REVIEW OF FRED OLSEN'S BLACK WATCH, 6th JAN- 16th MARCH 2015
This was our first cruise with Fred Olsen and we did it in style with a 69 day cruise called South American Discovery. We've cruised with various lines ... Read More
REVIEW OF FRED OLSEN'S BLACK WATCH, 6th JAN- 16th MARCH 2015
This was our first cruise with Fred Olsen and we did it in style with a 69 day cruise called South American Discovery. We've cruised with various lines over the last 8 years including P&O, Celebrity, Princess, Cunard and RCCI to a wide range of ports and although we'd read less than positive reviews about the ship we chose the cruise on the basis of the itinerary. I was one of the youngest passengers having recently retired and my OH is a few years older.
As usual we stayed overnight at the Premier Inn West Quay as it's so convenient for the city centre and cruise terminals. We left the hotel at 1:30 and arrived just before the advised time of 2:00 p.m. It was fairly chaotic at the City Cruise Terminal where refurbishment was taking place so it was an uncomfortable and cold wait till we boarded about an hour later. On a positive note we chatted with some of our fellow cruisers as we waited and we also saw the CD and DCD greet previous cruisers.
As we boarded we immediately noticed how dark the ship was and this feeling didn't change throughout our cruise. The outdated anaglypta wallpaper, 1980s colours and poor lighting were to blame for that. We had a partially obstructed balcony cabin on deck 8 and we must say the bookings people at FO very helpfully emailed us photos to allow us to choose the balcony with the least obstruction. As we looked out from the small balcony, to our right a couple of cabins along was a lifeboat and to our right a rack of liferafts and of course Deck 7 with its promenaders lay below us. The cabin was like a box room measuring 21 feet by 8 feet so there was very little floor space. As we entered, the shower room was to our left and two large fitted cupboards to our right. There was a single bed against the bathroom wall on the left then a dressing unit. On the other side, was an easy chair then the second single bed / sofa , close to our balcony doors, but with no headboard wnich was a problem. The balcony was in very poor condition and towards the end of the cruise a programme of refurbishing all the Deck 8 balconies took place with much noise as the paint was drilled off. There was no fridge as standard equipment as we had expected but when we requested one a brand new model was delivered within the hour.
The dining options were the MDR (Glentanar room or Orchid Room for those in suites) or the Garden Cafe. Food wasn't available throughout the day as it had been on previous cruises which took a bit of getting used to but once we did we found the quality of the food to be very good. We dined almost exclusively in the MDR and our waiter was very efficient if a bit formal but our Assistant waiter was friendly and fun. We had requested a table of 6-8 but were allocated a table for 2, although this had been remedied by day 2. For dinner there was always a choice of 2 starters, 2 / 3soups 2 salads, 5 mains and 4 desserts. There were always alternative mains if nothing on the menu took our fancy and they included omelette, pasta with tomato sauce, grilled chicken or fish of the day. The steaks and roast beef were always exceptional and the highlight for us, although only available occasionally. They were also fairly flexible in mixing and matching from the menu which was another plus. We had breakfast most days in the Glentanar but mainly ate from the plentiful buffet rather than order from the menu. We also particularly liked the MDR buffet at lunchtimes which was much better than any we had experienced on P&O, Cunard etc and we definitely preferred the Glentanar atmosphere over the Garden Room which we found noisy and the chairs uncomfortable. We occasionally had lunch in the Grill and can particularly recommend the Outback Wedge Salad and the crispy fries!
ENTERTAINMENT AND SPEAKERS
There was a wide range of entertainment during the day with the usual quizzes and deck games, dancing lessons, bridge and whist etc. Occasionally more unusual classes took place with, for example, ballet lessons or ukelele (bring your own ukelele!) There was a guest choir mistress onboard and this is definitely something other cruise lines should consider. Margaret Rae was expert in improving the choir's performance but also making it great fun being in the choir. The performances were very well attended
The show company were very good but greatly restricted in what they could do due to the lack of a stage. This also meant you had to be early to get a seat with a good view. The company singers also did occasional cabaret in the Lido Lounge and this was always very popular. On other nights the Lido could be almost deserted which was a crying shame because Glen Monie (pianist) and Sam and Andy (instrumentalists / vocalists) were outstanding and deserved better. Ronald Apora played well in the Braemar but we were less keen on the Rosario Trio in the observatory.
The guest entertainers in the Neptune were of varied quality, ranging from excellent to dreadful so no different to other lines, with the comedians being the least popular. We were disappointed that with so many sea days there was no films (other than on cabin television) during the day. Films were usually shown in the Marina in the early evening when there were better things on offer. I must also mention the Black Watch Orchestra which consists easily of the worst musicians we have heard at sea, especially the trumpeter and guitarist who wouldn't have made it into a school band – honestly! I would however praise the number of local acts who came to perform for us and which provided us with an insight into the Arts culture in quite a few ports.
We watched the port presentations on the cabin TV and felt there was too much emphasis on the history of the port / area .as the presenter struggled to fill the allotted 45 minutes. There were also numerous factual inaccuracies for independent explorers like us and his style of presentation was very dull and repetitive. Guest speakers were generally aimed at an older audience (bearing in mind the average age on this cruise was 74!) but it would have been good to see these on Cabin TV as well because there was a limited number of channels to view.
What can I say other than the itinerary was absolutely amazing and we cannot recommend it highly enough. We left home just after the New Year and now it's nearly Easter but the time passed so quickly. We had most looked forward to Rio, the Chilean fjords, Cape Horn and seeing penguins and these didn't disappoint. However other highlights were Buenos Aires, one of the most beautiful cities we've visited, Lima which blew us away, the amazing wildlife and desert at Paracas (General Saint Martin) and quirky Valparaiso. I'm going to write a review of what we actually did in the ports where we mainly organised things ourselves before we set off, but included some ship's tours which were on the whole excellent and very good value. On the down side however we felt cheated by the time we were given in some ports. For example “Early morning” as per the brochure could mean 10:00 a.m.; late p.m. generally meant all aboard by 4:30; and there was no late night in Antigua as promised in the brochure.
Fred Olsen has very, very many die-hard cruisers who have never cruised with any other line. The line offerS great itineraries and other pluses for us were the fact that on a small ship we were able to see a glacier close up, excellent weather , the food, the great people we met, the staff being responsive to any issues we raised and the versatility of the staff e.g. entertainers serving food in the MDR during the Norovirus outbreaks. However the ship is well past its 'best-by' date and its poor condition provides a breeding ground for the bugs which created the Norovirus outbreaks and the chest infections / bronchitis which were rife for several weeks during this cruise. There was a constant smell of fumes from the funnel or paint in our cabin. The wifi (although fairly cheap) was extremely frustrating for the many people using tablets and only available in three hot spots. The evenings were a particular let-down with virtually no-one in aNy of the lounges after 10:30. The idea that the staff are friendlier than on any other lines is, IMO, simply not true as we have met outstanding staff on every line and the first captain we had was probably the least people-friendly we've come across.
We never say never but particularly because of the high level of illness (from which we're still recovering) it's unlikely we'll cruise with Fred Olsen again. If they are attract the next generation of cruisers they must offer more than just a very old small ship with an interesting itinerary. Read Less