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.
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.
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.
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.