By Kelly Ranson, Cruise Critic Contributor; Updated by Deb Stone, Cruise Critic Contributor (4.0)
Braemar was originally built in 1993 as the 19,089-ton, 727-passenger vessel Crown Dynasty for the now-defunct Crown Cruise Lines. It joined the Fred. Olsen fleet in 2001.
In 2008, Braemar went into dry dock at Hamburg's Blohm + Voss shipyard where it was given a massive overhaul and facelift. The ship emerged as a shiny, new, 23,000-ton, 929-passenger vessel with an extra 31.2 metres in length in the mid section. (Editor's note: When you are standing next to the ship in port, see if you can make out where the cut was. It's pretty easy to spot!) Along with this addition came 70 new cabins, a new lounge (The Observatory), a second restaurant (The Grampian) and an expanded sun deck with one new pool and plenty of room for bathers.
One of the biggest changes that past passengers will notice is the Braemar Room on Deck 5 -- it leads into the new Scottish-inspired Morning Light Pub (which debuted on sister ship Balmoral in early 2008). Prior to the refit, the area was more of a walkway, but now the extended Braemar Room has become more of a public room in its own right, with Aztec and nautical-themed decor. The area is also home to a library, card room and Internet room.
Braemar is clearly a ship that attracts repeat passengers, and much of this is due to the friendliness of the passengers and the camaraderie a small ship engenders. Many conversations on my cruise started with "Last time I was on Braemar..." or "We sailed on the ship before the extra space was added...." But, instead of acting cliquey, the repeat passengers were very welcoming, even offering cruising tips to Fred. Olsen newbies.
Braemar is a really lovely ship, light and airy with decor that's mostly cream and gold or shades of blue, with some truly elegant public rooms. Its 2012 refit has left it dazzlingly clean, although refurbishment takes place all the time: there are two upholsterers among the crew to deal with daily wear and tear.
It's the perfect ship for those who enjoy the simple things when it comes to cruises. There's a new gym with sea views, a small spa and salon, a new crafts room, two swimming pools, two whirlpools, golf nets and deck games. There is also a card room and Internet room near the library. In addition to the main Thistle Restaurant, there's the more intimate Grampian Restaurant and a self-serve buffet, plus a choice of bars and two evening entertainment venues.
The cabins are reasonably large and bright but a little old-fashioned, most without balconies or floor-to-ceiling windows, and the bathrooms are standard but underwhelming. Although better bathrooms should be a priority, we didn't think there were many other areas that needed serious improvements.
The upside of staying on this pleasingly classic cruise ship is that it doesn't feel like any other -- so there's no deja vu like you get on some modern vessels.
Braemar is a truly British ship -- with tea served in abundance, British guest speakers and a Daily Mail print-out paper available each day in reception. It's also quite traditional, with formal dining and plenty of enrichment classes. For this reason, the ship attracts the senior crowd, particularly in the winter. However, during the summer holidays you will find children onboard and the kids do have a daily programme. Because of this, die-hard Fred. Olsen fans should probably avoid the school holidays.
Braemar used to be based mostly in the Caribbean, but with Caribbean flights growing increasingly expensive, it will now spend winter in the Canaries and West Africa, early summer in the Baltic and Norway, and high summer in the Mediterranean.
Like the other ships in the company, Braemar caters for British tastes, with afternoon tea, the Daily Mail "Instant" news available each afternoon and British guest speakers (although there were none on our Christmas shopping mini-cruise). However, on world cruises, the clientele becomes more international, and there are a few Americans and continental Europeans -- particularly Norwegian passengers. Most are 60 and older, although mini-cruises do seem to buck the trends; there were plenty of passengers in their 50's and some in their 40's. The company is not known for its children's programmes, but during school holidays children are often onboard with parents, grandparents or both. Multigenerational cruising also seems to be a trend on Fred. Olsen.
At least half of the passengers on every Fred. Olsen ship are repeat passengers, and some wouldn't consider using any other cruise line.
There are also a number of themed nights, including rock 'n' roll, tropical, international and nautical, but these last two are being phased out and less emphasis will be placed on the former. Some passengers go to great lengths to dress up on these evenings, the public rooms are decorated, the bar staff and waiters appropriately attired, and the entertainment is also themed. During the daytime, there is a wide variety of wear around the ship, depending on activities undertaken, but swimwear is not welcome in the restaurants and bars.
|Beautiful scenery, pity about the ship|
August 2014 Charley Parkes
Hubby and I made he long journey to Dover for this cruise. We've done a few before including one on the Balmoral. We thought we'd give this one a go. The initial impression was quite good although it went on a downhill slope after the first few ...continue
|A great disappointment|
August 2014 maggymog
Right from the start this inaugural river cruise was beset with problems. From the second day we had the Norovirus which wiped out a lot of on-board activities and amenities including any self-service restaurant meals and closed all the public ...continue
|What a Pity|
August 2014 Miss Fortune
This was the maiden voyage down the Loire followed by a further river trip down the Garonne to Bordeaux. Someone came on board with the dreaded Norovirus which meant that on 4 of the 7 days cruise we were in lockdown which spoiled the trip. No ...continue
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