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   Cruise Travel - Reader Reviews

Welcome to Your Favorites, where you have the opportunity to share your travel experiences with fellow Internet Travelers around the world.

Fred Olsen Cruises

MS Braemar

Your Rating:Three Stars
Reviewed by: Dennis Brown
# previous cruises: 10+
Date of Trip: September 15, 2002
Itinerary: Transatlantic

Fred Olsen ships have a good reputation with British cruisers, most of the passengers are British, and the company certainly caters for the British market. The standard throughout is towards the top end of that which would be expected in a good British hotel. I certainly would recommend it to prospective cruisers who expect some style but not break the bank - I doubt if it would attract passengers who expect the typical offerings of a Spanish Costa mid summer bash

Public Areas
The Braemar lounge occupies a central position on deck 5, is a walk through lounge with windows both sides, full of large comfortable sofas and armchairs. A (subdued green) tartan carpet covers the entire floor and there is a bar and grand piano - the pianist was excellent. There are two rather intrusive 'coat of arms' on the walls and in the middle of the room a model of the 1953 Fred Olsen cargo ship - Braemar - built in SOUTHAMPTON.

Entertainment is provided twice nightly in the Neptune Lounge - a large show lounge which is well furnished with fixed 'coffee' tables and sofas in filled with loose chairs. Sight lines to the stage are not too good and as the lounge is semicircular there are many seats with a peripheral view (15 minutes early for the performance ensures a good seat)

The Coral Club is a smaller show lounge with dance floor. bar and a small Casino, it was used for various quizzes, recitals and dancing.

The Skylark Nightclub is more 'loud' - in decoration and decibels - having its own band, a bar and large dance area. A small Games Arcade is located in one corner (slots and change machines). Both Skylark and Coral Club have access to the superb fantail deck aft.

The Reception Area amidships is full width and un charming - no significant decoration or information, the Fred Olsen way of doing things means that the reception desk is usually without customers usually staffed by one or two bored looking junior pursers

A rather dismal alleyway between the reception area and Balmoral lounge houses the Shops (2) , International Hostess, Cruise Sales, Shore Excursions and Photo shop/Photo gallery, access is impeded by the shop merchandise overflowing into the passageway

Balmoral has a small but apparently well equipped Children's Playroom - on our cruise there was only one child of an age to use the play room. There is also a Card Room, Internet Room with 4 PCs and the usual Steiner Beauty and Health club, which includes a Steam Room and Sauna

Deck 7 is home to the Library, a beautifully fitted out room with comfortable sofas and chairs but totally unloved. The book stock is poor - no reference books (except tourist guides for areas excluding the current cruise) and only a token presence of non-fiction and biographies - chaotic stocking without logic and 'hundreds' of paperbacks which have been 'donated' by passengers when past their sell-by dates (books not passengers). If there is anybody responsible for this room they should be recalled from leave as soon as possible

The Pools are amidships on deck 8 , one moderate size, deep (sea water) pool with attached toddler pool, also 2 Jacuzzis always pleasantly warm (or hot). There is obviously great care taken regarding the maintenance and hygiene of these facilities. The Pool Bar and its staff do a good job in serving drinks to all the open deck spaces on decks 8 and 9 but there was no sign of 'deck stewards' and the entertainment staff were conspicuous by their absence.

Access to decks is excellent on Braemar, deck 5 is a wrap around deck, mainly covered in imitation teak decking, which looks just that, and can be slippery in wet weather . One can also walk right round the ship on deck 8. Very unusual (in my experience unique) is the ability to walk right up into the bow to the Jackstaff whilst at sea .Provided the weather is good this is a superb location and numerous passengers availed themselves of the facility to have photographs taken here - Braemar also has a wonderful fantail aft. - all teak deck and handrails - with access from the various decks and public rooms from deck 5 to deck 8. In port there is some soot 'smutting' from the flue gasses but at sea I did not see any. Wooden chairs are provided with (some) dark blue cushions, also tables for outdoor eating

Provision of deck chairs/loungers is excellent. In addition to the teak chairs aft there are plastic webbing adjustable loungers on all deck areas and plastic cushioned flat loungers on deck 9. There always appears to be a free chair - no need to get up early with the towels - deck towels are provided in the cabins . Braemar has superb glazed full width angled 2m high windscreens forward on decks 8 and 9 and although tinted blue these provide excellent viewing locations. There are also many sheltered locations along deck 5 and all decks aft

The 5 Story Atrium, which has a full height mural, opens up the access to Dining Room (deck 4) Coral Club (deck 5) Palms Cafe (deck 6) and Skylark Club (deck 7) but otherwise appears as a waste of space

Food and Service
The main dining room, the Thistle Restaurant, with tables of all sizes was spacious with adequate separation between tables and a sea view on three sides, but be aware a 'table for two' (or four) may be provided by a garden of artificial flowers placed across a table for six or eight - very clever. Table seating for dinner is allocated according to booking form request however open seating is in operation for breakfast and lunch, buffet or waiter service. When open seating is in operation the technique used by the head waiter may not be to everyone liking - he directs (commands) passengers to specific seats keeping all the tables in a section full all the time resulting a constant movement at a table and little chance of sitting with friends or having a quiet meal - if allocated a table (or companion) you don't like the simplest option is to get up, rejoin the (usually small) queue, and come in again!!

The dining room staff seemed to be well trained and well organised with nobody directing operations - our experience of the food service was good but, as usual, away from the restaurant we heard people complaining. The wine waiter service was poor. There was no attention to the diners by the wine waiters - they just served the pre-ordered wines, it was near impossible to get table service and their bearing did not inspire confidence. Our wine waiter initially did not appear to have heard of sparkling water but eventually assured me that the only brand on board was Perrier - I doubt this, but if true, Fred Olsen should buck up their stock holding as not all passengers want to drink wine or ships (or French) water with their meals

The Palms Cafe, which provided alternative buffet style dining for all meals, also offered an 11.30 p.m. 'Midnight' buffet every night. For all meals, tables are covered with linen and set with real china and cutlery. This proved a popular eating place and I'm sure some passengers never sampled the restaurant - where the food was excellent

There did not appear to be a menu for the Palms Cafe - to find out what was 'on the menu' it was necessary to bypass the head waiter at the door and wander round the counter to see the dishes - however the offerings were often the same as the main dining room and each dish on the buffet was clearly identified - the staff were very efficient at restocking the buffet. Special dinner buffets were featured about twice a week and these were excellent - greater selection than the main restaurant - I admit, on the occasion of the 'fish special', going to the buffet for starter (whole lobster) and salad (also available, green lipped mussels and smoked salmon etc.) then to the main restaurant for main course and sweet

No trays were provided to transport food/drinks to tables and no waiter ever offered to assist. The staff here also appeared to operate very well without obvious supervision Coffee/tea is available in the Palms on a 24 hour basis.

Afternoon tea/coffee, cakes and biscuits are served around the ship.

The food on Braemar can best be described as good to better. There is no pretence of gourmet dining but the menu includes dishes to suit most preferences, sauces and soups were excellent. Fillet steak, lobster, duck or various roasts featured on most dinner menus

Dress code - The brochure indicates the normal distribution of formal/informal/casual dress evenings however there was a lack of uniformity in the guidance with different terminology in use by the various sources of information e.g. Informal - daily news states jackets AND tie, notice outside restaurant jacket OR tie. Daily news guidance was modified by notice outside the restaurant on more than one occasion. Guidance on board is not identical to guidance in brochure

Call them what you like - Cabins, staterooms or suites - were all well appointed, We were in a standard outside, 4 berth (two fold down) , obstructed view - should there have been four adults in the room the storage space would have been inadequate, four narrow wardrobes and THREE sets of small drawers. For two the storage was more than adequate. A small key safe was installed in one wardrobe but this was the size of a house brick (my wallet did not fit in) and, of course, with three of four adults in the room the facility would have been totally inadequate. Space was available under the beds for luggage for two. The shower room was small, but adequate, one bag of toiletries was provided. The shower was small with clinging curtain and thermostatically controlled powerful spray. Good fluffy bath and hand towels were provided and changed as often as you like - if left on the floor they were changed

Nice duvets on the beds and a the nightly chocolate on the pillows. Cabin temperature was easily adjusted from too hot to too cold. Hair dryer, TV with video channels showing a variety of current films throughout the day, BBC World news, and a couple of local channels completed the cabin fit. Dual voltage 240/120 volt Continental/American outlets. The cabins seemed to be well noise proofed. The stewardess was unobtrusive but thorough , on occasion the beds hadn't been done by midday so it was a guessing game when to return to the cabin to change for the pool etc. - too many cabins or again no supervision?

About 70% of the passengers appeared to be retired singles or couples, the majority of the remainder in the 50+ range with a sprinkling of younger passengers and (I think) about 6 children of various ages - we seldom saw them.

Entertainment throughout the ship was overseen by a Cruise Director who was a self confessed refugee from Butlins, his matey 'can you hear me'? NO!!, 'that's not good enough, let's try it again' - CAN YOU HEAR ME? -'good' -- was hardly in keeping with the ambience that Fred Olsen Cruise Line portrays in their publicity - his assistant was a grey man in a maroon jacket The production shows were very good considering the smallness of the cast and the singers, comic, novelty entertainers were well up to snuff

Braemar, previously known as Norwegian Dynasty, Crown Majesty,Cunard Dynasty and Crown Dynasty, was purchased by Fred Olsen in April 2001 who sent her for a 5 week refit to the Blohm &Voss shipyard in Hamburg where she was overhauled inside and out. All the public lounges are tastefully decorated and few clues remain of her original interior decoration; very restful and appropriate to the Fred Olsen clientele.

Cruise at the end of September 2002 was a 15 day Transatlantic repositioning from Southampton via Brest (France) to Newfoundland (3 ports) and Quebec City terminating in Montreal. At only 19,089 tons Braemar is small by today's standards, can carry about 730 passengers but on this cruise approx. 660 were on board. I would recommend her to anyone looking for a good quality restful cruise - no PA system announcements, intrusions from the staff or 'participation' pressure - the entertainment provided was varied and of a very acceptable standard.

Who Goes
Wide variation of passengers, as this cruise had been heavily discounted, and advertised in the tabloids, there was a fair sprinkling of passengers who boasted how cheap it had been - numerous on a first cruise. That said the majority of passengers were well suited to the quiet 'country hotel' atmosphere that Fred Olsen like to portray in their brochures - Our table companions were wonderful and dinner was at least an hour and a half.

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