WILL FRED. OLSEN BUY ANOTHER SHIP SOON?

Riding high on the obvious success of its big fleet ‘get together’ in Bergen yesterday, the good people at Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines will enjoy basking in the glow of public acclaim that they have enjoyed from right across the cruising fraternity.

And quite right, too. Because Fred. Olsen- like it’s rival, Cruise and Maritime Voyages- does offer something totally unique; a hugely welcome alternative to the serried ranks of megaships that now form the bulk of fleets such as Cunard and P&O. And, with excellent levels of food and service allied to a warm, intimate scale, I suspect that the allure of both the smaller British operators will grow markedly over the next decade or so.

And, in the case of Fred. Olsen, we are talking about what is, in essence, still very much a family owned firm. Sea minded since day one, the Olsen family takes a keen interest in the handling, development, and even the day to day operation of the fleet. It’s a symbiosis that is rare indeed in an age where balance sheets rule the waves.

Many people were saddened when the pioneering Black Prince, the original, inimitable Fred. Olsen cruise ship, was retired from service in 2009. At the same time, some expressed unease at the acquisition of the 43,000 ton Balmoral- a ship then quite a lot larger than anything that the company had ever owned before. Would the age old Olsen attributes of intimacy and ease of access be lost with this larger vessel, the first in the fleet’s history to boast a passenger capacity in excess of a thousand?

The naysayers were proved wrong. Balmoral has become a very popular and successful ship since entering service, and an ideal foil to the already established, classic trio of Braemar, Boudicca and Black Watch. Her bigger capacity allows for enhanced dining options and a bigger entertainment handle that have made her ideal for longer, round the world voyages, while giving away nothing in terms of warmth and spaciousness. I have sailed on her twice- both before and after her purchase by FOCL- and still consider her to be one of the finest and most stylish cruise ships afloat anywhere today.

So, with things looking quite good at the moment, is it the right time for Fred. Olsen to consider a modest fleet expansion and, if so, what kind of ship might they be looking at?

It’s pretty much a given that the line does not ‘do’ new builds. It has made the purchase and prudent conversion of second hand ships into gracefully enhanced, eminently serviceable vessels, into something of an art form over the years.

The great advantage of such a strategy is that the line is not kept waiting three or four years for a purpose built new ship. A vessel bought ‘off the market’ can be upgraded and improved in less than a quarter of that time, and at infinitely less cost. And, having been so successful on the second hand market, I’m guessing that this is the road that FOCL will take again. The only real question is; what ship would they buy, given the chance?

It is no secret that the line has long been interested in the Prinsendam of Holland America Line for quite a few years. Originally built as the Royal Viking Sun for the legendary Royal Viking Line back in 1989, she was- and still is- one of the most exclusive and opulent de luxe ships at sea; one so totally individual in style and character that Holland America advertises her as their ‘Elegant Explorer’.

In the past, Holland America have always declined to part with her. But, in the last few years, the company has been slowly divesting itself of smaller ships in favour of larger, more diverse vessels such as Eurodam, Nieuw Amsterdam, and the forthcoming new flagship, the Koningsdam, which is due to debut next year. What seemed unlikely three or four years ago may well be more of a possibility now.

Certainly, the Prinsendam would be a perfect fit for Fred. Olsen. At just under 39,000 tons and with a current capacity for some 740 passengers, the ship is roughly in line, size wise, with Balmoral, though I expect FOCL would probably increase her passenger capacity by around 100-150. Probably, the line would like to add more balcony cabins- a popular facility that the line no longer swims against the tide on.

And it would also make for a happy reunion with two of her former Royal Viking Line fleetmates- Boudicca (the former Royal Viking Sky) and Black Watch (once the Royal Viking Star). And, no doubt, the Olsen family would enjoy the chance to preserve and enhance this classic piece of traditional Norwegian cruising excellence.

This would certainly be a transition that would make sense for both lines, if the price was right. Obviously, the Prinsendam would need a certain amount of cosmetic surgery to bring her in line with her quartet of prospective sisters, but nothing too radical. The Prinsendam is a very finely styled lady as she is.

A fascinating prospect, and a possible future Fred. Olsen project? Stay tuned…..

is it time for Fred to become five?

is it time for Fred to become five?

FRED’S FAB FOUR- A BIG DAY OUT FOR FRED. OLSEN CRUISE LINES

Today’s first, historic rendezvous of all four Fred. Olsen cruise ships in Bergen is ample cause to celebrate the more intimate style of voyaging that the company is famous for. But, way beyond even that, it is the celebration of a Norwegian company, long imbued with deep and historic links to Great Britain, that enjoys a unique travelling relationship with the British public.

As such, I thought it might be worth a quick look back at each of the ‘Fab Four’ as they line up for their big day out in what remains one of the most beautiful and popular ports of call on the company’s cruising roster.

BLACK WATCH was originally built in 1972 as the Royal Viking Star, the first of three nearly identical new sister ships commissioned by the then fledgling Royal Viking Line. She sailed with that legendary company through until 1991, when she was transferred to Norwegian Cruise Line, sailing first as the Westward and then as the Star Odyssey.

She was bought by Fred Olsen, entering service for them in November, 1996 as the heavily refurbished Black Watch. Ever since, the ship has enjoyed consistent, popular success as an elegant, highly styled cruise ship, offering itineraries ranging from two night mini cruises, to full, three month round the world voyages. At a svelte 28,000 tons, the Black Watch carries some 820 passengers in total.

BRAEMAR was originally ordered as the Crown Dynasty for the now defunct Crown Cruise Lines, and entered service in 1993. After a long spell as the Norwegian Dynasty of NCL, the ship was laid up at Aruba, where she was purchased by Fred. Olsen, and then extensively updated in Germany.

She entered service for Fred. Olsen in August, 2001 as the Braemar, and she soon became very popular indeed with her yearly season of winter Caribbean fly cruises, based out of Barbados, for which her intimate size was perfect. In the autumn, she also cruises from the Canary Islands, sometimes as far south as West Africa, and the recent winter resumption of her Caribbean itineraries after an absence of a few years, has been very well received.

Coming in at around 24,000 tons, Braemar currently has a capacity of around 929 passengers.

BALMORAL is currently the company’s flagship, and the largest passenger vessel ever to fly the Fred. Olsen flag. The 43,000 ton Balmoral was originally built in Germany as the Crown Odyssey in 1988, for the now sadly vanished Royal Cruise Line. In the late nineties, one of her fleet mates was the Star Odyssey, now also sailing for Fred. Olsen as the Black Watch.

She was an elegant and luxurious ship from the start, famed for her beautiful art deco interiors. After stints with both Orient Lines and NCL, for whom she sailed as the Norwegian Crown, she came over to Fred. Olsen in 2008.

After a thorough and very comprehensive refit, the ship entered service as Balmoral in 2008. Ever since, she has operated on longer, globe spanning voyages each January, and offered a full season of cruises to Norway, the Baltic, the Adriatic and Iberia during the rest of the season.

Updated for British tastes, this wonderful ship still has much of her original striking features and styling intact. She continues to be very popular with passengers wanting to cruise on an elegant, eminently seaworthy vessel that still offers an intimate, more personalised style of cruise experience. She has a passenger capacity of around 1,778 in total.

BOUDICCA is the near identical twin sister ship of the Black Watch. She, too, began life for Royal Viking Line as the Royal Viking Sky back in 1973, as one of the most exclusive and luxurious vessels anywhere at sea. She sailed with that company for eighteen full years, until 1991.

There was then a period where she was briefly used by Birka Line, NCL, Princess Cruises, Iberocruises, and even Star Cruises out in Asia. But this period of rapid change came to an end with her purchase by Fred. Olsen.

She entered service in February, 2006, after a massive refurbishment and with new engines, as the Boudicca, named for the legendary queen of the former Iceni tribe. In this new role, the ship has been very popular, offering itineraries as diverse as two night party cruises, right through to full, thirty two day round trips, out to the Caribbean and back.

Boudicca has also been something of a trail blazer for the fleet, sailing on cruises form ports as diverse as Belfast, Tilbury, Greenock, and Port of Tyne. With a tonnage of 28,000, the Boudicca can accommodate some 900 passengers in all.

DID YOU KNOW??

* All four of the ships in the current Fred. Olsen fleet have been cut in half and lengthened in the course of their careers.

* All four of them have sailed for Norwegian Cruise Line at some stage in their history.

* The entire number of berths offered across the entire fleet is still less than those aboard the monolithic Oasis of The Seas.

*  Next year, Balmoral will replace Boudicca on her summer season of cruises from Port of Tyne, the cruise port for Newcastle.

Art Deco lobby staircase on the Balmoral

Art Deco lobby staircase on the Balmoral

FOUR FOR FRED; OLSEN ORGANISES HUGE FLEET DISPLAY IN BERGEN

In what amounts to a historic first, all four cruise ships in the current Fred. Olsen fleet will meet up in Bergen on Tuesday, July 28th.

Balmoral, Braemar, Boudicca and Black Watch will all arrive in the Norwegian city at around 0800, and depart to a specially arranged fireboat salute at around 1800 that same evening. Between them, the popular quartet are expected to deposit around four thousand passengers ashore to enjoy highlights such as the Fish Market, Mount Floyen, and the historic harbour front warren of the Bryggen.

Clearly inspired by the huge publicity surrounding Cunard’s series of rendezvous featuring the ‘three Queens’, Fred. Olsen has chosen one of its most popular and perennial ports of call as the backdrop to the fleet gathering. The event is collectively being tagged as the ‘4B’s in Bergen’.

It will also mark the first time in many years that Boudicca and Black Watch- still fondly remembered as the Royal Viking Star and Royal Viking Sky respectively- have been seen together in what was once their traditional home waters.

At the end of what is sure to be a momentous and historic day for all concerned, the fleet will put to sea, one at a time, in the following order; Balmoral, Braemar, Boudicca, Black Watch.

Flagship Balmoral was originally built in 1988 as the Crown Odyssey for the now defunct Royal Cruise Line, while Braemar started life in 1993 as the Crown Dynasty of Crown Cruise Lines. She came to Fred. Olsen in 2001, after several years sailing for Norwegian Cruise Line as the Norwegian Dynasty.

Interestingly, all four ships have undergone ‘chop and stretch’ operations at some stage, each of which involved the cutting in half of each ship, and the addition of a prebuilt mid section. It’s a distinction that is unique to the Fred. Olsen fleet.

All things considered, this should be quite a special event, and I’m sure it will attract a fair bit of coverage on the day. As always, stay tuned.

All four cruise ships in the FOCL fleet will meet in Bergen this coming July 28th

All four cruise ships in the FOCL fleet will meet in Bergen this coming July 28th

FRED. OLSEN TO INTRODUCE TWENTY ADULTS ONLY CRUISES IN NEW PROGRAMME

Fred. Olsen has just released it’s main 2016-17 brochure, covering the sailings of all four of its fleet- Boudicca, Braemar, Balmoral and Black Watch.

Highlights include some 253 different port calls in 84 countries, in a series of globe spanning adventures around the year, And the 2016-17 season will also include no less than 23 maiden calls, in places as diverse as Baltimore, Maryland, to Tasilaq, in Greenland. Also in the mix is a maiden call at the perennially popular Caribbean highlight of Charlotte Amalie, on St. Thomas.

Both Boudicca and Black Watch will be undertaking globe spanning ‘Grand Voyages’ in early 2017. Between them, the two former ex-Royal Viking Line sister ships will take in some 67 ports in 38 different countries.

And, for the first time ever, the company will be sailing a range of some twenty, adult only cruises. The minimum age for these voyages is listed at 18 plus.

This puts Fred. Olsen on a direct line to compete with the rival Cruise and Maritime Voyages. All sailings on that company’s quartet of ships are sold as adults only voyages, and these have proved hugely popular.

As always, stay tuned for further details.

Balmoral is Tyneside bound for summer 2016

Balmoral is Tyneside bound for summer 201

BALMORAL COMES TO THE TYNE FOR 2016

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has just announced that it’s flagship, the 1,350 passenger, 43,000 ton Balmoral, will come north to operate a series of eleven cruises from Newcastle between May and August of 2016.

The ship, originally built by Meyer Werft in Papenburg as the Crown Odyssey back in 1988, is the largest vessel in the current, four ship FOCL fleet, and will take the place currently occupied by fleet mate Boudicca, originally the fabled Royal Viking Sky.

The addition of the ship will increase the seasonal summer numbers sailing from Newcastle by an estimated forty five per cent. Ironically, it might also see Balmoral reunited from time to time with her former Orient Lines’ fleetmate, Marco Polo, which now sails for the rival Cruise And Maritime Voyages from the Tyne in summer.

The programme for Balmoral commences on May 21st, with a five night Norwegian fjords cruise. Standing out among the mostly Scandinavian itineraries is a rather attractive, eleven night cruise that showcases the best of Spain, Portugal and Guernsey.

Rightly famed for her beautiful, Art Deco styling and wide amount of open outdoor decks, Balmoral is an elegant, supremely comfortable vessel, decorated with great style, and features the excellent levels of service and cuisine for which the Fred. Olsen brand is well known in the cruising fraternity.

Her arrival in northern parts definintely ratchets up the increasing high profile of Newcastle/Port of Tyne as an ideal departure point, especially for the highlights of Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland.

An interesting development, for sure. As ever, stay tuned.

Balmoral is Tyneside bound for summer 2016

Balmoral is Tyneside bound for summer 2016

THE SURVIVORS; NORWEGIAN NOMADS STILL AT SEA

Balmoral, once the beloved Crown Odyssey

Balmoral, once the beloved Crown Odyssey

In the mid eighties, in what ultimately proved to be a case of ‘too much, too soon’, NCL went on what amounted to a buying spree straight out of the Carnival play book. Over fourteen years- from 1984 to 1998- the Caribbean cruise line originally founded by Knut Kloster absorbed a trio of famous cruise brands.

After suffering the maritime equivalent of acute indigestion, the restructured company aborted these same brands, and either sold their ships to other lines, or ultimately watched them go for scrap.

But many of those same names are still sailing, often easily recognised as their former selves. For lovers of cruise ships and ocean liners, there are few things more poignant than the sudden sighting of an instantly familiar ship, years later and half a world away. Familiar and wistful at the same time. It’s like seeing an old flame with a new hairstyle, often as not knowing that she’s now with another love. Bittersweet, indeed.

So let’s look at what is still out there these days, and just where they ended up….

ROYAL VIKING LINE

That company originally flaunted a trio of sleek, bridal white show stoppers- the Royal Viking Sea, Star and Sky. They emerged in 1972-73 and, despite each ship being lengthened in 1981, all remained tremendously popular and upmarket; in fact, they were the benchmark for the likes of later, sybaritic show stoppers from Crystal to Silversea.

Marco Polo is Tilbury's 'year round' cruise ship

Marco Polo is Tilbury’s ‘year round’ cruise ship

Happily, all three of these classic ladies are still sailing. The Royal Viking Sea today sails for the German company, Phoenix Seereisen, as the Albatross. The other two sisters were to enjoy a reunion, and are now both running in tandem for the Norwegian owned Fred. Olsen Cruise Line.

For Fred. Olsen, the Royal Viking Star now sails as the Black Watch, while the Royal Viking Sky is now the Boudicca.

In 1989, in an attempt to regain past glories,  Royal Viking Line built a new flagship, the Royal Viking Sun. After a shaky period with Cunard/Seabourn, she also happily still sails on as the Prinsendam of the venerable Holland America Line, the company’s self-styled ‘Elegant Explorer’.

In 1990, the line took delivery of a small, 10,000 ton ultra deluxe cruise ship, the Royal Viking Queen. After a brief spell with Royal Cruise Line in 1996, she was sold to Seabourn Cruise Line, where she rejoined her two original sister ships under her current name of Seabourn Legend. She is currently slated to join the fleet of Windstar Cruises next spring.

ROYAL CRUISE LINE

The first major eighties pre- Kloster new build for this company was the glorious, 1988 built Crown Odyssey, a ship that soon gained a reputation for elegance and on board excellence rivalled by few.  After Royal Cruise Line was wound up, this lovely ship spent four years being employed like a ping pong ball between NCL and its last acquisition, Orient Lines.

Sold to Fred. Olsen in 2008, the ship was taken to Germany, and enhanced with the addition of a new mid section. Now sailing as Balmoral, she is the flagship of the Fred. Olsen fleet, as well as the largest ship. Cruising mainly out of Southampton, she remains a tremendously popular ship to this day.

Some of you will also remember the funky little Golden Odyssey, the diminutive little start up ship for this line. The 1974 built little beauty is still sailing today, though only as a casino ship out of Hong Kong. A far cry from her one time glory days.

ORIENT LINES

Gerry Herrod’s legendary, as -was one ship line was bought by NCL in 1998, but the Orient Lines brand was struck from the company portfolio of offerings in 2008. Happily, the 1965 built Marco Polo continues to sail on for UK company, Cruise and Maritime Voyages. Still popular and beautifully styled, the veteran former transatlantic liner celebrates her fiftieth anniversary in 2015.

Long may all of these great, highly regarded and affectionately remembered ‘ladies of the sea’ continue to grace the oceans they still sail with such proud, singular style. Each and every one of them is an important, intrinsic link to our maritime past. And for the current, massively resurgent Norwegian, these are still the self same ships that proudly ‘flew the flag’ and enabled the brilliant, world class fleet of today to come to fruition.

FRED. OLSEN’S BALMORAL

Balmoral

Balmoral

Since she joined the Fred. Olsen fleet in 2008, the 43,000 ton Balmoral has enjoyed the distinction of being the largest passenger ship in the fleet, and also the line’s flagship. As such, she is one of the most popular ships sailing in the UK market today.

She was built by Meyer Werft in Germany for the now defunct Royal Cruise Line in 1988 as the Crown Odyssey, and quickly gained a reputation as one of the most luxurious and elegant cruise ships in service anywhere. Sailing on a series of world wide itineraries, the new ship quickly attracted a hard core of loyal passengers, drawn back time and time again by superb food and service, as well as by her elegant Art Deco interiors, and spacious cabins. In a few short years, she became something of a legend in the cruising firmament.

When Royal Cruise Line was absorbed into NCL (as it was then) the ship was renamed Norwegian Crown, and placed on the summertime New York to Bermuda run, with longer Caribbean cruises in the winter. A brief spell with Orient Lines, another NCL satellite, saw her revert to her original name, and she once again assumed far more of a world wide, globe trotting role.

When Orient Lines was wound up, she returned once more to NCL, and picked up the Norwegian Crown name for the second time. In this guise, she was often seen in South American waters during the winter. But, with the parent company intent on seriously big new builds, it was obvious that she would soon be surplus to requirements.

What came as the big surprise was the actual buyer.

Model of Balmoral in the main lobby

Model of Balmoral in the main lobby

Fred. Olsen had been looking for another ship to join their fleet, especially with the imminent, impending demise of the beloved Black Prince. They purchased the ship from NCL, renamed her Balmoral, and then sent her to a German shipyard for major cosmetic surgery.

This involved slicing the vessel in half, and the addition of a whole new mid section. This contained two new restaurants, several balcony cabins, a new pub and, outside, a new pool and hot tubs on the highest passenger deck. Though a substantial interior refurbishment was carried through to give her the classic Fred. Olsen ‘feel’, the company very sensibly retained much of her original elegant, highly lauded Art Deco styling. The ship was then put back into service.

As Balmoral, this still beautiful ship operates everything from three night, weekend party cruises to full world cruises in January. The Balmoral is just as likely to be found in the Norwegian Fjords or New York these days.

Steady, luxurious, and as intimate and well fed as the Fred. Olsen tradition has always dictated, the Balmoral has become one of the most popular and consistently successful cruise ships in the UK market today. With a large number of affordable single cabins, as well as some of the most commodious and expansive balcony suites found on any ship of her size, the Balmoral is one of the best buys in the cruise industry today.

The pictures in this collection were taken on board by me during a cruise to Norway in the summer of 2012. Enjoy!

Balmoral flank shot

Balmoral flank shot

Seven Continents main restaurant

Seven Continents main restaurant

Elegant table settings

Elegant table settings

Aft lido panorama

Aft lido panorama

Forward show room

Forward show room

Gangway shot in Bergen, Norway

Gangway shot in Bergen, Norway

Art Deco lobby staircase

Art Deco lobby staircase

Broad Balmoral passageway

Broad Balmoral passageway

The aft facing Lido Lounge

The aft facing Lido Lounge

This is the new part of the ship

This is the new part of the ship

The Morning Light pub

The Morning Light pub

Observation Lounge overlooking the bow

Observation Lounge overlooking the bow

Another shot of the same room

Another shot of the same room

The funnel, looking forward

The funnel, looking forward

Gorgeous, curved aft terraces

Gorgeous, curved aft terraces

The original aft pool deck

The original aft pool deck

Port side promenade deck

Port side promenade deck

The 'Fred' logo on Balmoral's funnel

The ‘Fred’ logo on Balmoral’s funnel

Dolphin sculpture on upper deck pool wall

Dolphin sculpture on upper deck pool wall

Long bar in the show lounge

Long bar in the show lounge

ROYAL PRINCESS ON THE TELLY, AND SHIPS ON SCREEN BEFORE HER…..

Ironically, no ship has popularised cruising on the TV screen as much as this one...

Ironically, no ship has popularised cruising on the TV screen as much as this one…

The news today that Royal Princess is to be the ‘star’ of a new, four part ITV television series should not come as too much of a surprise, given the history of Princess Cruises and the world famous Love Boat series of the seventies and eighties. That particular show- mass marketed and seen worldwide- was a massive boon in boosting cruising’s visibility. Needless to say, it did not exactly hurt the coffers of the parent company, either.

Obviously, Princess Cruises is hoping for some kind of bounce one more time in exposing it’s newest, fully fledged star to media scrutiny. Celebrity Cruises endured a similar series of programmes a few years back, when everyday crew life aboard their then Galaxy made an unlikely star of Jane McDonald.  If these things go well, then the benefits are obvious.

But do they always go well?

Certainly, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines got mixed reviews based on a documentary series, filmed aboard their popular Balmoral. That particular programme attracted a lot of negative feedback, although, once again, the company’s bookings are said to have profited quite a lot. And if money is the bottom line rather than perception, I guess Fred still came out way ahead.

These programmes are far more ‘fly on the wall’  than the smooth, mushy goo served up by the Love Boat week in and out. And, even back in the early eighties, the legendary Alan Whicker made a series of documentaries aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 during her first, post Falklands world cruise.

But long before even that extraordinary odyssey, ships on the telly were nothing new. And, of course, one particular ship more than any other……

It was almost inevitable that the Titanic would steam across the screenscape of Upstairs, Downstairs, just as she would also sail across the backdrop of it’s logical successor in the Edwardian melodrama sweepstakes, Downton Abbey. In fact, the lost liner appeared with such regularity as a celluloid backdrop on TV that well known TV presenter, Barry Norman, famously quipped that the Titanic had ‘sailed more miles on film than she ever did in real life’.

Ironically, the constant dragging up for air of the most famous shipwreck in history seems to have had a perversely beneficial effect on cruising, and on passengers embarking on the transatlantic crossing as well. With the retelling of  such a spectacular disaster promoting such a spike in ratings, the irony is obvious.

QE2 was already a reality television star in the early righties

QE2 was already a reality television star in the early righties

And here we come to the always perennial disconnect between television and cruise line expectations. Each has their own agenda in filming these things. For good TV is not about anything so much as maximising ratings. And, in pursuit of that, if corners get cut or stories/people are misrepresented, well that’s just collateral damage.

And, of course, the ship owners want to display their product and image in hopefully the most flattering light. Which is not always the most accurate picture, either.

So, as Royal Princess prepares to tread the boards, let us all wish her well. But please, let’s take it all with at least a small pinch of salt.

A NORWEGIAN ‘WHERE ARE THEY NOW’- SHIPS YOU LOVED AND THOUGHT YOU’D LOST (Updated)

Louis Aura is still instantly recognisable as the old Starward

Louis Aura is still instantly recognisable as the old Starward

In the legion of seemingly lost and vanished ships, few companies can equal the turnover of Norwegian Cruise Line. And yet, again, you would be surprised how many of their smaller, mid sized ships still survive to this day, and exactly what they are up to now.

So, here we go; a Norwegian edition of ‘where are they now’. If an old particular favourite isn’t listed, then apologies in advance, but the likelihood is that the ship in question has been scrapped. Sorry.

When Knut Kloster started his barnstorming, revolutionary Caribbean cruise line in 1968, it was known simply as Norwegian Caribbean Line, or NCL. Kloster fired the starting gun with a quartet of white hulled, racy little dream boats that were space age at the time. And, incredibly, some of these are still doing the rounds today.

His funky little Sunward II actually began life sailing for Cunard, as the Cunard Adventurer. Bought by Norwegian in 1977, the Sunward II spent many years on the short, three and four day cruise runs from Miami to Nassau, and the company’s private island of Great Stirrup Cay.

She’s still in service with Louis Cruises, as the Coral, but will be renamed as Louis Rhea next year for a full programme of Mediterranean cruises. Externally, she’s almost as she was in her Norwegian days.

Louis Cristal is the former Leeward

Louis Cristal is the former Leeward

Several of her fleet mates have made the trek over to Louis Cruises, to such an extent that the Louis fleet is almost an NCL Part Two. The Starward, built in 1968, is still sailing as the Orient Queen. Shortly due to be renamed Louis Aura, the veteran ship is off to Brazil over the winter to operate a series of three to seven night cruises for a local tour operator.

Louis also has the Louis Cristal, at one time the Leeward. She was the successor to the Sunward II on the short cruises from Miami and now, by a supreme irony, she is part of the same fleet. This winter, she is off to operate a series of ground breaking Caribbean cruises from Havana, in Cuba, under charter to a Canadian tour operator.

Last for now in the Louis beauty pageant is the Thomson Majesty, chartered by the UK based Thomson Cruises, but still owned by Louis. The ship, fondly remembered by many as the Norwegian Majesty, sailed for many years on the Boston to Bermuda run, and she also offered winter cruises out of Charleston. Like her fleet mates, she is essentially unchanged from her Norwegian days.

The other great beneficiary of old Norwegian Cruise Line tonnage has been parent company, Star Cruises. Back in the early nineties, Norwegian built a pair of more or less identical sisters, the Dreamward and the Windward (they were nicknamed ‘Forward’ and ‘Backward’ by industry wags). Later, after being lengthened, these two ships were restyled as Norwegian Dream and Norwegian Wind, respectively.

Thomson Majesty still betrays her Norwegian Cruise Line interiors

Thomson Majesty still betrays her Norwegian Cruise Line interiors

Norwegian Wind was transferred to Star Cruises and renamed Superstar Aquarius. Slated to go to Louis, Norwegian Dream was declined, and spent five years in warm lay up, before finally re-entering service for Star Cruises this year as the Superstar Gemini.

Another Norwegian stalwart found her way to an unlikely new life with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. Their feisty little Braemar actually spent a long period as the Norwegian Dynasty, a ship that sailed summer itineraries in Alaska, and winter Caribbean cruises.

And the current flagship of the Fred. Olsen fleet is yet another ex-Norwegian stalwart. Although originally built in 1988 for Royal Cruise Line as the stunning Crown Odyssey, Balmoral spent two full decades as part of the extended Norwegian ‘family’, including two spells with the now defunct Orient Lines. Stretched during the course of her 2008 conversion, many of her interiors are still instantly recognisable from her early days.

So, there you go. And if some of your fondly remembered favourites are in this list, now you know where they are. And if you’re hankering to renew old acquaintances, now you have what amounts to an absolutely perfect excuse. Have fun, and happy sailing.

CRUISING WITH FRED- A GREAT BRITISH TRADITION

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….