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.

GET THEM WHILE YOU CAN- CLASSICS STILL SAILING IN 2014

The classical, on board styling of Portuscale's Lisboa has few modern equivalents

The classical, on board styling of Portuscale’s Lisboa has few modern equivalents

Last week delivered a trio of heavy shocks for lovers of the traditional, smaller cruise ships. First came the sad news that the pioneering Song Of Norway, the start up ship for Royal Caribbean, had been sold for scrap. More than anything, this brought home the shaky mortality and status of that maritime ‘Brady Bunch’ of older vessels.

There followed the indescribably painful sight of the Pacific Princess, famed as the original Love Boat, hauled up to be butchered at a Turkish slaughterhouse. Listing painfully, shabby and dilapidated, the once graceful ship has been reduced to a sad, squalid shadow of her former glory.

Then, only yesterday, the beloved Ocean Countess caught fire in the Greek port of Chalkis as she was being readied for a new charter season next year. The fire, now extinguished, seems to have centered on her midships pool and forward observation lounge. No impartial assessment of the resultant damage has yet been put in the public arena, but it hardly helps the prospects of the 37 year old former Cunard stalwart.

Even worse, 2014 will see the withdrawal from service of the Saga Ruby, the former 1973 built Vistafjord. This legendary ship, the last passenger ship to be built in the UK, is facing a very uncertain fate, and optimism regarding her future employment- if any- is very thin on the ground.

Louis Aura, the former Starward of Norwegian Cruise Line

Louis Aura, the former Starward of Norwegian Cruise Line

All of these point up a simple, salient fact for anyone wanting the chance to sail in one or more of this dwindling band of thoroughbreds; get out there and do it, while you still can. The clock is ticking, and options are really running out now.

With that in mind, here’s a list of some of the classically styled ships still sailing out there. I’ve tried to be as inclusive as possible, and apologies in advance for any unintentional omissions.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines still operate the classic duo of Boudicca and Black Watch, a pair of 1972 beauties originally built for the Royal Viking Line.

Competitor Cruise And Maritime offers cruises on the Discovery, the former Island Princess (and sister ship of the Pacific Princess) as well as the 1965 built Marco Polo.

All four of these ships can be embarked from a series of different ports around the UK. Looking further afield increases your options a lot. Here’s a few more options for your consideration.

Louis Cruises will sail the Louis Rhea, the former 1971 built Cunard Adventurer, out of Piraeus this summer. She will be running with her former Norwegian Cruise Lines fleetmate, the 1968 built Louis Aura, best remembered as the famous, fondly remembered Starward.

From Israel, the Golden Iris operates cruises for Mano Maritime. She is the former Cunard Princess and, by an ironic coincidence, she is currently laid up for the winter alongside her former sister, the fire ravaged Ocean Countess, in the Greek port of Chalkis.

Flamenco is still sailing as a cruise ship for the Chinese market

Flamenco is still sailing as a cruise ship for the Chinese market

Most potent of all, the Lazarus- like resurrection of Portuscale Cruises in Lisbon has put a quartet of platinum chip, beautifully styled former ocean liners back on the market. Azores, Funchal. Lisboa and Porto will all be sailing full schedules over the 2014 season and, while some of these will be on European charters, there are options to board the exquisite Funchal in the UK over the summer. Many of those cruises are being marketed by Travelscope Holidays in the UK.

The future prospects of all of these ships are, of course, directly related to their profitability as going concerns. That being so, 2014 might well be a good time for true lovers of the ocean liners of the past to turn those fond, romantic dream voyages into a more practical, eminently rewarding reality.

BLACK WATCH; BUCKING THE BIG SHIP TREND

Fred. Olsen's Black Watch in the Kiel Canal

Fred. Olsen’s Black Watch in the Kiel Canal

At 41 years of age, the Black Watch is one of the oldest and smallest cruise ships in the current UK cruise market. She has no rock climbing wall or ice rink. Dinner is still served in two fixed seatings. Entertainment is low key, end-of-the-pier stuff, and definitely best suited to an older passenger demographic.

In short, she is everything that the new, state of the art, amenity laden ships are not. And yet, despite sailing against a growing armada of these monolithic new floating resorts, the veteran Black Watch is more than holding her own. Since 1996, she has become a much loved, perennial favourite among generations of cruise passengers, many of whom would not even dream of sailing on any other ship.

How has this come to pass, when the ship seems to buck every contemporary trend in existence?

Firstly, there is the uniquely intimate atmosphere that Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has created on board. What was already a classic design was skilfully upgraded to Olsen’s traditional, Scottish accented style and decor. Combined with a warmly welcoming, service oriented Filipino crew, it was a winning formula from the start.

And the intimate scale of the ship actually works for her largely older, less mobile clientele. Black Watch was built long and lean, with a beautiful clipper bow and excellent seakeeping qualities. And the fact that she looks like a throwback to the supposed ‘golden age’ of ocean liners does not hurt. In fact, with her funnel cowl and gracefully stepped aft decks, she resembles nothing so much as a pocket version of the much lamented Queen Elizabeth 2. 

Aft pool deck on the Black Watch

Aft pool deck on the Black Watch

Her open decks are solid teak, traditional, and expansive for her 28,000 tons, and they come with a nice smattering of swimming pools, hot tubs, sun loungers and casual, outdoor eateries. The fish and chips served at the upper deck Marquee Bar and Grill are legendary.

In fact, food, and the quality of it, is one of the great strengths of the Black Watch as a ship, as indeed it is right across the Fred. Olsen fleet. Menus are largely geared to British tastes, with some evocative Scandinavian and European twists.  It is hugely enjoyable, well served, and savoured in very pleasant surroundings that are designed to soothe, rather than stun.

Originally built as the Royal Viking Star in 1972, Black Watch was the start up ship for the legendary Royal Viking Line. A mid section was added in 1981 to bring her up to her present configuration. From her inception, she was built to be able to access the smaller, more intimate ports around the world that makes cruising such an appealing holiday choice.

This has enabled Fred. Olsen to compile some very appealing and innovative itineraries for this voluptuous, veteran lady of the seas. And, with itineraries ranging from a weekend Christmas shopping break, right through to complete, three month circumnavigations of the globe, the Black Watch offers a range of options to suit all tastes and styles.

Another factor that appeals to passengers is the fact that the prices- both for the cruise itself, and for services charged on board- are very realistic, and represent excellent value. Fred. Olsen was also very astute in putting a good number of affordable single cabins into both Black Watch, and the rest of her fleet mates. People understand and appreciate value when they see it.

Black Watch can take you just as easily to Antwerp, or across the Atlantic

Black Watch can take you just as easily to Antwerp, or across the Atlantic

Above all, people value what they see as the standards of continuity enshrined in the Fred. Olsen experience; it’s the equivalent of a comfort blanket for many. But the line has actually relaxed some of the old dress codes of late, in a small, but not insignificant nod towards a potentially younger clientele.

Moving both Black Watch and her equally doughty twin sister, Boudicca (the former Royal Viking Sky) around the UK to a number of seasonal home cruise ports, such as Liverpool, Newcastle, Belfast and Rosyth, has also helped in keeping them full. Taking the ships to what amounts to people’s home ports is a move that has been since emulated by others.

It is exactly the success of the Fred. Olsen formula that has led to the establishment of the similarly styled Cruise and Maritime Voyages, a gradually expanding operator that clearly has taken a bead on the Olsen operating model. This is a welcome addition, and also a testament to the continued success of ships like the Black Watch in bucking the trend toward ever larger, less personal ships.

It is to be fervently hoped that cruise passengers- and the travel community in particular- continue to cherish and support ships like the beautiful Black Watch, as well as her fleet mates and her potential rivals. There is room in the market for all of them.

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….