I had last sailed on Fred Olsen’s beautiful Black Watch back in 2004, so when the chance came to visit the classically styled cruise ship at Newcastle’s port of North Shields a few weeks ago, I needed no persuasion at all. She is a ship that holds a lot of good memories for me.
Still, ten years is a long time, and the 1972 built ship is getting no younger. Black Watch is one of that dwindling band of totemic ships that is sold on a somewhat unique gimmick in the cruising firmament; that of being a ship that actually looks and feels like a ship. Broad wooden decks, long open promenades, a gorgeous raked prow and a single, proud funnel. It’s all there.
In this day and age, is that enough, you might ask?
Well, for a certain type of passenger, the answer is still, happily, a resounding yes.
Black Watch looked resplendent in the mid October sunshine as she sat alongside the quay. The 28,000 ton, 900 passenger ship was in the middle of a turn around, ready to embark passengers on the second last of her part season of cruises from the Tyne. The ship was imminently bound for a refit in Hamburg, and preparations for the work to be carried out was already evident in certain parts of the ship.
Fred. Olsen has always been big on the meticulous appearance of it’s quartet of ships. Black Watch, shaded in pristine bridal white, was a glorious revelation when we first saw her. Once on board, the feeling of elegant, open ease of access came back to greet me like a long lost friend. Special and expansive, and with many public areas flanked by rows of floor to ceiling windows, this is still a ship that lends herself to ease and relaxation from bow to stern.
New to the ship- and soon to be added to her trio of siblings- is a gorgeous, on board coffee and chocolate bar, carved out of the area that once held the ship’s overly expansive library. This area is simply lovely, and adjacent to the aft facing lido bar. Prices for the vast range of tasty little goodies displayed there are also very reasonable indeed.
Also new is an outdoor, extra tariff grill restaurant that opens out onto the outdoor main pool area. It was closed during our visit, but the location alone lends it a unique, quite spectacular ambiance that should make it a hugely popular draw. If there is one thing that Fred. Olsen has always been renowned for, it is the consistent good quality of the on board culinary experience. The addition of this intimate little grill is an intriguing little twist.
Indoors, the main Glentanar dining room is still an airy, spacious room that operates two sittings at dinner. Supremely comfortable, it features a plethora of space between tables that makes serving the diners easier for the waiters. Dining here is always a special event.
Nearby, the more casual indoor buffet is an elegant enclave that conjures up the air of a combination sidewalk cafe and elegant bistro. Open for all main meals, it is a beautiful splash of colour in the midst of a stately procession of public rooms.
Gone is the famed, tartan accented Piper’s Bar of old. In it’s place sits a more toned down, elegant Morning Light pub, with more muted colours, and a bar that still faces out toward the promenade deck windows. For those looking for the Black Watch of old, the main Braemar Lounge remains an airy, expansive haven that spans the full width of the ship. However, it seemed to me that the original Scottish baronial theme of decor had been toned down somewhat even here.
Up top and right forward, the Observation Lounge still offers wonderful, expansive views through 270 degrees, via a spectacular, horse shoe shaped wall of floor to ceiling windows. A gorgeous venue for savouring a spectacular sunset, it is now also the perfect setting for the special, extra charge afternoon high teas that are available on sea days. A daily afternoon tea is also served in the main lounges at no extra charge, though the upper deck version is a much more elaborate, truly elevated affair.
Cabins across all grades have been refreshed with fresh bedspreads, soft goods and plasma screen TVs, and now feature tea and coffee making facilities. The welcome number of balcony cabins added a few years ago will be augmented by a set of new, additional balconies on some of the junior suites on seven deck. Up top, the suites remain calm, expansive havens; genuine two room apartments with full size terraces graced with quality outdoor furniture that makes relaxation an art form in itself.
Outdoors, the amount of open deck space remains one of the great selling points of the Black Watch. A gracious series of tiered terraces sweep down to an expansive, aft deck main pool area, complete with small exercise pools that abut the main one, and a large Jacuzzi. The promenade deck is an almost blinding, show white expanse of carefully maintained woodwork, flanked by serried tiers of sun loungers. Here, you could just as easily be on the Olympic or the Queen Mary as the Black Watch; it’s a timeless, effortlessly graceful throwback that gives the ship a serene, slightly surreal venue from which to view the ocean or, indeed, the sunset.
So yes, the Black Watch remains a timeless paragon, sympathetically updated to offer every modern, state of the art comfort within the parameters of a classically elegant, beautifully appointed ship. Her deep draft makes her a very smooth ship in rough seas, and while at 28,000 tons she is no baby, the ship is far more intimate and easy to navigate than many of her peers. The size of the ship also means that she can show up in the smaller, more appealing harbours that larger rivals have to pass by at a distance. And, for days at sea, this is the absolute perfect size for a cruise ship, especially one of this quality.
Black Watch. One part languid, one part lovely, and totally appealing. Still a delightful lady of the sea.