Fred Olsen Tips For Travellers. 9 Questions Every Traveller Should Ask

Fred Olsen Balmoral in Bergen

Fred Olsen Balmoral in Bergen

Fred Olsen Tips for Travellers. 9 questions every potential traveller should ask themselves.

Fred Olsen is unusual within the cruise world. It is a small line that has not been sucked up and controlled by one of three mega publicly owned cruising corporations: Carnival (AIDA, Carnival, Costa, Cunard, Holland America Line, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises and Seabourn), Royal Caribbean (Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara, Pullmantur and CDF Croisières de France) or Norwegian Cruise Line (Norwegian, Regent Seven Sea and Oceania).

It remains a division within a holding group that has diverse interests, including offshore drilling rigs, renewable energy and Timex watches. The Olsen family has links to cruising dating back to 1848. At the start of World War I they had 40 ships and, despite losing half of them, had built them up to 57 by the start of World War II. That war also devastated its fleet, which then suffered from the collapse of the passenger transportation business with the emergence of scheduled jet aircraft in the 1960s.

Today they operate four ships primarily focused on serving the needs of the UK cruising market, with a classic approach to the experience and on ships that reflect a traditional approach to travel.

In this article I give my tips for travellers considering cruising with them by answering a series of questions I believe that you should be asking if considering travelling with them.

1: Is Fred Olsen the right cruise line for me?

Fred Olsen operates ships that follow a more traditional approach to cruising. They are not full of amenities and attractions aimed to turn them into resorts and destinations in their own right. They are older ships with a design to match. They are very well maintained with stylish contemporary country house décor through out. I had expected them to feel old-fashioned and dated, but they definitely are not.

However, if insist on your line having features beyond lounges, bars, swimming pools and fitness centre or expect high-tech brand-name entertainment production shows, then Fred Olsen is not the ideal line for you.

The four ships in their fleet are:

  • Balmoral: 1,350 guests in 710 cabins.
  • Braemar: 929 guests in 485 cabins
  • Boudicca: 880 guests in 462 cabins.
  • Black Watch: 804 guests in 423 cabins.

You will feel like you are on a medium to small sized ship, and not travelling in a boutique hotel or vast high-energy resort. The ships connect you to the sea and destinations with a focus on large windows and open decks throughout.

Passenger Mix

The guests are almost exclusively British. They are likely to be 90% or more of your fellow passengers. The ship is infused with a UK ambience and experience, from the use of the Pound Sterling as the on board currency, to the language, entertainment, and food.

Fred Olsen also tends to attract a mature traveller who is drawn to this traditional approach. In my experience it seems to have a strong representation from semi-retired and retired travellers. There is a very high degree of loyalty and many guests you meet will be frequent travellers on the line. Most people travel in couples, but there are many solo travellers as the ships offer single cabins, programs and activities to cater for them. The age profile will, of course, fluctuate based on the destination, time of year and length of the cruise.

Families do travel, but it seems from the crew I spoke to, that they are often part of a multi-generational group. When there are children on board there are dedicated Youth Hosts. However, this is not really a cruise line for children in my view. It does not have the specific clubrooms and amenities of lines like Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises that actively target families. It was suggest to me that Fred Olsen is better for parents that like having their children with them most of the time, and are happy to keep them entertained. Saying that, one of my dearest colleagues that I used to work with adores the line. She travelled with them when she was newly wed and carried on once they had young children – and all of them adored their time on Fred Olsen.

The on-board experience follows the following approach:

  • Two fixed dining times in the evening (6:15pm and 8:30pm) with a smart dress code, which will include at least two Formal Nights per week. This is where men are expected to wear dinner suits or dark suits with ties, and women cocktail or ball gowns. There is a buffet restaurant option and, on some nights, an alternative dining steakhouse for a surcharge. If you prefer a variety of dining venues then you may find this more classic approach limiting.
  • Fred Olsen mostly operates older ships that they have acquired and refurbished. So, the ships are not state of the art, have few balcony cabins and do not have Wi-Fi throughout the ship. It is only available in hotspots such as around the library.
  • Facilities are more limited and they are not packed with options. Even the casino is just a blackjack and roulette table with no fruit machines. There is some shopping in the form of a jewellery store, boutique and duty-free shop.
  • The show lounge offers cabaret style shows and the entertainment is focused around activities like bridge, quizzes, occasional Karaoke, desk quoits and talks.

It does appeal to a very clear audience, and has built up a fiercely loyal following. So every cruise has a high level of repeat travellers who will defend the line vigorously from any criticism from newcomers.

Fred Olsen Balmoral Norwegian Fjords

Fred Olsen Balmoral Norwegian Fjords

2: Which is the right Fred Olsen itinerary for me?

The line can take you to virtually every region of the world, calling on at least 200 ports a year.  So you should be able to go almost anywhere on your bucket list of destinations.

Their itineraries focus on Grand Voyages (World Cruise and extended voyages to South America and Africa), Caribbean, Canary Islands, Mediterranean, UK and Ireland, Norwegian Fjords, Arctic, Baltics, Scandinavia and they even do some river cruising with the Braemar.

Fred Olsen also run various theme cruises during the year, which includes a “Poison, Murder and Mystery” event cruise and a “Mystery Cruise” where the actual itinerary is influenced and decided by the guests once it has set sail.

3: Which is the right cabin type for me?

Unlike many modern cruise ships that have a high proportion of balcony cabins to meet the growing demand for this style, the older ships that Fred Olsen operate have a relatively small proportion of these.

You have five main choices:

  • Suites
  • Premium balcony cabins
  • Ocean view cabins, which are the majority available. The ones on higher decks often have restricted views due to the lifeboats. Many have twin bed configuration only and so check on what your options are based on the ship you select. The deluxe ones have shower in bath while the standard usually just have a shower.
  • Inside cabins. Some have twin beds that can be converted into a double.
  • Single cabins

Some cabins have interconnecting doors or can accommodate a third or fourth passenger and so, if travelling with a family, check with the line or via your agent on the specific options on the ship.

4: Have I budgeted the cost of Fred Olsen cruise properly?

The fares on Fred Olsen are competitive in the industry. However, when comparing fares between different options you need to make sure that you are looking at all the costs associated with your trip. Different lines include and exclude alternative items in fares and understanding this is important when making up your mind, and estimating your costs.

I strongly recommend that you focus on the cost of your trip by the time you get home versus the cost of getting onto the ship. I have a number of articles that discuss this, and give detailed tips on budgeting and saving money that you can refer to such as “Cruise budget tips, tricks and advice” and “18 ways to save money on a cruise”.

On Fred Olsen the important ones to take into account are:

  • Gratuities that will be added to your bill at rate which (at time of writing) are £2 per person for the cabin steward and the same for waiting staff. You can adjust this amount at the Reception Desk.
  • Drinks. You can buy a drinks package before the cruise or within the first 48 hours of your cruise. At the time of writing this was £10 if before boarding and £20 per person per day once on the ship. This gives you unlimited house beers, house wine, selected house spirits and draught soft drinks. In addition you then receive half-priced premium drinks and cocktails.  However, be very careful about what you order as there are exclusions, for example unlike many lines if you order coffee or tea in the bars you pay and soft drinks that have to come from a can, such as Ginger Ale, are not included. The exception seems to be diet cola. Every day there is a special priced cocktail of the day, such as a Balmoral Harbour Fizz (Scotch Whiskey, Grand Marnier, Orange Juice, Lemon Juice, Grenadine and Lemonade) for £4.30; special of the day in the Cafe Venus like a Venus Tia Maria Chocolate drink for £3.90 and wine offers.
  • Excursions. These can cost between £40 and £120, based on which you decide to do. So they can be a significant added cost if you do tours in every port. You can reduce costs by doing self-touring, using independent providers or the hop-on hop-off busses. For more on saving money on excursions read my “How to save money on excursions
  • Tax refunds. Based on where your cruise is going, you may be able to claim back sales tax on purchases made in ports. For example sailing to Norway, which is out of the EU from the UK. If this is the case an official will come on board before you leave to the region to process the claims. You need to take the receipts and usually have the goods to show. In some cases you can also post the receipts back to the country for a refund onto your credit card. It takes some effort but worth factoring into your budgeting.
Fred Olsen Balmoral Pool Deck

Fred Olsen Balmoral Pool Deck

5: Have I packed the right things to get the most from my cruise?

For lots of advice and tips on packing read my article: “Cruise packing: what to bring and leave at home”, but for Fred Olsen these are the areas that I would recommend you pay special attention to:

  • Dress code: Most evenings will be informal, which means that short-sleeve shirts and smart trousers are acceptable. There will usually be two formal nights per week and this means dinner suit (or dark suit and tie) for men and cocktail or ball gowns for women. Overall a smart dress code is followed, and there are signs outside restaurants saying that you cannot wear wrap-around sarongs and vests even at lunchtime. Long trousers are essential for men in the evenings.
  • Theme nights: There will usually be one theme night per week. These are usually simple to follow, such as British nights where you are encouraged to wear red, white and blue. Many guests embrace the nights and bring clothing for them.
  • Suitcases can be stored under bed, but the beds are not very high and so not all will fit. You can ask your cabin steward if they can be taken away and returned when you are due to pack at end of the cruise. A self-disembarkation option does not seem to be offered, and so you do not have to limit how much you bring with an eye to carrying it all off early on arrival. If flying to your ship you will be limited by the airline restrictions, but Fred Olsen do not limit you.
  • Plug adaptors for either USA 2-pin or European 2-pin if these are not your standard electrical format.
  • You do not need to bring toiletries like hand wash and body wash as they are provided and you can hire bathrobes and hairdryers. Swimming / beach towels will be provided in the cabin, but you must bring them back and not leave around pools as you will be charged £10 if not returned. Your cabin attendant will change them for clean dry ones each day as needed.
  • You cannot bring alcohol on board either at the start of the cruise or from excursions. If you do it will be held by security until the end of the trip.

6: Have I chosen the right type of excursions or touring options?

Excursions can add quite a bit to the cost of your vacation, and so take time to make sure you select the most suitable options.

Fred Olsen will issue a detailed booklet by cruise of all the excursions that you can review before your departure. They describe the fitness levels and what you should expect for each one. Review these carefully to both guarantee the content will interest you but also that you can cope with it. If there are any tours you absolutely want to do I recommend booking them via the “My Cruise” feature on the website before you embark to avoid missing out.

However, then attend the port talks on the ship and make up your mind finally. Ensure you know the date and time you have to cancel any tours without penalty and tweak your choice after the talks. If you miss the sessions live, you can watch them on the interactive TV for a few days.

Fred Olsen will usually provide a free shuttle bus into the town if it is not within reasonable walking distance of the ship.

Consider self touring and use of the hop-on hop-off bus tours in some ports to save money, and also help to pace your cruise by not over committing to a heavy pace of touring.

Fred Olsen Balmoral Lobby

Fred Olsen Balmoral Lobby

7: How do I get the most of my time on a Fred Olsen ship?

The following are the key tips I have for making the most of your time on board:

  • Security Cards: These are used as your cabin key, charge card on board and your pass on and off the ship. Take care of it and do not put it next to your mobile phone as it can render it inactive.
  • Norovirus (Gastroenteritis) precautions: If you are suffering from diarrhea or vomiting before boarding, make sure you declare it on the forms when checking in. Norovirus is brought on board by people and can spread very easily. It is actually quite simple to avoid contracting through regular 20-second washing of hands (sing happy birthday twice to yourself!) and constant use of the alcohol gel around the ship. Fred Olsen makes no charge for your medical consultation and treatment if you start suffering from the symptoms. If you suffer stay in your cabin and call reception that notify the medical team. If you have it you will be quarantined in your cabin. Fred Olsen are one of the few lines that I have come across that publicly offered a cruise credit if you stick to it. You can apply for it after the cruise. Some other tips to avoid it are to not touch things that people are constantly using like handrails, use a tissue when opening toilet doors, take your own pen to sign for drinks and always use the tongs in self service.
  • Dining: There are two main sittings for dinner (6:15 and 8:30) in the main dining rooms (Avon, Spey and Ballindalloch) with a casual self-service in the Palms Cafe. Breakfast and lunch is served as open seating in the main restaurants and Palm self-service. There is also a small room service menu from 10am until 11pm offering simple meals like soup, pasta and sandwiches. There is a specialty restaurant called “The Grill” that operates some nights which offers al fresco dining if the weather allows for it. The charge is £20 per person and the food is a range of steaks. Late night snacks from 11pm are offered with different themes each night in the Palm, such as bacon sandwiches. If you have dietary issues you are asked to attend a special session on the first day of the cruise to discuss your options and needs.
  • Coffee and Tea: You can get free coffee, tea and juices in the Palm 24 hours a day, and there is an hour-long morning and afternoon coffee service where savoury and sweet treats are available. On sea days a more formal and traditional white-glove afternoon tea is served in the Observation Lounge on Deck 11 with great scenic views on three sides.
  • On-board currency. UK Sterling is the on board currency.
  • Entertainment: There is usually something on offer all through the day, but the line does not offer as many options as larger modern lines. There is greater reliance on enrichment-style activities and people entertaining themselves. Some things to note are:
    • They don’t do bridge or engine room tours for security reasons.
    • Male Dance Hosts are available for single female travellers, although those with partners who cannot (or will not) dance will usually be danced with too.
    • Typical entertainment includes dance classes, like line and ballroom, craft classes, guest speakers, bridge lessons and tournaments, port talks, classical music concerts and quizzes.
    • In the evening there are themed cabaret-style song and dance shows (e.g. Abba, musicals and film) or guest entertainers. Around the ship is music including dancing. There is a selection of gaming tables, such as roulette and blackjack, but no machines.
    • On some days a late-night “Laugh Out Loud” (LOL) Comedy Club is run in the Observation Lounge
  • Interactive Television: The TV in your room allows you to check your bill, order breakfast, excursions, duty-free spirits and cigarettes and pay-per-view movies for just under £2 a movie. There are also a number of English-language channels including Sky Sports, Sky News and BBC Worldwide.
  • Wi-Fi: This is available in limited areas around the ship and not in your cabin. I found it fairly erratic. You have to purchase a pass from reception, which is a rather dated system. It costs from £5 for 30 minutes to £30 for 24 hours (1440 minutes) of time. There appears to be no technical support or classes on using digital devices. I found people would come and ask me for tips on using their tablets and Internet access. Don’t loose your passcode, as the code is the only thing you need to log on. You do not set up your own user name and password.
  • Fred Olsen “The Daily Times”: This is delivered to your cabin during evening turndown. It is four pages long and contains restaurant times, safety notices and the program of events by time. You should use this before you retire to plan the next day. It is important to check it for where and the times you need to meet for excursions.
  • Fitness and Spa: There is a pretty good and large fitness and spa called Atlantis Spa & Fitness Centre. It has a good selection of cardio machines and weights. A program of classes is run every day. Some, such as yoga and Pilates, have a charge of £5 to attend, while others, like circuit classes, are complimentary. There are up to four or five classes a day to chose from.
  • Shops: There are a few shops selling toiletries, sweets and Fred Olsen branded goods, watches, jewellery and a boutique selling clothes and gift items. Sales tables are set up in the evenings and sea days outside these offering items like “inch of gold” chains, handbags and jewellery. You should wait until towards the end of your cruise before buying things from the shops themselves as sometimes there will be discount off sales.
  • Laundry: In addition to sending clothes for dry cleaning or washing, there are self-service facilities that are open from 8am into late evening. You have to buy £2 tokens to use them. They have a good number of machines.
  • Medical Centre: There is 24-hour cover but the facility is open for walk-in appointments between 8-10am and 5-7pm. There are charges for everything other than gastroenteritis concerns. A schedule of the costs of services and drugs is listed outside. Prices are in line with private GP consultations on land in the UK.

Watch my Balmoral Video Tour and Overview

Fred Olsen Balmoral Venus Statue on Pool deck

Fred Olsen Balmoral Venus Statue on Pool deck

8: How do I get the most from my cabin?

Watch my video tour of a typical Ocean view cabin on Balmoral, which will give you a good feel for the facilities, space and amenities.

These are some things to help you get the most from your cabin:

  • You should check, as per my earlier tips, carefully on the configuration of your cabin before booking.
  • The beds have duvets as standard, but if you want sheets and blankets you can request them from the steward.
  • Use the interactive TV to order breakfast, watch pay-per-view movies, view port talks, order duty free and wine for table.
  • There are coffee and tea making amenities in the room.
  • There is hand wash and body wash provided
  • You can request a hairdryer and gown. Charges may apply.
  • You can control if you hear announcements in the cabin via the panel at the side of the bed.
  • If you need shoe mitts, sewing kit, shower cap, vanity kit or soap bars you can ask for them and will be supplied for free. They are not provided as standard in the cabins.

 9: What should I do if I like the Fred Olsen experience?

If you enjoy your time on the ship then book future cruises on the ship. They offer many additional benefits by booking through the Future Cruise Desk. On the cruise I was on they were offering three cruises for the price of two, with the lowest being the complimentary one. In addition they were giving benefits like no gratuities for cruises of under 35 days and discounted drinks packages.

Have you cruised with Fred Olsen and have any other tips? Is so, please email them to me or add a comment on the post.

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Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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