On Monday 12th November, I joined ten of the Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines team from Head Office on a trip to Southampton to visit Black Watch and Balmoral. Having cruised on Braemar twice, it was a great opportunity to learn more about the rest of the fleet.
Driving down on Sunday afternoon in convoy, I was in the car with Ian and Terri and was subjected to what can only be described as an onslaught of R&B from R Kelly to Kanye West in the back seat. A little outside of my comfort zone as Radio 4 is usually my station of choice, but on the plus side it kept me awake. All was forgiven as they are both hilarious, and Ian got us to the hotel in one piece.
Up early the next morning, we drove over to the docks. This time I was in the car with Victoria as the music lurched from one extreme to the other - this time Classic FM! The Southampton rush-hour traffic was horrendous but we finally made it to Black Watch.
Once through security, Victoria and Carl from Ambient Light went to take some updated 360 shots for areas of the ship that have recently been refurbished and Holly led the rest of us through a tour of the ship.
We made our way up to the ship and onto the top deck. Where I discovered that Black Watch has a little tennis court / 5-a-side football pitch! Her other unique feature is a 3D cinema - none of the other Fred.s ships have these. She has benefited from a significant recent refurbishment, and has capacity for 804 guests. We met many of the typically friendly and welcoming Fred. Olsen crew as we passed through the ship - one of the things they're so loved for. And I can confirm that the team in Head Office are just as lovely!
It was great to see Ship Tracker displayed on the digital signage around the ship, as this was developed by SimpleClick and allows passengers to see where they are now, where they're going and where the other ships in the fleet are in the world.
As we were getting ready to leave Black Watch, we spotted an interesting character by the Tours Desk. FOCL have started to carry RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats) onboard, which are available to take guests 'closer to the action' when in port. As you need to be fairly agile to be able to get on and off, they have a couple of RIB seats in Guest Services for guests to 'have a go'. They've handily added a mannequin and Hannah couldn't resist getting up there to join him.
After our whirlwind tour, we made our way over to Balmoral which was a 10 minute drive away. Balmoral is Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines' flagship, so I was really keen to to see her, and she is beautiful. With a guest capacity of 1,350, she is significantly larger than the other ships in the fleet, but as with all of the Fred. Olsen vessels, feels warm, welcoming and homely.
While Andy did some filming, and Victoria and Carl left to take more 360s, we set off on our second ship tour of the day. The most exciting 'behind the scenes' part of the tour was seeing the galley. Robbie, the Executive Chef showed us around and explained that although Balmoral is the largest ship, it has one of the smallest galleys. We were all amazed by how much food (and it is wonderful food) is produced in such a small space. The bakery was our favourite place, the smell was gorgeous!
And finally, it was lunchtime and after working up an appetite walking all around the ships, we had the opportunity to try some of the mouth-watering food that we'd seen being cooked in the galley earlier. As I've found on previous cruises, the food was exceptional, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it before it was sadly time to leave.
I think everyone agreed that the day had been a success, and as a bonus, Victoria even put on a bit of Radio 4 for me on the drive home.
Thank you Fred.s for a great trip - hopefully next time I see one of your ships I'll be going on a cruise!