We had really been looking forward to this cruise since we had booked it for a small fortune on a special loyalty members’ booking day almost two years earlier!
Fred’s promo promised “some of the most unique and authentic sights and experiences Greece has to offer, this outstanding itinerary features an extensive array of highlights. Cultural gems, ancient archaeological treasures, postcard-perfect scenery and much more” including “fabulous food – all day, every day,” “dining with sophistication and style” on a ship where “timeless style flows throughout the interior,” a “tour to picturesque Alhambra Palace from Malaga” and lots, lots more!
But Fred overpromised, overcharged and underdelivered.
It was a real pity that our first experience on board this cruise was the poor service in the Thistle Restaurant for lunch. Although there weren’t many people seated and a large area of the restaurant was “mothballed”, there was just too few waiters. They just couldn’t cope with filling water glasses, clearing plates or laying tables. Sadly it was the same in every restaurant, every day at breakfast and lunch. The service at dinner was sometimes excruciatingly slow with second sitting queueing through the ship and up the stairs because restaurants just didn’t open on time.
While the “Fred Olsen Difference” is supposed to be “service with a smile,” we saw one waiter running about serving dinner wiping the sweat from his brow on the sleeve of his jacket. The service in the bars was slow as well. The staff in the line-up at the captain’s farewell drinks looked frightened.
The “tour to picturesque Alhambra Palace from Malaga” didn’t happen because we were late into Malaga. The excuse was ‘headwinds, currents, etc.” So many disappointed people!
We were at first pleasantly impressed by the food offering and sirloin steak was really pretty good for mass catering on an Olsen ship but as the cruise went on, the food offering became pretty mundane. While there’s nothing wrong with bangers and mash, fishcakes, or “spag. boll” for a quick mid-week supper, it’s not what we had paid thousands and thousands of pounds for. We could have used the “speciality dining area” of the grill on the outside aft deck, at times when the weather wasn’t too cold, too windy, too wet or the sea was too rough but we couldn’t see why we should pay and extra £40 for something that’s included in the price of Fred’s competitors.
The entertainment, including the show company, guest entertainers and lounge musicians was pretty good. Although, we did sit next to one chap who had seen a comedian so many times that he was able to tell his wife almost every single punch-line before the “comedian” was able to utter it. The real problem with entertainment is the lack of decent seating in the Neptune Lounge and in the Coral Club. Higher chairs are put in front of lower couches, and so many chairs have been crammed in that these areas have become painfully uncomfortable. The least movement is really difficult, sight-lines are seriously affected by pillars and despite having a thrust stage with the majority of the audience to the far left and far right the entertainers have to perform to a camera in the very front. We wouldn’t pay for uncomfortable seating, obstructed views and being seated almost behind performers in any venue on land.
Excursions were often eye-wateringly expensive and sometimes the arrangements seemed to take us further and further away from the excursion bus. First it was a long walk along the length of the ship to pick up a sticker in the Neptune Lounge and then back again the length of the ship to the gangway and then back along the quay the length of the ship and… then a bit more to get to the bus. It seems so pointless to make passengers walk back and forward and back again when Fred’s competitors issue excursion passes at the top of the gangway and busses are often located at the foot of the same gangway.
We’d paid a pretty high price for our cruise and for the same daily rate we could have booked into a decent country house and enjoyed far, far better accommodation, a fabulous dinner every night with a bottle of decent wine. In fact we could also have afforded theatre tickets for shows of the standard that Fred put on. On the other hand, we could also have travelled with one for Fred’s closest rivals in a far superior cabin, enjoyed immensely better food and been able to watch stunning shows in comfortable seats with unrestricted views in a proper theatre.
Fred’s ticket price for this cruise was just the start. Hefty “Gratuities” are automatically added to cabin accounts... at the end of the first week about £280 was added to our bill and more was to come. WIFI would have cost another £300. On other ships ice-cream is included but Fred even changes extra for that. Spa treatments are in the region of £1 a minute. The drinks package offered onboard would have cost another £1,450. Fred’s “all inclusive” drinks package isn’t all-inclusive… I mean coffee is extra, branded spirits are extra, decent beers are extra, cocktails are extra, all bar one of the ciders are extra and even most of the modest wines on the list are all extra.
A lasting memory of the Corinth Canal…. Being offered a couple glasses of champagne as we stepped back from the ship’s rail at the end of the transit. It was a very nice gesture we thought… but then, after we had sipped half of the bubbles, we were handed the bill. It was well over £20. Fred doesn’t miss a trick! Even my local posh gastro-pub doesn’t charge that much for proper champers!
After having enjoyed so many cruises with Fred in years past, it is so, so sad and disappointing to now see that he’s charging so much more for so much less.