We had an extra special Christmas treat this week as we were invited onboard one of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines most popular cruise ships, Black Watch as she docked in Tilbury London. Our visit comes just one month after Black Watch entered dry dock at the Blohm + Voss shipyard in Hamburg for a multi-million pound refit. The extensive refurbishment saw ship-wide enhancements including upgrades to cabins, suites and public areas. Not only did we get a private tour of the ship, stopping off to see the updated cabins with a talk from Julian – Fred. Olsen’s Deputy Hotel Manager of Operations, but we also got to see the ship decked out in all her Christmas glory. With Christmas trees and gingerbread houses galore! See photos from our day onboard the newly refurbished Black Watch below.
The Neptune Theatre
The Neptune Bar
The Morning Light Pub
The Black Watch Room - A new a la carte dining experience serving up delicious steak and seafood
Fresh new carpets
The Glentanar main restaurant
It's Christmas onboard!
Deck 7 - Tenerife Suite 7024
Balcony Suite 9901
Enjoy the upgrade and sail on the newly refurbished Black Watch with our latest Black Watch cruises.
Kathleen from our dedicated river cruise commercial team recently enjoyed a river cruise in France onboard Avalon Tapestry 2 with Avalon Waterways, read about her experience and first impressions below.
The ship was lovely, the food was lovely, the crew were just extremely welcoming and friendly and I met some amazing people. Occasionally with river cruises there are complications that arise which cause changes to the itinerary, and I got to witness one of these complications first hand. as there was going to be strikes in the locks and docks, the cruise director had to make the decision for the itinerary to be sped up, meaning that we had to meet the ship in Mantes La Jolie as it picked up passengers who went on the excursion to Rouen, then we cruised on to Conflans-Saite-Honorine through lunch where the ship docked for the night. Our Cabin The cabin as I had expected was really luxurious, with supplied bathrobes, slippers and L'Occitane toiletries. What I especially liked about the cabin was where the beds were facing the window instead of facing away from it, you could just lie on your bed and watch the ever changing scenery along the river bank as you sail to the next port of call, you could even have the floor to ceiling window open to let in some fresh air – or if you’d rather there was a seating area right in-front of the window where you could sit and read a book whilst enjoy the nice breeze from the window as you cruise along the river.
There were many other things the cabin had to offer such as a safe, a fair size wardrobe a mini fridge (which was stocked with drinks, and weren’t badly priced) and a hairdryer. Food The food was also very nice. Lunch and breakfast were both buffets with quite a variety of options of food to pick from, and the options changed every day - there was also if you preferred a menu in which you could order from. Dinner was always a three course meal with a starter, a main and a pudding. Once again there was a set menu that stayed the same every day, but there was also an option that changed daily.
Excursions Every evening just before dinner and usually just after or before happy hour (an hour when cocktails were half price) the cruise director would talk over the excursions for the next day and what’s going to happen. Also, every evening a leaflet would be put on the beds in every cabin to outline everything that was happening the next day. This was very helpful as it meant that you could carry it around with you throughout the day and refer to it. Each day there was the choice between included excursion, and on some days there was even an extra excursion with an added cost. Some of the included excursions we went on where a tour of the Notre Dame Cathedral, and a tour of the Château de Malmaison. Overall the cruise was definitely an experience that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. I personally went on the cruise not really sure on what to expect, but also not expecting much. It was a lot better than I had anticipated and it was certainly nice to get away and just sit back and chill and do stuff like relax on the sky deck, maybe even play one of the board games available in the back lounge, or even read a book whilst sipping on a cup of tea whilst eating a doughnut. After this experience, I definitely would go on a river cruise again, and I would highly recommend Avalon Waterways.
Have you sailed with Avalon Waterways? Tell us about your experience in the comments below
We sent Michael off to report on the latest Mediterranean masterpiece from MSC Cruises Fantasia-class - flagship MSC Preziosa. Read all about his experience below.
On arrival to Nice we had a three hour transfer to Genoa, although this would not usually be the airport to use for such a cruise, but the flight had been cancelled to Genoa on this date. So we had a very scenic drive along the coastline. On arrival the check in process was very quick and swift as this is one of MSC Cruises home ports, so they have their own check in terminal. Once boarding the ship we were able to grab a drink before freshening up for a meet and greet in one of the many bars on board. The ship is very classy and has a high standard of interior furnishings, the ship is clean throughout and you can instantly recognize that it is less than 3 years old, being the MSC flag ship to date. You can also recognise that this is not an American cruise line, as everything seems very calm and no crew pushing for upsells for drinks packages or specialty dining.
The Cabin was actually very spacious in size with a nice lounge area. The shower space was good and the shower had glass doors that could be folded back to allow more changing space.
This is probably the best drinks package I have ever had onboard a ship, the crew are not strict to serve one drink at a time, if you order a couple of drinks this is fine, any more than that then they would ask to see a second card. The drinks available are all popular brands and you can enjoy cocktails, coffees and ice cream (Ferrero Roche being the best one).
We saw one show in the Main Theatre, this is very modern and I think due to the variety of nationalities onboard they focus more on visual and sound effects so that everyone can enjoy the entertainment. There were lots of Acrobatics which were very impressive! The only downside was that there was no bar service in the Theatre. We were lucky enough during this cruise to have a behind the scenes tour, this was very useful as we met some of the crew during there working hours. The tour really gave us an insight into their lives onboard and completely justifies the gratuities policy. The crew areas were immaculate and it was great to see the galleys (kitchen at sea). The ship is very economical and any food waste is burnt into ashes and used as fuel. Gratuities can be removed or adjusted with MSC. I was more than happy to keep mine in place due to the fantastic service we received during our cruise.
The WiFi package onboard is amazing value. Only 3 Euros a day for the Social Package which includes Whatsapp, Facebook etc and works out at just 21 euros for a week’s cruise. Other WiFi packages are also available to suit your needs.
The Infinity Pool at the aft of the Ship is very impressive. The middle of the ship features a heated pool area where competitions are held, I had the pleasure of joining in and it was a great experience. The Vertigo Slide is great fun and the clear section even extends off the side of the ship. Kids can enjoy the Doremi Castle Area.
The Facilities on the ship are very impressive; the Gym was very well stocked with all the latest equipment and had great views looking out over the front of the ship. The Spa is one of the biggest I have seen, I treated myself to two massages and these was very well priced. The Day Pass for the Sauna and Spa was 16 Euros for an hour or 29 euros for the day, there were special offers available on different days, generally sea days. There were many varieties of sauna and steam rooms, and even a Coconut Steam Room and a Fridgenium (crushed Ice room to put on your body before the sauna). Spa Café is a quiet spot to enjoy one of many teas, or smoothies (some were included in the package and some with a supplement). There are many bars and lounges onboard, which offer many different music tastes, some with audience participation and some enjoying fine wine whilst watching and listening to musicians. The Piazza was very classy and impressive with its Swarovski Crystal staircase; in the MSC Yacht Club the staircase features Gold Swarovski Crystals.
As this ship is popular amongst Mediterranean nationalities there is an Italian flair throughout the cuisine onboard. The Chef explained to us that us Brits typically love our food hot, but generally in the Med the food is warm, something that can seem strange in the beginning if you like your food hot! At breakfast we enjoyed a buffet option with a variety of hot and cold foods, croissants, cold meats, cheeses, fruit, cereals, sausages, hash browns, bacon, beans and more. There is always self-service coffee, tea, and hot water available in the Buffet for 24 Hours. The buffet is open for 20 hours a day for Food. There is also the option to have breakfast in the restaurant with menus and waiter service. I found this option to be better as it was less busy and a relaxing experience. Tables are allocated by the waiters.
For lunch there is the option to choose from the buffet or waiter service in the restaurant. The Pizzeria offers huge Italian style pizzas with delicious toppings. Great Bonus for the Ice-Cream lovers out there as usually a payable extra, it can be included with the Allegrissmo Drinks Package.
For evening dinner I ate in the Golden Lobster, one of the A La Carte Restaurants, great service from the waiters and maître d. Each Evening there would be a choice of something new or something always available e.g. chicken, vegetables etc.Example Menu Shrimp Cocktail/ Puff Pastry with Snails/ Chickpea and Hummus and Aubergine Ghanoush Sweet and Sour Salad/ Rock Lobster Bisque Tortelli Mascarpone Cheese/ Rissatto allo Spumante Fish of the Day – Seabream/ Leg of Lamb/ Fillet of Beef There are two Specialty Restaurants onboard -Eataly and Galaxy. I chose to eat in Eataly which had laid back décor more like a café than a restaurant. The best part of this experience was the chefs talking to us about the local produce and the way in which the dishes are created. I preferred the food in the a la carte restaurant. The menu in Eataly consisted of: Selection of Cold meats and Cheeses/ Pasta with Seafood/ Steak Medium Rare with Salad and potatoes There was plenty of choice for dessert and wine at the table was included. Dietary requests are very well looked after and you are provided with an individual menu to suit your dietary requirements if needed.
MSC Yacht Club members can enjoy the following benefits:
This cruise line as we know are very competitive on price, and are very good value for money. Yes I would definitely travel with them again. The best way I can describe them in order to set them aside from other cruise lines; is that if you like being amongst many other nationalities enjoying a fine wine, relaxed atmosphere and Italian flair food - then this is the cruise for you!
Join MSC Voyagers Club for exclusive member benefits and priviliges. Browse our latest MSC Cruises cruise deals today.
Linda our resident cocktail reviewer is back in business! We sent her off to check out the new Viking Ocean cruise ship, Viking Sea. Read on for her fantastic account of the ship and of course, the cocktails onboard.
It has been a while since I had the opportunity to spend some time onboard a new ship, but it was worth the wait. Viking Ocean Cruises newest ship, Viking Sea is a beauty! She is small and intimate with toned down Nordic style furnishings in neutral colours. We got invited to spend three days onboard during her maiden voyage. How lovely?! I work in customer services and one of the main questions we get is always about drinks. It is difficult to find out much about them prior to travel as sometimes the information from the cruise lines can be limited. So I prefer to try the drinks and take notes, so we can share more information about them with our customers in advance. It is all strictly educational and the research is solely for work purposes, of course. The prices onboard Viking Sea are very reasonable for drinks. Cocktails are between $7.50 and $10. I would recommend getting the Silver drinks package if you want to have a little more than the standard house wine and a couple of cocktails a day; as it works out better value for money. Water is free here, though, and you get wine, beer and juices during lunch and dinner. Tea and coffee are available all day. So, with that in mind, I put my taste buds to the test. Let’s start with the drink that lent its name to the terrace bar at the back of the ship. Aquavit. Never heard of it? Me neither. It is a caraway or dill spiced Scandinavian spirit. On its own… how shall I put it… it requires an acquired taste. I wouldn’t recommend sipping it. If you want to be polite and drink it, just neck it back in one go. In a cocktail however it can add an interesting edge to the taste. I tried it in a cocktail specifically created by Viking Cruises. I would recommend this drink, it has a slightly herby taste, but the bubbles in the sparkling wine round it off nicely.
Viking Cocktail, Strawberry Daiquiri
At the Pool Bar I had a strawberry daiquiri. An old favourite on a hot summer’s day. Ok it was only May, but it was very warm and sunny in Lisbon. I must say it wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but certainly enjoyable. Then I suddenly felt a bit homesick and picked Pimm’s. To be honest I just wanted to see how a Philippine bartender in Lisbon on a Norwegian ship would make it. It tasted lovely, but it didn’t come with all the fruits you’d expect and the cucumber was missing.
The next day after our trip into Porto and a couple of spa treatments we all had afternoon tea around the pool. The tea and cakes were very nice and so was the champagne! After tea we got ready for dinner and went to explore the ship further. Eventually we got to the Explorer’s Lounge where we befriended one of the barmen who offered us advice on what to have. My colleague opted for caipirinha, which I thought was a solid choice. It wasn’t to her taste, so the barman made her a rum-based cocktail off the menu. That was delicious. I had a planter’s punch. It’s one of my favourite cocktails, because it reminds me of all-inclusive summer holidays on a sandy beach. I thought it was made very well, one of the best I’ve ever had. We had a bit of time to kill until dinner and a talented guitarist came on, so we just chatted and enjoyed the sea view with fellow guests. The Explorers Lounge is the place to be for that. It is at the aft of the ship where the whole back wall is made of glass, so you have a spectacular view of the sea and your surroundings. Live music, good company, a refreshing cocktail and watching the water. Bliss. Before dinner there was time for another two types of cocktails, which I had to try. The Viking Cocktail is made with brandy and sparkling wine in a tall champagne glass. I love drinking out of a champagne glass; it gives me the feeling of an occasion. I quite enjoyed this drink; it was refreshing and cold, a good choice. The grasshopper was fantastic, but perhaps I should have had it after dinner. It tastes like After 8, so I could have had that instead of pudding. (Instead… Who am I kidding?) Some brave colleagues tried my old favourite the Bloody Mary, but with a twist. This time the tomato juice got replaced by crab juice. Yes, you read that right. Apparently it’s lighter and obviously has a distinct seafood taste. No thank you.
Planters Punch, Grasshopper
Overall I really enjoyed this cruise, not just the cocktails, but the whole experience and I would love to return to the Viking Sea for another trip.
Iglu’s Marketing Manager, Natalie, went on her first river cruise adventure with Avalon Waterways. Here’s what she thought of her first river experience onboard the luxurious Avalon Tapestry II:
I have only been on an Ocean Cruise Line so I was looking forward to experiencing a River Cruise and was lucky enough to be invited on Avalon’s newest ship to the fleet, Avalon Tapestry II.
On the deck on Avalon Tapestry II
I was meeting the ship halfway through its 7 night Paris to Normandy Landing Beaches itinerary.
I met the ship in the picturesque town of Rouen after taking the Eurostar to Lille. As I approached the ship I was instantly struck by how luxurious the ship was. It is decked out with luxury sun loungers and tastefully decorated with plants on the top deck. I was greeted with a glass of Champagne into an airy reception area and couldn’t wait to see my cabin. It didn’t disappoint with a modern bathroom and a full supply of L’Occitane bath products. The layout of the bedroom was fantastic with the beds facing the French windows. The layout might not sound exciting but Avalon is the first River Cruise Line to point the beds towards the window. I could already picture myself waking up in the morning and watching the world go by. However, before I got too comfortable I unpacked and went to explore the rest of the ship. I was just in time for the daily afternoon tea. Delicious finger sandwiches and a choice of two gateaux’s were on offer. It would be rude not to sample so I tried both. As this was an educational trip I thought I better check my emails and there was no excuse not to as the ship has free wi-fi throughout the ship. Fortunately there were not many emails to check so I had some time to relax in the sun on the top deck before the next round of delicious food at dinner.
Heavenly cocktails and delicious food
The dining room is tasteful decorated and I was pleasantly surprised, that although the ship is small compared to Ocean Cruise lines, you do not smell the cooking throughout the ship. I choose the red snapper for my main course tonight and enjoyed the free flowing wine which is included a lunch and dinner. As this was my first night on board I stayed up to watch the entertainment for a while before getting an early night so I would be ready to get up bright and early for the Van Gogh excursion the following day.
I woke up feeling revitalised after a good night sleep in the comfortable bed. I was delighted with the buffet breakfast and enjoyed smoked salmon and eggs. However, if salmon and eggs is not your cup of tea they have a fantastic selection of food to choose form including freshly made pastries, cereals and much more.
Glorious views of the riverbank through France
I had the choice of two free excursions and decided to go on the tour of town Van Gogh spent his last few months of his life in the picturesque town of Auvers-sur-Oise . Before you set off on the tour you pick up a complementary water and a headset so you can listen to the tour guide.
I am not an art expert and it really didn’t matter as the tour guide William was really engaging. He brought the history to life and it was very special to see the places and subjects Van Gogh had painted. I particularly enjoyed walking through the fields Van Gogh painted known as Wheat Field with Crows. After the tour we were taken back on the coach in time for lunch and were greeted with freshly made ice tea. We had booked the grill lunch which was hosted on the Sky Deck. They host these lunches several times on the cruise itinerary but you must put your name down to reserve a space. Lunch was delicious and I enjoyed fresh salad and steak. In the afternoon you there was an optional excursion to the Palace of Versailles. However, as I only had 3 days on the ship I decided to experience what it was like whilst sailing as we were going to set sail to Paris. I am sure the Palace is beautiful but I was so pleased I stayed on board. The engine is so quiet the experience is tranquil and the journey along the Seine was stunning. I was surprised by how unpopulated the river banks were. Every now and then you would spot a stunning Chateau along the banks. I would have happily sailed along the river for days absorbing the view. We picked up the guests who took the afternoon tour and then sailed into Paris. The dinner was served as we sailed towards the Eiffel Tower.
Excursions in France and more sublime views from the ship
Tonight was the Captains farewell dinner as the following night guests were going to Moulin Rouge in Paris so it was a day earlier. Before dinner we were all given a glass of Champagne and the Captain came and said goodbye to everyone. Once again the meal was fantastic and my favourite dish was the lobster. Also having been on several Ocean cruise lines I was delighted to see that the famous Baked Alaska was on the menu so it is not just the big Ocean lines who have this tradition. As the ship was staying in Paris I went for a stroll around the city before coming back to a refreshing cocktail on board.
It was our last night on the ship and I went on the complimentary walking tour in Paris. If you didn’t want to walk there is a bus tour which is also included. After the tour I arrived back and sampled the light lunch which is also on offer every day in the sky deck. We had free time in the afternoon as the optional trip was to the Moulin Rouge in the evening. I decided to head back into Paris and hit the shops on the Champ Elysees. As I was not going to the Moulin Rouge I booked a place in the bistro dining experience. This was hosted in the Sky Lounge and there are 20 places available so you need to book. The offer a 7 course tasting menu and once again was extremely impressed with the standard of the food. This evening we were sailing to another port in Paris close to the business district so I sat on the deck and enjoyed a refreshing cocktail as the ship gently sailed past the glittering sights of Paris before heading back to my room where I enjoyed the view for a little bit longer before falling into a relaxing sleep.
Crepes and cocktails! A match made in heaven
What I really love about River Cruising is the relaxed pace, you can do as much or as little as you want. Even if you participate on all the tours you are looked after so well and come back to such a beautiful ship you don’t feel exhausted. I came back from my cruise feeling refreshed and invigorated. My only complaint is next time I want to go for a bit longer.
View Avalon Waterways Cruise Deals | Find out more about River Cruising
We are ATOL Holders and members of ABTA for your financial protection.
You do not currently have any cruises in your shortlist.
View Our Awards
What our customers say
"... Happy New Year! Thank you for looking after us so well in 2016. You really are the best online travel agents! x ” C. T. (January 2017) Read more feedback