A Fred Olsen cruise is a cosy house party at sea, an ethos at odds with cruising on the dazzling mega ships. Yet sometimes an intimate house-party trounces a Broadway spectacular with a cast of thousands. These cruises go with the flow, attuned to the rhythms of the ocean rather than the rhythms of the disco beat. Look elsewhere for hulking hotels-at-sea: these are proper seafaring ships that enjoy a friendly, country-house atmosphere without the snobbery of the ultra-traditional cruise lines.
The four ships in the fleet are quietly competitive, although cleverly matched to their itineraries. With it teak decks, spacious cabins and poolside dining, Black Watch is perfect for longer voyages. Only slightly bigger, and accommodating 880 guests, Boudicca boasts sleek lines and ample deck space, ideal for fair-weather sailing in the Mediterranean or the Caribbean. Braemar, based in Britain in summer, delights its 930 guests with its wraparound promenade deck, two pools and new spa and fitness area. As the biggest in the fleet, with 1,350 guests, Balmoral is the most versatile and spacious ship, ready to set sail to the Norwegian fjords, the Arctic or South America. On all the ships, an abundance of deck space means that even the least sociable cruisers will find quiet corners, perfect for wallowing in long sea voyages.
Fred Olsen’s forte is friendliness, intimacy and an unpretentious charm infused with a traditional British ethos. After high tea in Raffles in Singapore, one of the most popular cruise excursions, what could be more fitting than to sail full circle to Fred Olsen’s home port for a traditional British brew? Yes, the afternoon tea on board is delightfully British, as are the bar prices, entertainment and humour, but it’s balanced by the buzz of an international crew and cosmopolitan cuisine. While there is no standing on ceremony, there is a frisson of excitement on `formal nights’ that even the most laidback lap up: it’s dressing up for the fun of it, a gentle nod to a more elegant era – but not `Downton Abbey at sea’. It’s all about the people’ is the Fred Olsen slogan but it could equally well be: “It’s my house-party and I’ll only dress up if I want to.”