Like many others aboard, we were just happy to get back to sea after the lockdowns and eager to sample one of the new Fred ships. We were quite influenced by the stimulating social media presence that the company had achieved during the pandemic - sad though it may sound, the quizzes was one of the highlights of our week!
We had travelled on P&O's Iona's maiden voyage a few days earlier which provided a useful comparison to our Bolette cruise though the ships are not at all comparable of course. Operating at only 50% capacity, both ships were spacious and relaxed but it was easier to see that this Bolette cruise would be far more typical of when the ship is full. What did strike us is that it is the tone set by the Captain and the quality of the crew (and their training) that have the most significant impact on the cruise experience.
We had one the first check-in slots at Dover and the process was smooth and unhurried. We were fitted with our 'TraceSafe' bands - a kind of wrist watch that allowed the ship to quickly locate anyone who had been in close contact with an infected person. They had to be worn at all times except when inside your cabin - or swimming! They were obviously a useful tool for the medics but, since they flashed blue when transmitting location and contact data, places like the theatre were unfortunately lit up like a massive blue Christmas tree in a dark room throughout a performance! Masks were required when moving around the ship but we were pleased to find that we were allowed to sit with others on a bigger table for dinner and at a social distance (but within easy talking distance) of others at other meals. Apart from not being able to see the faces of the masked crew, these restrictions were a minor inconvenience. We dined at 8.30pm in the spacious Terrace (upper) restaurant. It was pretty empty but our waiters gave us impeccable service. And on the 'optional' formal night (what sort of guidance is that?!) we had the String Trio playing a range of classics from a sort of minstrel's gallery midway between the two restaurant levels - a nice touch.
This was probably the biggest cabin we've had - and on the shortest cruise! We counted eight cupboards, fifteen drawers and four wardrobes. Far more than we needed of course and a bit of a pain to search through when packing at the end of the cruise! All the usual suite amenities - stocked fridge, glasses, daily canapes, binoculars, atlas, bathrobes and all the kit we needed in the bathroom (except bar soap) plus a jacuzzi bath. Worth trying once but rather small to be enjoyed to the full. The balcony was vast having two chairs with footstools as well as a table and chairs for four. Most importantly the cabin was very quiet both day and night and efficiently air-conditioned. We don't quite get why Fred always provides two single duvets on a double bed. In our experience one or other falls off in the night! Maybe we could have asked for a double. All types of electric sockets are provided although we found only one UK 3-pin which was essential for the kettle and hair dryer. The only 'disaster' was that for the first time we found that the cabin walls are not magnetic! None of our carefully selected information could be 'stuck up' to easily view. Having said that, there is plenty of desk space complemented by a big settee and two easy chairs. A very comfortable environment and we were lucky to have a lovely stewardess, Maic, who had looked after us on two previous cruises.
Saga and Viking cruises provide an interesting price vs amenity comparison with Fred Olsen. In our experience, the former are both getting pretty close to all-inclusive and have modern, stylish ships with not a lot more space per passenger than Bolette. Although Open vs Fixed dining is down to personal preference, it is interesting to note that it is possible to have a top suite on a Fred ship for around the price of a standard balcony cabin on the other's. Both types of cruise experiences have their pros and cons. We like the variety of both.
A much more accessible port by road than Southampton. We were off the ship at 0800 and on the A20 at 0812. In Southampton's Ocean Terminal we were 45 minutes trying to get out of the car park! Bigger ships will only create more problems