Our first cruise with Fred Olsen for many years, the last was in 2006 (Boudicca) and before that 2004 (Black Prince), we enjoyed travelling on Braemar. The ship has a compact cosy feel about it and if like us you regard a cruise as a means ... Read More
Our first cruise with Fred Olsen for many years, the last was in 2006 (Boudicca) and before that 2004 (Black Prince), we enjoyed travelling on Braemar. The ship has a compact cosy feel about it and if like us you regard a cruise as a means of transport rather than a vacation in itself then we found it a pleasurable experience and recommendable.
As for the cruise experience itself, we hardly spoke to other passengers and nobody made any effort to speak with us to start the ball rolling, so cannot comment on whether most people were friendly. Some people have what it takes to launch into conversation with total strangers only to create the impression within minutes of having known one another for years, we don't. Perhaps it's that we appear younger than we are, or as I joked with my wife maybe we were thought to be newly-weds so best left well alone! Anyway, after our experience in 2006 of sharing a table in the restaurant, we opted for sitting by ourselves and doing our own thing. The crew, apart from a few waiters in whom we detected facetiousness, were charming, friendly and obliging. A special mention well-deserved for the excellent service to the staff in the Observatory who made our customised Afternoon Teas extremely enjoyable.
Unlike previous cruises, we weren't inspired to attend any of the shows, instead after second-sitting evening meal in the Grampian restaurant we retired to our cabin; early to bed early to rise maketh man healthy, wealthy and slim! As discerning vegetarians, our dietary requirements are specific and Braemar catered for us adequately, no complaints there. Otherwise, the bottled water we found unpalatable and at £1.50 a bottle a rip-off. Since we don't mix with others on a daily basis, it was a real eye-opener just how many people start their day with a cup of coffee and continuing drinking stimulants thereafter; still, no accounting for taste, different people and all that.
My wife had a massage in the spa which she found thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing. I relaxed by going to the gym a few times for weightlifting. Of the 4 tours we'd pre-booked, one was cancelled. We went on tours in La Rochelle and Isle de Re, Briere National Park & Guerande, and in Rouen. For reasons that I won't go into, the French-speaking guide for Guerande took up my wife's suggestion the tour make a detour to visit the salt marshes which from the sound of some people in the coach was a real treat for the twitchers in the group. We chose the tours carefully by reading reviews, etc and were pleased they proved good value and stimulating, all guides making a real effort to impart information.
Where Braemar went wrong for us was Norovirus. A few days before the end of the cruise, the captain announced an outbreak. We'd not experienced norovirus before and were unprepared for how it's tackled. Sanitising went into over-drive. It was on Boudicca that we'd first experienced having to rub sanitising fluid on our hands before entering a restaurant so it was no big deal to do that on Braemar, but there's a difference between the volume of liquid that one rubs on one's own hands for oneself, and the powerful lingering acrid putrid smell that pervades the corridors from a mass disinfectant.
I guess it was left to us to find out more about norovirus if we wanted; all that the captain told us was to step up our use of the sanitising fluid and wash hands before eating, also that the self-service buffets at breakfast and lunch would become waiter service only. The Daily Times mentioned two symptoms, diarrhoea and vomiting, so I decided that whatever I was suffering was not norovirus and no need to say anything. Since I rarely get ill, my diagnosis based on a feeling of nausea (not sea-sickness) was a mild food poisoning from something I'd eaten off ship or possibly a bottle of water that I'd bought on board which tasted off when I opened it. I treated it with homoeopathy, reduced my food intake, kept away from the restaurant for evening meals, avoided public rooms wherever possible, and got plenty of sleep and rest. On the penultimate day of the cruise, I felt a sore throat in the making, hardly surprising given the stale air in our cabin (Deck 6), the fumes from the crew re-painting cabin doors nearby, carpet sealant, and the smell of diesel outside on deck. My wife's eyes were watering and feeling prickly. Having shaken off the worst before returning home, I am now, some 2 weeks later, almost getting over a dry cough and cold.
What amazed us was just how protective Fred Olsen was of the crew at the expense of the passengers. Why weren't passengers offered face-masks and gloves? Why did we have to breathe fumes unnecessarily? Packing up and unloading the ship came over as a sorry affair and within hours of disembarkation at Dover, Braemar sailed to Harwich where it was deep cleansed and got ready to greet the new group of passengers embarking for the next cruise.
Norovirus we have since discovered is rife and not only on cruise ships, but how Fred Olsen managed the situation did not impress us. Not knowing the procedure I assumed Fred Olsen would alert the authorities, but to be on the safe side I did too. The several organisations I contacted were all very helpful and forwarding my email to the right department. I received a reply from a Food and Health and Safety adviser at Tendring District Council who said they take outbreaks on board very seriously and do everything they can to assist the ship. It wasn’t that I thought Fred Olsen would have hushed anything up, but I wanted to notify the authorities that we weren’t impressed with the standard of cleanliness of some of the glassware, cutlery and plates given to us, with grubbiness and fingermarks galore. Also, it concerned me that whereas some foods were covered up, most weren't, particularly bread. Of all the foodstuffs on display, bread has probably been handled and touched by any number of people before it reaches your hands.
We heard others say their holiday had been ruined. It didn't ruin our holiday, we achieved our objective, namely to revisit France, but Fred Olsen spoiled their cruise, reminding us too just how challenging it can be to share travelling arrangements with old people. Since we were in good health before the holiday, having to remedy ourselves as a consequence of a virus on a cruise ship is not my idea of fun. I've read that regular cruisers are philosophic about norovirus but a cruise ship is not an experience we want to repeat. Read Less