February 28, 2018
(3:45 p.m. GMT) -- Fred. Olsen Jnr. has confirmed the line will be moving into what he describes as "exploration" cruising with the addition of RIBs – Rigid Inflatable Boats -- onboard two ships.
Mr Olsen, who was in the U.K. attending the launch of the line's 2019/20 brochure, said the first four RIBS would be on Black Watch and Boudicca in March, with four others (two apiece) on Braemar and Balmoral later in the year.
Fred. Olsen first carried RIBs on Black Prince in 1987, but then abandoned them after selling the ship.
"We know we can reach smaller destinations," he said. "If you come into Gerainger [fjord] on a summer's day and there are two other ships there they are probably carrying 8,000 passengers.
"We can go out and wave [at them], take our tender boats, stay in smaller areas. We know the area very well. We use the RIBs. So we will be able to take guests out to very close destinations and there are many destinations that you really don't see from Deck 10 with an umbrella drink. And this is what we want exploit and take our people.
"We're bringing this back because we know the way forward is "exploration-type" itineraries."
Each RIB is 10m long with a fibreglass bottom and carry 12 people. There will be two on each ship, which may be increased to four depending on demand.
The RIB excursions will have to be booked, and there will be a fee in order to control demand, Mr Olsen confirmed.
When asked about expansion of the fleet, Mr Olsen said the line had struggled to find a second-hand ship that would be small enough to fit in with the Fred. Olsen fleet.
He added that the shipyards were today only interested in building 4,000+ passenger ships so it was hard to get a slot. However, it was pointed out that Pappenburg, Germany, was currently building Saga's new 999-passenger ship.
"We know that if we want to continue in this business we cannot with the ships we have," he said. "Everything works, that's not a problem, but we need to renew the fleet, absolutely."
The youngest ship is 17 years old; the oldest ones are nearly 50.
"The problem is the shipyards, they like to build 4,000-passenger vessels because that's how they know how to build."
He added: "We are focused on it, we are working on it, we looked last year and we tried to find another second-hand vessel we could put in quickly but there was nothing available for us that was really suited.
"So it will definitely be new build."
However, there are no plans for a new build at this stage.
Mr Olsen added that the line's fares had been creeping up since each ship had been refurbished as Fred. moved from more of a "mid-market" to "preminum-lite" line, with refurbished cabins, higher quality food and entertainment and a wider choice of dining options.
"It's more expensive to buy our cruises now and that's important to us as it also enables us to lower the volume of our guests onboard," he said. "More space in the restaurants, more space to book and sit with who you want, more space in the lounges."
To that end, the line has also been gradually removing all the pull down or Pullman beds from cabins as there is no demand for more than two people per cabin.
The new brochure will see the line travelling to 75 countries and 219 ports of call from five UK departure ports in 2019/20.
The line will also offer its longest ever World Cruise – on Black Watch for 160 days, which starts in October from Southampton.
–by Adam Coulter, Managing Editor, U.K.