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Saturday, 29 November 2014

Fred Olsen Mystery Cruise Review

The Cruise
A14 night mystery cruise onboard Black Watch, sailing from Tilbury, London

The Ports
Vigo
Gibraltar 
Malaga
Cadiz (overnight)
Lisbon 
Leixioes 
Lorient

I think Fred played "safe" with their choice of ports, and we did hear one or two complaints of "I have been here before", but when you go on a mystery cruise, you can't mind where you go.
Having said that, Fred's USP, is smaller ships that can get into ports that the big ships can't. So why with the exception of Lorient, why did they pick major ports ? As I said, playing safe IMHO

The ship
Black Watch had just left Hamburg from a refit, where beside planned maintenance, added extra cabins on the Prom deck. Now I mentioned this in my blog, and IMHO a bit of a daft idea.
This is only our third Fred cruise, the first for 3 nights on this ship last year, then 12 nights on Braemar earlier this year, and I have to say out of the two ships Braemar is my favourite as the flow of passengers, and the space  works much better, and feels a better ship. Having said that we are back on the Black Watch in March for the Solar eclipse cruise. But I don't think we will cruise on Black Watch again after that.


Shore excursions 
This was a subject I blogged about before we left. Fred sent us a shore ex brochure, and it was very difficult to choose a tour, not knowing where you will be. 
Having said that, if you had the time, you could compare the description in the brochure to that on Fred's website and work out where you were going. I think Fred could take a leaf out of Saga's book who have been running mystery cruises for some time ( and yes our first mystery cruise was with Saga) and include a shore ex within the price.
As always some shore ex were better then others, with the winery and flamenco dancers the best.

Entertainment 
When we saw the first show by the theatre company I did think they were quite poor. They have however gone from strength to strength and are well worth watching
The Magician Peter Wardell was excellent, but I do love magic
The Singers, we did not go to see as they do not appeal so can't comment

The talks during the day, on all things Mystical given by Mei Trow and Prof Terry Keefe were well worth attending, both factually and entertainment wise.

A note of course has to be made for the "Crew Show" with some very talented people. 

As always, quizzes featured a lot, and the evening quiz saw us team up with Pat and Michael from our table, and Val and Brian. We saw a lot of second places, but did manage to win a name that tune one night, by a sterling effort by my good lady Sue. The chilled bottle of Cava the following night ( our prize) tasted even better for all the effort.


Murder Mystery Evenings
Run by Brad and Tamara from Black Watch Entertainment, they also ran  some acting workshops as well. Due to the intimate surroundings required for a murder mystery, they were held in the garden cafe, which limited the number of people who could attend. The original plan was just to run two evenings with two different murders. This caused some disquiet amongst passengers, so they soon had to double up on the evenings. Now I'm not bragging, but after solving a murder mystery at our local before we came away. We were also in the winning team on both evenings on board.

The food
We were 1st sitting in the MDR on a table for 6, and it's fair to say we had some interesting evenings 😜 I will say no more.
There has been nothing that has stood out food wise. It's been hot and adequate, but I have not said " I really enjoyed that" after a meal.
Breakfast we mainly took in the buffet in The Garden Cafe, and lunch in the MDR, but they did have a buffet there, and the Sunday Roast Beef for lunch was the highlight.


The crew
Excellent as always and a credit to Fred

Conclusion
It's been an OK cruise, but I think Fred could have made it a lot more exciting and interesting. I know it's wrong to compare, but as I said above, we have cruised with Saga on a mystery cruise, and left saying it was one of our best cruises. Sadly I will not be saying that this time. 
Fred, you need to improve.

And finally

I would not normally add this to a cruise review, but felt I did have to mention it. On our last sea day (Friday) in the afternoon, we were in the Lido lounge taking part in a music quiz. The Lido lounge is on deck 6 and overlooks the aft deck. Mid way through the quiz, the CD announces that there is a medical evacuation about to take place by helicopter. 
Now when you see this on TV etc., it does look spectacular, but watching in real life, it was amazing. I hope the person who was evacuated makes a full recovery. But this is just a vote of thanks to the men and women who risk their own lives  to help people who are ill.

Also next time you pass someone shaking a tin for these brave people, please put your hand in your pocket and be generous . 

And finally, 

Disembarkation was fine, but 200/300 passengers with luggage waiting for the coach to take them back to the long stay car park was utter chaos. Not enough coaches, took us 1.5 hours 😁😁😁😁

Until next time, bye

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Fred Olsen Mystery Cruise Part IX

So we arrived at our last mystery port, most of the speculation had been on La Rochelle, but no, we arrived into a very foggy Lorient, in Brittany. It's a port we have never been to before, and also a port I have never heard of before.

After breakfast the fog started to lift so we took the shuttle bus into town. We had also bumped into Pat and Michael on the bus, so it was the dynamic foursome again 😄

As we all alighted the bus, there were some local guides offering a 1 hour walking tour for €5 per person. Now when we do walking tours as part of a shore exe it's normally £26 per person, and if you are a regular reader, you will know that this price does get under my skin.

So off we went on our walking tour. It's seems Lorient was the largest of submarine pens for German U Boats during the Second World War. As they were so fortified ( 12 foot reinforced walls) , the only way the allies could find a way of disrupting the U Boats was to bomb the town of Lorient, which ened up totally destroyed. 

Our first stop on our walking tour was a bomb shelter from WWII.


From there we moved onto to some windmills and watch tower, some of the only buildings to survive WWII



We made our way back to the pick up point for the bus, via a cafe for some hot chocolate as the temp is now down to 10C, only to find it had stopped for lunch.
 
However, a band of us intrepid explorers managed the 20 minute walk back to the ship.

So tomorrow is our last sea day, and we are back in Tilbury on Saturday.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog, and I will write a cruise review and post links to my photos once we get home.

I found an app to convert my RAW files, so I hope they are better now .

So until then, bye

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Fred Olsen Mystery Cruise Part VIII

Well here we are at our penultimate port of Leixoes, the port for Oporto. 

We were here in May on Braemar and took a tour on the river ( see previous blog)


So this time we just took the shuttle bus into town, which took about 30 minutes as the traffic was very busy.  We had only been in town about ten minutes, when we bumped into Pat and Michael from our table. Pat had decided she wanted to take a tram ride,so we tagged along for the ride ( see what I did there)
The trams had been imported from Pittsburgh USA and were of a vintage variety. 


It's was only €2.50 so excellent value and great fun. We alighted at the South end of town close to the river, and we could see the bridge that has several levels through the buildings. So we found some steps and started to decend. The steps twisted and turned downwards and were very steep. It must have taken us what seemed ages to decend to the bottom  after about 250 steps.

But made it we did, after a short walk along the river bank we found a delightful cafe with tables out side, so we sat in the sun for a coffee. This then increased to include a glass of Port ( well it had to be done)   We then moved on to include some Tapas like nibbles,which included Octopus, some thing I had not tried before, but can now tick that off my list.



We then found a less arduous route back up into town.

Where we finally made it back to where the shuttle bus picked us up

It had been one of our best times ashore this trip, so thanks to Pat and Michael for their company

This afternoon sees us on the aft deck again. It's warm with patchy cloud, in fact I have to stop writing the blog when the sun comes out as I can't see the screen on my iPad.

So we have three days left, which will be a sea day, somewhere in France, another sea day, then back to Tilbury

So until next time, bye


Monday, 24 November 2014

Fred Olsen Mystery Cruise Part VII

Firstly I must apologies for the quality or lack of, of my photos on my blog.
As I said,I have a new camera for this cruise with an upgraded sensor 24Mb, plus I shoot in RAW format so the files are very large. They import into my IPad OK, but it seems my blogger app can't deal with the large file. I will have to look for an app when we get back so I can re format them to JPEG on my iPad. I will of course post a link to all my photos once we are back and I have sorted them out.

So did you guess from my clues yesterday where we were going .

Well today we are in a very sunny and warm Lisbon.


Our shore exe firstly took us to Sintra the old town being a World UNESCO site 


We spent a pleasant hour walking around the old town, where cork and linen seemed to be the major items for sale, and I never knew cork could be made into so many different things.

From there we went on to Cascais, a sea side resort, which also housed the rich and famous by the look of some of the Villas we saw on the shore line.


By now it was wall to wall sun shine and quite warm, and there was also some local art


So now we only have two more ports to call at, plus another country to visit, so it could be another port in Portugul and one in France, to just two in France.
But as always on this mystery cruise, we will have to wait and see.

So until next time, bye



 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Fred Olsen Mystery Cruise Part VI

Well here we are, a hazy Sunday morning and still in Cadiz. We sail at 1 pm today, as we make our way back to the UK.
We still have three ports to go, two countries, and a capital city to go. So I would not think any bookies are taking bets on our next port 😄

Back to our excursion yesterday, it was a short coach ride to a local village to visit a winery  that makes fortified wine.
But first our tour guide, excellent English, a very dry wit, and so so funny. You know you have mastered a foreign language when you can tell a joke and have a coach full of passengers in uproar. He had also mastered a few profanities, but all were within context, and again a coach in uproar.
One of the best tour guides we have ever had.

So we arrived at the winery, not a tourist attraction but a working building, so after a short talk on its history and how they make the wine, we were shown into a flagstone covered courtyard where we were plied with 5 different wines to taste, along with some tapas. All the while being entertained by a small group of very talented flamenco dancers


The tour was chalk and cheese from our tour in Malaga, and a great afternoon was had by one and all. We did not get back to the ship until 6pm, so it was the buffet for us last night.

As we were here overnight, I took the opportunity to take some long exposure night shots on deck.


This morning we took a short walk into town, and are now sitting in the sun on the prom deck, looking foward to roast beef and Yorkshire puds for lunch. Not a bad Sunday, even if I do say so myself

So until mystery port 5 ( have you worked out what it will be yet ?)

Bye

PS I have a new camera for this cruise, and when I put them into the blog, they look a bit pixelated to me, I'm hoping it's just the app on my IPad and they are OK for you 

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Fred Olsen Mystery Cruise Part V

Well here we are in our fourth mystery port, and it's  not the one I expected. I soon realised this yesterday when I looked at the map, and saw it was too far to reach there over night. 

My guess had been Barcelona as it all seemed to fit, plus we have an overnight stay in port 4.

I had expected us to go further into the Med. But when lights were seen on the shore on the starboard side last night. It became obvious that we had in fact turned back and today docked at Cadiz.

Lazy morning today, hence the blog, and this afternoon off for a shore exe to see some national dancing, and a taste of the local tipple.

If I have time tomorrow I will update you  on that, but if not it will be a couple of days as we have a sea day when we leave here.

It was interesting yesterday afternoon, as we sat out on the prom deck as the crew performed a lifeboat drill of lowering the lifeboat. The interesting part was the fact that none of them were seaman, but one was from the galley, another a waiter and so on. The whole point being that in an emergency with no seaman about for what ever reason, then they knew to operate the lifeboats for the passengers.
Something I had never thought about.

And for no other reason than I like the picture I took yesterday


Until then, bye

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Fred Olsen Mystery Cruise Part III

Day 4

Another dark morning greeted us as the alarm went off at 7am, a quick look out the window confirmed  that my research had been correct, and our second mystery port was in fact Gib.

Now in all the years we have been cruising, and our many calls at Gib, we had never done a shore excursion. So today we put that right.

As we docked today we saw what can only be described as a rather large craft


You can see its size, docked next to Black Watch. It is named Kismet and a quick google showed that it is a charter yacht, with six cabins, taking a max of 12 passengers and 28 crew.
It's all yours for €1,200,000 PER WEEK 

So we w ere soon on board our small coach ready for our trip. We were soon driving across the Gib runway up to the border with Spain, and then off to Europa point, which is the end of Europe. As I said at the begining it was a dark morning that greeted us, and the day continued to be very overcast. Europa Point then added some wind and rain to the overcast sky making it a very bleak spot today. We then made our way up the rock to St Michaels caves.


And of course we had to say hello to the apes


On the way back we popped into Main Street but managed to spend £0

So all in all a very good day 

We do not leave until 11pm tonight, so I don't think we are going far

So until then bye 





Fred Olsen Mystery Cruise Part II

Day 3

Clocks went forward an hour last night, so it was still dark as we approached our first mystery port. I was fairly certain what the first port would be, and I was correct, it was Vigo in northern Spain, a port we had been to many times before, but not for quite a few years.
If you have read my previous blogs, you will know that Fred did indeed send out a shore excursion brochure for this cruise, and we had booked one for this port.
All we knew was that there was just over an hours drive, then two hours walking. 
I assumed that once we docked, or at least on the coach, then we would know where we were going.
But no, the tour remained a mystery, or should I say a pilgrimage.

And yes, we arrived at Santiago de Compostela for our walking tour of the old quarter and a visit to the cathedral where the remains of James the apostle are interred.



We finished our tour at a hotel in the square by the cathedral which is one of the oldest in the world. It also used to be a hospital for the pilgrims in times past, but today it served up some very tasty wine and nibbles.

The weather had been overcast all day, with a cold wind, but it had kept dry and the rain kept off until the journey back to the ship.

The evening saw us attend our murder mystery dinner, which took place in the Garden Cafe. Which for the evening had been turned into Wimlington Manor for an auction of the late Hortense Thornley Cruttocks jewellery.
The evening saw many characters introduced to us as events unfolded, such as Arthur Chance, Cilla Bus, Heidi von Osterhagen and many more.
I'm not boasting, but our team did solve the puzzle and win the bottle of bubbly.
And just between you and me the guilty person was....









Sorry, if I told you, I would have to kill you 😜

It was a very enjoyable few hours, and you can find out more at www.blackwatchenterainment.co.uk


On the quiz front, we do seem to be the Cinderellas as we came second once again 😠 

Today, Wednesday is a sea day, after which we have a few ports in a row. I'm still certain we are heading for the Med, and my clue to where I think I our next port will be is "its a bit of a pinch point"

Until then, bye 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Fred Olsen Mystery Cruise Part I

So the day had arrived, and it was time for our short journey down the A12 to Tilbury dock to board Black Watch for our 14 nights of mystery.

I had done some extensive research to try to get a clue on the general area for the cruise. It was only when we received the shore excursion brochure that I managed to piece together that I think we are going to the Med. I think I have worked out three of the first four ports, but stopped my research at that point, as I still wanted some mystery.

So after brunch, we packed the cases and made our way to Tilbury. Having never sailed from there before it was another new experience for us.

For those of you that have cruised from Southampton and are used to the slick parking and boarding process, then Tilbury is a bit behind. After dropping off our luggage at the terminal you then have quite a drive back to the main port of Tilbury for the long stay car park, and then you are bussed back to the cruise terminal.

Fred must have had problems with their IT, as check in was a manual process with lists on sheets of paper etc.. This caused a queue or two and few frustrated "priority" passengers who felt they should not have to queue 😜

But finally we boarded and found our cabin, only to find no key to be able to lock same, but a quick visit to reception soon solved the problem. I'm not sure if these issues were a hangover from the refit she had just had.
One thankful note, was that at muster, we were not made to process " crocodile style" out to the lifeboat as by now it was dark and it could have been a receipe for disaster.

Going back to boarding, I can only assume the port staff were trying to lessen the queues, but we were waved past the security screening and x-ray of hand luggage to board, which IMHO was not good.

We have a table of six for dinner, and for a first night it was pretty lively, we teamed up later with Pat and Michael from our table and another couple to tackle the evening quiz, we managed a resonable 17/20, but were pipped at the post by the winners who had 18/20.

The red herrings by the crew have started already as the daily news paper stated the clock would go forward, but the CD later announced it was a fishy tale, and it would be a sea day.

So here we are the first day at sea, and lots of passengers trying to work out where we are going. A quick squint  of the sun today, and I think my prediction still holds true.

We have a talk this morning from the group that have been bought on board to run a couple of murder mystery dinners, so looking forward to that.

First formal night tonight, with the Captains welcome party.

If my research is correct, tomorrow will be another sea day, before we dock the next day at...........


Sorry,  but you will have to wait for my  next blog to see if I am correct


Day 2

It's another sea day today, so I thought I would add a small piece  to the blog. It's been a tad lumpy overnight, and still is this morning, which by my reckoning means we are in "the bay" and our first port of call tomorrow (Tuesday)

As you may know, The Black Watch had been for a refit in Hamburg before we boarded. The major part of this refit was the addition of 27 cabins with balconies on deck 7, which happens to be on the prom deck.
I have to say that it's the strangest configuration I have ever seen as the balcony is just part of the prom deck, and it looks like someone has just put up some railings and called it a balcony, all very strange.

But back to yesterday, as I said above we went to a talk about the murder mystery dinners which are being hosted by a group called "Black Watch Production" who specialise in these events. They are hosting two dinners to be held in the Garden Cafe, a small area which normally is the buffet for breakfast/lunch etc. 
Because of its smaller area you have to "book" to join in. We heard last night that the first dinner was fully booked,with 100 on the waiting list, so obviously very popular, but we did manage to bag our seats, so I will report later as the dinner is Tuesday evening, which just so happens to be the good lady and mine's wedding anniversary  (42 years)

We also attended a talk by Mei Trow, an historian and crime writer on the Mary Celeste (and according to Mei it is Mary and not Marie)
It was an interesting talk on various scenarios on what have could happened, and there was also a big clue to our second port of call IMHO

We did better in the quiz last night, and got to a tie breaker (height in metres of the Eiffel Tower) but we lost out on that.

Today will consist of some more talks, with the odd cookery demonstration thrown in. 🍕🍔🍟🍜🍲🍝🍖🍟