Onboard with Fred. Olsen
By Sam Ballard, 29 November 2012, Thursday 7:39 AM
Cruise News editor Sam Ballard goes onboard Fred. Olsen’s Braemar to join a mini cruise from Southampton to France. Below is his review of the three night voyage.
If someone was to ask me what I thought of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines before I joined the 929-passenger Braemar last weekend, the answer wouldn’t have been based on fact. For starters, how could it be? Having never sailed with the line I don’t have anything tangible upon which to base my beliefs. And, while I’m familiar with the line’s developments and vital statistics, neither can possibly compare to the experience you get from being onboard and sailing. As it turned out, my expectations of Fred. Olsen were far from reality, and the actual outcome has done much to enforce my opinion and belief in the high standards and quality which are met at every level of the cruise industry.
Fred. Olsen’s Braemar is a small ship. Especially when judged by the standards of today’s Caribbean behemoths. However, it’s important to note that this is not an Oasis or Allure of the Seas – this isn’t a vessel which is tailored to young children that need rock-climbing walls, ice rinks and children’s entertainers on hand at all hours of the day. The Braemar has an intimacy which can only be found on ships of this size. And its intimacy is its charm. There are approximately 371 crew members for the 929 passengers which are spread across 485 cabins. These range from suites to standard inside staterooms and a good amount of single cabins too – a fact which holds the line in high regard for certain segments of its clientele.
Our itinerary had us leaving Southampton on the Friday with stops in Cherbourg and Honfleur before returning back to the UK first thing Monday morning. And, having been given the status of a mini cruise, it is renowned for having a younger age bracket in comparison to some of the longer voyages. And, surely enough, my first impression upon walking onto the ship was its youth and vitality – however, what was surprising was that this wasn’t just in terms of clientele but also hardware. The Braemar could in no way be considered a ‘new vessel’ – having been built in 1993 it is fast approaching its 20 year anniversary (although Fred. Olsen has owned it for a much smaller amount of time). However, throughout that time it has evidently been well looked after, and having come straight from drydock before picking us up, the ship looked far younger than its years convey.
The public spaces onboard are large and well presented and both the entertainment and dining options are extensive considering the size of ship. For the latter there is a choice of three restaurants (the Grampian, Thistle and Palms) with fixed sittings and a menu which scores high marks on all meals – especially the roast beef. For breakfast and lunch there is buffet style dining available in the more formal Grampian and Thistle and the slightly more casual Palms Cafe. Entertainment is available in the Neptune Lounge and Coral Club while there is also a cocktail bar (Observatory Lounge) and pub (Morning Light) available. For warmer months the Marquee Pool Bar would also be a good option – although not in November! So there is no shortage of public spaces and areas to relax, drink and spend your time!
The rooms are well sized and decorated although basic. And one of my only qualms with the entire ship is the narrowness of the corridors – although this is certainly not a trait unique to Fred. Olsen. The shower comes stocked with toiletries and the bathroom is also of a generous size. Overall it gave off a great impression and kept up with the high standard set across the ship.
One of the most common pieces of feedback to come from those familiar with Fred. Olsen – and one which is alluded to virtually across the board – is the high level of service onboard. To put it bluntly, it’s unbelievable. Not once did I walk past a member of the Fred. Olsen team who didn’t smile, say hello or ask how I was. This friendliness was met with a level of skill and efficiency – which is a trait only found in the most experienced of staff (and something sadly lacking from many land-based hospitality groups) that made the cruise a complete joy. I felt in safe hands throughout my journey and – even in some pretty choppy waters – was always made to feel comfortable and welcome.
The shore excursions were well organised and informative. For the trip to Cherbourg we visited ‘La Maison du Biscuit’, a charming bakery which was established generations ago and ‘Theo Capelle’ a traditional distillery specialising in cider and calvados (cider brandy). Both locations are filled with a quaint charm which the area of Normandy seems to specialise in. We were treated to tours of both (complete with samples!) and for the latter fed French Camenbert cheese – a type which isn’t allowed to be exported because of its unpasteurized state. Full of flavor and a real treat!
Unfortunately the stop in Honfleur had to be cancelled because of weather conditions and the ship was rerouted to Le Havre. We were kept well informed of the changes throughout the cruise and, although it was a shame not to see Honfleur, it was interesting to see how the ship operated when something unexpected occurred. The smooth service continued uninterrupted despite the itinerary change.
It’s almost a cliché within the cruise industry but it nonetheless remains true – there is a cruise line for everybody. And, while I would gladly recommend a Fred. Olsen cruise to anyone who cared to hear my opinion, I would offer a few words of caution:
- Even though there were some young families on board, the number is limited by the line itself, showing that there are perhaps better suited firms available
- The age of the average cruiser is younger than you think, probably around late 40s/ early 50s in my experience although it probably ranged from nine to ninety.
- Finally, it’s a lot more active than I was led to believe. Let’s just say that I was up till well past the witching hour one night and I certainly wasn’t the only one at the bar!
Prices for the mini cruise start from GBP329 per person based on an inside twin.
By Sam Ballard, 29 November 2012, Thursday 7:39 AM
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