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Fred Olsen Cruises
Reviewed by: Tom Burke
# previous cruises: 4
Date of Trip: September 20, 2007
Braemar is comparatively small ship (just under 20,000 tons) yet is quite
modern - launched in 1992 for service in the Caribbean. Her decor is
light and airy, and presents an attractive face. She holds 725 passengers
(2007). Our cruise was a 4-night mini/repositioning cruise, starting at
Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the NE of England, and finishing at Southampton
on the south coast. There were scheduled calls at Honfleur in Normandy
and St Peter Port, Guernsey, though this last was cancelled and
Cherbourg substituted instead.
Braemar has the following set of public rooms:- the Thistle restaurant;
Palms Cafe (buffet); Neptune Lounge (the theatre); Skylark Club
(bar/lounge/tv room/evening disco); Coral Club (bar lounge/night club);
Braemar Room (bar lounge/quiet room); library; card room; play room;
internet centre; fitness centre; sauna; and beauty salon. In addition
there is the open deck (Marquee deck) with a bar, plus a set of terraced
open decks at the stern, each with seating and a bar on one of them
(Lido Bar) and the walk-round promenade.
The Skylark Club (Bridge Deck aft) operates as a general bar & lounge
during the day, and may be used as a TV lounge - during our cruise, on
which there were a number of Newcastle United supportes present, the
two flat-panel TVs showed a premiership match featuring that team, so
this was a popular room then. There's also a DJ station and a small
dance floor, and it's an effective small disco late in the evenings which
we enjoyed one night. This lounge also contains the only indoors area of
the ship where smoking is permitted, on the port side.
The Coral Club (Loungr Deck aft) is a typical cruise-ship bar/lounge with
a performing area. This was attractively decorated in deep red & blue,
and was well used before dinner (when a duo performed) and indeed
afterwards. I remember a very vocal & packed-out general knowledge
quiz in here late on the last night which was good fun. We had several
pre-dinner drinks here as well, and there always seemed to be a good
buzz in here.
The Neptune Lounge (Lounge Deck forward) is perhaps the only area
that is not up to today's standard. Fred Olsen try to use it as a theatre,
but it's not really adequate for that task. The seats aren't tiered, and
there are a few pillars around, so it's very easy to have your view
obstructed. In any case, the stage area is very small and raised only a
small amount; indeed, many performers use the floor in front of the
stage, and this is at the same level as many seats. We didn't actually use
this room much, although I did attend a couple of port lectures which
were given here. These included a hurried replacement lecture on
Cherbourg, once the decision to call there instead of Guernsey was
The Braemar Room (Lounge Deck midships) is a large comfortable
lounge that is furnished with a mixture of settees, chairs & tables.
There's also bar at one end. This is the best venue for speciality coffee
during the day. Indeed, it's mainly used for quiet relaxation - I don't
believe there are any activities scheduled for this lounge. This is the
most likely place to find passengers taking 40 winks during the day! The
standout features of this room are two large models ships, one of
Braemar herself, and the other of a former Fred Olsen ship, Blenheim.
Both of these models are fully detailed and impressive, and add greatly
to the quality of the room. This is the epitome of a traditional ship's
lounge, and we spent some quiet time reading, relaxing & drinking coffee
Mention should be made of the tiered stern decks, which extend over 4
decks in total (Lounge Deck to Marquee Deck) and which provide
excellent seating & sunbathing space in appropriate weather. There is an
open bar on one of the decks, and access to the terrace can be achieved
from the Coral Club, Palms Cafe, Skylark Club, and from the Promenade,
1 deck lower down. This is an excellent feature and makes the most of
There are two restaurants on Braemar. One of these is the full-service
restaurant, the Thistle Restaurant, but first let's consider the Palms Cafe
on the Bridge deck (7). Buffet-style breakfast & lunch are served here,
as is afternoon tea. Self-service (and free) tea & coffee can be found
here throught the day. In the evening, a few tables are set out for casual
style, open-seating dinners. This is an attractive area, and again access
to the open deck can be achieved so that food can be taken outside
when the weather is suitable.
The Thistle Restaurant is the main restaurant. Dinner is server here in
two sittings, 6:30 and 8:30. The room is not enormous so space is at a
premium, however we did not feel cramped on a table for 6. Service was
brisk but professional, and we enjoyed our dinners here. Choice on the
menu is not large, but we always found at least one dish that we really
wanted & enjoyed. However, it's possible that you could be disappointed
in the choices available. The food is closer to 'honest & hearty' than
gourmet - e.g. Shepherd's Pie was one dinner choice - but everything
was well-cooked and tasty, and we always enjoyed our meals. (The
Shepherd's Pie, for example, was excellent - minced lamb with herbs &
seasoning, with light fluffy potato correctly crisped & browned on top,
served with a small selection of nicely-cooked vegetables.) There was a
good selection of wines by the bottle, and some by the half-bottle, all at
reasonable prices. However, we were disapointed at the restricted choice
of wines by the glass - just the house selections (one red, one white),
plus one other choice of each, each evening. It would have been better if
there had been perhaps five or six. In particular I was surprised that the
'recommended' wine for each evening was not available by the glass.
There were good things in the wine service: the evening's menu was put
up at lunchtime, and it was possible to choose & order a bottle of wine in
advance so that it could be opened in advance. Also it was possible to
leave a bottle unemptied, and the wine waiter would save it for the
following night. We did this one night, started with a glass of white wine
with starters/salads then drank half the bottle of red with the main
course, and this worked well.
The Thistle is also used for breakfast & lunch, but rather confusingly both
sit-down menu and buffet service are available. The buffet areas were
rather crowded and confusing, and are at one side rather than centrally-
located. This perhaps reveals that buffet usage is a secondary function to
the evening dinners. My wife had a cooked breakfast each day, and
preferred the 'ordered' version: although containing much the same
ingredients she felt that it was freshly cooked, whereas she found that
coming from the buffet it was not so fresh. However, she did have to
wait for the order to arrive, 10 minutes or so one morning.
Room service is also available, but we didn't use it. Finally, we didn't find
any evidence of pool-side food, e.g. a pool-side grill for hamburgers, or
a pizza bar.
There are the usual range of cabins available: inside, outside, 'superior'
outside, and several categories of suite. Only suites have balconies. We
had a twin-berth outside cabin on Atlantic deck (3), which had two single
beds, one of which doubled as a settee during the day. This was
perfectly comfortable. The cabin, like all standard Outside cabins on
decks 2 & 3, had two portholes; you have to be on at least deck 4 (Main
deck) to get a full window. It should be noted that the lowest passenger
deck - Marina Deck (2) - is very low down, and in even mildly rough
seas, the portholes on this deck will be routinely submerged by waves &
swell. Wardrobe space seemed good, although we weren't able to get
our suitcases under the beds and had to stand them in the wardrobe.
The shower/washroom is very small but complete. I ought to say that
Braemar, like all Fred Olsen ships, includes a number of single-
occupancy cabins, and we met several single passengers. These single
cabins included inside, outside & 'superior outside' cabins.
There was an on-board troupe of entertainers plus musicians, but we
didn't go to any of their programmes - not our thing. They also have
visiting entertainers, including musical performers and comedians. Given
that 99% or more of the passengers on all cruises are British (or at least
English-speaking), there's no attempt to offer multi-lingual
entertainment. There was a performing/singing duo in the Coral Club in
the evenings, and they were good - the male singer did a very good Nat
King Cole, but couldn't quite manage Sinatra's rather harder voice. And
there was a lounge pianist playing at various times in the Braemar Room
from tea-time onwards.
I should mention that the only gambling on board consisted of two tables
in the Coral Club, one for blackjack and one for roulette, and these saw
little use. I didn't see any slot machines. This fits in with the generally
observed fact that Brits tend not to gamble when on cruises. We
preferred this - we have found on other lines that by the end of the
evening the Casino was the busiest place on the ship, whereas on
Braemar this was not the case.
There were quite a few daytime activities, mainly of the traditional 'fruit
carving' and quiz variety. What struck us was that a far higher proportion
of the passengers took part in quizzes than we had experienced on other
cruises. Of course the fact that we were in the North Sea in September
rather than the Med in June may have had something to do with this, but
I got a strong feeling that most people were taking part because they
wanted to rather than because there was nothing else to do. And there
was a lot of banter going on, so these were fun and entertaining times.
Simple pleasures, but we had a good time.
The lounges were always occupied and it was easy to strike up a
conversation with other passengers if you wanted to. And we found that
the big advantage of a smaller ship is that you were very likely to bump
into people again; on other cruises with 2,000 passengers or more you
might never see someone again that ypu'd had an interesting chat with.
So this was a big plus for us: it was a very sociable cruise, the most
sociable we've done.
As I said at the beginning this was a short cruise, just three full days: a
sea day, a day at Honfleur, and a day at Cherbourg which was a last-
minute replacement for St Peter Port as the captain felt that tendering
back onto the ship could present dangers with the expected weather late
on that day. Honfleur was very good, as was the excursion we took to
Bayeux to look at the tapestry and walk round Bayeux. Cherbourg was
not so good - we went ashore and kept bumping into other groups of
wandering passengers! It didn't help that it was Sunday and Cherbourg
was pretty much shut. Some passengers stumbled across a market
which was apparently interesting, but we didn't find it (it was not in the
centre of the town) and at the end of the morning we just went back
aboard. The sea day was unexpectedly fun, and (during the afternoon at
least) surprisingly warm and sunny. Of course, it helped greatly that the
sunny and the leeward sides of Braemar were the same side during that
Brits! Generally middle-aged and over, although there were a few younger
people. There was a good mix in other respects as well - in addition to the
usual middle-class type of cruise passengers there were a number of
perhaps more working class passengers from Newcastle and the
surrounding area, and this gave a distinct atmosphere - lively, frank, and
straightforward. We enjoyed it immensely.
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