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Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines: Black Watch

Black Watch Cruise Review

Black Watch has received accolades in the United Kingdom for both its entertainment program and impressive personal service. The colorful cabaret at the Neptune Lounge and panoramic ocean views in the Observatory keep passengers more than satisfied. The inventive cuisine of the Glentanar Restaurant and the ship's casual eateries, which even serve up authentic fish-and-chips, please the palates. Christened Black Watch after a Scottish regiment, the ship caters to an older crowd, offering numerous onboard activities, and is best known for innovative worldwide itineraries embarking from numerous UK ports.

Launched in 1972, the former Royal Viking Star was built for the luxurious, long-distance cruises for which the now-defunct Royal Viking Line was known. Today's Black Watch retains much of her inherent grace. Passengers have plenty of space, both on deck and inside, including two freshwater swimming pools and a large fitness center and spa—unusual for a ship of this vintage. Piper's Bar and Lido Lounge are popular spots for a leisurely drink and conversation, while the Observatory, a spacious lounge high atop the ship, has the best views.

Black Watch last underwent a major refurbishment and redecorating of the public areas in December 2009, including a new casual dining area, the Braemar Garden, which replaced the former Garden Café. New soft furnishings were added to the Neptune Lounge, Piper's Bar, Glentanar Restaurant, and Observatory Lounge. Today, the ship retains its cozy charm, with neutral and bright tones; however, some areas have lost their “wow” factor with lackluster decor and ambience.

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.

What You Should Know


  • Reliable friendly service feels personal and warm
  • Atlantis spa treatments can be pre-booked online or by phone up to 12 months in advance
  • The ship is family-friendly, with a children’s room and arcade


  • Lifeboats and life rafts may obscure views from all cabin balconies on decks 8 and 9
  • Sole occupancy of a cabin with two or more beds is subject to availability at time of booking
  • British passengers will find they need plug adapters—voltage on Black Watch is 110 volts (U
Ship Stats
  • Crew Members 350
  • Entered Service 1972
  • Gross Tons 28,338
  • Length 674 feet
  • Number of Cabins 421
  • Passenger Capacity 807
  • Width 83 feet
  • New

Nov 2, 2008

iberia welcome

Our first cruise with Rred Olson. Very pleased with the whole trip. Weather was not to good, but did not matter to us because we found plenty to do & eat on the black watch. The restaurant staff and food were very very good, nice varied menu at breakfast, lunch & dinner. Very comfortable, clean & well serviced. Our stewardess was very polite & helpfull. A vast ammount of activities on board , the show lounge was our favourite venue. from

lectures to showgirls to comedians. great entertainment. My wife & I do not do excursions, we prefer to get about independently. The shuttle busses laid on by Fred Olsen were marverlous. Overall very pleased with the trip. Good value , good company, great ships crew. We will travel with Fred Olsen again in the not to distant future.

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  • New

May 20, 2008

Western Caribbean

We had a fantastic time on the Black Watch, everything was perfect, we couldn't re-book as the ship was booked too far ahead, but we are going on the Braemar for Christmas 2006, and looking forward to it, if any-one has done it, please let us know. F.O. seems to be totally customer focused, something that is kind of lacking on a few lines at the moment.   

  • New

Aug 1, 2007

Western Europe

We selected this cruise only 3 months before traveling as a last minute holiday – we hadn’t planned to go on a cruise this year but due to the ‘value for money’ being offered, we decided to book…. We paid £680 each for a 10 night cruise sailing from Dover. Having cruised before, we were expecting a certain ‘standard’ of accommodations.  On previous trips we have opted for a lower level of cabin and

have always been more than happy.  I think that if we were to travel with Fred Olsen again we would not opt for anything below the grade of an ‘Outside Higher Standard Cabin’.  Basic cabins on the Black Watch are VERY basic.  Be warned…  The cabin we were originally allocated was rather scruffy, cramped and dated.  We requested an alternative cabin and after lots of arguing we were offered an upgrade to a junior suite – at an additional cost of £2,750!!  Doesn’t make it such a cheap holiday does it?? We were not happy with this and involved the Hotel Manager who agreed to upgrade us to a better cabin, but still at an additional charge reduced (apparently) from £1500 to £375. So we moved to our new cabin.  The accommodations were ok – but very noisy when at sea.  Unless you are a heavy sleeper, I wouldn’t recommend cabin 3040.  The bathroom was tiny – the shower supplied hot and cold water – usually during the same shower… one moment it was lovely and hot, the next moment it was ice cold!  Good for the circulation I believe though. In regards to the food – I don’t think I could have ANY grumbles.  It was very good and I would even go so far as to say, better than I expected.   I was a little disappointed that there was no possibility of having Eggs Benedict for breakfast, despite a request being made in advance to the Maitre’ d.  But on the whole – food was hot, well presented and super quality.  Waiting service was excellent. We were on early seating and didn’t feel rushed at all in eating and being out of the restaurant in time for the 2nd sitting. Communal areas were a little dated in the decorative style and it was surprising to learn that the ship had been refurbished in 2005 – it had a much more 1985 influence in the décor! Entertainment was of a good standard.  The ‘in house’ animation team were very good at grouping people together to take part in activities such as shuffleboard and deck quoits.  We loved the daily quizzes too!  These guys just don’t seem to stop working.  The evening shows were super and we did find these really enjoyable.  It’s a shame that the dancers mimed to so many of the songs – but I think this was probably due a reduced number of microphones being available and only the lead vocalists being able to use the ones they had. Trips were of a good standard.  Shuttle buses were complementary, which makes a refreshing change.  Booking for trips seemed to close quite a while in advance, but we discovered that we could still book these after the specified closing date. The age range of the clientele was mostly older, my husband is 43 and I am 36 so we were quite young in comparison to the vast majority of the guests, but we quite like the more refined traveler so this suited us well.  We traveled in the school summer holidays and have to say we were disappointed with the number of children on board.  Whilst they were all well behaved – we just felt there were too many of them around the pool etc! Would we travel with Fred Olsen again?  Probably, but I would ensure we didn’t leave booking to the last minute.  I would also make sure that we booked a better standard of cabin as the basic level was just too basic for us. Would we use our travel agent again?  No.  They had implied to us certain things about our accommodation that simply were not available.  Very disappointing.     

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  • New

Feb 26, 2007

Western Caribbean

A group of Somerset card players were in full voice! Dedicated Bridge players during the day, they were now celebrating the 60th birthday of one of their number, with the help of around 15 Filipino and Indian waiters - brandishing a guitar and tambourine, and having some difficulty getting their tongues around the strange, English Christian name. Delivering birthday cakes, anniversary wishes and around 2,000 meals each

day is all part of the routine for the crew onboard Fred Olsen’s flagship, MV Black Watch - but to delighted passengers each delivery seems to have a personal touch, earmarked especially for them. Arthur Organ and his wife Sally had the dubious honor of being in the cabin opposite me and my wife Sue! One of the newly added balcony suites, which came with a comfortable bedroom, sitting area, veranda, and bathroom complete with two sinks a tub and shower. Sue and I had hopped on the Black Watch in Dubai for the final leg of the vessel’s journey around Africa, and our 25 night cruise would take us back to Southampton via Oman, Jordan, Egypt, Crete, Malta, Spain - passing through the famous 101 mile long Suez Canal. Most of the 700 or so passengers being tended by 300 enthusiastic crew members were British, though a handful of Americans had joined the ship for its full 107 night journey, and declared the whole experience to be “AWESOME!!” That means it was pretty good, and the Olsen company - which specializes in voyages to interesting and far flung ports which many of the bigger liners can’t reach - was delivering its promise of a more traditional and up-market approach to sailing the Seven Seas. With the advent of more and much bigger cruise ships being launched around the world, many companies are filling cabins by lowering standards - especially when it comes to the dining experience. So-called “freestyle cruising” usually means you can turn up for meals when you want, and in a pair of shorts if you are too lazy to put on trousers or a dress. The Black Watch dining areas were casual places for the hearty breakfasts and four course lunches - but in the evening, dress codes were in place, which created a more pleasurable ambience, and gave the ladies ( and gentlemen) a chance to show off their finery. Especially during formal nights, when smart suits or dinner jackets were demanded. Olsen is now using Monarch Airlines to convey guests from British airports to the ship, and I was delighted to discover that this charter airline is beginning to realize that they are conveying humans rather than sardines. As well as Premier Class, which offers wider seats and more legroom, the company has started to remove rows of seats in economy, giving those vital extra inches for people to at least get their legs to fit into the available space. We only managed a brief stay in Dubai, which seems to be a permanent building site, and visited the array of shops which are sandwiched between mushrooming hotel developments. I had last visited our next port of call, Fujairah, overlooking the Gulf of Oman, with the Royal Air Force during the first Gulf War, and things looked much the same - a country filled with hardy people waging their own daily battles against Mother Nature, amidst sand dunes and steep mountains. Oman is a Biblical country, and the source of frankincense - the pungent offering made to Christ by the Three Wise Men. We actually saw one tree, in the middle of the desert - but were told that the climate is perfect for growing them, and products are exported all over the world. The highlight of our cruise was a 13 hour return journey from Safaga in Egypt to the famous Valley of the Kings. Through the country’s busiest city, Luxor, you make your way to an area which resembles one of the quarries in the Mendip Hills back home, and then to an amazing array of caves, which were carved into solid rock by the ancient Egyptians, as a final, secret resting place for their kings. Not such a well kept secret though! Traitorous workers are believed to have sold the secret of the hidden tombs almost before the dust could settle. The result was that all of them were plundered, the treasures removed, and modern visitors see a spectacular feat of engineering, wonderfully decorated walls and ceilings - but vast, empty spaces. We managed brief visits to three tombs - you are not allowed to dilly dally because apparently human visitors increase moisture levels, which damages the décor! Cameras were banned for similar reasons - although a few, well placed dollars would ensure that the security guards would look the other way. The tomb of the famous boy King, Tutankhamen, was closed - until another fistful of dollars opened the gate to allow the curious a quick glimpse of the empty interior. Luxor is not only the gateway to historic Egypt - with hundreds of river cruisers offering trips up and down the Nile - but also offers a lush, green contrast to the surrounding desert. The Egyptians are fully aware of the problems caused by terrorists, who recently launched attacks on tourists, and visitors travel in convoys of coaches, each guarded by an armed policeman, and there are regular checkpoints with menacing gun turrets to discourage any would-be attackers. On to Jordan where we managed an illicit visit to the Palace of the late King Hussein. A sandy colored complex, near the Iraq, Israeli and Saudi borders, it is heavily guarded by soldiers who remonstrated with our taxi driver for bringing infidels to this forbidden area. Many of our fellow passengers took a 10 hour trip to Petra, an area frequented by Dorset soldier, Lawrence of Arabia, which provided a backdrop to the film of the same name, as well as Indiana Jones. Sharm El Sheik in Egypt is a holiday resort much loved by British tourists, who appear to be happy to stump up £5 a day to sit on the beach, or try out some of the hubble-bubble pipes offered in the Bedouin-style cafes and restaurants. As temperatures soared into the high 80s we retreated to our ship and a lunch of cold lobster salad. For many of the older passengers, the long voyage through the Suez Canal to Port Said was a trip down memory lane. Old soldiers and sailors recalled serving in the armed forces during the Suez crisis, when the canal was closed, and almost sparked World War Three. Today it is still heavily guarded on the desert side, while on the other bank the developers have moved in and houses and towns are springing up. Onboard the Black Watch the deck nine fish and chip shop was doing brisk business, while bar staff delivered inexpensive beers and wines to quench desert thirsts. Some people just couldn’t leave their games of Bridge - a game with an amazing following among the cruisers! Back in the Mediterranean the weather cooled, although Spring was beginning to arrive, and we called into Crete, Malta and Cartagena, Spain, before heading across the - surprisingly well-behaved - Bay of Biscay to home. Cruising is a thoroughly enjoyable way of spending a holiday - a floating hotel which really is home from home. Depending on the cabin you choose, it has also become very affordable, considering you get all your food included in the price, together with entertainment and lashings of sea air. Olsen has a fleet of four ships - The Black Watch, Black Prince, Braemar and Boudicca - and a fourth , the Balmoral, setting sail for 2008. It is not the luxury end of the market and lacks the razzamatazz of the big American ships. But for me it provides the perfect setting - peace and quiet and few children - for a relaxing and adventurous break. Mervyn Hancock and his wife Sue sailed on the Black Watch for a 25 night cruise. Prices started at £2508 per person for a twin, inside cabin. That included flights from Gatwick to Dubai, all food and entertainment onboard. Allow for extra costs for drinks, laundry, excursions and gratuities.

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  • New

Sep 26, 2005

Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea

In short, we'll travel on the Black Watch again. We were attracted to this line and cruise, purely because of the Itinerary. It avoided Italy, where we had been many times and visited ports we had never been to before. Its theme was Ancient Civilizations. As expected on a 28day cruise, there were no children aboard. Of the 800+ passengers there were 4 Americans (including us and 2 others) and 3 Canadians.

The rest were virtually all Brits, with an average age of 80. Nonetheless, we felt welcomed and enjoyed a very well traveled clientel. We made several good friends. The Black Watch was built in 1972 and was last refurbished the spring of 2005. As a smaller, older ship, it was not as grand as other ships we had been on (Holland America and Norwegian) but it was very comfortable with plenty of public space and amenities. It was gyro-stabilized. Because of its smaller size, we only tendered into port twice. Our junior suite was 240sq ft. and worth the extra cost over the basic rooms. It was well appointed, with plenty of storage and a small refrigerator. Maid service was good although our room was rarely made up before 1PM. It was annoying that bottled water was not provided gratis and cost as much as beer. The food was plentiful and varied but only just OK. The fish was almost always overdone. Many obviously frozen, single portion items appeared. There was always an English entree and plenty of vegetarian selections. Despite a German head chef, desserts were disappointing. On the other hand, service was prompt, cheerful, and the wait staff was well instructed about proper etiquette. Great attention was paid to health. Hand sanitization was practiced by all passengers and crew on each embarkation and before every meal. We became friendly with the ship's doctor and it was apparent that this not only decreased the risk of gastroenteritis but also colds and flu. The wine list include 40 whites and 30 reds from all over the world, priced from about 16USD to 24USD. Unused wines were readly stored and returned for the next meal. Drinks at bars were also reasonably priced. Liquor was sold in the ship's store. A liter of Candian Club was about 17USD. Port lectures were totally free of commercial bias and blended with excellent presentations on History, Art and Architecture. We took the ships tours in every port. Most were above average but with cruisers of this age, you had to be patient with mobility issues. We reserved all tours in advance. If we take another tour, we would scrutinize only those tours that had limited numbers and wait until on board to choose others. If four persons are traveling together, it would probably be better to research and make your own tour arrangements. I used the Gym regularly. It had dumbells as the only free weighs. There was a fair selection of weight training and aerobic machines. The gym was usually empty and I personally did not miss having a climbing wall or "hyper" sports activities. We're not dancers or club goers so I can't comment on the entertainment. We enjoyed the piano bar frequently. As expected, much of the humor at shows was British based and lost on us. Classical music presentations and even Opera were a plus. In summary, this Black Watch cruise was an excellent overall experience of exotic ports in a less hectic manner. The minor disappointments were the food and the expense of the organized tours. We will definitely watch for another cruise in a year or two. 

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