Braemar is one of the most welcoming cruise ships you're likely to experience. Wherever you sit -- out on deck, in the lounges or waiting for a drink at the bar -- you are guaranteed to be able to turn around and have someone to engage in a pleasant and warm conversation. First impressions too, are of a beautifully furnished and well laid out ship styled in a light and attractive palette of mostly cream and gold or shades of blue. It also features some truly elegant public rooms and a 2012 refit gave it a much needed facelift, and with on-going refurbishment it maintains its sparkle.
Originally built in 1993, Braemar joined Fred. Olsen Cruise Line's fleet of four ships (the others are Balmoral, Black Watch, and Boudicca) in 2001. In 2008 it had a major refurbishment, during which it was "stretched" (cut in half and a new section placed in the middle – you can spot the join on the outside of the ship), which created extra space for more cabins and large, luxurious public rooms.
Fred. Olsen is well known for having a devoted following of older passengers, but depending on the time of year and destination you may find it skewed more towards middle age. The general atmosphere is informal and friendly, but this doesn't affect the usual programme of formal nights. On a 14-night cruise expect three formal nights and one British night, on which passengers were invited to dress in red, white and blue. Non British cruisers were invited to dress in colours of their own national flag, but it was mostly the Union Flag, and a traditional British sing-a-long in the showlounge.
There is a huge range of entertainment for all tastes throughout the day, especially on sea days, but always plenty to do on port days for those who don't want to go ashore. The large library, with excellent seating and a wide range of books, is also the Wi-Fi centre for those who want to keep in touch with the outside world. There's the age-old tradition of a jigsaw puzzle spread out in the library for passengers to add a few pieces in idle moments. A newsletter of world news is available every day from Guest Services.
Adjoining the library is the Bookmark Café, recently introduced on all four Fred. Olsen ships, serving a selection of speciality coffees and teas from Taylors of Harrogate in relaxing surroundings, as well as handmade chocolates.
For more lively entertainment, there's music in various lounges and bars, karaoke at one end of the ship and a cocktail pianist at the other. During the day, there's shuffleboard and deck quoits, bingo and quizzes. Of course also on sunny days there's the Marquee deck with plenty of sun loungers, two swimming pools and two hot tubs.
Service is excellent, from a friendly and always helpful crew. Even on a small ship it's still easy to lose your way for the first day or two, but there's always someone on hand to point you in the right direction.