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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 Black Watch

Your Rating:Four Stars
Reviewed by:Pam Massey
# previous cruises: 3
Date of Trip: March 28, 2002
Itinerary: Europe

Black Watch was built in 1972 at the Wartsila shipyard in Finland and originally named Royal Viking Star.Also previously known as Star Odyssey & Westward, she joined Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines in November 1996.

She is the third passenger ship in the company's history of that name. This was our second cruise aboard Black Watch, the first being in August 2000 on a Baltic itinerary. This was a 10 night Easter Cruise down the Iberian Peninsula and she was full. At 28,492 grt, with 420 cabins, carrying 850+ passengers, Black Watch is a small and elegant ship of the traditional style, with lots of open deck and a teak wrap around promenade [5 laps = 1 mile]. Her public rooms are all lovely, nicely decorated [even if a few of the carpets around the stairs and lifts seemed a little 'worn' in places], well laid out and functional. She is spacious, and 'cared for', with plenty of ongoing maintenance evident. Captain Arne Solberg was the Master, a real character with a great sense of humour.

Public Areas
The Observatory Lounge was my favourite. Wrapping around giving good views. The Dalreoch card room was used for playing bridge, in tournaments and sessions for beginners. There were also numerous board games to play and a large jigsaw set up in one corner. The Explorers Library is well stocked, with a large adjacent reading area with comfy chairs to watch the world pass by, and some writing desks. There is a small [2 PC] Internet Centre in the corner. A card costs #10 for 30 minutes, [with a #10 deposit], but you actually got 40 minutes. One only had to shove the card in the slot when connecting to log-on to Yahoo or Hotmail or whatever to receive and then to send the mail. So useage of the time was minimal with reading/writing offline.

The Pipers Bar, was a bar with a Scottish theme. Noisy at times as next to the Neptune Lounge where the shows are held [twice nightly]. The Neptune Lounge was nicely laid out, but on occasion if full it could be difficult to see the stage. Drinks are served throughout the performances. It was also the venue for the various port talks and other lectures during the trip, bingo and dance classes, and afternoon recitals. A large dance floor, as in the Lido Lounge, where there was a disco at night, which opens out onto the aft deck. There were quizzes and craft classes here too. The Star Nightclub and Casino are next door, but I didn't use them. The former is the Teens 'Chill Out Zone' until 10pm.

The Braemar Room, is full of comfy chairs, has a self service tea/coffee station, and is used for after dinner coffee for those at first seating. It has a grand piano played at times during the evenings. A lovely room for chatting with other passengers.

Biscuits mid-morning and cakes/sandwiches mid-afternoon are served with tea and coffee here, in the Lido Lounge and elsewhere.

There is also a small Movie Theatre, on this trip used a lot for showing childrens films during the afternoons and early evening. Harry Potter was popular!

Food and Service
The main dining room, the Glentanar had 2 sittings in the evening at 6.30pm and 8.30pm with the same ` la carte menu. The food was excellent with plenty of choices, for all; Appetiser, Soup, Salad, Main Course, Dessert, Cheese/Biscuits & Fruit. Vegetarian options and diabetic foods are marked. A good reasonably priced wine list.

Alternative buffet dining was available in the Garden Cafi which was also the venue for the children's High Tea from 5.45pm to 6.30pm. They could go to the Kid's Club while the adults ate. A 'Late Night' buffet was available in the Garden Cafi every night, and a Grand Gala Buffet was held in the Glentanar on the last formal night.

Open seating in the restaurant for breakfast and lunch when you could have the buffet, eat off the menu, or a mixture of both. No queuing at the buffets. You can eat in the Garden Cafi too, or between 11.30am and 3.30pm, weather permitting, the Marquee Grill is open on deck, serving 'fast food', pizza, salad, ribs, burgers, fish and chips and ice cream. The Poolside Cafi sometimes serves breakfast, but it was a little chilly! Only light snacks are available through cabin service, but we didn't try it, not even for breakfasts.

Anthony the waiter was attentive and cheerful, his assistant was great too. The wine waiter was good; taking our orders at lunch for the evening, but then we had a fair amount of wine, so he would have been happy! 3 formal nights, 1 informal, and 6 casual including a Red, White & Blue Night, a Tropical Night [Lei provided] and a Western Night [with hats]. No shorts are permitted in the dining room, and although when 'casual', nearly [all?] everyone dresses smartly for dinner. There was the Captain's Welcome Cocktail Party, Oceans Members Cocktail Party, and the Captain's Farewell Party all with free drinks, Martinis, sherry, wine & fruit juice.

The cabins all seemed to be different in layout. We were in 4017 on the Atlantic deck, which was larger than some standard outside cabins, but there were 4 of us. There was plenty of closet, drawer and storage space for all of us. Plenty of room and shelves in the shower room too, but the curtain clings and a bit of decorating wouldn't go amiss in there. Some cabins do have a 'bathtub', though I didn't see how big. A hair drier is fitted in all cabins, soap, shampoo and shower cap provided, along with a small emergency sewing kit and little sponge shoe polishers. Bottled water is in the cabin but you pay for any you drink.

The shows alternated between the comedian Jeff Stevenson, singer Susannah Jupp, her husband John Wilson [ex lead vocalist with The Average White Band and song writer to Cliff Richard amongst others], ventriloquist John Bouchier, and Deja Vu & company, singers/dancers, along with the Black Watch Orchestra and singers. Some of the shows were very good, but we didn't see them all.

The classical violin, and piano recitals by Sali-Wyn Ryan and Nerys Richards were excellent, apart from the moaning grannies who couldn't keep quiet during them. Port lectures were by Cliff Smith, good, but not in the same league as Frank Jackson, who sadly passed away last year. Brad Ashton, an exposers of confidence tricks, gave a series of lectures on how to avoid being conned. but I never got around to going to any. The Cruise Director, Michael Burke, was very good.

Announcements are few and far between on Olsen ships, just usually the Captain's 9am & Noon reports; no incessant calls to bingo or whatever.

With being the Easter Break, and quite a few children aboard [80], the Easter Bunny visited with Eggs, somehow finding us off the coast of Portugal. The 'Mini Olsen Club' for the 12's and under, and the 'Chill Out Zone' for the older ones kept the children occupied. Activities included an Easter Bonnet Parade and a Talent Show was held one evening. There are two pools, the main one on Lounge Deck and a small one on Marquee Deck, both sea water, which was a bit 'murky' until we left the Channel. The former with one hot tub and the latter has two. The children can only use the main pool during an hour each morning and afternoon, but there was a problem with the pumps in the smaller Marquee Pool on the sunny days [which weren't many!] so they were allowed in the other one, but it was never crowded. Visits to the bridge, and the children had their own.

The 'Daily Times' outlines the day's activities; plenty of deck quoits and shuffleboard, golf putting, darts, table tennis, deck tennis.

The Table Tennis tables [and dart boards] have been relocated aft under the main pool. This gives a lot of semi sheltered extra space for sunbeds on Sun Deck, and fewer lost balls over the side:) But you do now have to leave a deposit with reception for the bats and balls. Not a problem, just a nuisance going back and forth. There is also a ceiling to contend with! There is a Fitness Centre or Sauna which I didn't use.

We called at La Coruqa, Spain, where we just wandered around following the map. There are many museums, and monuments to visit. It's a delightful city to just walk around, with its narrow streets and hidden squares, and ancient maritime connections.

Cadiz, Spain, the city from where Christopher Columbus sailed west. We took the open topped double decker bus around in the morning, and walked the 'red line' during the afternoon when it poured:( A lovely city.

Casablanca, Morocco, the largest city in Northern Africa, on our brief drive through, looked like any modern city, with sprawling suburbs and tall office buildings in the centre. We took the tour to Marrakech, one of Morocco's 4 Imperial Cities. An experience not to be missed if you have the opportunity.

Gibraltar, a British dependency, is always a great port to call in. We had pre-booked online a tour of The Rock. Europa point, Pillars of Hercules, St Michael Caves & the Seige Tunnels. We had a wonderful tour. A shame it was too choppy for our Dolphin watching trip.

Finally Brest, France, which lies on the most northerly of Brittany's 3 Finistere peninsulas, with one of Europe's finest natural harbours. We only had 4 hours here, and the tourist board did a great job, laying on free buses running every 20 minutes in a loop around the various attractions; Ocianopolis, a sea and marine sciences Leisure Park, the Botanical Gardens, three different shopping areas in the city-centre and Brest Castle which is now a French Naval Museum with a fine collection of model ships.

We then had a nice rough crossing back to Southampton:)

Who Goes
The majority of passengers were in the 'just retired' range, but plenty of younger ones and 80 [10%] children under 18. Most were friendly and chatty, but there was a small group of self-centered intolerant whining moaning grannies/grandads who were best avoided. Even whinged their way around the ports, money not right, shops not right, nothing right! Best avoided.

Out of school holidays the majority of passengers are retired. Even in holiday periods there are never very many children around. All the passengers were British.

If you enjoy traditional cruising, then you'll enjoy Black Watch, but not if you're after Las Vegas style glitz and glamour.

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