Having had to postpone a river trip in France owing to the current strikes we chose this cruise as we have always wanted to see the remoter parts of the UK by sea.
Embarkation was, before time, slick and rapid and we didn't have to wait long for our luggage to be delivered. We have to recommend Relyon parking in Dover who run a cost effective, cheerful, and efficient service. They are not as convenient as the Port of Dover but the latter's open air car parks are quite vulnerable to any passing storm - but the seagulls do not discriminate between either of them! A bit of confusion about availability of refreshments at boarding. FO said nothing would be available until dinner but in fact there was a good spread available in the Secret Garden Café when we got aboard.
The first sea day was inevitably busy as all the port talks had to be covered but as it wasn't a nice day outside that wasn't a problem. Fred's bringing a Scots presenter aboard who was also a qualified lecturer on malt whiskies was also a bonus. Invergordon is rather remote from the sights and is a rather sad town but we learnt that it is the only deep water port for the North West of Scotland north of Edinburgh. Big ships were scheduled all week, and it has been a Royal Navy base in the past, so there is no real alternative. We did an excellent tour encompassing the beautiful house and gardens of Cawdor Castle and the Culloden battlefield. A bonus was that our guide used to be at managed at the latter. Some people felt it was a bit rushed but, if it had been two half day tours maybe they may not have been enough to run either - and of course extending it to a day tour would have increased the cost substantially. Catch 22. Lerwick in Orkney provided an efficient shuttle service for the 2 mile trip to town and the local sights were all accessible by public transport. Lerwick in Shetland is an interesting and busy fishing port and although the berth was two miles from the town a limited shuttle was available. We did a wildlife boat trip to Mousa island which was really interesting with many rare sights. Stornoway in Harris/Lewis is a pleasant town and, as the weather was not only as calm as usual but a lot warmer, our trip to 'The Far North' was well organised and interesting - lots of wildlife and impressive coastal scenery beyond the peat bogs! Tobermory on Mull was a beautiful little tender port. We chose to visit the Abbey on Iona. Apart from an 0630 start, it proved a fascinating day. the 53 mile coach trip over largely single track roads was very well commentated by our guide and the two hours we spent on Iona (after a ferry trip) were very interesting. Tiring but another place off the bucket list. The last port, Dublin, was shared with three other ships so was very busy. The traffic upset many passengers as it caused problems for several tours but we managed a few sites by walking the city centre and found the place enchanting and very friendly. Another hot and sunny day. The last day was a sea day and allowed some relaxation but all in all I don't think you'd do this sort of cruise to have a rest.
The passengers were generally elderly but ready for the challenges and we made some good friends. The Captain (Mikael Degerlund) was very hands on and engaging and the two parties he hosted were very amusing and entertaining. He is obviously well liked and at ease with his officers and crew. Boudicca has had a very successful refit and has been nicely modernised. She still rattles a bit as befits her age but everything (other than the new TV system which was very disappointing in its reliability) worked well. We felt uneasy with the arrangements for breakfast and dinner where the default situation was self-service - the waiters would serve you but we wee left with the feeling that they preferred self service. As P&O cruisers we much prefer waiter service but that is simply a matter of taste.
We didn't buy the drinks package as we wanted to see if our drinking habits made this an advantage or not from both financial and choice points of view. We actually found DIY cheaper and, as our Ocean's discount didn't apply to the package, distinctly so. We also much preferred to have the choice of anything on the drinks/wine menus. Maybe heavy drinkers may not find it so but to us it appeared that most people were on the package. Our table mates were on it and had to occasionally wait for the waiter to top them up at dinner. However, we really enjoyed the cruise and found the friendliness of the Fred Olsen officers and staff very refreshing.
Maybe Fred Olsen overplays the small ship advantages as there is not the choice of facilities available on bigger ships and we have found that small ships are often given the less attractive berths in big-ship ports. We have been on even smaller ships than Fred's and they have had really imaginative itineraries including ports such as the island of Monserrat and Cuba. But Fred is unbeatable in Norwegian 'inner passage', Kiel Canal and river ports (Braemar) itineraries.
Well presented and well maintained by our Stewardess. Good storage space and room for the cases under the beds. The TV reliability was a big problem - with only two portholes we felt very hemmed in when the bow cam was down. A big bath and shower was a bonus