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Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines: Braemar

Braemar Review

Nearly 400 crew members provide attentive, friendly service on this sleek 929-passenger leisure ship with an impressive five-deck atrium. Polished wood, subtle lighting, and gleaming brass create a stylish feel. Spacious bright lounges have casual, contemporary décor. Itineraries

include routes to the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Baltic, or Norwegian fjords. Two pools and children’s pool are separated by twin whirlpools. Executive chefs oversee good food quality in formal and casual restaurants. Excursions are available at every port of call to enhance the British-flavored experience. Interesting lectures, shows, presentations, and an open library keep multigenerational passengers and families satisfied.

Once the Crown Dynasty,Braemar is more modern in design and layout than her older fleetmates with pretty, cascading decks surrounding sunbathing space on the top deck. Braemar primarily sails one- to two-week itineraries and shorter minicruises for which she is well-suited. Public rooms on the Lounge Deck are surrounded by a wraparound promenade lined with cushioned deck chairs. Braemar's off-center towering atrium opens up to public rooms on two successive decks above the Lounge Deck. An interior designed with warm colors and light woods are made even brighter with large floor-to-ceiling windows.

Extensively refurbished in 2008, Braemar was cut in half and a 102-foot midsection was inserted, which added an observatory lounge, a pub, a restaurant, a second swimming pool with expanded deck space, and increased the number of cabins. At the heart of the ship, the open-concept Braemar Room is adjacent to the library, card room, Morning Light Pub, and the boutique.

With its Norwegian heritage of seamanship spanning over 150 years, family-owned Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has built a solid reputation of reliability and comfort for its UK-based fleet of smaller ships. Major refitting and refurbishment of old and recently acquired ships since 2008 have earned the company high industry accolades. Two sister ships from the defunct luxury Royal Viking Line, Royal Viking Star and Royal Viking Sky, have reunited under the Fred. Olsen house flag and now sail as Black Watch and Boudicca. The Balmoral and Braemar complete the four-vessel fleet.

Shipboard ambience is friendly, relaxed, and unabashedly British. As Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines expands, the line takes pride in maintaining the consistency their passengers prefer and expect, both on board—in the self-described "British country house" atmosphere—and ashore. Activities and entertainment are traditional cruise-ship fare with a laid-back tempo, albeit on a much smaller scale compared to a typical American megaship. Lectures and the Arts Club special-interest program are popular, with classes in subjects ranging from gardening to painting, history to wine appreciation, and even bird- and wildlife-spotting.

Ballroom dancers outnumber the late-night disco set, and evening entertainment is more cabaret than Vegas. Particular favorites with most passengers are theme nights and the crew show. Cruises range from four-night "mini-breaks" to lengthier 7- to 78-night sailings. British pounds are used for all transactions on board. Although the line is destination-focused—itineraries are seldom repeated within any cruise season—itinerary planning is versatile.

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What You Should Know

Pros

  • The ship is ideal for warm-weather cruises and has two outdoor swimming pools and lots of open deck space for sunbathing
  • Free binoculars are available in the Observatory Lounge
  • Well-organized excursions have informative tour guides

Cons

  • Limited menu and hours for room service
  • The windowless fitness center is located on a lower deck
  • The voltage on Braemar is 110 and 220–240 volts (U
Ship Stats
  • Crew Members 371
  • Entered Service 1993
  • Gross Tons 24,344
  • Length 640 feet
  • Number of Cabins 484
  • Passenger Capacity 929
  • Width 74 feet
  • New

Mar 25, 2009

Caribbean

We were very pleased with the whole cruising experience, and in particular with the ship, which was Fred Olsen's Braemar. Having flown to Miami we boarded the ship quickly and efficiently. We had a meal and were underway around 10pm . Our cabin was excellent. We had deliberately booked one with a balcony and we couldn't have been more pleased. During the cruise the staff were marvellous, very friendly and very efficient. Food in the restaurants

was good and varied and there was a wide selection of bars to go to in the evenings. We requested second sitting for dinner and were allocated a table in the Grampian restaurant, which was a new addition to the ship. Breakfast and lunch could be taken in any of the three restaurants, but dinner was at your allocated table. We rarely had to queue and the maitre d' always found a table for us, you never wandered round looking for somewhere to sit. Cabin was excellent, with bins emptied and room tidied twice a day, towels changed whenever you wanted, beds turned down at night with a chocolate on the pillow - lovely. Onboard activities were varied, proboably quite typical but as this was our first cruise we have no comparison. Quoits, bowls, bridge classes, painting classes, dolphin racing, ice sculpture demo etc. There was a library, card room and internet room.

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Oct 20, 2008

Eastern Mediterranean

We set out for this Vacation withan all out, no expense spared ideal from the start. We did have some budget limitations but we were determined not to let this stop us from seeing what we wanted to see. There were 6 of us, myself and my fiancee, my sister and her husband and my parents. Our ages were mid twenties and mid fifties for my parents. Originally, the fred olsen cruise was our second choice, but the first choice sold out before we had a

chance to book it. So we went with Fred Olsen and the Braemar. Since all 6 of us were leaving Canada at different times and going to different destinations before we met for the cruise, we all arrived for embarkation outside Rome at different times. My fiancee and I were the last to arrive. There was no indication of where the boat was or how to get ahold of someone from the cruise line. We finally found a shuttle driver who informed us that the boat had broken down in Palermo and would not be coming to Rome at all!! We had to call Texas to get the number of the people in Rome and they finally met up with us and told us that all of the British passengers had flown directly to Palermo, Sicily. It was only us few "independent" travelers that had not been notified. My parents and sister/brother-in-law were waiting at the airport when we got there but we had all missed the last flights to meet up with the ship in palermo before it sailed to continue the cruise. So we stayed in a hotel and then were flown to southern italy to meet the boat at it's first stop. They told us a car and person would be waiting to meet us at the airport to take us to the ship, but there was no one. We ended up taking taxis to the port (which was thankfully small) and driving until we found the boat. This was only the beginning. The cabins were small with horrible TV and tiny bathrooms with gross showers. We had to ask several times for our toilet and shower to be repaired during the cruise. The meal times were quite restricting - having been on several cruises before, we were used to having things available at all times, but if you got up after 9am - there would be no food until noon. The activities were non-existent with only a small gym and two small freezing pools with tepid hot tubs. The food in the dining room at dinner was fabulous but the rest of the meals were only okay. It was very geared to elderly British diets. All round the boat had over 75% repeat customers and the average age was about 75. Everyday we were asked why we were in passenger areas because they thought we were part of the crew. They had talks on arthritis and sciatica everyday but nothing for anyone younger. Even my parents were bored on sea days. Even the shore excursions were a bit weak, with not many physical activity choices and many very short. The captain missed a time change in one of the countries and we all got to our tours 1 hour early. Another issue was that everything cost money - I could not believe we had to pay for non -alcoholic drinks. Even the water at the bar cost money. That being said, the staff was lovely on the ship. It took us a lot of negotiations to get refunds for our costs to get to the broken ship and in the end the only gave us a small amount for the missed first day. The worst part was the fact that ship is quite old and having started out as a ferry, not very comfortable in the lower decks especially where we were. We had several rough sea days and the were very bad, taking out more than half the passengers. My father fell ill, called the doctor and was subsequently quarantined with my mother in their cabin for 3 days with their cards inactivated. They couldn't even pay for laundry. All in all, we spent thousands on a cruise that had one issue after another. This boat is geared towards extremely ederly British passengers and I would not recommend it to anyone who wants to step outside those bounds. Dinner was great Buffets were okay but very fatty british type foods. Small, cramped and dated, sometimes broken None for younger people. we played a lot of boardgames. The advertised some activities but when we got on the ship, they had cancelled them. All the countries were lovely. Not enough choices of active excursions like bike rides or snorkelling etc.

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Oct 26, 2005

14-Day Western Caribbean

Our Man in Havana It used to be a “once in a lifetime” holiday, but MERVYN HANCOCK discovered that everyone from pensioners to lottery winners are regularly taking a cruise, and new ships are being launched almost as fast as they can be built. The chef’s speciality – banana boat – had one vital ingredient missing, the bananas! And despite being in the Caribbean where the things grow everywhere,

no one on board the cruise ship Braemar could conjure one up! The explanation? A hurricane had ripped through the area a few days before we arrived in Jamaica, the winds had blown the fruit off the trees, and the local monkeys had made off with them. Because Fred Olsen keeps to smaller ships, and relies almost entirely on a British clientele to fill them, his cruising experience not only offers a more dignified way of crossing the Seven Seas, but also enables passengers to enjoy visits to more of the “out of the way” places, and retains some of the style associated with the old fashioned liners. Indeed, the cruise that my wife Sue and I joined in Montego Bay, Jamaica, was called “Off the Beaten Track”, and during a voyage lasting 14 days we would call in at Grand Turks and Caicos, Cuba, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Grand Cayman in the British Virgin Islands. In the good old days of the two Queens, Elizabeth and Mary, you had to be very well heeled to even contemplate a cruise. The class system was very much in operation, and those who had managed to save enough cash to book a cabin, found themselves in steerage, looking up longingly at those in second or even first class. To this day Cunard reserves the best dining experience for passengers occupying the higher price cabins and suites, although the majority of cruise companies now allow all clients full use of all the onboard facilities.But booking a cruise can still be a nightmare! In almost all cases the brochure price never relates to the price you actually pay. Many passengers who negotiate special deals are sent a letter with their confirmation pack, begging them not to disclose their bill to fellow passengers, who may get seasick when they find out they have shelled out much larger sums for the same type of cabin. Discounts range from 15 to 50 per cent – even more if cabins are available on a back-to-back cruise, and you book onboard. If you are prepared to sleep on the water line, in an inside cabin, the world is your oyster for a few hundred pounds. Take the lift to the upper decks for an outside cabin or suite, and you will need to hit the savings, or win the lottery. On my particular adventure, for instance, the maximum you could pay per person for the 14 night cruise was £9,995 and the minimum £1,374 – everyone got the same food, entertainment, and run of the ship. It was just the size and position of the cabin that made the difference. On Fred Olsen’s flagship, The Black Watch, a 103 night world cruise in the top suite without a discount would set you back £39,365 each, while an inside twin would be a snip at £10,080. Sounds a lot, but £97 a night for full board does compare favourably with even the modest of hotels ashore. My advice is to book an outside cabin on a lower deck for the first cruise, and then upgrade if and when you can afford it. If you splash out on a superior room with a balcony in the beginning, you will be disappointed if you have to return to the lower decks on subsequent holidays! The advantage of taking a cruise is that you can experience all types of countries, in all parts of the world, and remove much of the risk factor. If you don’t like what you find there, then simply return to your floating hotel, soak up the sun, and you will be off to the next destination within hours. And certainly, that is what we did during our journey “off the beaten track.” We joined an organised tour in Jamaica down the country’s Black River where locals have managed to “tame” their native crocodiles, to the extent that they respond to whistles, swim out of the undergrowth, and beg snacks from the occupants of small boats. One 18ft monster allowed the skipper to tickle his teeth, although none of us accepted an offer to enjoy a swim with him – although several of the boat crew did just that! Our call into Havana was a disappointment for me. I had visited Cuba’s capital on two previous occasions, and thought that cash investments into the country from Spain and Canada might have improved life there. Not so! Fidel Castro’s cunning plan to outlaw the American dollar and replace it with a tourist Pecos obviously worked for his oppressive regime – all the tourist money now goes straight into his bank, while the locals are left to hunt for food in waste bins, or make money on the rampant black market. The once-grand buildings are still in a deplorable state, food rationing is in operation, and scared Cubans claim they are afraid to criticise their leader or his henchmen in case they land up in jail. There was no welcome in the hillsides for travellers here, just desperate people, desperately wanting to make a living. One local predicted Civil War when Castro finally dies, and I believe he might be right. Many of the bigger cruise ships choose Cancun as their itinerary in Mexico, but again, the hurricane had forced them to seek refuge down the coast in Costa Maya where the Braemar docked on a man-made pier, stretching far out into the Caribbean Sea. Clever locals had created an interesting tourist trap, complete with Mexican floorshow, shops, bars restaurants, and even a swimming pool. The trap was sprung as soon as three cruisers dropped anchor, and it was a pleasure to part with our money here. The Western Caribbean islands are mainly poor, and average wages (for those who can get a job) start at around £20 a month. So it was unsurprising that Belize and Guatemala were somewhat of a culture shock. A poor, but proud, taxi driver took us on a tour of the highlights of Guatemala, which included three open-air funeral parlours, where the caskets were displayed in a range of colours, and the latest fashions for the final journey were hung up in the windows. The city centre reminded me of Banjul in the Gambia, and the smells were not for the faint-hearted. The sort of place you have to see, but not for a holiday, and which you probably would not be able to visit without the help of your cruise ship. Roatan Island in Honduras had another surprise awaiting visitors to its famous butterfly farm – no butterflies! The insects had also been victims of the hurricane, and had either flown, or been blown away, in the winds. Polite, but insistent, children offered themselves up as guides, until the local police chased them back to school. Quaint, wooden, homes built on stilts by the seashore have probably not changed in over a century. Visiting Grand Cayman in the British Virgin Isles was literally going from one extreme to the other. The main streets of Georgetown have been taken over by Rolex, diamond merchants and goldsmiths. In fact you could barely move for Americans, who had embarked from six cruise ships, and were spending their dollars as though they had gone out of fashion. One smiling local told me that the shops close if there is only a British ship in port. “You English don’t spend much,” he said. Back onboard the chef was preparing lunch, thinking about the dinner menu, and what to give passengers for their midnight feast. They would be hungry after digesting their three course breakfast and mid-morning tea and snacks. I wonder what the islanders think of us? We literally come from another world. And next year an estimated 20million of us will take a cruise. Even that Greek chap, who invented Easy Jet, is sending one of his orange ships into the Caribbean, and Richard Branson is set to enter the fray too! Let us hope that as prices drop standards are maintained, and setting sail remains something special. Mervyn Hancock and his wife Sue paid a total of £4,600 for a balcony suite on MV Braemar operated by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines. The price included return flights from Gatwick to Jamaica, and all meals. Expect to pay around £1-80 for a pint of beer onboard, spirits can be enjoyed for £10 a litre bottle. The ship has a theatre, two dining rooms, small casino, shops, beauty salon, gym, sauna, two Jacuzzis and a small swimming pool. There is a laundry and dry-cleaning service, and discretionary tips add another £100 to the bill.  

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