A few months ago I was fortunate enough to have a look around the Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines ship Balmoral. I was impressed by the ship and keen to learn more about the rest of the fleet. When the opportunity arose to visit another Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines ship – Braemar – I was intrigued to see how the two vessels differed.
At 24,344 GRT and 195.92m in length, Braemar is smaller than Balmoral and she carries a total of 929 guests. The ship was built in 1993 and previously sailed as part of the Norwegian Cruise Line and Crown Cruise Line brands. She was bought by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines in 2001 and was extended in length in 2009. Braemar is home to 371 crew and features seven main passenger decks, plus an Upper Sun Deck. She spends the winter months cruising out of the Caribbean to far-flung destinations such as the Amazon. During the summer months she sails out of Southampton to the Mediterranean, Norway, Baltic region and Canary Islands.
We were shown around Braemar by Melanie, one of two on board Future Cruise Sales Managers. Melanie was the perfect hostess and she was happy to answer all of my questions. The ship had a very friendly atmosphere when stepping on board for the first time. Her small size helps create an intimate, almost homely atmosphere and her public rooms flow seamlessly into each other. There are aspects of the décor that appear to be more dated than Balmoral, but it was clear to see that a lot of work went into the Braemar’s recent multi-million pound refurbishment at the end of 2017. You can read about the changes below.
The majority of public rooms are situated on Lounge Deck 5 including the Library, Coral Club, Morning Light Pub, Neptune Lounge, shops and Tours Office. This is also the only deck without cabins on it. Braemar’s beautifully painted Atrium spans five decks and is located towards the aft end of the ship.
Braemar’s 2017 refurbishment changes
- Cabins have been updated with new carpet, soft furnishings, mini-fridges, interactive TVs and lamps. Some bathrooms have also had an update.
- Palms Café has been completely refurbished whilst the Thistle and Grampian restaurants have new seating.
- The Coral Club, Observatory and Neptune Lounge have new carpets and the latter has been fitted with additional seating.
- Like most cruise ship refurbishments, Braemar had extensive engineering and deck maintenance work, including exterior painting of the vessel.
Here is my summary of the key areas around the ship:
Braemar’s pool areas are located on Marquee Deck 8. Facilities include two decent sized swimming pools, Jacuzzis and a paddling pool. The deck area is spacious with comfortable seating and plenty of sunbeds. The Marquee Bar serves the pool areas and is a relaxing outdoor space. Guests can enjoy a light breakfast or lunch at The Poolside, an al fresco daytime dining venue. Guests can also access the Upper Sun Deck golf nets from Deck 8.
Bars and Lounges
There are six bars and lounges on board, varying in size and purpose. Neptune Lounge is the largest show lounge where guests can enjoy live performances each evening. I really liked the gold, yellow and red décor of this room. The colours make it feel more like a theatre than a lounge.
Coral Club houses 170 guests and offers an alternative entertainment option to Neptune Lounge. Both venues feature two shows a night. This is the place to go for late night entertainment such as cabaret acts and dancing.
The Observatory was my favourite bar and is very reminiscent of a small Crow’s Nest, which you will find on P&O Cruises ships. The bar overlooks the bow of the ship and its windows afford panoramic views of the sea. The venue is small and I can imagine it gets very busy pre and post dinner. This is also the place to come if you want to experience a special cover-charge afternoon tea, instead of the regular afternoon tea served elsewhere on board.
The Bookmark Café is an excellent space, which houses the Library and a coffee shop (selling handmade chocolates) and Future Cruise Sales desk. I really liked this room and the layout was very similar to the same café on Balmoral. The on board libraries work on a trust system, so guests do not need to check out library books. They simply read them and return them. This would be where I would spend my time with a good book, a coffee and maybe a chocolate or two! The coffee and pastries in the café were delicious.
The Morning Light Pub is a great venue for a pre-dinner drink and it regularly hosts live bands. The pub was spacious with plenty of seating and it is located towards the forward end of the ship. The pub connects through to The Bookmark Café.
Like Balmoral, Braemar’s buffet dining area is called Palms Café. The venue feels more like a restaurant compared to my experience of buffets on bigger ships. The venue is smart and stylish, with an easily accessible buffet counter to one side. In warm weather the outdoor rear of Palms Café becomes The Grill, a cover-charge restaurant specialising in steak. Unfortunately when the weather is bad, The Grill is closed meaning there is no speciality dining option. On Balmoral, there was a similar dining venue towards the rear of Palms Café, but it had interior dining space as well as exterior.
Braemar has two formal dining venues – the Thistle and Grampian restaurants. Guests tend to book up the Grampian Restaurant quickly, due to its cosy atmosphere, superb sea views and excellent location on Deck 8. I really liked this restaurant, which comes complete with a buffet area (a feature I love and wish all ships would adopt). The Thistle also has a buffet area but it is a much larger restaurant. The restaurants serve five course meals with British, French and Italian influences. The lunchtime menu normally has a sandwich option, which I was pleased to see.
Braemar has a number of balcony cabins, which I was told are in short supply on some of the other Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines ships. Balcony space is ample which surprised me considering the size of the ship. Smoking is permitted on balconies, which is something some other cruise lines have banned. There are four types of balcony cabin to choose from, ranging in size from 140-225 square feet, and suites also have private balcony space.
Guests have the choice of three types of suite, which range in size from 190 square feet to 300 square feet in size. We had a look in a Superior Suite and a Balcony Suite, which were both spacious with a lovely seating area. Guests staying in selected suites have the option to utilise the Suite Dreams package, which includes luxuries such as a bottle of sparkling wine, bathrobe and slippers, fruit basket, pressing of formal wear, luxury towels and umbrellas for use ashore.
Guests can also choose to book a Superior Ocean View cabin, Standard Ocean View or an Interior room. All 485 cabins have tea and coffee making facilities, a hairdryer, mini-fridge, climate control and interactive Smart TV. The TVs are a very good size and the interactive settings are well laid out. It is also worth noting there is only one Laundry Room on board, which enables passengers to wash their own clothes.
Spa and Fitness
Unlike many ships, Braemar’s spa is located on Atlantic Deck 3, next to the Card Room. The spa is much smaller and less grand than Balmoral’s but its quiet location must make for a relaxing experience. The Card Room next door is a sizeable space, perfect for a game of Bridge on a long sea day.
You can exercise at the Fitness Centre located at the aft end of Bridge Deck 7. The gym has a limited amount of fitness machines and I imagine it gets busy during sea days. There are also fitness classes on offer, for those who want to participate. Out on deck, you can walk full circle around Braemar’s promenade, a feature I love on cruise ships. A walk around the ship’s deck four times equates to one mile. The ship also has deck quoits, another popular pastime on smaller vessels.
Other points of interest include a small shopping area, Guest Services, gaming tables, the Tours Office and Photo Gallery. Overall I felt that Braemar was a very friendly ship and the crew were exceptionally helpful and polite. I think The Grill would benefit from some internal dining space, particularly when cruising to areas like Norway and the Baltic region, but I understand there is not the space for this to happen. I was particularly impressed with the size of the balconies and the cabins, and I would definitely opt for a balcony cabin if I were to sail on board.
Like Balmoral there are no children’s facilities, but Melanie did say there were quite a few families sailing on the cruise previously. This meant that the company hired youth staff and some of the public rooms were used as space to entertain the children. The ship does cater for a more mature market but it’s reassuring to hear that more and more families are cruising on board during the school holidays. Braemar is a good option for people who prefer a small ship atmosphere, interesting itineraries and a more traditional cruising experience.
Need to know information
- Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines offer an all-inclusive drinks package, price start at £15 per day. The package includes house wine, soft drinks, Cava, house spirits and selected beer. Guests also receive 50% off premium brand drinks.
- Wi-Fi packages range in price from £13 for a 30 minute ‘pay as you go rate’ to £84 for 14 day continuous unlimited use. This seems fairly standard when comparing prices to other cruise lines.
- Oceans is the cruise line’s loyalty scheme. Membership ranges from Bronze to Diamond Elite, dependent on the number of points earned. Points lapse if you have not cruised with the company for a period of five years or more.
- Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines now offer European river cruising along the Rhine, Danube, Moselle and Main rivers. You can find out more about it here.
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