12 of 13 people found this review informative
|Reviewed By: Johnston, Yarnton on 20th Feb 2011|
|Cruise Line: Fred. Olsen Cruises||Times cruised before: 1-2|
|Cruise Ship: Braemar||Sailed: February, 2011|
|Destination: South America||Age: 56-65|
This was one of Fred Olsen's Arts cruises. All necessary information leading up to departure was timely and informative. Our experience booking through Cruise.co.uk was good with help given at any stage of the process for us relatively inexperienced at cruise holidays.
We flew by chartered Thomas Cook plane from Gatwick to Barbados. Flight was perfectly adequate arriving approximately on time after about 8.5 hours. We felt that the transfer arrangement from plane to ship was very clever avoiding delays we had previously experienced at Barbados airport. There were a few short queues but formalities of immigration and security do take time.
Once on board and unpacked we set off to explore the ship, this being our first time on the Braemar. First impressions were good. Clean, tidy and friendly. Plenty (at least for us) eating, drinking, relaxing and entertainment options. We had selected an inside cabin in the belief that we’d not be spending much time in it. This was an accurate assumption. Nothing wrong with the cabin – plenty of room for clothes and other bits and pieces within our 25kg luggage limit. That said, the single beds layout being at 90 degrees to each other is something we would explore for alternative options next time.
Our first three days were spent cruising (although not in sight of) the coast of South America. This was a great way to unwind from the hurly burly of modern British life. It also gave time to learn more about our destination and get to know some of our fellow passengers. We found it strange that quite a few people book cruising holidays knowing that they will be sea sick in all but the most calm conditions. Perhaps we are fortunate to have reasonable sea legs and experienced nothing worse than force 8 during the cruise.
We began to develop a routine in these first few days. As far as meal times were concerned we preferred to use the Thistle restaurant only for our main evening meal. Other meal times would find us in the Palms Cafe and Lido Bar where we could generally relax in the open air. Fortunately at these latitudes in February even the rain is warm. Our dining companions in the Thistle restaurant must have been hand-picked by the Fred Olsen admin team. We all were of a similar age and had interests and experiences that made for great atmosphere and good conversation. Formal and theme evenings interspersed with ‘elegant casual’ (which included a relaxed attitude to jackets and ties) meant that deciding what to wear for each evening was never a problem. Only concern was that the Thistle restaurant air conditioning didn’t seem adequate. Even the ladies in strapless gowns pleaded for lower temperature. Men in bow ties and DJ/Tux simply melted.
Evening entertainment was varied enough that if one thing was not to your taste there was always an alternative. Have to say that if you wanted to stay in touch with friends/family by e-mail/internet that the on board facility or satellite comms in this part of the world is just not up to the job. We wasted some time and money trying to get connected but resigned ourselves to remaining out of contact.
Anyway we arrived at the Macapa pilot station on schedule and began the Amazonian leg of the cruise. We had been told about the brown colour of the water but until you see it it is hard to imagine. We were treated with a ‘casual’ dolphin display whilst awaiting clearance to proceed. More photo opportunity was to come. The immensity of the Amazon is overwhelming. For once the North Americans cannot lay claim to the biggest of something! Mile after mile the banks of the river never seemed to get closer together although the pilot/captain managed to use deep water channels as much as possible to get passengers as close to one bank or another in order to develop and maintain interest in the flora and fauna of the region. Our first port was Santarem and we had opted for two shore excursions on this day. The morning took us onto a walk in the rain forest and the afternoon was spent cruising (in a local vessel) small Amazon tributaries in search of wildlife and an opportunity for piranha fishing. Both excursions were well organised and we though represented fair value for money. Even though we didn’t catch piranha we did get to see plenty of exotic birds, iguana and sloths. Terrific photo session although we would have liked to go slower and spend more time for photographs. Next day our port of call was Parantins. Seemingly a town divided red and blue in the competition of Boi Bumba festival. Interesting historic and cultural experience again we considered the excursion to be good value for money. Overnight we cruised to Manaus where we would spend two days. Actually we would see virtually nothing of Manaus as we had booked the two-day overnight Jungle Adventure excursion to Ariau Lodge some 50 miles further on along the River Negro, the Amazon’s largest tributary. Once again we were struck by the immensity of this truely gigantic river. Even at this distance from the estuary there are times when the far bank was just a distant image. The Ariau Lodge is a hotel complex based on a series of towers built on stilts above the normal high water line. Each tower is linked by high wooden walkways that extend beyond the towers and into the rainforest making for a good opportunity to explore canopy and ground/water level. The variation in water level between wet and dry seasons is awesome. Even though the walkways were perhaps some 10 metres above the water level whilst we were there (Feb 2011), in 2009 the lower level of the hotel was flooded! The hotel area gives a real taste of the variety of plants, trees, fish, reptiles, birds and mammals that inhabit the rainforest jungle and its waterways. We imagined the rooms would be fairly basic, but in fact were a very good size (although somewhat lacking in wardrobe space if staying longer than we did), air conditioned, with a good sized clean bathroom. One interesting feature however was an electrical circuit breaker and power outlet positioned under the shower head... We managed to resist the temptation to shave in the shower! On this excursion we took full advantage of local guided trips which included another rainforest walk, visit to an indigenous Amazon Indian dwelling (not completely primitive given they had electricity and satellite TV), night time canoe trip to catch caimen (in fact we found it just as interesting trying to photograph bats zooming around after insects attracted by our lights) and an early morning canoe ride to watch sunrise over the river then work our way through small tributaries to listen to and see the wildlife wake within the surrounding jungle. All in all this was a fairly expensive excursion but a real highlight allowing us opportunity to safely experience this unique part of the world.
Back on board the Braemar other passengers had also had excursions more locally around Manaus and there was a real buzz of story-telling. One thing to advise is to be prepared for the heat and humidity combination that goes with any and all excursions in this part of the world.
Overnight cruise took us back towards the Amazon estuary to a small village at Boca de Valeria. Tender service to the village at no cost was another worthwhile opportunity to get that ‘first hand experience’. Mixed feelings here. Clearly the locals welcomed the influx of passenger dollars, but there was a level of exploitation of animals and attractive young girls dressed in traditional costume that many found offensive to our own standards. Personally we avoided this element of the shore excursion and spent time photographing wildlife and plant life. Yes, we did part with a few dollars in the hope that it may have some benefit to local economy, but suspect not.
Another overnight cruise on to Alter do Chao. This is a more affluent area not far from Santarem and used as a beach holiday resort. Yes, here we were a hundred miles or so along the Amazon and there are sandy beaches with bars, beach huts and the paraphernalia of a modern resort – it felt quite incongruous, but that’s the reality of spreading wealth within the country.
Final days again spent at sea heading back to Barbados. Fairly heavy seas at times – so much so that king Neptune for the second time of crossing the equator felt obliged on health and safety ground to remain submerged. He finally made an appearance above waves on the final day at sea. Good fun for an hour or so.
Arrangements for disembarkation ran faultlessly. One thing to say is that the Fred Olsen admin and information service/system does work very well.
Instead of staying aboard or wandering Bridgetown until time for return to the airport we had booked the Farewell Babados Casurina Resort excursion. This is a hotel complex set near the St Lawrence area of the island. The outlook from the hotel and beach is simply idyllic. Azure sea and white coral sand – a fabulous way to end a fantastic holiday experience. Once again arrangements were faultless. The party was given access to a number of rooms in which to change/shower etc as well as food and drinks before the short coach ride to the airport.
Many thanks Fred Olsen Cruise Lines.
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