- Pro: Elegant public rooms; warm, friendly atmosphere; outstanding evening entertainment
- Con: Certain cabins small; limited toiletries unless requested; no fridge in some cabins
- Bottom Line: Traditional British cruising with contemporary style
Braemar is one of the most welcoming cruise ships you're likely to experience. Wherever you sit -- out on deck, in the lounges or waiting for a drink at the bar -- you are guaranteed to be able to turn around and have someone to engage in a pleasant and warm conversation. First impressions too, are of a beautifully furnished and well laid out ship styled in a light and attractive palette of mostly cream and gold or shades of blue. It also features some truly elegant public rooms and a 2012 refit gave it a much needed facelift, and with on-going refurbishment it maintains its sparkle.
Originally built in 1993, Braemar joined Fred. Olsen Cruise Line's fleet of four ships (the others are Balmoral, Black Watch, and Boudicca) in 2001. In 2008 it had a major refurbishment, during which it was "stretched" (cut in half and a new section placed in the middle – you can spot the join on the outside of the ship), which created extra space for more cabins and large, luxurious public rooms.
Fred. Olsen is well known for having a devoted following of older passengers, but depending on the time of year and destination you may find it skewed more towards middle age. The general atmosphere is informal and friendly, but this doesn't affect the usual programme of formal nights. On a 14-night cruise expect three formal nights and one British night, on which passengers were invited to dress in red, white and blue. Non British cruisers were invited to dress in colours of their own national flag, but it was mostly the Union Flag, and a traditional British sing-a-long in the showlounge.
There is a huge range of entertainment for all tastes throughout the day, especially on sea days, but always plenty to do on port days for those who don't want to go ashore. The large library, with excellent seating and a wide range of books, is also the Wi-Fi centre for those who want to keep in touch with the outside world. There's the age-old tradition of a jigsaw puzzle spread out in the library for passengers to add a few pieces in idle moments. A newsletter of world news is available every day from Guest Services.
Adjoining the library is the Bookmark Café, recently introduced on all four Fred. Olsen ships, serving a selection of speciality coffees and teas from Taylors of Harrogate in relaxing surroundings, as well as handmade chocolates.
For more lively entertainment, there's music in various lounges and bars, karaoke at one end of the ship and a cocktail pianist at the other. During the day, there's shuffleboard and deck quoits, bingo and quizzes. Of course also on sunny days there's the Marquee deck with plenty of sun loungers, two swimming pools and two hot tubs.
Service is excellent, from a friendly and always helpful crew. Even on a small ship it's still easy to lose your way for the first day or two, but there's always someone on hand to point you in the right direction.
Braemar Fellow Passengers
The age range of passengers can vary according to the itinerary, but on the whole it's 60 plus but lively and active. Most people we talked to are regular cruisers on Braemar, and it has a definite family spirit among passengers, crew and staff, although newcomers are welcomed and never made to feel out of place. The nationality is predominantly British, but the ship also attracts some American and other nationalities during its world cruises and more unusual destinations. Fred. Olsen isn't known for its children's programmes, but depending on the time of year such as in school holidays there are sometimes families made up of three generations.
Braemar Dress Code
On a 14-night cruise there are three formal nights and one British night. On formal nights men are expected to wear black tie, and the majority of them did, although there were also many in dark suit and tie which is equally acceptable. Ladies are expected to wear cocktail or evening dress, and this could be described as restrained and elegant with a few exceptions. The remaining nights are Smart Casual, which indicates comfortable attire for both men and women, with "casual elegance". The majority of men went without jackets but with smart shirts, while the women were in general a little more glammed-up. Shorts and swimwear are not appropriate gear during evening meal times, and aren't allowed in the restaurants at those times.
A gratuity of £4 per person per day is added to everyone's onboard account automatically. It's divided equally between the restaurant and housekeeping staff. This isn't compulsory, and passengers who prefer to give their gratuities personally should notify Guest Services.