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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