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Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Fred Olsen Black Watch

Fred Olsen Black Watch June 15th - 18th

The Cruise
A short 3 night cruise leaving from Harwich, calling at Amsterdam,  and terminating in Newcastle.
The cruise was specifically the Sir Bobby Robson Memorial Cruise.
Sir Bobby managed amongst other clubs, Ipswich, PSV in the Netherlands and Newcastle, hence the itinerary of the cruise.
A donation of £5000 from Fred Olsen and a raffle and auction on board raised £3800 that went to the memorial fund. Sir Bobby's widow along with retired footballers were also onboard for Q&A sessions and photos.
If you have read any of my previous blogs, you will know that we have sailed primarily with P&O, so there will be comparisons with them I'm afraid.
It's also a small world, an ex work colleague who I have not seen for 10 years, but I know was an Ipswich fan, and has cruised many times with Fred, was also on board, so it was a bit of catch up as well

The Ship
This was our first Fred Olsen cruise, and we had heard good reports about Fred ships, so it was with much anticipation that we stepped on board. Also sailing from Harwich was a very big bonus as we only live 10 miles from the port, and I work in Harwich, so know the port very well.
The Black Watch holds c800 passengers and is of the "old style" traditional design. As soon as we stepped  onboard, both Sue and myself said it reminded us of Dear Old Arty ( P&O Artemis ) but with a much greater sense of space and openness, at least on our deck. Black Watch is also about the same size as Saga Ruby, which we have taken a couple of cruises on, but again , she seems to have more public spaces. With none of the spaces feeling crowded at all. 
The MDR is light and airy, and being a smaller ship, there are large picture windows down both sides.
My big whinge, was the Muster drill, after attending the drill in the MDR, we were lined up in single file, and  taken out to our respective life boat, all of which I have no problem with, even though the weather was atrocious, and it was chucking it down. But the fact that they made us stand there for 10 minutes or more, and when the staff were questioned as to why, the reply was "well you would have to stand here if it was a real emergency". All in all, not very good customer relations at all.


The Cabin
Leaving Harwich after the storm
We had upgraded to a junior suite after the original booking on deck 7, it was a large spacious cabin, and well appointed with TV, fridge, tea and coffee making facilities, and a well stocked mini bar which we did make use of as the prices were reasonable. The only thing that let the cabin down IMHO was the lighting in the bathroom (which had a full size bath with a shower over). Now it might just be a male and age thing, but I do need a bright light when I'm having a shave ( even with my glasses on) and this bathroom was very dull. But other than that minor point a very nice cabin. Now I know all cruise lines do things slightly differently, but I failed to understand the logic of the evening "turn down" service that saw the quilt being folded up at the foot of the bed. Very strange

Food & Drink
We ate in the MDR for dinner, the menus had a good selection of food all of which were plated meals. It was also nice to see a different menu, as my view of P&O menus are that they need to change more. The drink prices seemed to be on par with P&O aka normal pub prices. For breakfast and lunch we ate in the buffet Garden Cafe, but it bears no relationship to the experience on a P&O ship, it was much quieter, relaxed and pleasant. You were escorted to your table, so always had no problem trying to find a seat, and never a "bun fight" well done Fred !!


Entertainment
We saw a couple of shows from the on board  theatre company in the Neptune show lounge. This was similar to the show lounge on  Artemis, but had better sight lines. A very talented group of singers and dancers made up the group, plus they also hosted quizzes etc. on board. 
We watched one of the comedians early show which we found very "clean" and entertaining, although we heard his late show did get a bit "blue"

Tours
We had pre booked via Fred a city and canal boat tour. We had previously done this tour some years ago with P&O, but the cost was very reasonable at £35 each. Being a Sunday the driver found it very easy to get about, so a pleasant tour was had by one and all. Being a Sunday did not stop the queue around the Ann Frank museum stretch around the block. 

The Crew
As I think with most cruise lines, it's the crew that makes or breaks a cruise and Fred Olsen are no different, but I can report they were excellent, so top marks.

Weather
I don't think I have so much rain fall down out of the skies as it did just before sail away. We had family and a work colleague on Halfpenny Pier to wave us off that had to dodge the rain, not what you would expect for June. Now I have seen many a cruise ship leave from Harwich, and they seem to a lot closer to the shore then they are when viewed from sea


Conclusion 
Being a football themed cruise you may have thought, the cruise would be filed with rowdy football fans, but as they were of the mature variety, there were no issues what so ever.
One difference I did notice from P&O was the lack of cabin stewards trollies in the cabin corridors, and I'm sure they came out of secret hideaways  as we rarely saw them, but the cabins were always serviced very quickly. So our first experience with Fred, did we enjoy the ship, cruise etc ? Yes we did, the experience was closer to a Saga cruise than P&O IMHO, with an overriding feeling of calm and relaxation on board.
The disembarkation was very painless, and was done in deck order, and by 0825 we were off to the complementary coach back to Harwich, which has given me the time to write this review.
So will we cruise with Fred again ? There is a good chance that the answer will be "Yes"

So now it's a wait until September when we go back to P&O on Arcadia for a 4 nighter , and yes we will be going back to Amsterdam.
So until then

Bye bye


Friday, 14 June 2013

PO Arcadia Caribben April 2013

Arcadia J302 Cruise Review

The cruise
A  24 night Southampton to Southampton cruise to the Caribbean, calling at Ponta Delgada, Antigua, Tortola, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Barbados and Horta

The Ship
Soon to have a major refit, with the introduction of single cabins etc. I think the old girl is begining to show her age, as in port alongside other ships, she did look a bit tatty on the outside. 

The weather 
Once we had left the calm waters of Southampton ,the sea swell was high, and continued that way until we reached Ponta Delgada 3 days later, as I said in my blog, I have not known it last that long on any cruise we had done before. After leaving Ponta Delgada, the weather steadily improved, and the sea calmed. The weather around the islands was typical Caribbean, very hot, with showers. The return trip has been much better with flat seas, although the Captain did say when we left Horta that conditions were going to deteriorate, so if it does get lively, I will let you know.
 
Entertainment 
Headliners
Unusually for us, we only went to see two of their shows, as I have said many times before, the shows do get repetitive, year after year. They were an OK troupe, but I personally did not "click" with them, but that's probably me rather than them.
Quizzes
One of our favourite pastimes but no wins for this cruise, they also seemed to repeat the format every few days, there also seemed to be less quizzes in the day.
General
I can only assume that it is very popular, but Karaoke seemed to have been in the Rising Sun a lot lot more than I remember from previous cruises.
The Village Fete seems to have been a hit, Sue said it was heaving around the Neptune Pool. I did not attend as I was laid up in the cabin with the ships cough. 
We did not see any of the speciality acts, with the exception of The Beatles Experience, who were OK, nor attend any talks, so unable to comment. 
One of our favourite pastimes of an evening ( in the warm weather ) was just to sit under the stars on the aft deck with a drink in hand PERFECT .


Films
They have run some very recent films in the afternoon in the theatre, which has been good for sea days. I have never understood the logic in Arcadia's last major refit when a cinema was installed with 30 odd seats for a ship that holds C2000 passengers 

Crew
As always P&O's greatest asset, but I do feel that some of them are being pushed to the limit workwise. This, plus my observations below, IMHO is P&O trying to minimise costs in what must be a very competitive market place. ( Also I don't like the new biscuits )

Ports of call
With the exception of Tortola and Horta, we had been to the other ports before. I think we both fell in love with Tortola, but all the islands have their own character, and if you have never been to the Caribbean, you don't know what you're missing and it really is a must see. Some say, when you have seen one island you have seen them all, but it's an argument I do not agree with. 

Food
As always the food in the MDR was OK if not a bit repetitive, with a lot more offal on the menus ( never seen tongue before ) . But on the whole I would class it as uninspiring but adequate. On three evenings we ate at the buffet in the belvedere, all three occasions it was Indian cuisine, and I have to say, it was jolly good, and a nice change from the MDR.
We also ate twice in the Ocean Grill ( both menus ). Both Sue and I agreed, that we prefer the menu that has the salt marsh lamb on ( not for Sue of course). The belvedere for breakfast and lunch was OK, we did use the Neptune Grill for lunch, and also the sandwiches there.


Observations
Some things I have never seen on a P&O cruise before
Face cloths in the cabin with holes
Towels in cabin, where it was obvious they had seen better days, 
Cracks in mugs in the Belvedere
Cracks in dessert bowls in the Belvedere
Stains on table cloths in MDR
Having to order your dessert at the beginning of the meal
And the above were not a"one off"

Conclusion
Did we enjoy the cruise ? YES SIR, things I would have liked to have changed ? Well the first three days of weather, and catching the "cruise cough ".
I think the P&O product is changing, but nowadays we are in a very competitive market so it has to with a squeeze on margins etc. Still we can't think that it's that bad as we booked 2 for 2014 whilst on board.
But we are about to try Fred Olsen, so P&O beware

Until the next time

PO Arcadia Caribbean 2011

Arcadia J112 Cruise Review 

The Ship 
Arcadia was due a small refit, but due to overrunning work on Oriana, there will be no dry dock for her. However, at St Kitts ( I think that was that port ), they had a diver feeling her bottom all day, the Captain reported that evening, that this was a requirement by the insurance company etc, and she passed with flying colours. Other than that, beside the wifi being a bit hit and miss sometimes, the old lady looks in good fettle, which is good, as we are back on her on December for the Derren Brown weekender. 

Food 
We were on a table of eight on the lower tier of the Meridian Resturant, but for most nights we went down to four, as the buffet in the Belvedere was a great attraction to our fellow table guests. The food was to a good standard as always, but I am finding it a bit repetitive, and with less choice on the menu. As a vegetarian, Sue gets a choice from the main menus, the lunchtime menu, and a specific vegetarian menu, and even Sue has said the choice is getting smaller. I can only make the assumption that this is where P&O are trimming their costs. Also no flowers for the ladies, more cost cutting ? 
We did however eat in Arcadian Rhodes on two occasions, the quality (as always ) was a level above the MDR food, and the whole eating experience was excellent. I know the going of Rhodes from the fleet has been done to death on the forum, I even quizzed Carole Marlow about this when she was on Artemis. I'm sure it's just a commercial decision, and they feel they can make more money with MPW, but I still think it's a great loss. 
The Neptune grill, we used as an alternative for lunch sometimes, their cheese cake is well worth a try. I'm not sure how the staff work in there on the "hot days" as you could see how hot they were.  

The Belvedere we used for breakfast and lunch, ok for breakfast ( we are early risers, so no problems) . Lunch times, again, choice seemed to be less, and repetitive. Sue also struggled to find something she liked.  
We were going to try the Orchid Resturant, but there were only three  menus for the whole twenty three nights, therefore limited availability for a vegetarian choice, so we gave that a miss. 

Entertainment 

Headliners 
I have never seen a poor troupe onboard a P&O ship, and this troupe kept up the excellent standard. Polished performances all round, and it was nice to see a couple of shows we had not seen before.  One thing that did stand out for me, was how much more multi talented the troupe were. Normally singers sung, dancers danced etc. but this time, it was sometime difficult to know which was which.  

 Cabaret Singers 
Only went to see Gerard Kenny, and as you know, not my favourite form of entertainment, but Sue enjoyed the show, have had mixed reviews from other passengers. 

Lee Wilson 
we did not attend his shows, as we have seen him recently, reports from our table companions were good though.   

  
Matthew McGurk   
Both shows were highly professional, and well worth seeing if you like a bit of magic.  

The Sunshine Band 
Not my favourite band of the cruise. 

The Amethyst Duo 
Good duo for the Rising Sun, he certainly knew how to play a guitar 

Quizzes 
As you will have noticed from the blogs, we did our fair share of quizzes, in fact a lot more than we have done before. They have been varied in their subject matter, and well attended, but ( unusually for us ) we did not win one quiz. So I think the grey cells must have been on holiday also.  But excellent entertainment, if you like to pit your knowledge against others. 

Talks 
We did not attend any of the talks, as we preferred to take the air on the open decks.   

Crew 
For This section of my review, I could just copy and paste from previous reviews, as always the crew have been excellent, and it's this that make P&O cruises what they are. WELL DONE TO ALL THE CREW !!! 

Ports of call 
Besides Madiera, where the heavens opened, all of the ports have been new to us, as this has been our first Caribbean cruise, and having read and heard a lot about, "seen one Caribbean island, you have seen them all". I can honestly say that we didn't agree with this, as we have found each island different in its landscape, and in its maturity. One thing they all have in common is the warmth of the people. Never have we met people, who take out so much time to talk to you, it was so evident on the tours we did, as guides went around making sure they chatted with everyone who was on the tour, not something we have found on tours around Europe. 
Also the tours we did were varied, different from the norm, and we enjoyed them all. Can highly reccomend, the railway St. Kitts and the sub in Barbados. 


Conclusion 
This has been our longest cruise to date at 23 nights, and also our first to the Caribbean, and as such has been a totally different cruising experience, with lots of sea days, plus the new ports. It has certainly wetted our appetite for longer cruises, so we will have to see what we can do for 2013, but this has been a very enjoyable experience, and comes highly recommended. 

Thanks 
To everyone who has taken the time to read and comment on my blogs, I have to say a very big THANK YOU, as without you, my blogs would be meaningless ( some say they are anyway ) but thank you for your time, and sharing our cruise with us.  
To our table companions, June,  Marleen, Liz & John, and to Roger and Chris with whom we spent most time with at our table, and shared the most laughs with. Thank you all for sharing our cruise, and help making it such a delight. 
I also have to thank my blog Editor, Sue, for checking my speeeling and punctuation. 

And so it's the end of another cruise, but we are back in a few weeks for the Derren Brown weekend, but after that it's a long wait until next September for the USA and Canada cruise, so until then....... 

Bye bye 

PO Artemis Final Cruise April 2011

Artemis P102 The Final Final Chapter of Arty with P&O ( The Little Ship With a Big Heart ) 

The Ship 
Artemis, is now a Senior Lady, in ships terms, and is showing her age, but still has a welcoming atmosphere. I know she has lots and lots of fans in P&O passengers, as was showed, by this cruise selling out in under 20 minutes.  But as with all things in life, nothing stands still, and change is inevitable, and I'm sure Adonia will some become as popular as Artemis.  

The Crew 
As always, P&O's biggest asset, I think there were even more smiles, as it is the end of contract for a  lot of the staff, so they were looking forward to going home. I was also surprised by the number of staff that recognised us from the Christmas Cruise.  
WELL DONE TO ALL.  

Food 
We ate exclusively in the Coral Dining room on 1st sitting with a table of 8. I have read so many examples of people having, how shall we say, not too pleasant dining companions, but once again I can say we had an excellent table, with lots of laughter every evening. The food itself, has been the normal  P&O fayre, but with special note to the roast beef, it was excellent.  

Entertainment 

Liz Dawn & Sherrie Hewson, we did not go to see them, so cannot comment.  

Lionel Blair 
Well, we have just left Lionel's "Chat and Tap" show, and I think the best way to describe the show, was that there were several standing ovations at the end.  
Lionel talked about his life and who he had worked with, interspersed  with a bit of song and dance. Good old fashioned variety. Well worth seeing it if you get a chance.  
Well Lionel must have made an impression, as here we are on Sunday morning waiting for his interview with the Cruise Director. I'll update afterwards. 
Have now seen the show, still very entertaining, but I preferred the chat and tap.  


Kenneth Vard, only went to see him the once with his Titanic talk, but thought he was excellent.  
Have had to change this part, as we are now sitting waiting for a presentation by Ken, A tribute to Royal Princess - Artemis 1984 - 2011, so more to follow.   
And yes I do write these blogs on the go, and it's all down to my iPad, which is so portable, I carry it around all the time when on board. 
Well, that was a moving presentation by Ken, covering the early years of the Royal Princess, and then the years that Ken has been onboard Artemis as a presenter , having done the Maiden, and now the farewell cruise, and many more in between. Ken is a consummate presenter, and worth seeing whatever the subject.   

Sunshine Band ( Duo ) 
Excellent duo, very easy listening 

Headliners 
I have been very impressed, that even after a one year contract, their shows are still fresh and full of energy, even though we saw most of these shows at Chistmas, it was well worth seeing again, and for me have been the highlight of the evening entertainment.  
As an add on, the Headliners performed the Old Bull and Bush last night (Saturday ) was a show we had not seen before, and we thought is was excellent. It was such a pity that some members of the audience thought it was fine to disturb the performance, by getting up and leaving before the end, so that they could get a "prime" seat for the show in Starlights.  

Quizzes  
We do like quizzes, with the exception of the Syndicate quiz, which we find too laborious.  
Three wins for us, was a very good result, and the quizzes have been varied in their subject matter, so a big tick, to the organisers of the quizzes.  
We did the Music quiz last night ( Saturday ), but the least said about that the better, as we did not fare well at all.  

Musical Festival at Sea 
When we booked the cruise, we did not know it was a Musical Festival at Sea. This would not have stopped us booking, but it held no "pull" for us, so after the first show, we did not attend any more. That said, those of the passengers that like that style of music, and attended the shows, spoke very highly of the performances.  

Ports of call 
We had been to all of the ports before, with the exception of Sorrento, which in itself was a pleasant surprise, and Alicante, where we enjoyed  a walk along the prom . I suppose the only disappointment was Barcelona, and that was only due to the weather.  

Conclusion  
Well, have we enjoyed the cruise, Oh yes, did P&O make it "special" as it was a farewell cruise ? Well if they did, it must have passed me by.  Am I glad I did the final cruise, yes. Would I have taken the offer from P&O that lots of passengers were talking about to give up their ticket OH YES. 

So, thank you all for joining Sue and myself on this cruise, and for reading the blogs, for those of you that have not read it, you don't know what you missed :-) 

A big thank you also to Sue, who has been my Editor in Chief, reviewing blog before I posted it to remove my typos and spelling mistooks ( she missed that one )  

As an aside it's now Sunday morning, and you can tell we are in the bay as overnight it has been VERY lumpy, with lots of banging and crashing. With still a bit of a swell today, and lots of people hanging on as they walk around the ship. And "the bags" are out.  

If I have not bored you too much, I will be blogging again in October as Sue and I take our first trip to the Caribbean on Arcadia  

And so, it's the end for Atremis in P&O colours.  

Artemis is dead, long live Adonia

Arcadia Cruise Review USA and Canada

Arcadia J213 Cruise Review 

USA and Canada 19th September to 13th October 2012 

The Ship 
Launched in 2005, already one major refit and another planned for the end of 2013, is she showing signs of wear ? Yes of course. Is the layout of the Piano bar in a major thoroughfare  not the best, Yes. But do we still like Arcadia ? Yes !! 

The Cabin 
We had an inside cabin in the aft section of C deck, as I said in the blog, very spacious, plenty of storage space, what more could you ask for ? Besides a window :-) it did exacerbate the movement when it got lumpy, but it must have been worse in the Suites on the stern.  

Weather  
It has been exceptional weather, there was no way I expected to be able to sit out on deck on the way over to New York, and to get sunburnt as well. New York was warm, bordering on hot sometimes. Quebec was the worst with really grey skies and rain, but the weather picked up again for our last port Charlottetown. The Atlantic on our return journey, has been a tad lumpy so far. 

Ports Of Call 
Every single port was new to us, and what a variety, from the madness of NYC to the sleeplyness of Newport or Charlottetown and everything in between. It's hard to pick a favourite as they all had something different to offer. So if you have never cruised to this part of the world, then this is really one to add to your bucket list. 

Entertainment 

Entertainments Team 
Very visible around the ship, with some extended hours especially on sea days. But if you get a chance, you must see the radio shows they do, plus they did a "variety show", well it shows Leon in a different  light, I will say no more :-) 

Headliners 
Have not been to as many shows as we would normally do, as they are getting repetitive, and I said in my blog, I don't think this troupe are the strongest we have seen, but the shows we have seen have been OK.  
As a bit of a post script ( you should never write these reviews too early ) we went to see "Killer Queen" last night, a show we have seen before, but this one seemed new somehow. I have to take my hat off to the  Headliners, this was their best show by far, and their rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, was the best I have heard, bar the original of course, so well done to them.  

Amethyst Duo 
OK for the Rising Sun 

Sunshine Band 
Ditto  

Bruce Morrison 
The only show we went to see him in was Les Mis, which we thought was good. Again third hand reports of other shows have been not so glowing 

Bobby Crush 
We had seen Bobby before, and a repeat performance did not appeal to us, so we did not go to see him. A bit like Marmite, you either love him or hate him. 

Lee Wilson 
Again, had seen Lee before on Artemis, so we did not goto see him again 

Quizzes 
It's strange sometimes the things you do on a cruise, and I know I have bored you all in my blogs in our efforts in the various quizzes we have taken part in. But onshore, we never partake in quizzes, so what drives when on board, who knows. Still, we won 5 quizzes, which I think is something of a record for us. Having said that, we did not do very well in the progressive quiz. But thanks go to Suzanne, for the quizzes  

Crew 
As always, the stars of the show, and if anything, I think they have improved the level of service they provide. With special thanks to our cabin steward  Julmax. 

Food 
MDR, we had a table of 8, and the more the cruise went on the better it got. I know lots of people say they have to change tables etc. but we have been very lucky with our table companions, and this cruise is no exception. So thanks goto Heather and Laurie, Maggie and Ken and Bridget and Margo for their excellent company. The food has been of acceptable quality considering the number they have to cater for. The menus have not been that inspiring, and are repetitive. Even with Sues extra vegetarian menu ( which does not change a lot) she has struggled to find something she likes at times. 
The Belvedere for breakfast and lunch was what you would expect from a buffet 
The Ocean Grill, I have never been a major fan of the MPW venues, and have always thought the food was not on par with the GR offerings, but I can honestly say the food this time was Excellent, so well done to the team there. 
It was also our first time in the Orchid, wonderful surroundings and excellent food, both well worth the small supplement charged, £12.95pp & £10pp respectively. 
The thing that lets everything down, IMHO, is the coffee. I manage a cup of instant in the morning, but the coffee on tap, and in the MDR is appalling and I refuse to drink it. So come on P&O, let's have something decent to drink. 

Port Presentations 
As these were all new ports to us, we decided to attend a few, and the port lecturer Graham was very knowledgable, and has an "easy" presenting style.  

Special Lectures 
We did not attend any of these, so could not make any comment, but third hand reports were positive.  

Photos 
Once home, I will sort out the many photos I have taken, and post a link, so you can have a look. 

Conclusion 
I have read many times, reports from people who do a world cruise, who then say that they are travellers rather than cruisers. Well having done this cruise, I feel a bit more like a traveller. As I said at the beginning of my blogs, this one was on my bucket list. Did it meet all expectations ? Yes, would I want to do this cruise again ? Yes 

Mel also asked the question on one of the blogs "what was the highlight(s)". That's a very difficult question to answer as there have been so many. But the sail into NYC at 4am is something not to be missed and well worth getting up early for. Our Boston sunset cruise, and watching the sky line light up as the high rise buildings switched on their lights. And of course, the fall colours, which were most prevalent in  Quebec 
But most of all, this cruise has been so,so different to anywhere else we have cruised, and so varied in the ports of call. 

Thanks as always to Sue as my editor and proof reader, as without her, my blogs would be unreadable.