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4 Fred. Olsen France Cruise Reviews

My friend and I had received letters advising us that Braemar was arriving straight from Hamburg following a refit and that we should adhere to our check-in times (4.30 for me, 6pm for her) as she would not arrive until mid afternoon. As ... Read More
My friend and I had received letters advising us that Braemar was arriving straight from Hamburg following a refit and that we should adhere to our check-in times (4.30 for me, 6pm for her) as she would not arrive until mid afternoon. As we watched her arrive early at noon, we decided that she may start boarding earlier and so set off for the ferry at about 1.30, arriving at the Ocean Terminal at 2.15. Check in was swift but then we had a long wait of about 2 hours before finally being invited to go through security. Knowing how sensitive the security scanners are at Ocean, I was dreading having to take my boots off but thankfully the woman there suggested I try and go through the scanner and see if my boots set it off, in which case I would have to return, take them off and go through again – they didn’t! We finally got on board about 5.30 and set off to our cabins – mine on deck 6, my friend's on deck 2. I had a superior twin for sole occupancy, with obstructed view and best of all – no single supplement! It was a nice welcoming cabin with bed, sofa bed, very large window (with tender outside), twin wardrobe with safe in one half, three drawers and the smallest bedside tables I have ever seen! There was excellent storage in the bathroom with a corner mirrored cupboard and shelf under the basin. The large flat-screen TV was interactive and mounted on an adjustable arm. There was a hairdryer mounted by the dressing table and a tray with tea and coffee making facilities. Caryll’s cabin was not so nice, although it had all the same facilities. It was in the middle section of the stretched ship and had better wardrobe space and coded safe unlike mine which was opened with a key, but required a card to activate the lights etc. The trouble was that there were acres of empty space where they had just taken a bed away to make it a single cabin. Our luggage was there so we unpacked, changed and explored the ship before muster drill at 7.15pm. Dinner had been changed to an open sitting that night, with the restaurant closed while muster drill took place. My muster station was in the Coral Club and it was nice to sit with a drink while it took place! Finally, with all aboard, Braemar set sail as we settled down to dinner in the Thistle Restaurant. We had a table for four on this occasion, with a brother and sister (on her first cruise). After dinner we did a quiz in the Morning Light Pub but didn’t stay up too late as I wanted to be out on deck for the sail up the river Seine the following morning. After breakfast in the Palms Café, I went out to stand on Marquee Deck to watch the river transit. Unfortunately the weather was grey, damp and misty although you could see patches of blue sky above the cloud layer. People ashore and on the ferries waved at us as we sailed past, a few sounding their horns at the ship or stopping to take a photo of us. There were hedgerows and trees laden with mistletoe, half-timbered tumbledown barns and cottages, small towns and ruined abbeys and castles. As we neared the industrial outskirts of Rouen, Braemar was spun 180 degrees and reversed to her berth on the seaward side of the new lifting bridge. Our tour to Honfleur was leaving at 2.15 so we had lunch in the Palms Café before going down to the show lounge to get our tour stickers. It was not long before we were asked to go down to the coaches. Unfortunately it was one of the high-level coaches – great views but very steep stairs and excruciatingly limited legroom, at least on the nearside. I have visited Honfleur once before and loved it so I was happy to return. We followed our guide round from the Salt Warehouse and through the medieval street as far as the church and then had an hour of free time to return to the harbour and take photos of the pretty shops. Unlike my last visit, early in the day with blue skies, this time we were able to watch the sun slowly set over the harbour – a beautiful scene. I bought a bottle of Calvados with raspberries and we explored the shops and streets north of the harbour. It was dark when we set off to return to the coach for the hour and a quarter drive back to Rouen and Braemar. It was our only formal night that evening – a shame since many people were ashore in Paris. In view of this, in lieu of a Captain’s welcome party, free drinks were available in any of the bars for half an hour before our respective dinner sittings. That night we were back to set table dining and we were taken to table 52 – for 8, right at the stern with a view of the wake – perfect (even though we were in port on most of our evening). One of the nicest things about Braemar were the lovely passengers. There was a good mixed age range, which I wasn’t expecting from Fred!, but may have been because of the unusual itinerary. Whenever we sat to eat – open sitting breakfast or lunch, at dinner, we were all soon chatting like old friends, even in the bars. It was certainly a refreshing change from other ships where passengers tend to regard solo women with a degree of suspicion!! After a good night’s sleep (FO beds are wonderful!), it was time to have breakfast and explore Rouen. Once again, we had both been here before but felt the town deserved a further visit. FO operate a slightly complicated shuttle bus system. We first had to get a shuttle pass from reception – these were free for those who had booked Freedom fares (us) or chargeable to those on cheaper fares. Once we had those (a different one for each of the two days we were there), we then had to go get a shuttle ticket from the tours desk once we were ready to depart. This worked exactly like a tender ticket and saved standing around on the quayside for the bus. The shuttle took about 10 minutes and dropped us off beside the river close to the famous Cathedral. We had intended to visit the Cathedral again and then head up towards the clock and explore the side streets off. In fact we came out through a different door in the church and spotted yet more intriguing narrow streets lined with the half-timbered medieval and 17th century houses which fill the central part of Rouen, so that was the way we started off. One street had several small shops selling the striking Faience pottery that is made in Rouen (not dissimilar from that made in the Breton town of Quimper). Nice as it was, the prices were too high to persuade us to take some home. In one of the shops the owner was moving a shelf to make room for some more pieces, when there was a horrible crash and some slid off it to the floor! Thanks goodness we were nowhere near. On the other hand, the home ware stores were filled with temptations, from the natural linen towels with red embroidery to the Christmas decorations filling the shops; pretty glassware with coloured bases to fabulous tapestry cushions with designs of liners and animals. After walking to the end of the old buildings, we headed back and sat with a coffee in a small square in front of the Church of St Maroc. Suitably restored we set off in the direction of our original plan. The pretty Christmas Market was just being set up in front of the Cathedral but would not open for another week. The shops in this direction were more common chain stores – C&A, Manfield, Bata etc. there was a small street market where we stopped to buy some Neufchatel cheese – a bargain at 1 euro 10 cents. The flower stall beside the renowned Gros Horlorge was so beautiful with bunches of Amaryllis in soft pink colours and glass bowls of moss and roses. Once we reached the Joan of Arc church we bought a pastry and found a seat by the Metro station to sit and eat. By then I was walked out so we headed back towards the shuttle stop, via a few shops of course. There was only a short wait before the bus came and took us back to the port. There was still a lot of work being done and a large quantity of glass panels was stashed at the stern ready to be installed – on deck?? The brown rattan deck furniture looked new and very stylish but I still do not like Fred Olsen sun beds – aluminium frame with white plastic strips. The games deck is right in the bow and is a great place to stand and watch a port arrival if not too windy or cold. In fact we stood there for sailaway for a while, until we neared the big grain mill and an ominous cloud started to waft our way. Back on board time was 4.45pm. Then started the announcements for four missing people! Then it was reduced to two missing people. As we were standing in the atrium we could see what was happening and hear the walkie talkies. It appeared that they called the missing couple on their mobiles and were told they were on their way. One youngish couple turned up in a taxi but there was no sign of the others. Just as we feared we might leave without them, they appeared at the far end of the security compound. The security officer sent someone to let them in and they walked up the gangway with no attempt at speed. We can only assume they looked at the sailing time rather than the all aboard time! We eventually left at 5.45, lifting off the berth and starting the six-hour transit back down the Seine. It was a calm crossing again and we arrived back in Southampton at about 6am. Disembarkation was by deck (luggage out by midnight) and we were off the ship at 8.30. All in all a delightful short break on a very attractive ship which restored my faith in Fred Olsen (although I still do not like Balmoral!). I would not hesitate to sail on her again, although maybe not for a long cruise as facilities and entertainment is limited.   Read Less
Sail Date November 2014
We are regular cruisers with Mr. Olsen and the itinerary involving France, Guernsey and one Spanish port going down the Bay of Biscay really seemed to us a good choice by the cruise planners. We drove to Rosyth - 160 miles - and arrived ... Read More
We are regular cruisers with Mr. Olsen and the itinerary involving France, Guernsey and one Spanish port going down the Bay of Biscay really seemed to us a good choice by the cruise planners. We drove to Rosyth - 160 miles - and arrived at the time stated in our instructions to find that we could have arrived earlier and been allowed on board. A little niggle as we like being on the boat with time to spare before the drill. And the signage around the terminal was not up to scratch! But we managed it finally as did the others! Embarkation was more or less painless as they were well organised in the small terminal and we were soon aboard and found our luggage already in the cabin! The cabin was as we expected, having used this grade before and was clean and provided enough space for our 2 cases and our clothes in the drawers and hanging space. Next - the emergency drill! It all went smoothly! We were led to the lifeboats in the crocodile and the n stood around a while ( weather mild!) and as one of us can't stand for more than a short while the staff were quite happy to let us go early on health grounds. Such flexibility is most welcome! The grey weather stayed until we have got well into the English Channel and then as we went South to Spain it slowly improved and we got what we had hoped for! The better weather got people out on the decks and the ship got us to Getxo effortlessly! We don't do excursions, preferring to go the the ports, shop a little and have a drink and sometimes a meal so we have no comments on the ship's tours. A visit to Hendaye ( France ) on the Spanish border was a great choice! We had never heard jof the delightful little port and it is all credit to F. Olsen cruises for the choice of a new place to visit was Now it was North again to visit La Rochelle and L'Orient - good choices! We had breakfast in our cabin each morning and it always came on time! The food restaurant was up to its usual standard with a varied menu each night and our waiters were efficient and understanding as we did the usual trick of chatting instead of making our choices. Our only comment is that the chef used a very rich sauce in lots of his meals but were were able to work around it as there was a good selection. We only went to one evening show and the comedian was funny with a good act which was fortunate as we had seen him before on a F. Olsen boat! Our evening drink was in the Observation lounge with prompt, smiling service of the well-priced drinks and there was a " Palm Court trio " each night and we found them excellent in the quieter and more relaxed ambience. Disembarkation morning saw us having breakfast with no crush at all as the waiters were all prepared and then final departure was quick and our deck was called just at the time for us to vacate the cabin!! The terminal is small but it copes - only just with the throng of people. Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
We chose this cruise because we were travelling with my 86 year old father, who did not want the hassle of airports or long journeys to the embarkation port. I was surprprised how much I appreciated the lack of hassle too!  Embarkation ... Read More
We chose this cruise because we were travelling with my 86 year old father, who did not want the hassle of airports or long journeys to the embarkation port. I was surprprised how much I appreciated the lack of hassle too!  Embarkation was a breeze, and my case was unpacked within 2 hours of closing it! The Black Watch is a smaller and older ship to those which I have previously cruised onboard ( Ryndam and Ventura) and I couldn't help compare. There were positives and negtives. Positives first: It was easier to find your way round the ship You were never too far from anything, and wasted less time getting from a to b ( cabin to bar, bar to restaurant, restaurant to theatre, etc) Getting off àt ports was also relatively easy, though we still had to queue for around 45 minutes when tenders were required. The ship never felt crowded The public spaces were smaller and seemed more intimate and friendly. There was never a problem getting a seat anywhere: bar, pool, lounge, etc. Even at the back of the theatre, you weren't far from the stage! Negatives: There was less of a wow factor, eg no central atrium and grand staircase. The cabins were unusual, with fixed berths in an L formation: one across in front of the window, the other down the side partition. There was only one Main Dining Room and one Self service buffet restaurant. Both could be crowded, especially on sea days. General positives: The ship was well maintained and kept spotlessly clean. The staff were friendly and helpful. The service was first class, especially in the Dining room. Bar service was excellent in most bars, but could be slow aroind the pool area (difficult to find the beer fairy, or attract their attention). The food was excellent quality, well presented, and plenty of choice. Breakfast buffet offered an excellent selection, including bucks fizz on sea days. General negatives: There was a crowded, almost battlefield, atmosphere in the MDR at breakfast and lunch, as a buffet was provided. It took us a while to realise that we could ignore the buffet, and a waiter would bring us something from the kitchen. We also made an effort to sit in the Orchid Room, off the MDR to avoid the melee. The sun loungers were old fashioned and not very comfortable. The entertainment was mediocre: not bad, just average. Dinner was at set times, 6.15 and 8.30, which I felt were too early and too late! There were plenty of activities on board, though nothing like wave pools, climbing walls, ice rinks, etc! Staff organised regular quizes, bingo, "dog races", wii games, bridge, carpet bowls, dance classes, etc. There were also talks by guest speakers (good) and port talks (dreadful: someone rading a script, with no enthusiasm). We did not do any of the organised excursions as we thought they were overpriced. We tended to use shuttle buses and or taxis. This worked fine, most of the time. However getting to La Rochelle was horrendous: we had to wait outside, no seats provided, for a shuttle bus that took us to no man's land, where we waited at a bus stop for a regular service bus. Taxis were not available. Imagine, scores of people, many elderly, standing at the bus stop! Needless to say, the bus was overcrowded. We managed to find a taxi to return, but were not allowed to go to the cruise terminal. He had to drop us at no man's land, where we had to wait, without shelter, without seats, for the shuttle bus again. The Black Watch does not cater for children, and I did not see any on board. We chose the "all inclusive" drinks option, which we thought good value. But drinks were not overpriced, nor was there a service charge added to them ( as with Holland America Lines) Not sure if this has anything to do with the ship, but the passengers were generally more friendly than on other cruises!   Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
This was the maiden voyage down the Loire followed by a further river trip down the Garonne to Bordeaux. Someone came on board with the dreaded Norovirus which meant that on 4 of the 7 days cruise we were in lockdown which spoiled the ... Read More
This was the maiden voyage down the Loire followed by a further river trip down the Garonne to Bordeaux. Someone came on board with the dreaded Norovirus which meant that on 4 of the 7 days cruise we were in lockdown which spoiled the trip. No quibble with the captains decision, but the restrictions took most of the pleasure out of the cruise and the constant handwashing and antibac. 'squirters' resulted in a nasty dose of eczema of the hands. Recommend the tour of Green Venice in Bordeaux though, very serene and relaxing. Beware disembarkation at both Nantes and Bordeaux, very very steep gangway from level 5 to quayside due to local conditions/tides which created long delays getting both on and off the ship and would be very taxing to anyone with disabilities although help was on hand - heart conditions would be a bit worrying. Cannot comment on fitness facilities, gym was closed for most of the trip. Read Less
Sail Date August 2014
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