Updated: Sep 6, 2019
We were fortunate enough to join Fred. Olsen Boudicca in Dover earlier this month on a Valentines Cruise (#flirtwithfred) taking in Antwerp (Overnight) and Amsterdam on a 4-night cruise.
Fred. Olsen have 4 Ocean Cruise ships - Balmoral, Black Watch, Boudicca and Braemar. Balmoral is the largest of the 4 ships with the other 3 ships being of similar size. Braemar is (just) the baby of the fleet! All ships have been refurbished over the last 18 months, not just a brush up, but an overhaul of all areas ensuring these ships are looking & feeling fresh and new!
Fred. Olsen also has 1 small River Cruise Ship, Brabant with their first river cruise programme taking place in 2018.
The Overall Experience & Passenger Type:
If you feel that Royal Caribbean's mega ship represent cruising, then you're in for a shock as Fred. Olsen is not Royal Caribbean and the onboard experience is completely different. These are not megaships, they are small ships. They are not full of technical wizardry but are much more traditional in fixtures, fittings and features. There are no climbing walls or water slides, but you will find libraries, gaming rooms, a spa and comfortable lounges, bars and restaurants. There are no Swarovski staircases, the feel is very much a home from home, a country house feel at sea. It's about comfortable surroundings, good food and personal service (where the crew actually do know your name... much to our surprise!!)
The clientele is primarily from Uk & Ireland with a small number of European & some US passengers. The average age would be slightly more mature... although Fred. Olsen welcomes children from 6 months up and the Little Skippers Club catering for children from 5 to 11. The make up on our cruise, as it was a short cruise was very mixed in terms of ages although we suspect longer cruises would have less of a mix.
Fred. Olsen is definitely one of the friendlier cruise lines when it comes to solo travellers with specific solo staterooms available and regular promotions for solo travellers with reduced single supplements. As the ships are smaller you really do get chance to get to know your fellow passengers.
Fred. Olsen's Boudicca was completely refurbished in 2018 and as a result everywhere looked fresh and clean with a new smell. The ship, despite being on the seas since 1972, joining Fred. Olsen in 2005, looked brand new! As we mentioned the style is country house at sea style. Think slightly traditional in style, woods (but never felt dark) neutral colours with splashes of colour and is pleasant on the eye. You will not be wowed by it's grandness and scale, but it immediately feels warm and homely. You're not going on Fred. Olsen to be wowed or blown away but to have a quality overall experience of comfort, good service, good food & drink...
The ship has 5 restaurant options (although a couple of them are used for breakfast & dinner) with 6 bars & lounges to enjoy. There's a show lounge, a gym, a spa, 2 swimming pools, Jacuzzis as well as card rooms, library, golf nets and more...a lot crammed into a small ship. At 28,388 tonnes Boudicca is going to be dwarfed by the latest biggest ships at over 200,000 tonnes yet with just a few hundred passengers on board you never felt crowded.
We were fortunate enough to stay in a Balcony room for our short trip despite them being in relatively small supply. There are more interiors & ocean view staterooms onboard and also some suites to enjoy. The room was spacious and comfortable decorated with a grey and terracotta colour scheme. It had everything you'd expect... a large double bed (2 singles put together) a writing desk and large lit mirror, plenty of storage space with 3 wardrobes, a bathroom with bath & shower and a large balcony. Not forgetting the flat screen TV, tea & coffee making facilities. As an older ship the balcony actually sat alongside the promenade deck so wasn't entirely private, but the doors were mirrored so there's no way anyone could see inside your stateroom and to be honest we didn't mind the design as there was very little 'traffic' to be fair. For some though you may wish for a little more privacy if on the balcony sunbathing.
The Food & Drink:
We were pleasantly surprised by the quality and range of food onboard! We might have suspected a slightly smaller range as a smaller ship, but the range was every bit as good as a large cruise line. The quality was also very good, and it was no surprise to hear that the head chef had previously worked on ultra-luxury cruise line Seabourn. In fact, it explained a lot!
Breakfast was particularly good with a buffet and even cooked to order options available should you wish. There were a couple of lunch options, buffet style, not 1 but 2 Afternoon Tea options (one was a sit down and be served afternoon tea for £8.95pp) but it seemed hard to justify that when there was a buffet afternoon tea which seemed to please the crowds.
Dinner was served at 1 of 2 sittings... 6.15 or 8.30 in one of the 3 dining rooms which were preassigned. Table Sizes were 2, 4, 6 & 8's and again table numbers were preassigned. This is a more traditional way of dining and it has pros and cons. Service was excellent and food was good! Alternatively, if you fancied a night off the main dining room the evening buffet was available.
If you still found yourself peckish later on after dancing too vigourously at the show then at 11pm the midnight buffet opened for 1 hour with themes like American, Oriental and British! In terms of speciality dining there was 1 Al Fresco option serving seafood and steak at £20pp. For us it was fine and not bad value when you're ordering scallops, lobster and fillet mignon but to be honest we've had better speciality dining on other ships.
If all that failed there was a room service menu!! If you have a dietary requirement then Fred will look after you, we were impressed at the number of options for Coeliac's & Vegans for example and particularly the clear labelling of products.
Thirsty? Drinks are pretty comprehensive onboard and not particularly expensive either! There is a long cocktail list at £4.90 each with non-alcoholic cocktails at £2.90. A pint of Heineken is £3.70, and a can of Guinness is £3.50 with other beers on tap and others by the bottle or can! Wines are available in 2 glass sizes as well as bottles... starting at £4.25 for a small glass with several bottles at around the £16-£18 mark! There’s house vodka, gin, rum & brandy at £2.95 for a single with a host of premium brands available too!
Fred. Olsen have a drinks package which starts from £15pp per night (although this rises to £34pp per night on short 1-4 night cruises). It includes beers, pagers, ciders, house wines by small glass including red, white, rose & cava, house spirits, minerals, juices & water! There can also be bar managers specials included and having the upgrade entitles you to 50% off all other premium drinks! We felt unless you have specific brands you like there could be decent value here at £15pp per night!
The entertainment very much reminded us of smaller TUI (Marella) ships. On Boudicca there was 1 showlounge, the Neptune Lounge which contained a small stage area yet the hardworking entertainment team somehow managed to produce excellent shows to enjoy. No, you're not seeing full productions of the latest Broadway show but you are seeing talented hard working individuals giving it everything they have for the audience in front of them.
The singers and dancers on our cruise put on 2 shows - a collection of Swing shows & dances on one night with a collection of musical numbers on another night. Outside of that the team popped up elsewhere on the ship with 1 or 2 person shows including a Freddie Mercury tribute night or even assisting you with the safety drills!! It's the sort of company that are involved all over the ship!
Elsewhere there were musicians throughout the day appearing in the pub and the lido lounge as well as the Neptune lounge from a pianist to singers and even a guitar vocalist. The Boudicca orchestra will often accompany and there can be a DJ in the evening too. Outside the musicians there will be quizzes, dances and of course the gaming tables to enjoy.
On board Boudicca you have several options to help you with your overall wellness. There is a small spa though they do have a complete range of treatments for you to enjoy. There are a number of classes to participate in through the fitness centre such as yoga, aerobics & Pilates regardless of your level as well as the use of the equipment thats available in the gym. (Some classes had a small supplement) There are a number of pools & Jacuzzis including an exercise pool and there's little better than walking around a promenade deck as the sun rises or the sun sets and thankfully Boudicca has the traditional promenade deck
The use of single-use plastics on board has been stopped wherever possible, including the banning of plastic straws, cocktail sticks, stirrers, cutlery and take away coffee cups. All waste is collected, sorted and discharged by ships staff following strict environmental regulatory requirements. This waste is subsequently landed ashore to approved recycling and receiving operators.
What elements make Fred. Olsen distinct from other cruise lines? Fred. Olsen talk about the 'Fred. Olsen difference' and it's hard to pin point exactly what that is though their literature states "We don’t like to make a fuss. Instead we quietly focus on doing our utmost to ensure you enjoy every moment of your time with us" and we understand this. There's no great ceremony on board, it's not a big event, it's not all glitz and glamour, in fact it's quite understated and homely.
Other aspects that stand out as unique are the onboard rigid inflatable boats that take 12 passengers off away from the ship on unique excursions to unique places that the ship itself can't reach! Also, it's a sign of Fred. Olsen's confidence in what they offer that if you find within the first 48 hours that it's really not for you then Fred will bring you back to the UK and refund the cost of your cruise with their 'Enjoyment Promise' - it's really quite a statement and a unique one too!
Why Fred. Olsen is For You:
Fred. Olsen is like a country house hotel floating at sea. The focus is on having a comfortable cruise with good personal service, good food and a quality cruise experience.
The focus is on destination with the advantage of smaller ships of course being that they can get to destinations that the larger ships cannot reach. Often this means they dock right into the centre of the destination so there is less time spent getting off the ship, sitting on coach transfers to get to the places you want to go. In Antwerp we were docked right into the middle of the town and were able to come and go as we pleased over the 2 days we were docked there. Fancy a stroll in the morning as the city wakes? You can! Fancy some lunch on board before an afternoon excursion? You can! Want to see a show or go to the cinema in the evening or have dinner in an exclusive restaurant or even just a gentle walk to the main square, well...you can do it all and always be just minutes away from the ship! To be fair you don't realise just how convenient this is until you experience it.
We spent overnight in Antwerp on our cruise and again with smaller ships such as Fred. Olsen's you get more of these opportunities so instead of cruising away from a destination as the city comes to life you can be right in the midst of it should you want to be! If you really want to experience a destination, then Fred. Olsen definitely should appeal. If you want to know that your ship is something of a home from home where you actually get to know fellow cruisers, where you don't have to queue for anything, with good food and personable service then Fred. Olsen should appeal. If the likes of Silversea and Seabourn are outside of your budget then, although Fred. Olsen isn't on the same star rating level, it is a credible alternative.
If you're a solo cruiser then Fred should be towards the top of your list with staterooms for solo passengers, low single supplements, onboard get togethers and a small number of passengers and friendly crew to mix with.
Why Fred. Olsen May Not be For You:
We always say there's a cruise line for everyone but not every cruise line is for everyone! Fred. Olsen is no different. If your favourite cruises are spent on the mega ships from the likes of Royal Caribbean, NCL, MSC for example, you love all the activities, the F1 cars, the climbing walls, the water parks, the big show productions then Fred. Olsen isn't going to be for you. You may find them a little quiet, too small and find yourself looking for things to do. You may miss the hustle and bustle that you find on the big ships.
So, what's our overall impression of Fred. Olsen after our 4-night trip? Well, as we've already said, it's not for everyone but thats true of every cruise line. The ship despite its age felt fresh, clean and new, the service was good, the food & drink offering we liked. The entertainment was small scale, but we have to say we enjoyed the show teams performances.
We felt we had space, we felt that we didn't have to queue for anything although on 1 occasion due to the late arrival back of the excursions from Ghent the buffet was very busy due to it being the only food option at the time and the crew struggled to keep up, this could happen to anyone at any time of course and aside from this there was no need to queue for anything. The ship was able to dock right into the middle of Antwerp & Amsterdam which gave us every opportunity to enjoy these ports, walking on and off with ease.
All in all, it had everything we needed to enjoy a peaceful and relaxing break away and we think if thats what you're looking for and you're keen to visit & maximise your time in a specific part of the world then we would recommend it. If you're a solo cruiser and are looking to meet up with likeminded people on board then we would definitely recommend it. If the large mega ships overwhelm you and the thought of being on a ship with thousands of other people and a wrong turn requires you to take a taxi to the other end of the ship...then we would definitely recommend Fred. Olsen.
We don't think you'll leave the ship wowed...but we think you'll leave feeling relaxed, rested and happy that you made the right decision to come onboard. Recent surveys would seem to support this with 97% stating the crew were excellent or good and over 27,000 people independently rated Fred Olsen 4 out of 5 on overall guest experience.
Take their word for it...
To book Fred Olsen in Ireland you need to book with the general sales agents cruisescapes.ie who are based in Dublin. Eleanor and the team will be happy to help you regarding all things Fred. Olsen. There is a current free drinks & free tips promotion on at the moment but act quickly as it ends today!
Their website is www.cruisescapes.ie or you can call them on (01) 2941000
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