We’re back from our short cruise on Black watch – three nights in mid-December, including an overnight stay in Rouen. I was able to blog from the cruise and made several posts, so as usual this summary page started with the links to the posts.
- I started with an introduction to the cruise, and then an account of travelling to Southampton and embarkation;
- Then we were in Rouen, for two days: this post covers the first day when we did our own thing, and this second one covers the second day when we went on an excursion;
- In between times I did a couple of shorter posts: this one about the formal dinner, and this one about internet arrangements on board;
- And finally I posted about the end of the cruise – disembarking late in Southampton and the subsequent journey home.
And now for the review:
I’ve wanted to cruise on Black Watch for a number of years – petty much ever since I got interested in cruising. Now I have, and overall – it was good but not great. I’m very aware that this was just a short cruise, and in December at that, so there was one whole aspect of the ship – the decks – that we didn’t really get to experience at all. I also recognise that on a cruise with no sea-days, we didn’t really use the Braemar Room or Explorers Library as they would normally be used. But even allowing for that I’ve come away with reservations. Note that I’m not calling them ‘complaints’: I don’t think the ship or the facilities onboard ever fell short of what was advertised. In certain areas, for example the service in the Glentannar restaurant and the Garden cafe, it was exceptionally good, in fact. But in recent years we’ve enjoyed cruises on ever-larger ships: four of our last five cruises before this were on either Ventura or Solstice, for example, and the fifth was on Arcadia. I think we have come to expect the scale of provision and the level of facilities that these larger ships can provide, and it was a bit of a shock going back to something significantly smaller. We sat and discussed this on the last afternoon of the cruise so we’d already reached our conclusions before the expensive disaster of the homeward journey, so that experience hasn’t coloured our views. Here’s what we concluded:-
- the Balcony Suite was great, especially the bathroom, but (as I said on one of the posts) it wasn’t much bigger than a standard balcony cabin on Ventura. Of course we knew in advance that the Black Watch cabins were generally smaller and had fewer features than the Ventura or Solstice cabins, but it was only when we were actually on board that we realised the extent to which this was true. We originally booked a standard outside cabin on Deck 4, and we both think that we would have found that very small if we hadn’t upgraded. If we were to go back on Black Watch for a longer cruise it wouldn’t be in a Balcony Suite, it would be in a humbler cabin altogether, and I don’t think we’d be happy;
- We realise now how much we enjoy the scale of larger ships. We did find a number of the rooms on Black Watch rather small – the Pipers Bar, for instance, or even the Observatory. The latter, especially, was OK for its purpose but it was a surprise, again, how small I felt it was compared to, say, Metropolis on Ventura or the Crows Nest on Arcadia, and we have come to enjoy these larger spaces;
- We hadn’t realised how much the restricted opening hours of the restaurants would influence us. We were definitely worried towards the end of the excursion on day 2 as to whether or not the Garden Cafe would still be open when we got back and were ready to eat. It was, so there wasn’t a problem, but again we’ve got used to the P&O situation when there is almost *always* a buffet open. Other people have reminded us that we could have used room service, and that’s true. However, I have to say that we have never used room service – ever – and we didn’t think of it.
This all sounds as if we were unhappy with the cruise, whereas in fact we enjoyed it. We found the Garden Cafe and the Glentannar restaurant excellent, especially as regards service. I thought the food was good enough, but Val found it better than that; indeed, she had a Beef Strogonoff that she described as the best she’d ever had. There was a good range of dishes available: appetisers, soups, salads, main courses and desserts. We also thought there was a good range of wines available, and although we found the standard glass size of 150ml a little strange, we were very pleased with the serving arrangements of a number of wines for dinner: by the glass, the bottle, or in several different sizes of carafe. Excellent! – for the formal night, we found that the 500ml carafe was just enough of the wine we wanted, and the ‘pre-order’ system worked well. Finally, I was very impressed with internet provision, both as regards operation and price.
So would we cruise with Fred Olsen again? I’m not sure. I think we’re beginning to find short cruises (3 or 4 nights) increasingly hard for what they offer: it’s a long way from Sheffield to Southampton, and doing the journey twice in just a few days is tiring. So I suspect that we won’t be booking any more short cruises for a while, which brings us back to the the issues discussed above as regards Fred Olsen and longer cruises. Regretfully, it may be that Fred Olsen is not quite the right line for us, at least at the moment.