that service was marginally better in there.Food could hardly be called 'fine dining'. It was adequate 'function catering' if rather boring - alot of it was based on roast meat and veg, starters and desserts were OK if generally tasteless. It's a pity that 'hot' food arrived at the table tepid, and cold food really was very chilled. We ate once in the Palms cafe - afternoon tea on the day of embarkation - after that we avoided it like the plague. It was noisy, tables were dirty, glass seating dividers were smeared with grease and upholstered seating was badly stained... not nice.The Captains Welcome Cocktail party was a joke - more rugby scrum mentality and shockingly bad service. The party took place in the Neptune lounge. It took us 30 mins to get a drink and no canapes got as far as the area in which we and 40 others were sitting. To us, it just felt like a 'hard sell' for tours, future cruises and of course the obligatory photo with the captain.Outside sitting areas were generally tidy and there appeared to be enough loungers and chairs, but then it was a bit breezy so maybe not everyone wanted to be outside. It did became quite difficult to move around when everyone sprawled out on loungers and grouped them together. It was also worrying to see passengers sitting in jacuzzis holding drinks in glasses, despite their being notices displayed forbidding it. Staff didn't seem to care. We will probably try cruising in the future, but definitely not with Fred Olsen. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2011
Although first impressions are good I was very disapointed overall in my experience as a first time cruiser on the Balmoral. My cabin, a superior single on the Lido deck, may be described as 'tired'. Surfaces worn, a drawer ... Read More
Although first impressions are good I was very disapointed overall in my experience as a first time cruiser on the Balmoral. My cabin, a superior single on the Lido deck, may be described as 'tired'. Surfaces worn, a drawer chipped and the bathroom poorly patched up (when I entered the cabin there was a rust hole at the bottom of the metal bath panel which was dealt with at some time during the voyage). I was particularly concerned about the position of the television and its tangle of wiring in relation to the only possible place to use the electric kettle.I may also say that the position of the bedside light in relation to the way the bed was laid out (pillows at the far end of the bed adjacent to the outside door) meant that the bed was fine during the day for lounging or watching television but in order to read in bed I had to set the bedding out the other way round at night.The door to the balcony wouldn't remain completely closed since, even though locked, the catch would slip and there was considerable wind noise, which was rather disturbing.I had expected excellent food in the Spey restarant, this surely is one of the high spots of any cruise. I have to say that in some cases it was hardly better than superior school dinners! Neither pork nor the chicken tasted of anything. I did have some acceptable meals there but the quality was very uneven. The Palms Cafe was better, at least one could see in advance what was on offer and choose accordingly. In addition the service at times was rushed. On the penultimate night plates were being removed from our table and the next course brought while some of us were still eating. The waiters also clearly forgot to ask for our orders for pudding. The restaurant was also very noisy. I have good hearing but at times it was difficult to have a conversation because of the noise from other tables. My elderly father who is rather deaf (I was travelling with my parents) found it impossible.I also have to say that the whole dressing up in DJs for men on four evenings was completely unnecessary and pretentious. I just looked in on the entertainment since nothing appealed. The ports' lecturer was terrible. I could have done better with a quick look at Wikipedia and other internet sites. He was really just advertising the excursions. The guest lecturer, a retired MEP was a bit better. Excursions were generally ok but highly priced and most satisfactory were the trips out I made on my own in Tallin and elsewhere. It was a waste of money to do both the coach panorama trip around St Petersburg and the Waterways tour but the trip to the Palaces of the Romanovs with the opportunity to see the suburbs and countryside around St Petersburg was good and the restoration work after the destruction by the Germans, extremely impressive.I was surprised by just how elderly and infirm many passengers were and at 65 I was one of the younger ones. It is clear that this ship or this cruise line appeals to the Daily Mail reader. That was the daily internet produced newspaper paper available and the paper that headed the list in the survey of passengers. I left the comedian's performance when he started telling jokes about immigrant benefit scroungers.This trip was my first experience of cruising. There were many things that I enjoyed about the experience but most of those are not related to the ship or its facilities. In all this cruise cost me getting on for £4,500 including the fuel surcharge. I don't regard that as good value for money and I will certainly not be recommending Fred Olsen cruise lines to friends.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Read Less
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