Braemar is one of the most welcoming cruise ships you're likely to experience. Crew greet passengers with friendly smiles and welcome drinks, and wherever you sit -- out on deck, in the lounges or waiting for a cocktail 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 are of a beautifully furnished and well-laid-out ship. It also features some truly elegant public rooms, many of which were given a facelift during a 2017 refit. With ongoing refurbishment, it maintains its sparkle, but we did notice small things like dented walls, rusty handrails on outer decks and frayed carpeting that's showing wear in high-traffic areas. We also felt cleanliness was overlooked in some cases.
Originally built in 1993, Braemar joined Fred. Olsen Cruise Line's fleet of four ships 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, with a handful of young adults and an even smaller handful of kids. 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 and participate in a traditional British sing-along in the show lounge. Non-British cruisers were invited to dress in colours of their own national flag.
There is a range of entertainment for all tastes throughout the day, especially on sea days, but there's always plenty to do on port days, too, 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 don't bring their own device and 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 Cafe, serving a selection of speciality coffees and teas from Taylors of Harrogate, as well as handmade chocolates, in relaxing surroundings.
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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, deck quoits 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.
The age range of passengers can vary according to the itinerary; on the whole, it's 60 and older (with an average age of about 70) -- but lively and active. The nationality is predominantly British, but the ship also attracts some American and other nationalities during its more unusual itineraries, including world cruises. Fred. Olsen isn't known for its children's programmes, but depending on the time of year, such as school holidays, there are sometimes families made up of three generations.
On sailings of five nights or fewer, there are no formal nights. On 14-night cruises, there are three formal nights, and seven-night cruises have one. (Sailings of fewer than seven nights have no formal nights.) On formal nights, men are expected to wear black tie, and the majority of them do, although many also wear dark suits and ties, 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 mealtimes, nor are they allowed in the restaurants.
On British Night, passengers are encouraged -- but not required -- to dress in red, white and blue.
Great destinations but beware Olsen cutting times in ports by up to 3 hours