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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:Fiver Stars
Reviewed by: Tom Burke
# previous cruises: 4
Date of Trip: September 20, 2007
Itinerary: Europe

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.

Public Areas
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 announced.

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 every day.

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 Braemar's space.

Food and Service
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 time.

Who Goes
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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