Great destinations but Olsen cut port times by up to 3 hrs
Upon arrival in Southampton by car ABP parking met us right by the ship. The porters who unloaded us were very slick and in no time we were at arrivals then straight on board. Very efficient.
We had no idea where to go for muster so when we heard the call asked a member of staff who pointed us in the right direction. Until then we didn’t even know what time muster would be. Whilst at muster in the Grampian dining room we saw quite a bit of food on the carpet by the wall where we were sitting. Not a good first impression.
Our cabin was fine. We sailed on Black Watch a couple of years back so knew what to expect. People often moan about the plastic shower curtains on Olsen but at least you get flexible hose shower-heads, essential if you have a stoma. Only negative being our air-conditioning was extremely loud and for some reason our double bed was made up with two separate sets of sheets and duvets. Bizarre. This was rectified after the first night so no problem.
Tip: If cases won’t fit under the bed ask your cabin steward to put in storage.
We went to the theatre where the house performers were excellent. The house coke is not great and there was no prosecco on the all-inclusive list of drinks but the waiters / waitresses were excellent, especially considering the obstacle course of tables and chairs they have to negotiate.
The stage is to the side of the ship with too slight a gradient for the seating. To a man everyone was commenting on the incredibly poor layout and two blatantly obvious problems. The revolving seats were higher than the fixed ‘sofa’ seating behind them on each level and at the very back of the theatre Olsen have crammed in extra chairs making it virtually impossible for people to walk behind trying to get further round in the theatre, and if they do they nudge people all the way around totally distracting you from the show.
Tip: on Braemar you have to get in theatre earlier than you think to get a decent seat. (There are even seats behind the pillars).
Sunday, at sea
Lunchtime in the Grampian the ‘daily special station’ had roast sirloin and Yorkshires. The sirloin was to die for, absolutely superb, but many people were asking where were the roast potatoes? 95% of passengers British and no roast spuds.
Spent the afternoon on sunbeds which would have been fantastic but for the constant grinding and smell of paint. We had all this previously on Black Watch, Olsen do their maintenance throughout the voyage.
It was this night we returned to our room to be met with a note saying our Tuesday tour (through Olsen) was cancelled. Absolutely gutted. The ‘Oyster Route’ in Vigo was the tour I was seriously looking forward to. Upon enquiry it was cancelled because the tour is operated by an outside contractor so if they are a couple of people short – tough. Not impressed.
‘Daily Times’ informs us docking times have changed and we leave 1pm NOT 4pm. This turned out to be a recurring theme. So if you had booked your own tours outside Olsen that ended after 12:30pm you were stuffed.
We had chosen a trip (with Olsen) to Luanco then a free walking tour of Aviles. Leaving on a coach to Luanco led us through an industrial area but Luanco was a pleasant harbour town. It was brought up many times the fact that there just wasn’t anybody around in the mornings. Literally one woman and her dog. Apparently there is a small flurry of activity in the mornings when what children there are catch their school buses but that’s about it. The young have moved away to the big towns and cities. Sad really but this ghost town has a beautiful church by the coast. We all felt a bit rushed on this trip, no fault of the tour guide, but was enjoyable. No time to shop as promised in the brochure but most places were shut in the mornings anyway.
Tip: One member of our party had specific needs for toilet facilities. The only toilet was back at the bus station. There are no public toilets and most bars etc. are closed in the mornings.
The local Free Walking Tour that we took on our return to Aviles was very good indeed. Tour guide being excellent. Bit of a tip for the evening. Each day in the Daily Times there is a ‘cocktail of the day’ available within the all-inclusive deal. Directly underneath that there is the days ‘after dinner drink’. Don’t get sucked in, the day’s after dinner drink is NOT included in the all included package. Misleading.
Andy and Alit in the Morning Light bar were absolutely superb.
The lunch ‘special’ in the Thistle was Indian themed. The food was absolutely excellent. At dinner in the evening we finally had roast potatoes. The food is generally superb but it’s a mainly British passenger ship and they cannot cook roast potatoes. Soft / soggy with a bit of brown on the outside. Really is my and many others only gripe. The food overall is first class.
The ‘International Memory Man’ with his Rubik’s cubes was highly entertaining. I didn’t hear anybody that did not enjoy his shows.
As already written our tour was cancelled so we free-styled. Explored the old quarter including the church then onto Oyster Street which I’d been looking forward to so much.
Oyster Street still has the old world charm about it but unfortunately now completely commercialised. I ordered my half dozen oysters and was ushered to a table opposite belonging to a restaurant. They obviously wanted you to order drinks for the privilege of sitting there whilst the old woman who sold the oysters came over holding a stretched out 10 euro note asking for her money. The oysters are advertised as 9 euro so watch out for this ploy. Having sat down you are plagued by peddlers and gypsies. Has to be said I was sadly disappointed with taste of said oysters. They were very fresh but nowhere near as tasty compared to what is available in the UK. I since learnt from a couple of sources that these oysters do have a completely different taste, are a bit smaller and not regarded as anywhere near the best worldwide. Shame but at least I tried them and they were super fresh.
We climbed the big mound which was steep but well worth it for the view and exercise. Reasonable café and toilets at the top. My wife bought quite a few items on the way back to the ship. A nice place but quite a lot of graffiti.
On our return to the ship, to rub salt into the wounds there was a ‘Shore Tour Survey’ left on our bed to review our cancelled shore tour. Not a good move.
Wednesday, at sea
The lunch special today was pasta. Now I am not big into pasta but the whole thing was absolutely superb.
Chilled out on the loungers in the afternoon but grab a towel from the changing room to lay on your lounger because of all the sweat and suntan lotion that has gone before you. Loungers are very comfortable though. Cocktail of the day much the same as yesterday’s pina colada – chi chi. Coconut and pineapple (always wedged on the glass rim) were prevalent throughout the cruises cocktails of the day.
Thursday, Seville day 1
Needed an early start so went for breakfast in cabin. Need a bit more choice i.e. boiled eggs, porridge or even toast. There was nothing cooked available.
We walked a couple of miles to a huge flea market. If you enjoy flea markets you’ll love this one. Thursdays only though. Followed up with a bit of shopping therapy then lunch back on board. This was a Spanish buffet on the swimming pool deck.
Later that day we had booked a walking tour of Santa Cruz. What an amazing area – a must see.
Friday, Seville day 2
Got up early to meet for early pre-booked tour however the ship had moved docks during the night due to forecast high winds and the narrow bridge we had to go back through. So we were first off the ship and had to wait 30 minutes for a police escort to take us to the gates which, having found someone with keys were then unlocked.
We had chosen Amigo Tours for this joint early entrance Alcazar tour followed by the Gothic cathedral. Bucket list stuff. Tour guide was excellent and WELL worth the early start. Alcazar was a fabulous building full of history (a game of thrones venue as well). Having done a lot of research I knew that by doing the cathedral tour straight after there would not be a lot of time to spend in the Alcazar gardens. This proved to be the case but the tours were excellent, worth the trade-off for getting in before the crowds. Alcazar – a must do.
Louisa Park opposite docking area is a nice place to chill.
Leaving Seville you go back through a lock. On deck you can get right to the front of the Braemar, the perfect viewing platform but . . . going through the lock there was no visible difference between the water levels when opening the gates which caused much mirth amongst fellow shipmates. I’m guessing the tides must have something to do with this.
Tried the cheeseboard again at lunchtime but exactly the same boring cheeses. Come on Olsen let’s have some variety.
A big disappointment was the lack of local entertainment on board i.e. Flamenco dancers.
Big problem with Olsen is if you are doing an activity and are late back missing dinner you have to wait until the Supper Club begins at 11pm. No food available between times.
We had booked a free walking tour with Cadizfornia. An excellent tour and the host Pedro couldn’t have been better. An entertaining local who knew all the history and gave great shopping / restaurant advice. Thoroughly recommended.
Really liked Cadiz. The fish market has to be seen to be believed and there is a good general market.
We found a very good cheap supermarket in a backstreet behind the market square. Eg. Bottles of water .15 cents each.
Coming out of the port nobody initially knew which way to go, it would have been useful for a member of staff to be positioned at the exit to help people.
Tip: There are colour coded lines on the roads / paths which take you different routes.
We bought our duty free tobacco to take home from the duty free here. About 50 euro’s for 10 x 50gm pouches of Golden Virginia but when we were here it was cash only.
A criticism from several passengers was that leaving at 3pm was too early because if you were on a tour there was not enough time for shopping or trying out the local tapas (Cadiz being the home of tapas). It also meant missing lunch. The Thistle closed at 2pm which meant a rush to the buffet which closed at 3pm. Particularly annoying because a lot of people would have liked to try the ‘Asian special’ at lunchtime. Come on Olsen, if you leave at 3pm keep the Thistle open the extra hour to feed all the people that have been rushing around trying to max the short time available in Cadiz before leaving so early.
Sunday at sea
Lunchtime saw roast at the ‘station’ in the restaurant. Perfect roast, Yorkshires . . . but no roast spuds. Just Cajun something or other and new potatoes. Need more veg. options was the general criticism.
Lovely afternoon spent lounging on deck 8. Wind kept most away from sunbeds but there is nearly always a sheltered spot, and there was today.
Tip: Good idea to put towels on the very comfy sunbeds as some were showing signs of days of sun cream and sweat. There are plenty of spares in the changing rooms near the pool. Then leave in ‘bins’ in same area when finished with. Saves carrying up and down from cabin. And drink plenty of water with your cocktails on the sunbeds.
Dinnertime saw more frantic activity on the curtain front in the Thistle. Apparently since day one waiting staff have wrestled with pegs and all sorts to stop diners by the windows being blinded by the sun. It took several attempts to hold the non-drawing curtains across most of the window. Our waiters confirmed this is an ongoing and very annoying problem that could easily be resolved.
Monday at sea
Very unusually second day of slow service. Something amiss in kitchen apparently.
The Moonlight bar is an excellent chill out / meeting area with 2 outstanding characters, Andy and Alit. AKA Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Entertainment wise ‘Memory Man’ was most excellent.
A £12 laundry offer appeared tonight. Actually a very good deal.
A very nice vibrant city with Braemar in the perfect parking spot.
Again, NOT ENOUGH TIME here. Overnight should give you 2 full days, you really need them here. Leaving early morning the second day before the shops even opened was just a waste.
Very hot! Again, no local French entertainment on board. Not even an accordion player.
No food available on board, even the buffet was shut when we came back to drop shopping off and grab something to eat before heading out again. We had to hang around an extra hour and a half before we could eat. Wife’s note: why have only grapes with seeds and where are the strawberries and raspberries?
We were treated to a spectacular natural light show from the deck early evening. Continual forked lightning flickering all around Bordeaux for a good half hour scattering all the students who meet up on the riverbanks.
There was an incredibly bad reverberating noise in our cabin which continued down the corridor at night. We were forced to ring reception who obviously knew of the problem as they immediately offered an inside cabin but on the same deck so no use at all. Turns out according to bar tender the noise is caused when the (tidal) river level in Bordeaux lowers, the engine noise bounces back off the riverbank walls we are moored against.
Big gripe. We had no time to do anything in morning as ship left at 9am NOT 10.30am as advised. The man at reception tried to tell me we supposed to have left at midnight! The young lady there however blamed the early departure on the tide. Tides are known years in advance. I had all the port arrival and departure times direct from Olsen HQ before we left specifically to double check private tour timings. Time in port was cut a few times. Call me sceptical but would reduced time in port equate to less expense? I only have experience of Celebrity and their advised port times were spot on every time. With Olsen if you have booked a tour using their arrival / departure times issued from HQ you could lose your tour fee if time was cut short or miss the ship.
Wednesday at sea
Really pleasant cruise back up river to the sea passing through a fascinating vertical lift bridge.
The crew show was excellent. Barkeeper Andy’s number 2 in the Moonlight bar had an incredibly good voice but the poor guy had to sing twice, returning straight to the bar after each performance.
Thursday at sea
Found a lovely sheltered sunbed spot again.
The Grand Gala lunch and seafood buffet was excellent as was the Cockleshell Heroes talk.
Retrieved our suitcases from storage and sadly began packing.
I do wonder what will happen when the current crop of septuagenarians and octogenarians who choose Fred Olsen fade away. Will the younger cruisers currently used to ‘modern luxury’ lines such as Celebrity choose Fred Olsen’s ‘traditional’ cruising on older ships as they get on in years or the more modern ‘boutique’ cruisers such as Saga? (Whose smaller ships can reach the same destinations as Olsen). Don’t get me wrong we enjoy Olsen but it is tiresome getting the smell of paint up your nose every day on the sundeck along with continuous drilling, grinding and sanding somewhere on the ship most of the time. Exactly the same experience as we had on Blackwatch.
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