In what looks like being a very popular move, Fred. Olsen’s gorgeous little Braemar is returning to the Caribbean in 2015 for a fourteen night fly cruise.
The ship was a regular Caribbean winter staple for ten years, from 2002 through till 2012, until rising flight prices and prohibitive APD costs forced the line to curtail the programme. Based on Barbados, the Braemar sailed the Caribbean on fourteen night itineraries from November through each April. At least one of these voyages was an Amazon itinerary that took the 20,000 ton ship all the way to Manaus, some nine hundred miles upstream (see previous blogs).
The happy return- very much an exploratory trip to see if the market will support a renewed series of such sailings- departs from Barbados on January 12th, 2015. It’s very much a ‘greatest hits’ tour of the eastern and southern Caribbean, with calls at Grenada, Curacao, Aruba, Turks and Caicos, Tortola, St. Kitts, and Antigua. There is also an overnight stay in Santiago do Cuba, which should prove popular with both passengers and off duty crew.
Prices are from £1779 for a complete fly cruise package, and offered from London and Manchester, based on two people sharing an inside cabin. The new itinerary goes on sale this coming August 17th.
I did a few Caribbean cruises on the Braemar, and they remain some of the most memorable of all my voyages. The ship is an ideal size; she was able to snuggle up into the sweet little harbours, such as Saint Barts, that the bigger ships had to bypass. Her cascading outdoor terrace decks were especially popular at night; the usual quite formal Fred. Olsen dress codes were deliberately relaxed especially for these warmer climes.
All cruises (with the exception of the once yearly Amazon run) included a first night, overnight stay in Barbados and, late in her Caribbean runs, one at Montego Bay as an alternative. This was a great way to settle in and kick back after a long day’s travel.
The whole package was seamlessly organised; Olsen chartered their own flights, with upgraded meal service and free drinks included. On arrival, luggage was sent ahead, and usually waiting for passengers in their cabins when they embarked. Coaches brought arriving passengers to the ship, where they did their check in on board.
Each fourteen night round trip circuit of the Caribbean would take in an average of eleven different ports of call.
On the return journey, flight check in was done on board Braemar the day before arrival, and luggage again sent on ahead to the airport. This allowed for a relatively stress free last day; passengers left the ship and went direct to departures at Barbados airport in the mid to late afternoon.
All of these things combined to make the Braemar a very popular and attractive draw in the Caribbean. Factor in the great food and the service from the fabulous, Filipino crew- very much the heart and soul of the Braemar– and it is not too difficult to see why.
However, it has to be said that some things have changed since then.
Braemar herself has put on weight. The addition of a mid section to the ship added a second pool, several popular balcony cabins, and a much needed forward observation lounge. Inevitably, it also made her thicker around the waist. But after several years of sampling superlative cruise ship food, I should maybe keep quiet on that subject…
That said, this truly lovely little ship is still far, far smaller and more nimble than any other British flavoured ship on the Caribbean circuit. And, if anything, the extra balcony cabins should make her even more of an attractive choice, especially for first time cruisers. If all goes well, then an extended season could be a realistic opportunity. Very much a case of ‘bringing on back the good times’ for many people who remember the earlier days with great affection.
Personally, I wish her the very best of luck. Smooth sailing and a fair breeze to pretty little Braemar.
NB: Owing to overwhelming demand for this cruise, a second, fifteen day round trip fly cruise on Braemar in the Caribbean has now been added for January 26th, 2015. Prices from £1779 also.