I think it’s fair to say that technology is not a strong suit at Fred Olsen. As, I’m guessing, most of their passengers book through a travel agency, this probably isn’t an issue. However, as direct guest, the whole process was frustrating.
Information that was provided then vanished from the booking, resulting in numerous phone calls asking for it again. The line insists on having the details of your travel insurance policy, which I suppose is fair (they would, I assume, be left with the bill if something happened to an uninsured guest), but seemed to be required rather early on. There was also an issue with a drinks package, which I was, initially, charged for, despite it being included - a discrepancy which only came to light when we decided to upgrade our cabins.
I know they’re aiming at a different market, but the comparison with the larger cruise lines is stark and I do wonder if the reliance on travel agents is wise - there is a growing segment of the population who have never used one.
In our Introduction to Fred Olsen, we mentioned that Balmoral was the largest ship in their fleet; she is almost 44,000 Gross Tonnes and carries 1200 passengers. That’s about 50% smaller than most of P&O’s fleet, and well under half the size of P&O’s newer ships, which many Fred Olsen customers seem to consider far too large.
Interestingly, after purchasing the ship from Norwegian Cruise Lines, Fred Olsen enlarged it by adding a new 30m central section, as shown in the video below. Onboard, you can tell when you are in the new part of the ship - the cabin doors are completely different.
Onboard, the ship has numerous bar areas, but not the variety of restaurants that you’d find on a newer vessel. And while the standard of decoration is high and clearly uses more natural material than we’ve seen on larger ships, we did find that the public areas were exceptionally crowded - far more so than on much larger vessels.
Owned by a Norwegian family and focused on the UK market, Fred Olsen runs a fleet of four ships. Two, Black Watch and Boudica date from 1972 and, when delivered to the Royal Viking Line as Royal Viking Star and Royal Viking Sky, were considered to be among the most luxurious vessels afloat. Fred Olsen’s two other ships are slightly newer; Braemar, the smallest in the fleet was launched in 1993 as Cunard’s Crown Dynasty, while Balmoral, Fred Olsen’s largest ship began life in 1988.
Given the age and more traditional style of these ships, balconies are rare on Fred Olsen sailings - reserved for only the suites and highest stateroom categories.
The line seems to attract a very loyal customer base - many of whom seem to have switched from P&O or Cunard, unhappy that they shed their smaller ships and focused on large, or, in the case of P&O, super-large newbuilds. In a similar vein to CMV, Fred Olsen sails from a number of UK ports, but seem to be aimed slightly upmarket of CMV - certainly if the average fare is to be taken as a barometer.
Fred Olsen aims for a “Scottish Country House” atmosphere and there are few of the more garish facilities you might find on other cruise lines. Even the casinos, a big money earner for other ships, are a small and spartan affair on this line.
We were intrigued to sail with Fred Olsen, as online reviews gush rapturously about excellent food and attentive service. Full details of what we experienced will be published in subsequent posts...
We're headed north. If online forums are to be believed, we will be surrounded by the elderly. Suddenly, this sounds less like cruising and more like Game of Thrones.
With a spot of luck, we'll receive a warmer reception than Jon Snow did, but follow us live to discover how it plays out.
WiFi permitting, we'll be posting to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.