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4 Fred. Olsen Miami Cruise Reviews

M V Braemar Christmas Caribbean Cruise 22/12/08 - 08/01/09 Gatwick was typical chaos but Miami was surprisingly problem free, taking only 1 hour from plane to transfer bus. We joined a ship that had been extended in the ... Read More
M V Braemar Christmas Caribbean Cruise 22/12/08 - 08/01/09 Gatwick was typical chaos but Miami was surprisingly problem free, taking only 1 hour from plane to transfer bus. We joined a ship that had been extended in the middle and generally upgraded everywhere in Summer 2008. It had been on several bedding down cruises since then but there was little comment on cruise review web sites as to how these changes had been received. Fred Olsen seems to get very little web comment and it's internet room on board was virtually empty on all my visits - may be something to do with the abnormally high average age of it's passengers. The weather in the Northern Caribbean was stormy force 6 with a 3 meter swell and overcast for the first week. This had it's affect on health and moral. Poor weather restricts deck activities as well as the head count at dinner. Several injuries were recorded. The first ports of call where Nassau (the town itself was very disappointing) and Montego Bay (Not a nice place). The main sunbathing deck with very small pools was totally overcrowded when the sun came out - we retreated to our balcony. The weather in the second week improved a bit - force 4 and 2 meter swell. Unfortunately for many, the Flu outbreak worsened. It also included two of the best ports of call, Aruba and Curacao in the Dutch Antilles off the coast of Venezuela. Delightful ports with gaily painted buildings designed in old Dutch style, well presented shops and both places that we will return too. Santa Marta in Columbia was also interesting. No evidence of their famous drug trade! The weather continued to improve a little bit as the week went on. St. Georges in Grenada has improved enormously over the last decade, despite or due to two bad hurricanes. A new marina and Harbour have been built and also a new relocated cruise terminal and shopping centre. Avoid the water taxis to Grand Anse Beach in choppy weather as they are very difficult to climb into and they try to pack 16 people in to a small boat and delay leaving until full which can involve a wait of over half an hour both ways. The smell of leaking petrol cleared my sinuses. Bridgetown Barbados has a well organized Cruise Terminal and Port and taxis are available for the mile or so trip into town. The private buses are great fun on which to travel about. 1 US$ gets you a trip up the west coast with the locals to Hole Town. Also, sharing taxis is commonplace but not as cheap as you think. Bargain hard! This west coast is well developed to quite a high density and rather commercialized but the local roads can barely cope resulting in many traffic jams - which gives plenty of opportunity to gaze at all the famous hotels. Castries St Lucia and St. John's Antigua were forgettable experiences, the latter due to the very restricted 4 hour stop. We have been to Antigua before and Nelsons Dockyard , on the other side of the island is a must if time permits and circumnavigation of the island by catamaran is an unforgettable experience if you get time. So, last few days at sea with sun and reasonably calm seas cruising up to Key West, a lovely Port at the bottom end of Florida with a super town centre and well worth the visit. Finally, an early morning arrival back at Miami with 20 hours of travel (and waiting around) to look forward to. First the plus points ... It's cheap to cruise this The Fred Olsen Line with all the bargains available, including free upgrades. We landed up in a suite and Premium economy aircraft seats for £2300 each for this 18 day Christmas cruise although don't expect 'luxury'. The prices on board were in British pounds, an advantage over the Dollar charging ships when the £ only buys $1.43. This rate, charged for cash changing on the ship stayed the same every day, even when the Dollar sank to $1.35 to the £. Bar prices and restaurant wines (£13 for a decent bottle) were cheap compared with others we have been on. You could also buy English bottled beer - Spitfire and draught Stella Artois. The Filipino staff are a delight - always smiling, greeting you by name, remembering what you drink, making you feel important. They made our holiday. What an asset to the company! Unfortunately, the bad points outnumber but many of these were not down to Fred Holstein or the Bromide crew. The average age was noticeably higher than we have experienced in the past, even at Christmas - 75% of passengers was 70+. The Fred Olsen 78 - 90 club! We thought that elderly American cruise passengers were rude on previous trips (Insignia & Diamond Princess) - until we experienced a few days a sea with the British counterpart. We suspected that whole community centers for the elderly had been forcibly removed from Basildon and placed on this ship. Seriously, the heavy pre-Christmas discounting seemed to have attracted some strange people! Statistically, a third of the passengers where from Lancashire, a third from Yorkshire and 50 % from Essex (Well it felt like it!). This ship had more cruise snobs and moaners per deck than any other we have experienced. - those that holiday once a year on a cruise, moan about everything, swear that they will not come again - and then announce that this is their 5th. time on the ship. - those that have sailed with all the top notch lines in the best cabins, although are mysteriously camping out in a basic inside cabin on deck 2 One of the reasons for choosing this cruise line was due to recommendations from some friends and the thought that, with 18 days at sea, they would serve some good traditional British food occasionally. i.e. Roast Beef. We were rather disappointed. The food is adequate 'Torquay Hotel food', prepared by mass catering chefs in conjunction with their checked accountants. For example, chicken and pork were always available because they are cheap and were often reheated (sometimes with an additional sauce). Beef was rarely available in any form. The one steak was part 'cooked' in the basement main kitchen, reheated in the holding kitchen on deck 8 and served ... In this time, it had lost it's will to please and totally lacked any normal British accompaniments i.e. chips, onions, roasted vegetables etc. However, in fairness, their Beef Wellington was good. Desserts were mostly disappointing, with excessive use of Creme fresh cream, Jelly, Moose. No Apple pie or other traditional desserts, no custard, rarely any ice cream. But they did have bread & butter pudding several times - to use up the old bread. Christmas and New Year dinners lacked style, substance and flavor and served with miniscule portions, both sadly disappointing. The smell of diesel oil, particularly on deck 5 Starboard and often in the air conditioning in our cabin was very noticeable and unpleasant. So Fred Olsen, my scores out of 5. Food 2.5 Sometimes quite good but often disappointing Food Service 4.5 Restaurant excellent. Palm Cafe mediocre Cabin Comfort 4.0 Most normal cabins are disappointingly small but comfortable. Balcony suite was good. Cabin Service 3.5 OK Free champers & fruit on arrival for us Bar Service 4.75 Always good to the point of brilliant Entertainment 2.5 Have experienced far better. My own appearance in one show was brilliant Both lectures were boring! Internet 0.5 Don't bother. Too slow. No wi-fi connections TV 2.0 Poor world news, poor daily info Cruise info / daily letter 2.0 Poor, amateurish and cheaply sourced Tours 2.0 Only did one which put me off. Used taxis Laundry 4.5 Dry cleaning very efficient Summery A cruise line for those on a budget, offering good value for money. Very popular with the elderly and those from the Northern Counties and Essex. Despite extension and refurbishment, the ship falls well behind P & O, Princess and others in terms of amenities and comforts but it does charge much cheaper prices and leaves tipping to the discretion of it's passengers. It's relatively small size - 988 passengers - is an attraction. Choose your cruise itinerary carefully, as many Caribbean ports are scruffy and uninteresting. Coach tours are typically pricey and rarely offer good value. Have the guts to hire a taxi (very affordable with 4 people) and do your own thing with the drivers help and knowledge. Do not bother to smuggle your own spirits on board. The cabin prices are duty free .i.e. £15 for a liter of Jameson's Irish whiskey! Bring plenty of books and treat yourselves to a balcony cabin to avoid the crowds. Read Less
Sail Date December 2008
Booked BL004 as all research indicated Olsen ships were great and this would be a good opportunity to meet a lot of Brits and have some glorious conversations. We thought we had a confirmed balcony cabin but for various reasons we ended up ... Read More
Booked BL004 as all research indicated Olsen ships were great and this would be a good opportunity to meet a lot of Brits and have some glorious conversations. We thought we had a confirmed balcony cabin but for various reasons we ended up with a Class A on Lido deck. Specifically requested a twin bed arrangement but at check in found it was a double bed (8019), not even Queen size. Requested upgrade but apparently none available so settled for a downgrade - same deck but handicapped cabin with twin beds (8084). Recompense was offered and accepted, big mistake as upon occupation it became apparent that the ship refit had missed most of this cabin; cracked and missing bathroom tiles, cracked sink, stains everywhere, filthy windows with rust stained frames and a completely obstructed view. So OK we screwed up but we'll make the best of it - left explicit instructions at reception to give us first refusal if any upgrades became available. Learned later from a fellow passenger that indeed a mini-suite on deck 11 had been emptied but Customer Service Manager said carpenters were working in there so it remained unavailable. Poor communication from staff, not a good customer relations episode but press on. Embarkation for us was fairly painless, we'd driven from the Florida west coast to Miami (got lost in Miami) but finally found our parking garage and were shuttled over to the ship. The only unexpected event at check-in was the retention of our passports - never happened before on any cruise line - excuse was something to do with Bahamas immigration. Later on board we were called to line up with a completed Bahamas form and have it added to our passports. This passenger said no way and demanded his passport back as they should not be out of ones possession - it was reluctantly returned with the growled caveat that I would be woken at 8am at all ports of call to attend immigration if I intended going ashore.  Disembarkation at Nassau and all other ports was standard procedure - use ones ship ID card and carry your Passport if a photo ID is required - very unusual. Further words about this unidentified idiot running the passport fiasco, he was extremely rude to a number of passengers who were asking very pertinent questions (how long are we going to line up here?) - another customer relations screw up. Anyway overall impressions of the Balmoral = from dockside quite sleek and clean. Once aboard a different story. Last impressions first to set the stage: the ship, after lengthening and refurbishment was not ready for service and neither were the crew, but more of that later. The new center section stands out like a sore thumb, all new and shiny, the older bits show their age and are quite disgraceful on a cruise ship. Rust stains everywhere, misfitting panels and pins etc around the exhaust surround on deck 11, filthy decks around the lifeboat stations that haven't seen soap and water nor paint for ages, a general need for paint in areas where one would not normally look (indications of a skimped job?), cracked varnish on the handrails and so on and so on - overall the ship does not compare favorably with it's contemporaries. Mechanically one wonders; we had one delay of several hours because an auxiliary engine would not start - finally announced that a fuel pump was changed - how long to diagnose and fix a non-starting problem?. Then there is heavy vibration mostly at the stern when the ship goes astern or maneuvers to dock, high amplitude and low frequency that shakes glasses off tables a condition that makes one wonder about the engines; were they refurbished at refit? But the ship is seaworthy and rides well in a heavy swell with very little roll so the stabilizers are effective. The exhausts however did spew a lot of soot on the aft deck and the aft swimming pool, and there were a number of unidentified odors - a mixture of diesel fuel, urine and rotten fish perhaps - that occurred on deck 11 and were hosed away by the crew, and inside the corridors and by the elevators which dissipated on it's own but returned occasionally. First impressions of the crew were not too good, they were either poorly or inadequately trained and passengers seemed to be a hindrance initially. However things did change somewhat as the cruise progressed but there was always the feeling that the ship was understaffed in some of the areas important to passenger comfort. The staff at the reception desk were somewhat inattentive to questions and complaints and the Customer Service Manager was a promiser but not a producer. The old interior has a half-finished look, new carpets and furnishings but many old and rather scabby bits. And the layout leaves a lot to be desired - large unoccupied spaces with a load of "modern"art that serves no useful purpose as far as I could see. As for the much vaunted English pub the " Morning Light" it's about as much like an English pub as a pea is to a pear. No charisma, no character, no charm, many Brits likened it to a union meeting hall - seats around the walls and very few tables and a snug that ain't. Not warm and cozy and conducive to good conversation. The Palms buffet is another shortcoming - absolutely no ergonomic design thought in the layout - too small, buffet in the wrong place and the only coffee station on the ship almost inaccessible. Coffee, the staple of most yanks and apparently a lot of Brits, is a joke; the wait staff line up to fill absurd coffee/tea pots which then are circulated around the tables and by the time they reach you the contents are tepid. And trying to fill a cup by yourself takes courage as you fight waiters all the way, but this is the quickest way to get a fresh cup or a refill. Try it in the early am if you're an early riser and enjoy a cup on deck!! As for toast it's as rare as gold in a lead mine. If this ship is to make a mark in the US market it needs two more coffee stations, one forward and one amidships plus a supply of half & half, coffee with skimmed milk or even whole milk if there is any won't hack it. As for restaurants we used the Ballindalloch and after some early criticism to the Maitre-d ended up with a first class waiter and assistant. Service initially was aimed at the restaurant not the customer - 9:30 closing time for breakfast, now 10:00 for those who like to kip a little longer, table clearance and reset as soon as patrons left even if other people were still seated at an adjacent table -it is rather bad form to have a new table cloth waving around next to you, being sprayed with water to lay it flat and the have cutlery etc laid while you're still eating dessert, that no longer happens. Then there is the coffee story again, didn't get any after dinner on the first night but it did show up after much discussion thereafter; And thanks to an excellent waiter we also got cream instead of milk. The menu did not impress myself or my wife as it was pretty bland and again unimaginative - lamb showed up three or four times and as much as I like it I do like a variety. Lobster arrived once, at least if you were a trained detective you may have discovered a few minute pieces in a bed of rice, and shrimp (prawns in the UK) were around but certainly not the jumbo kind. Overall I was not impressed with either the menu selection or the presentation. Tried the Spey restaurant once for lunch - oh my they don't serve coffee at all - not impressed as all the menus are the same. Anyway I was not impressed with the food and breakfast anywhere, buffet or restaurant, was just the good old staples. Now to bars, my favorite was the Lido (close to our cabin) but well laid out at the stern of the ship. BUT: be prepared if you sit at the bar with a friend and try and converse because you will be constantly interrupted by waitresses leaning across you to place orders for guests seated at tables. Why there is not a waitress station at one end of the bar remains a mystery. Stella and Boddington were always, for reasons unknown, poured in the kitchen space behind the bar and arrived as a glass full of foam (but they did recover), but Stella ran out a few times which required a new Keg to be elevated out of the ships bowels hence some delay in the arrival of a pint. Cans of tonic, diet coke and some other sodas ran out before the trip ended, no tonic for the gin - disaster. There are only four elevators on the ship, two forward, two aft so we got quite used to walking and climbing stairs. If you head for the Atrium put your walking shoes on. And be prepared for a surprise if you think you can get to deck 3 by taking the aft elevator to deck 4 and going down one flight of stairs; no way Jose, the top flight of descending stairs ends at a blank wall. So then you back track and either walk forward on deck 4 to the center stairs or the forward elevators or take the aft elevators back up and go forward - good to know if you're headed for the Arts and Crafts room on deck 3. And the elevators do not always go where the arrow points, you may go up or down depending I think on the phase of the moon: one thing for sure you will encounter an elevator that either will not shut the doors or will shut them and then refuse to move and every one will give you a vibratory thrill when it does start to move. Deck space has increased with the new center section but so has cabin capacity with the result that deck chairs are the spoils of good early morning con games - I badly wanted an inflatable doll so that I could peg her to a chair before breakfast and have a reasonable feeling that the chair would be available post breakfast. Prices on board were reasonable - by the glass gin or vodka with tonic about four and a half bucks (30ml) but you will need a magnifying glass to find 10ml of scotch at about the same price so have ice with your scotch. There is no liquor shop on board but bottles are available from the barmen or the wine stewards - don't buy they are grossly overpriced; go ashore in Belize or somewhere and find it much cheaper - I brought Tanqueray gin in Belize for 13 bucks. A few words about the entertainment - absolutely first class. The Balmoral troupe of dancers performed wonderfully - great scores and wonderful costumes; the equal if not better than many other cruise ships that we've travelled on. Great comedy acts with one outstanding - Bob Webb - cockney type accent perfect timing, great innuendo and kept us in stitches for almost an hour.Then there was the Dorsey band with the 40's swing and the Music of your Life group that kept us going in the Lido lounge. The outstanding event was the last night's show where all the entertainers gave individual and one great big collective performance - The Farewell Variety Show in the Neptune Lounge - it must not be missed. The audience joined in with a rendition of "Ould Lang Syne" and the only thing missing was "The Land of Hope and Glory" to close the Albert Hall Pops concert. This was, without a doubt, the only thing that other cruise directors could well copy from this ship and use to their own advantage. Comments from other passengers, particularly Brits ranged from very good to bloody awful about the ship in general with the Brit stiff upper lip being very prominent, they are so bloody complacent at times that it hurts. But by God didn't they speak in one voice about their treatment at Miami airport on arrival - what a disgusting introduction to the States - they likened their welcome to cattle being herded in a barn where they stayed for two or three hours waiting for Customs and Immigration and there were no amenities nor seats for the elderly or infirm. My wife and I were disgusted that visitors from an allied country should be so treated. Disembarkation somewhat turned the issue around though as the ship could not be cleared until all non-US passengers had cleared Customs and Immigration so we yanks were stuck aboard - however in much better conditions than the arriving Brits. As soon as the ship was cleared we were the first to debark. Summing up I will say that in spite of many shortcomings we enjoyed ourselves and made many new acquaintances which hopefully will produce a whole new spate of Christmas cards and maybe some lasting friendships. The itinerary was changed because of the mechanical malfunctions but it didn't affect us personally although there were a lot of disappointed Brits who wanted to see Key West. As for Fred Olsens entry -into the American cruise market I fear that it will not succeed unless some major changes are made to the ship, the crews general attitudes, the food, and bringing the ship in line with with American expectations. With things as they are now Olsen ships cannot compete with the many other cruise ships serving the Caribbean from the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area. Alan Freeman Cruise BL004 3/13/08 through 3/24/08 Read Less
Sail Date March 2008
As on all previous reviews Immigration at Miami airport was chaos,once cleared you have to then reclaim your bags and transport them to the bus yourselves,which some of Fred Olsens older cruisers struggled with. Embarkation on to the ship ... Read More
As on all previous reviews Immigration at Miami airport was chaos,once cleared you have to then reclaim your bags and transport them to the bus yourselves,which some of Fred Olsens older cruisers struggled with. Embarkation on to the ship was OK and we where shown to our Cabin 1021.We where on Highland deck in a full suite, large and clean, the bathroom is a little tired looking but fine,ladies take your own hairdryer!as the one provided is poor. Dinning was in the Avon on late sitting,the food was excellent,the service was swift, though the wine waiter was slow and we where often through the main course before our wine arrive,would recommend pre -ordering any wine .The wine waiter in the Spey where we took lunch was much better. We used the Observatory bar for pre dinner drinks,the service was excellent,the bar prices are very good, though the wines on offer are limited,but if you ask for one of the restaurant wine menu they will get it for you. The "pub", what can I say its awful so far removed from a traditional British pub Fred Olsen need to look at P&O's version on the Arcadia much more like it and my husband would have appreciated a T.V. some where showing some sport. the T.V in the cabins shows news only . We did not go to any of the musical presentations ,but the comedians were excellent. My husband joined in the darts,table tennis etc and had no complaints about the organization. I used the Spa on several occasions and found the staff wonderful ,also mysteriously the air con always seemed to be working !! Shore excursions need to work on the organization,as each trip has a letter why not designate each one an area of the Neptune Lounge it may make "spotting" of the tours easier . The real issues we had were with the reception desk , boy do they need a crash course in customer services !!! and the Customer Relations manager needs to remember to get back to people.The Commercial Director from Fred Olsen ,Pete was on board trouble shooting ,with a blond haired girl, not sure if she actually worked for Fred Olsen and was on holiday so not doing anything or really his girlfriend who just wanted to be helpful but did not work for Fred Olsen !!! neither wore Fred Olsen badges so alot of people didn't know he was there . The ship had an on going problem with its engines ,which meant we where unable to leave Roatan Island for several hours,when we got back to our cabins that night we had a letter advising the water was short so could we be economical in our usage . The water to our cabin went off 3 times during our 12 night cruise ,The engine failed again as we approached Cozumel so the ship went round in a circle for a while, the air con also went off and never full worked again for the rest of the cruise . Due to the problems they dropped the visit to Key West (we got £40 a head credit on board for that ). Cruisers, if everyone reads and listens to the information provided , disembarkation could go quicker! we waited for 30 mins while the crew search the boat for 2 cabins which hadn't shown for immigration.Our flight to Stanstead was cancelled so we where put up in a hotel Fred Olsen need to take this up with Monarch as it was bad , but on arrival at Stanstead Fred Olsen had organized a taxi to take us home which was a big relief! Over all we would still cruise with Fred Olsen , but never out of the USA , Barbados is so much smoother , but they need to learn from the Balmoral, for the launch of the Breamar in July Read Less
Sail Date March 2008
We had a good Thomson flight from Gatwick to Miami but after 10 hrs the hard seats were uncomfortable. Immigration at Miami was an experience to say the least and we will never fly there again. Our cabin smelt of rancid fried fish oil. ... Read More
We had a good Thomson flight from Gatwick to Miami but after 10 hrs the hard seats were uncomfortable. Immigration at Miami was an experience to say the least and we will never fly there again. Our cabin smelt of rancid fried fish oil. Great! Also there was a huge black crack across the wash basin. We had written confirmation of queen set up for beds when in fact they were unmovable singles. When I asked to move cabins I was told ALL cabins on the ship were taken and it would be impossible. We had our dinner, fish on the menu. I went to reception again because the smell in the cabin was horrible. I also asked again about the bed configuration. A different receptionist suggested I look at 2 other cabins. I was told all beds were single in the old part of the ship and couldn't be put any other way. She said this had caused a lot of problems and FO knew about this so shouldn't promise queen beds. We moved from 8076 to 8075. 8073 was also empty. The shower room was wheelchair adapted, probably designed by a non user because once inside in his wheelchair my husband had great difficulty reaching the door to close it. Our choice of cabin was limited as we needed a wheelchair adapted one. Our partial sea view was in fact ALL lifeboat. Our waiters on table 16, in the main restaurant, were excellent and we shared the table with 4 lovely people. The food was superb and we were spoilt for choice. We ate dinner there and went to the Spey or Avon for lunch. Palms was very busy and noisy a bit like a canteen. It also had less choice and was cramped around the buffet area. The pool area on 7 was very crowded. We tried it once but wheelchair access was actually dangerous so didn't go again. The ramp was too steep. It had to go over 2 steps and it is impossible for a wheelchair user to maneuver the chair up and open a heavy door at the same time. Even with me pushing it was near impossible as you go up a ramp to a door that opens out sending you back down again. The pool area on deck 11 was also packed on sea days. It was very noisy near the funnel and there were notices around saying watch out for soot. If you didn't have a towel on a lounger by 8am you didn't get one! Some shade would have been welcome. Some of the entertainment was good while some wasn't. We enjoyed the jazz in the Lido but can't say the same about the guy and his organ in the 'pub'. If you sat at the back of the theatre you could hear the music from the pub at the same time. The ship's theatre company were average though we enjoyed the 'songs from the shows' 2 of the girls and one guy had very good voices the others were average. We also enjoyed the staff concert. The 'Latin/Carnival' show was awful with lots of screeching. We only saw one comedian who was very funny, his quiche joke still makes me laugh! The disco was lovely in the Observatory lounge but there were only about half a dozen people using it. We enjoyed all of the ports of call but missed a stop at Key West because of a 12 hr delay at Roatan, Honduras due to failure of an auxiliary engine. This was the stop I was most looking forward to. Also that evening we were told fresh water was running low! The ship has increased its size to 1300 passengers but has the same engines, water tank and only 4 lifts. Braemar has 4 lifts for 800 passengers. Also you can tell when you are going from the old to the new part of the ship. The same decor throughout would help. The new part is lovely. Our flight home was 9.30pm so were taken to Bayside shopping Mall for 5 hrs! That was even too much for me and we got very bored. The male 'disabled' toilets at the Mall weren't big enough to accommodate a wheelchair and my husband had to take the wheels off his to get in, unbelievable! I wonder if FO have checked this out? We had a good time on our 2nd FO cruise but will look for another operator next time or go on one of their unstretched ships. Read Less
Sail Date March 2008
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