A journey to Liverpool to see ‘Black Watch’ in her home port for a series of 14 sailings in 2015, completes the set for me of visiting or sailing on all four Fred Olsen ships.
At just over 28,600 tonnes, ‘Black Watch’ does not catch the eye as you sweep in on the ring road in the same way as bigger ships such as Queen Victoria does. Nevertheless, outward appearances can be deceptive and this is certainly the case with ‘Black Watch’.
The ship has a slightly old fashioned raked bow, but is sleek and white and was stretched in 1981, before Fred Olsen took it over. It has now been in service with the cruise line for nearly 20 years and has recently had a refit (December 2014).
As a result, I thought she was generally well maintained and tidy, if in a somewhat old fashioned (but not unappealing) way with respect to furnishings and fittings. The use of light, bright colours gives the ship a relaxing, comfortable and homely feel – just as I would expect on a Fred Olsen cruise.
For a ship of its size it has some delightful and appealing features from the dedicated, 156 seater cinema forward on Marina deck to the surprisingly large gym area (with sauna and steam room facilities) and golf net on the Sun deck. It packs a lot into its 580’ length, including a casino area with a couple of gaming tables and the Atlantis Spa on Atlantic deck with 2 treatment rooms.
The Dalreogh card room, Explorer’s Library (complete with daily Sudoku) and internet café (with the obligatory very large and incomplete jigsaw) are all on the Lido deck close to the Café Venus – a one stop (Taylors of Harrogate inspired ) coffee shop where you can treat yourself to a speciality tea or coffee and indulge in some homemade chocolates.
The Lido (Promenade) deck is also the area where the biggest changes have been made with regard to cabins. The deck itself has a teak wrap round walk way, part of which is sheltered.
A good proportion of the Superior Outside cabins on deck 7 have been converted into Terrace Balcony cabins and suites, whereby there is a small terrace area opening onto the deck, albeit a little higher than the actual deck level.
While this may reduce the solitude of sitting on your own balcony, with passers-by to greet, none of the windows have one way glass and the picture windows in the bedroom of the Terrace suites have a view directly onto the deck itself. Appropriate nightwear a must – or keep your curtains closed!!
As with other older ships the orientation of cabins within the same category and/or grade are not necessarily uniform. Some of the balcony cabins on ‘Black Watch’ on deck 8 have a view obstructed by the lifeboats and there are only fixed ‘L’ shaped beds available below balcony categories.
Nevertheless, even some of the lowest-grade outside cabins have the option of a bath and shower and all twin inside and most twin outside cabins are the same size (140 sq ft for insides and 160 sq ft for outsides). There are over 30 dedicates single cabins across all categories and 4 wheelchair adapted cabins.
However, due to the age of the ship, these cabins have been modified, as opposed to purpose built and they may still present mobility issues to clients permanently confined to a wheelchair.
There are a variety of lounges including the Lido Lounge aft on the ship and the Observatory where you can also indulge in a speciality afternoon tea (for a small additional charge) whilst taking in the panoramic views from just above the bridge, with the aid of conveniently located binoculars.
The Braemar Lounge is a particularly, bright, cheery, contemporary area close to the Morning Lights Pub (Fred Olsen’s signature pub found on all the ships and added to Black Watch during the last re fit).
Although the Neptune Lounge (with seating for 400) is the main show lounge on the ship – there is no formal theatre, entertainment can be found in all the lounge areas ranging from pianists to singers, dancing to magicians, as well as quizzes and lectures. There is no dedicated disco aboard! One of the best things about Fred Olsen ships is that the prices for drinks and other chargeable refreshments are on a par with those on the high street or your local pub (and no service charge is added).
The only thing that I did miss on ‘Black Watch’ was a restaurant at the aft of the ship – traditionally the buffet restaurant. On this ship, all the eateries are on deck 6 – the Lounge Deck. The main restaurant is the Glentanar with the smaller Orchid Room just behind it.
The self service restaurant is the Braemar Garden Café with an annexe into the delightfully airy Courtyard. In both these restaurants you can get tea and coffee round the clock.
The food is of a good quality with an extensive choice: breakfast and lunch can be either buffet style or a la carte with a more formal, full service dinner in the main restaurants. There is even The Grill – open on selected days for breakfast and lunch and with a supplement for an al fresco evening meal with a specially selected menu – a token gesture to the popular speciality dining found on larger ships.
All in all I fell in love with this little ship. She is full of character, including the creeks and groans, full of sailing and Fred Olsen memorabilia and with a decent standard of entertainment and activities to suit all tastes, including pools and Jacuzzis on the open decks.
Fred Olsen cruises appeal to a slightly older clientele, perhaps those preferring the more traditional style of British cruising –including formal nights and appropriate attire in the restaurants! But they offer destinations and ports of call that larger cruise ships cannot reach. ‘Black Watch’ can sail up the Grand Canal in Venice and moor up in St Petersburg right next to the famous onion domed buildings ‘downtown’.
The food and service currently punch above their weight and I would happily sail on her – she’s like putting on a pair of well-worn and very comfortable slippers!