Fred. Olsen Cruise Lineswww.fredolsencruises.com/travel-agent-center
At present, the Braemar — as well as the other three ships in the Fred. Olsen fleet — does not have any departures from the U.S. However, there are departures from Bridgetown, Barbados, for Caribbean cruises as well as Amazon and Panama Canal sailings. All other departures are from the U.K., which gives clients the opportunity to do a pre- or post-land package in London or other European cities.
Recently, I experienced an attractive alternative to a Caribbean big-ship experience aboard the 24,000-ton, eight-deck Braemar. Like the four other ships that make up the Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines fleet, this mid-sized, “no-neon” vessel — with a maximum capacity of 987 guests — eschews bells and whistles in favor of a traditional, intimate ambience similar to a British country estate.
Guests onboard the Braemar are primarily British couples age 60 and above or single cruisers (38 cabins are designed exclusively for singles) with few families aboard except during holiday weeks.
The Braemar has a maximum capacity of 987 guests. // © Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines
With an interior bathed in natural light streaming in through a glass-walled atrium and encircled by a teak promenade, the Lounge Deck embodies the essence of the Braemar’s classic design. Several of the ship’s public areas are located here, including its two main performance spaces, boutiques, a photo gallery and a library.
My favorite space to kick back, relax and people-watch was the Observatory with its spectacular panoramic views of sea and sky through floor to ceiling windows; the space came alive in the early evening when guests would gather there for pre-dinner drinks.
The ship’s nightlife revolved around the Neptune Lounge and Coral Club, which host Broadway-style variety and cabaret shows as well as performances by vocalists and comedians. Following the shows, I would occasionally stop off at the Skylark Lounge, a magnet for night owls who flock here for karaoke and late-night disco dancing.
Of all the programs on the daily agenda, I would especially recommend the classical concerts and talks by guest lecturers on history, culture and the arts.
I also enjoyed the onboard activities with a distinctly British flavor, such as quoits (similar to horseshoes), darts, carpet bowls (a bowling game) and the ever-popular afternoon tea. There are additional games similar to what you find on U.S. ships, including bingo, bridge, line dancing, trivia contests, and ice-carving, plus an exercise room and a spa with a full treatment menu.
Accommodations range from top-of-the-line 300-square-foot superior suites and 225-square-foot balcony suites to 130-square-foot inside cabins. Suite amenities include a separate sitting area, bathroom with shower/tub, mini-bar and CD/DVD players. The majority of guests stay in standard twin outside cabins measuring 140 square feet. Mine was illumined by two large porthole windows (the higher-category superior twin outside cabins have picture windows) and furnished with twin beds, a sofa, a desk, a television and a safe.
Many cruisers enjoyed dressing up for dinner on formal nights, which are held once a week on every cruise. Five-course feasts are served in the Thistle Restaurant and the Grampian Restaurant, which maintain a traditional assigned seating policy. Those who prefer an informal atmosphere can dine at the Palms Cafe with indoor and outdoor open seating for buffet-style breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“The onboard atmosphere on the Braemar and other Fred. Olsen ships is far more conducive to meeting fellow guests than on the big ships,” said Captain Arild Ueland, formerly with Royal Caribbean International.
He also noted that since joining Fred. Olsen in 2005, he has become acquainted with many first-time and repeat guests (an average of 35 percent of guests per cruise are past guests), whom he greets on a first-name basis.
Hotel manager Hans Van Velzen attributed the ship’s signature high level of service to the loyalty of crew members who have worked on the Braemar for many years.
“Our low turnover rate keeps morale high and translates into a happy, contented crew that goes out of its way to accommodate guests’ special requests,” said Van Velzen.
While more than 95 percent of the guests on a typical Braemar cruise are from the U.K., Fred. Olsen recently implemented a new marketing strategy targeting the U.S. market.
I would especially recommend this ship to Anglophiles who prefer longer itineraries, as most Braemar cruises are 14 days long.
The Braemar is spending the summer sailing from the U.K. (Dover) on two-week itineraries to the Western Mediterranean, Canary Islands, the Baltic Sea and Norway. In October, she returns to Barbados to offer a variety of cruises in the Caribbean and the Panama Canal.