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?


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.


* 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


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


Following on from the brisk sales of her first Caribbean season in many years, Fred, Olsen has made plans for their popular Braemar to return to the region over winter 2016-17.

The once perennial Caribbean stalwart will once again be based at her old winter ‘home’ port of Barbados. This years’ experiment of using Montego Bay, Jamaica, as a turn around port is not being repeated.

The 24,000 ton ship will return to the Caribbean on a transatlantic crossing, sailing from Tenerife on December 22nd. From here, she will operate three, fourteen night cruises to the highlights of the eastern and western Caribbean, and one fourteen night cruise to the Amazon, which sees the ship go some nine hundred miles into the heart of the river itself-a truly epic voyage.

Each of the Caribbean sailings features a first night spent on board in Bridgetown, allowing passengers the option of going ashore to experience the local nightlife if they are not too jet lagged. Oddly, the Amazon cruise is the only exception.

Following this season, the Braemar will return to Europe via a sixteen night transatlantic crossing, scheduled to arrive back in Dover on March 18th, 2017.

In connection with this programme, Fred. Olsen is offering a series of connecting flights from Manchester and Gatwick, complete with airport to ship transfers. Alternatively, passengers can buy the package as a ‘cruise only’ option, allowing them to add their own flights and, perhaps, include a few days’ pre or post cruise stay in Barbados,

With her small size and fine food and service, the Braemar is the perfect choice for those passengers looking for a more personalised, intimate Caribbean adventure. I did several of these cruises on the ship a few years back- including a truly memorable Amazon run- and all of them remain fondly remembered highlights of my travel adventures.

Definitely recommended as worthy of your attention.

Braemar is serving up sights like this throughout the winter of 2016-17

Braemar is serving up sights like this throughout the winter of 2016-17


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


Silver Whisper was used to host Vladimir Putin at the 2003 300th anniversary celebrations in St. Petersburg

Silver Whisper was used to host Vladimir Putin at the 2003 300th anniversary celebrations in St. Petersburg

One of the last publicised aspects regarding the hugely controversial 22nd Winter Olympics, due to be held in and around the Black Sea  city of Sochi between 7th and 23rd of February next year, is the surprising number of cruise ships and ferries that have been chartered for use as static hotel accommodation.

Of course, there is nothing new in the use of chartered cruise ships as temporary static accommodation. Events such as the Olympic Games of 1992 and 2004 saw the use as accommodation ships of some of the most illustrious names in the cruising firmament- including the then brand new Queen Mary 2. Similarly, the Barcelona Expo ’98 had no less than six cruise ships, including the then world’s longest liner, the SS. Norway, offering accommodation.

Last year’s London 2012 Olympics saw the use of Fred. Olsen’s Braemar and her original sister ship, the now laid up Gemini, as fully functioning, static hotels docked on the River Thames at Tilbury.

What is, of course, different about Sochi 2014 is the hugely controversial nature of these games, with widespread calls for a boycott over Russian president Vladimir Putin’s excessive, increasingly repressive crackdown on gay rights in Russia as a whole.

So, who is going to be there for the duration? Five cruise and ferry operators have thus far confirmed their operation of chartered tonnage.

First off, Russian owned St. Peter Line is sending both of it’s large cruise ferries- Princess Anastasia and Princess Maria- from their regular, year round overnight runs from Tallinn and Stockholm to St. Petersburg. The Princess Anastasia was once well known in the UK as the popular Pride Of Bilbao, a stalwart of the Northern Spain run for many years. Rooms on these two ships are advertised from 63 euros upwards per night.

There is also another ferry, the Italian SNAV Toscana, a 30,000 ton vessel usually operated on overnight runs between Civitavecchia and Palermo, Originally built as the Wasa Star back in 1981, she has accommodation for around 2200 people in normal service.

Seasonal Greek islands operator, Louis Cruises, is sending two ships, the aptly named 38, 000 ton Louis Olympia and the 33,000 ton Thomson Spirit; sensible and gainful employment for two ships that would have otherwise remained laid up in Piraeus until March. Unlike the two ferries mentioned above, these two vessels are full service cruise ships. Rooms priced from 168 euros per night.

Spanish operator, Iberocruises is sending the 46,000 ton Grand Holiday, which originally started life in 1985 as a Carnival ship. Rooms on board this ship start from 158 euros.

Largest of all, Norwegian Cruise Line is sending the 92,000 ton Norwegian Jade, with rooms on board starting at the highest rate of all, at at 208 euros per night. Unlike most of the others, the Norwegian Jade offers the added plus of a large number of balcony cabins.

Between them, these six very different ships can offer in excess of some twelve thousand berths. While the cruise ships of Louis, Norwegian and Iberocruises are usually in the Mediterranean for the spring season anyway, the long voyage to and from the Baltic by the two Russian ferries represents a significant redeployment on the part of their owners, albeit an obviously lucrative one.


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.


The laid up MSC Melody could be a candidate for start up operator, Royal Asian Cruise Line

The laid up MSC Melody could be a candidate for start up operator, Royal Asian Cruise Line

Word is beginning to circulate about the imminent announcement of a new cruise line, formed for and aimed at tapping the potentially vast cruise market on the Indian sub-continent.

The company will be known as Royal Asian Cruise Line, and it eventually envisages deployment of up to five, second hand ships. Already said to have been acquired is the Gemini, a 19,900 ton ship that last sailed for the short lived Happy Cruises. She was originally a twin sister of Fred. Olsen’s Braemar, and has also sailed for Cunard, Commodore, and Star Cruises. Her last reported usage was in Tilbury, as a hotel ship for the 2012 London Olympics.

This is not the first time that a company has attempted to tap the market in India; both Louis Cruises and Star Cruises themselves have attempted to start up single ship operations from India. Issues with port infrastructures conspired to defeat both operations at the time- obstacles which the new company clearly believes can and will be addressed prior to any start up of services.

The new line intends to tailor its services, cuisine and on board facilities to meet the tastes and lifestyles of what it assumes will be it’s predominantly Indian passengers. It is hoping to launch with three ships in the first stage.

So, given that the line would be made up of second hand tonnage, what options are currently available to Royal Asian?

For starters, MSC Cruises have still not found a buyer for their laid up MSC Melody. I saw her last week in the harbour at Naples, looking quite smart. At around 32,000 tons and capable of carrying around 1200 passengers, she would be a solid choice for a no frills, start up line. She also has the advantage of being available immediately.

Another candidate could well be the 17,000 ton Ocean Countess, recently disposed of by Cruise and Maritime. With a capacity of around 800, she is roughly comparable with the Gemini in terms of size.

Another candidate could just possibly be the venerable Saga Ruby, due to finish her final season with Saga Cruises next year. Also back on the market is 28,000 ton Veronica, last used as a hotel ship in Oman. This ship, originally built as the Swedish American Line’s Kungsholm back in 1966, is also available now.

Cruising regions for the new line would include the Indian ocean area, including Sri Lanka.

The final pieces of the jigsaw are expected to be put in place in Barcelona next week, where investment bankers are currently said to be putting together money to finance the project.

As ever, I’ll be updating this as and when developments become clear. Stay tuned.


Braemar is part of the 2014 D-Day remembrance flotilla

Braemar is part of the 2014 D-Day remembrance flotilla

June 6th, 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of the massed, all out assault by American, British, Canadian, French and Polish troops on the outer bulwarks of Adolf Hitler’s much vaunted ‘Fortress Europe’. The D-Day landings were achieved in appalling weather conditions; they were quite simply the biggest combination of shipping and military might ever seen. And, though the fighting in and for Normandy that raged for weeks afterwards was savage, merciless and brutal, there is no question that the actions instigated in the early hours of June 6th, 1944, marked the beginning of the death throes of the Third Reich.

Next year, a quartet of interesting and quite diverse cruises will visit the sights and highlights of the D-Day anniversary celebrations. Some of them are quite different in emphasis than others, though all quite rightly put an emphasis on acknowledging the sacrifices made by those who never returned from the campaign. Here’s who goes there for those who might be interested, and just how those itineraries break down.

HOLLAND AMERICA LINE is offering a twelve night cruise aboard the large, luxurious Eurodam. To use a somewhat unfortunate phrase, this one jumps the gun a bit, sailing from Rome on April 29th. You’ll call in at Portland and Cherbourg, from where you’ll have an opportunity to see the landing beaches. Leaving Rome, the cruise also calls at Cartagena, Gibraltar, Cadiz, Lisbon and Vigo, as well as Zeebrugge, before finally ending in Copenhagen.

My verdict: Really nothing more than a repositioning cruise, albeit aboard a very luxurious and well run ship. Not really an in depth D-Day experience as such, but certainly a nice cruise in its own right. Fares from £1,348 based on an inside stateroom.

FRED.OLSEN CRUISE LINES are offering an excellent, seven night round UK cruise aboard the small, beautifully styled Braemar that takes in many of the most prominent D-Day sites, including Cherbourg and an overnight stay in Le Havre. This really allows you time to see the invasion beaches, plus the museums. It also features a call at Dunkirk, with its memories of the 1940 ‘miracle’, as well as Portsmouth, the nerve centre of the entire planning for the operation. There’s also a call at Zeebrugge on this cruise, too.

My verdict: Sailing on June 1st, this one puts you right in the centre of the commemorations and, just as importantly, in the proper time frame. The cruise sails round trip from Harwich.  Prices for the sailing, based on an inside cabin, start from £699.

German U-boat memorial

German U-boat memorial

CRUISE AND MARITIME offers another seven night sailing from the UK, beginning in Bristol (Avonmouth) and finishing in Liverpool, aboard the elegant, intimate DiscoveryThis cruise also departs on June 1st, and offers calls to see the German fortifications on Guernsey- the only part of the UK to be occupied by the Nazis- as well as Honfleur, a perfect jumping off point to see the paratroop landing zones, including the recreated Pegasus Bridge.

There’s also a Cherbourg call, and the ship spends the actual anniversary cruising off the beaches themselves- a very different perspective indeed.

My verdict: A concise itinerary indeed over the course of a week. And with inside cabins from £649 per person, tremendous value as well.

SWAN HELLENIC is offering a superb, twelve night itinerary from Portsmouth aboard the intimate, highly styled Minerva.The cruise sails on June 4th. This one also overnights in Le Havre and visits Cherbourg, but there is also a call in at Caen, literally the crucible of the Normandy campaign. This literally puts you right in the middle of the entire combat zone, with the attractions all around you. Dunkirk is also on the agenda, as is the headquarters for the D-Day campaign at Portsmouth.

But Minerva also ventures to the French west coast for an overnight stay in L’Orient; the main U-boat base for the Kriegsmarine in France during most of World War Two. Many of the original, giant concrete submarine pens are still in existence, and can be seen to this day. The cruise also visits the island of Belle Ile,

Also on offer is a call at the Isles of Scilly, as well as one at Dartmouth.

My verdict: 

Visit the Normandy beaches on the 70th anniversary of D-Day

Visit the Normandy beaches on the 70th anniversary of D-Day

This is the priciest option of the lot, with inside cabins going at £2,135 per person. However, Swan Hellenic also include all excursions in the fare, and these are of a genuinely high and personalised standard. The twelve night itinerary offers more of everything, albeit at a much higher price point.

All of these cruises are quite likely to sell out quite quickly. If doing one of these cruises is on your personal horizon, my advice is to get in there quite quickly.


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….