Going on a voyage always takes me on a journey of self-discovery and transformation. Those first few hours after boarding, settling down and unpacking, soon transport me to a world that touches all my senses.
I love being on the open sea! Or so my positive self thinks!! I love being by the sea!
As a lover of Scandinavia I was happy to try an 11night cruise exploring the islands and cities of the Baltic in August on Fred Olsen’s Braemar.
I’ll tell you more about these amazing places that I visited in later posts:
Kiel Canal - Germany
Rønne, Bornholm – Denmark
Visby, Gotland - Sweden
Stockholm – Sweden
Mariehamn, Åland– Finland
Copenhagen - Denmark
I approached the 11-night discovery from Southampton with excitement and a few nerves!
I had never been on a Fred Olsen cruise. In addition, I was still not sure about rough seas, after having previously experienced a summer storm on the Atlantic.
But Fred Olsen had last minute deals for solo travellers, so I could not refuse a quiet double cabin mid-ship and with a picture window on Deck 6, visiting the places on my bucket list. And there were calm seas mostly! And warm sunshine every day.
So here are 7 things that I think Fred Olsen did well. And just one little thing that might have been better.
The crew loved their work, and it showed!
The Captain, Jozo Glavic always had a smile on his face and a bright positive voice when giving his daily broadcast, always ending…’and remember always to be happy’!!
Yaya who looked after my room, was caring and sweet, and had a smile when bringing my room breakfast most mornings.
Most of the staff were from Thailand and the Philippines and many had worked over 10 years for Fred Olsen. In my opinion, this gave a consistency of culture and values that created a connected experience. There were ‘leaky eyes’ from staff and guests when the lead classical pianist received his retirement gift and goodbye video on the last night at sea, retiring after 13 years on board ship.
There were lots of smiles and gentle consideration for guests with mobility issues, and lots of fun always happening around the children’s activities on board.
The Customer Service team were always polite and quick with responses to questions. Dining room staff were always keen to please and appeared happy in their work.
Oh yes, and I can’t forget the staff entertainment night and pretty outrageous and fun performances. Trust me, the dancers were very good!
Focus on fun and experience
Fred Olsen is a fun cruise line. That said, the entertainment wasn’t over the top! There was a wonderful selection of activities from quiz games to informative lectures and port talks. The talks were also on the in-room television as well, so you could catch up if you just happened to be in the hot tub or enjoying afternoon tea in the Book Mark café at the time he was speaking live in the Neptune.
There was something for everyone to do. But what I loved most was that there was no pressure to conform, and you could just do absolutely nothing!
There were two formal evenings – the Captains welcome and farewell cocktail parties. Some women dressed up with velvet and pearls, others like me were simply smart.
Lots of affordable choices for solo and independent travellers
On board Braemar, there were lots of couples. Some celebrating milestone trips and some younger couples enjoying the school summer holidays. This cruise had a mix of ages from 4 to 94, and dispelled the myth that Fred Olsen is for oldies!
There were small groups, friends travelling together and about 20% were travelling independently solo. Some had enjoyed 60 cruises and others like Elisabeth, a vet, who were on their first voyage at sea.
Fred Olsen also is very unique in the wide range of solo room options they offer. Yes, there are still single supplements, but Fred Olsen often offers reductions from 20 to 50%, and sometimes, as I benefitted from, last minute bargains!
This focus on affordability, which is super important, shows that they have a sensitivity to the issues of solo travellers.
When it came to shore excursions, there was a big focus on catering for the independent traveller. It did not take long for us solo travellers to find each other and I made several lovely friends by the end of the cruise.
The food menus were also designed for every taste. The restaurant staff very quickly remembered drink choices and dietary issues and did everything possible to make sure needs were met.
The buffets for breakfast and lunch offered wonderful choices from vegetarian to gluten free and the formal evening dinners were unique and creative every night.
I did pay a little extra to have early evening dining, and was allocated to a table of fellow solos, with the best view of the sea from our rear facing window table. We all quickly jelled and enjoyed our evenings of fun and friendship. Some evenings I dined in Palms café, a self-service area, serving traditional and international dishes. Great if you were late back from a day trip and had eaten in a visiting town.
A focus on health and well being
There were about 800 passengers on the Braemar. That small ship feel was very comfortable and created a sense of personal connection and responsibility.
Staying healthy on board was obviously a big priority and there was a definite focus on hygiene and good health. There were hand sanitizer stands everywhere and people used them regularly! And the Captain reminded us in his daily broadcast.
The Braemar Atlantis spa delivered an amazing selection of massage options. Each day they had special offers, from reflexology to food intolerance testing. If staying on board, you could enjoy a whole day of relaxation and pampering in the Spa.
For passengers with mobility issues, Fred Olsen addressed their needs beautifully. There was no stress about people using walkers or sticks. And the children on board were to be complimented on their behaviour. I observed a couple of medical emergencies which were treated quickly and professionally.
Communication was clear, consistent and informative
One thing I would praise Fred Olsen for was the high quality of communication.
From the Captain’s daily updates to Cruise Director announcements, communication was excellent. Information in the rooms was super easy to digest and the Daily Times was a wealth of information. Each evening it would appear on your pillow along with a chocolate or mint, all to be read before sleeping and dream about the next days’ highlights.
It was necessary to advance clocks by one hour on two occasions as we sailed into Finnish waters, and then they were put back gradually as we sailed back into UK waters. We were reminded frequently!
Cool, calm and informative, Captain Jozo Glavic had a wonderful sense of Croatian humour. On the last day at sea he held audience with Hotel manager Rico Taubert giving guests an insight into ship life and a chance for guests to ask questions as well.
Shore excursions were affordable and well managed
You might expect shore excursions to be a big expense while cruising, but I felt that the prices were very affordable! It is always hard to please everyone which is why Fred Olsen offers solo and independent options, include hop-on-hop-off buses and shuttles as well as provision of town and city maps.
Time spent in the ports we visited was often quite short, not allowing for longer day trips. And in the days where we had over 10 hours in port, it would have been great to have been given the option in both a morning and afternoon shore excursion. I realise the Captain has a schedule, but one area I would have liked to see extended along with sea days being reduced.
The cruise was advertised (online and in the cabin) as travelling through the Kiel canal on outbound and inbound journey from the Baltic sea. It was an amazing outbound experience to travel the Kiel canal, but on the return from Copenhagen we came the long way round, the top of Denmark and then two long days on the North Sea back to Southampton.
And finally, Fred Olsen genuinely cares for its guests
The ship was comfortable and had been refurbished in November 2017, it was clean and safe and the staff were professional and genuine. Overall, the service was efficient and flexible.
In my opinion, every passenger was treated with patience and respect. A kindness permeated the ship. I never heard a grumble and overall it was a happy cruise.
I left with memories of spectacular Swedish, Finnish and Danish cities and towns.
My personal favourites were sailing into the Stockholm archipelago early morning and the clear and bright air that was the Finnish Åland islands.
I made several new friends and got a different perspective on cruising that is not a voyage! Quite honestly, without hesitation, I would recommend Fred Olsen if you are looking for an affordable, classic and innovative cruise experience.
If you are thinking about cruising solo, then stop and just book it. You really will have an amazing time and I am sure you will have as much or as little company as you wish. You won’t be alone all of the time. I promise!