The worse cruising experience I have ever had. From beginning to end. My wife and I have cruised with Fred Olsen cruises on three occasions this was to be our fourth, we booked a cruise for my mother and father in law, my sister and brother inlaw and my wife and I. The cruise was on the "Black Watch" an eight night cruise sailing from Belfast October 2015.
The cruise started on the 16th October 2015 we were told to check in at their facility at Belfast docks at 2pm, my brother Inlaw was given a 2.30pm checkin, why? After registration all 700+ passengers were herded into what I can only describe as a small warehouse with very basic facilities, like myself most passengers would have been retired with a large number of disabled people. We waited almost 2.50 hours in crowded cold conditions to be bused to the ship which was located at another dock beside an animal feed warehouse, the stench was almost overwhelming. The checkin warehouse had a hole in the wall canteen offering hot and cold drinks which we had to pay for, yet we had checked in, and all of our party had an all inclusive card, Both my wife's parents are in their 80's and sat shivering like others waiting on the inadequate number of coaches to take us to the ship.
When we eventually arrived onboard we went immediately to our Cabin (Superior Outside cabin) which I can only describe as tired and past its sell by date, both single beds mattresses had bowed in the middle and looked like something you would get in some third world hostel.
The usual ships newsletter was placed on the table it listed various events, restaurant times etc, enclosed with it was a special notice informing us that due to repairs to the ship auxiliary engine we would be missing our first port of call "La Coruna." The ship would be going to the second port of call "Bilbao" for repairs so we would spend almost three days there. We were offered £50 each as compensation which had to be spent on the ship. At this stage the ship had not left the dockside in Belfast. If Fred Olsen cruises had notified us prior to getting on the ship I would have cancelled, as one of the main reasons for booking was the opportunity of going to La Coruna and taking my wife's parents to Santiago de Compostela an opportunity which because of their age and cost will sadly not be possible again.
Having sailed on Fred Olsen cruises three other ships I had no hesitation booking the Black Watch as the previous cruising experience on these ships was faultless, unfortunately the Black Watch fell way below their sister ships standards, the main restaurant was one of the worst I have seen, was more like a ferry canteen than an elegant cruise ship restaurant, It was to bright and lacked any atmosphere. The staff lacked personality and just seemed totally bored, unenthusiastic, we listened to a couple of the waiters complain about the salary they got from The cruise company and how it was topped up with the gratuities which we had all prepaid. In comparison with its sister ships the menus were boring, breakfast and lunch was a buffet but you could order off the menu if you could get eye contact with a waiter I gave up trying and opted for buffet. Trying to get a glass of wine on our all inclusive card on occasions took ages getting eye contact with a waiter got worse as each day went by, on the final night my father in law finally got a glass after he had finished his main course, in any case the house wine was practically undrinkable.
The reception staff, shop staff were totally unpleasant, getting a smile was a rarity, the one area that I enjoyed on the ship was the observatory bar the staff were pleasant and efficient, the trio who played there every evening were excellent.
One of my pet hates on any cruise is the constant manufactured occasions that their photographers use to get a happy holiday shot, captains dinner, captains farewell dinner etc, the photographs cost a fortune to purchase, on the Black Watch I seen one of the worse photographs I have ever seen, a couple getting photographed with the captain, his wife stood beside the captain, her husband was in a wheel chair, the photographer took this shot and put the picture on the usual display. The head of the person in the wheelchair was all that you could see of him sticking up at the bottom of the photo. All my comments like this are just a snapshot of a very bad experience on the Black Watch never to be repeated.