Fred. Olsen Jr and all of his Captains may be Norwegian, but Fred. Olsen Cruise Line have become a quintessentially British cruise experience. Last week I stepped foot onto one of their most iconic ships, Black Watch, and departed on a mini-cruise to Rouen.
When I was first asked about a cruise onboard Fred. Olsen I have to admit I was a little tentative. I really wanted to find out about the Fred. Olsen experience, but I wasn't sure how I'd find a ship where the clientele is a little more, shall we say mature, and the ships are a little older. But, my pre-conceptions to how the next three days would pan out couldn't be further from the truth.
Black Watch basking in the Dover sunshine.
On Wednesday, Fred. Olsen were announced as winners of the Best Affordable Cruise Line award at the Cruise International Awards, which is a much deserved accolade, as not only do their cruises offer great value for the food and service onboard, but you'd be hard pressed to find me a ship that offers bottled beers from £2.25! The value onboard Fred is exceptional — and my weekend bar bill was testament to that.
From the moment you step onto the Black Watch it feels homely. She looks a little older and worn from the outside, but after 40 years of cruising and regular refurbishments, she is as clean, relaxing and warm as any ship you will come across. All the furniture in the public areas is well-kept and the Braemar Lounge looks newly upholstered. The rooms are comfortable and simple, though being an older ship don't expect a double room unless you are in a suite. At 800 passengers the Black Watch is also a great size, I love being 5 minutes from everywhere no matter where you are onboard and never feeling crowded.
Our favourite waiter in the Lido Lounge, Moses, with a giant moth.
What really makes the difference with the Black Watch isn't the ship, it's the crew onboard. The service wherever you go is exceptional — the waiters and bar tenders never stop smiling and all seem genuinely proud of what they are doing. We chose to eat in the Glentanar restaurant for all of our meals, and we were mostly served by the same waiters. Not only was the service great, but their company was enjoyable. On one occasion the waiter forgot to give someone a bread roll, his response was to sing "I apologise" in a charming fashion.
Another area where Fred. Olsen truly exceed expectations is the evening meals. The food during breakfast and lunch is very good and often understated, whereas the evening meals were all exceptional. I've enjoyed steak onboard with P&O, Princess, Cunard, Disney and Royal Caribbean and the tornado of steak (a slightly better cut than filet) was amazing. The meat was of a good standard and it was cooked to perfection — giving Oceania a run for their money in my opinion. The evening menus were well-written without the need for a fussy description — such as cheesy mash as opposed to creamy potato puree with a hint of cheddar.
The amazing tornado of beef.
I could go on and on about the fact they use proper back bacon for breakfast, as opposed to streaky bacon so well cooked it disintegrates, how good the pancakes were or the rack of lamb in a mint crust. I could talk about how good the custard was or how cheesecake featured at least once a day — and I love cheesecake — or about the procession of fireworks (well large sparklers) and singing (When the Saints Go Marching In) on the final night before the baked Alaska was served. But I won't.
Yes, Fred. Olsen's ships are a little older and the majority of passengers are closer to retirement than myself, but there were a lot more people in their 30s onboard then I would have expected, and the experience was great.
If you are looking for great — and I mean great — food, wonderful service and an unpretentious, unfussy atmosphere, but like a formal night, and well priced drinks, then look no further than Fred. Olsen. I loved the Black Watch and the Braemar is now firmly in my sights.
Today marks the beginning of P&O Cruises and Cunard Line's 2014 World Cruises going on sale. The brochures have long been printed, posted and stacked on shelves, and in little over 48 hours we will be able to get our mitts on all the best deals as they trickle open the bookings process.
So, what are we looking forward to with the 2014 World Cruises?
First of all there's the ships.
Cunard are world renowned for circumnavigating the globe. Queen Mary 2, with her vast size, imperial feel and traditional, high-class standards never fail to impress. Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, the twin-like sister ships, are more modern ships, but still offer a traditional, British Empire feel. Cunard offer the ultimate in large ship world cruising luxury, and though this is nothing new, it still excites us.
P&O Cruises have gone with a variety of ships for this years World Cruises. Adonia is the ship that stands out for me. She is much smaller than a the rest of the P&O fleet, but this means access to more intimate ports — that larger ships can't get to — and a more exclusive atmosphere onboard, all wrapped in P&O's traditional, yet modern, British approach to cruising. With Aurora and Arcadia also sailing around the world they are also offering an adult-only mid-sized ship and a family-friendly P&O favourite.
World Cruises aren't limited to a full round the world in 80 days experience, in fact most people tend to book a World Cruise Sector, meaning you get to pick a section of the itinerary with the destinations you would like to visit. So, what's exciting for 2014?
Any sectors departing from or arriving in Southampton are always popular, with San Francisco to Southampton and Southampton to Cape Town the pick of the bunch according to Dave Mills, our renowned Head of Commercial.
There is a fantastic trip from Southampton to Hong Kong which I would love to go on. The adult-only Adonia takes in Cairo, transits along the Suez Canal before visiting diverse and intriguing destinations such as Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Singapore, Manila and Hong Kong — that's more culture in one cruise then many people would come across in a lifetime!
Another trip which really stands out to me is Southampton to Rio onboard Queen Victoria. The opportunity to visit Rio, Montevideo and Buenos Aires in style, before a relaxing cruise home.
These exotic 2014 World Voyages go on sale from:
There are some fantastic early booking benefits to entice you, if getting your preferred cabin and dining times aren't enough, which include:
If cruising around the world or visiting some unique destinations is on the agenda for 2014, then now's the time to take to book a cruise, especially with the new Vantage Fares offering the best value that P&O Cruises and Cunard Line have ever boasted.
Here's the full selection of 2014 World Cruise deals.
As the Facebook generation approaches full swing, more and more of us are using the internet and mobile phones to stay in touch with friends and family while on holiday. Whether it's posting holiday pictures to Instagram, tweeting your latest cocktail choice, or posting a blog about today's shore excursion, staying in touch has never been easier.
But, has it ever been so expensive? The costs of data roaming on mobile devices and onboard Wi-Fi can seem astronomical at times, especially when compared to the age old action of sending postcards. To some extent I understand why internet costs are high onboard the ship, for starters a satellite connection isn't going to be cheap to run. But why can't more ships access internet connections in port, vastly reducing the price on those days, and why do mobile phone companies charge so much?
Data Roaming In The EU
Here's a little run down of the basic data charges for the UK's main carriers. These are all based on EU bundles and range between 25mb and 30mb per day of data. 30mb with Orange should cover most people's Twitter, Facebook or Instagram addictions, along with being able to use Google maps etc on your phone in port.
Cruise Ship Wi-Fi packages
Cruise ship Wi-Fi prices vary massively from 25p per minute with Fred. Olsen to $2 per email with Oceania Cruises. Though pay as you go cruise ship Wi-Fi prices are available, for the sake of comparison I'll stick with the package prices in order to give a better overview of the best value for money. Note: not all cruise lines offer bundles.
Cruise ship Wi-Fi has a distinct advantage, which isn't the price, but is the convenience. As long as the ship has satellite signal, you can browse and upload away. The main problems, however, are the cost and the speed. Carnival are currently testing a new technology offering vastly improved speeds, while Royal Caribbean are set to test a system next summer — which claims to offer fibre optic-like internet speeds.
Here are the package prices for some of the most popular cruise lines for British cruisers:
These prices have been taken from Cruise Critic and are meant as an indication of cost as cruise lines can change their pricing at any time. But, as you can see, surfing the net onboard is definitely a luxury item as opposed to an everyday holiday cost.
Looking at the prices, for me using data roaming on my mobile or tablet is 100 times more preferable than the costs of using the internet on a sea day. Why not spend your free time at sea preparing your images, writing you draft tweets and offline blog updates, and actually do the online sending when you're in port? In some ports you may even find cafes and bars with free Wi-Fi, which is a win-win situation — enjoy a good coffee in the sun while uploading your photos without the worry of how much data you are using.
I'm sure once the latest EU legislation comes into play, data roaming around the EU will slowly become more affordable and eventually shouldn't cost anymore than using your phone at home, while satellite internet connections on cruise ships will always be at a premium.
Send your thoughts to @Iglucruise.
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