See the highlights of the Baltic with Fred. Olsen

See the highlights of the Baltic with Fred. Olsen

There’s no doubt that cruising with Fred has become a great British tradition over the last few decades or so.

That’s Fred Olsen, by the way. Not Fred Elliott. But the amorously rotund, verbose bullhorn of the Weatherfield cobbles would surely have admired the dedication and care which the long established Norwegian company lavishes on its food offerings, right across the board. Fred has always fed his guests exceedingly well.

The company operates a quartet of smaller, distinctive ‘ladies’, most always from and to home ports in the UK. Black Watch and Boudicca are former Royal Viking Line stalwarts that still look and feel like the classy, classic cruise ships they were intended to be. Their distinctive funnels- not at all unlike the original one on Cunard’s QE2- are among the most famous and easily recognisable at sea.

Braemar has been a staple of the company since her debut in late 2001, and was lengthened a few years back to incorporate extra cabins, deck space and public rooms. Even so, at just 24,000 tons, the light, airy little ship is able to nip smartly into many of the more appealing harbours that the bigger competition has to sail past.

Balmoral is the flagship and, at 43,000 tons, by far the biggest ship in the fleet. Fondly remembered by many as the legendary Crown Odyssey, she too was lengthened in 2008. An upper deck pool, several new balcony cabins and a pair of extra, upper deck restaurants helped to enhance the look, feel and styling of a ship that already held iconic status. As the matriarch of the Fred. Olsen fleet, she usually undertakes the company’s annual world cruise each January.

Black Watch in the Kiel Canal

Black Watch in the Kiel Canal

But what is Fred Olsen like as a product?

First and foremost, the line skews resolutely towards it’s older, mainly British passenger base. if late night partying and glitzy, giddy entertainment is your thing, I’d advise you to look elsewhere.

That’s not to deride the usually excellent singers, bands and entertainers that Fred. Olsen serves up for its passengers. Far from it. But the line palpably does not offer the fur and feather boas style of nightlife that some people find irresistible at sea. It’s a different crowd and, like any sensible host, the company plays to the established house that it already has.

Internally, the ships have a distinctly Scottish baronial feel. I’m not talking moose heads and massed bagpipes here, but tartan carpets in places, and wall plaques of historic Scottish castles. It’s accent rather than overkill; the ships of the fleet as a whole are very light, airy, and all of them make a lot of use of floor to ceiling windows to  bathe the interiors in warm sunlight.

But what really makes the ships so popular and compelling is the sheer human scale of each one. That, and the fabulous, mainly Filipino service staff who go absolutely above and beyond when it comes to looking after their guests. A more warm, pleasant and caring group of genuinely kind and lovely souls would be hard to imagine.

Fred. Olsen mini cruises take you to such beautiful cities as Antwerp

Fred. Olsen mini cruises take you to such beautiful cities as Antwerp

And, as intimated earlier, the food is also a real treat. Quality wise, it is absolute top end for the rates charged by the company. There are no extra charge dining rooms, and the main restaurants operate as two sitting affairs for dinner. They are still pretty formal in terms of dress codes, though that has been slightly pared back of late- to howls of outrage from certain quarters of the Old Guard.

Menu choices tend to reflect the British palate, with some engaging continental twists from time to time. Fish is almost always excellent; Fred. Olsen have always emphasised their ongoing commitment to crafting and cherishing a superb on board dining experience. Happily, it continues to remain so.

Drink prices are very reasonable indeed compared to many rival companies, and the line has now gone one further by offering an all inclusive option on several sailings.

Outdoor deck space tends to be expansive for the numbers carried on board, and there are pools and hot tubs aplenty amid the acres of gleaming teak real estate. There are always alfresco dining options for all main meals, and sometimes the line features outdoor parties and events around the pool; mainly on leaving port. Gym facilities tend to be adequate rather than expansive; given the older age of the passengers and the limitations of space imposed by any ship’s parameters, they are actually quite good.

The older English passengers also like their card rooms and libraries; the latter especially are some of the best afloat. And each of the four ships has a comfortable, forward facing observation lounge, with views out over the bow of the approaching horizon.

And even the exotic sweep of the Far East

And even the exotic sweep of the Far East

Fred. Olsen operates everything from three and four day mini cruises right up to a stunning, three month around the globe spectacular. Add in the fact that the line offers sailings from a whole raft of convenient UK departure ports- including Dover, Southampton, Portsmouth, Harwich, Liverpool, Newcastle, Rosyth and Belfast- and you’re sure to find something in the company’s offerings that will whet your particular appetite.

Fred. Olsen is a sturdy, quietly understated product that does this kind of low key, destination intensive style of cruising very well indeed. It delivers exactly what it promises to, and the smaller size of the ships is a definite plus when it comes to getting in and out of smaller ports that you might otherwise never get to see.

What’s new? Well, after an absence of several years, the lovely Braemar is making a short return to Caribbean fly cruising; a role she performed with conspicuous success for over a decade, before rising air fares forced the cancellation of the programme. These cruises are selling very well by all accounts, and could hopefully presage a full time winter return to those popular Caribbean cruising grounds Here again, the smaller size of the ship allows her to get into the smaller, more ‘Bounty bar’ style of islands that most of the floating theme parks have to sail past.

So. Why not give Fred a whirl? You won’t be disappointed. I say, you won’t be disappointed….

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