Regular followers of this blog will know that I am recently back from five days’ cruising aboard the wonderful Black Watch, fondly remembered by many as the legendary Royal Viking Star.
Five days is not long, but it is long enough to re-evaluate a ship that I last sailed on back in 2004. What I discovered on board was a sublime, well packaged cruise experience that does exactly what it promises. No hype or hyperbole.
This list is by no means all encompassing or exhaustive; Black Watch is a lady brimming with both quirky and endearing delights. She has a poise, married to a sense of enduring authenticity, that give her the genuine stamp of ocean going maritime royalty.
So- without any further ado- here are my ‘Top Five’ great experiences about sailing aboard the Black Watch
THE DECK SPACE
Originally built for high quality, low capacity world wide cruise itineraries, the ship is generously swathed in broad, expansive acres of sun washed teak decking, sprinkled with really comfortable furniture, that make her a delight to relax aboard. Outdoor pools and Jacuzzis, together with a pair of outdoor bars and an upper deck tennis court, makes both relaxation and gentle exercise a true joy on sea days.
There is a full, wrap around promenade deck, and no shortage of artfully stepped terraces overlooking the stern. that are a treat to experience at any hour of the day or night.These swathes of outdoor real estate helps make the Black Watch feel larger than she actually is.
Time and again, Fred. Olsen’s warm and friendly Filipino staff win plaudits from new and returning passengers alike. And no wonder.
Many have been with the company for several years, and their hospitality skills are as finely tuned as a Swiss watch. Everything is done with a smile; nothing seems to be too much trouble. No mean feat, considering the long hours that they work.
These people are, quite literally, the heart and soul of the Black Watch. They give the ship an aura of cosseted ease, and a level of attentiveness that works like some kind of magical healing balm. Collectively, they cannot be praised enough for their dedication and attitude to their guests. Truly lovely people.
Despite the name, this beautiful room is actually sited indoors, just across the corridor from the centrally sited Braemar Lounge, with its floor to ceiling windows overlooking the sea.
Because of this proximity, The Courtyard is flooded with natural light at most hours of the day. With a faux stone floor sprinkled with small tables and rattan chairs, the room has a very strong passing resemblance to the Veranda Cafe aboard a rather famous, not to mention unfortunate, White Star liner of a certain vintage.
With beautifully primped greenery and a slate faced bar, this elegant, airy room is a perfect ante chamber to the adjacent Orchid Room buffet. With plenty of space between tables, it never feels crowded. The Courtyard works just as well as a venue for a semi formal afternoon tea, when the tables are dressed with white tablecloths, or as somewhere to linger over a glass of wine at any time of the day. And the beautifully styled tunes performed by the Rosario Strings trio really do evoke that ‘Palm Court’ feel to cosmetic perfection.
New to Fred. Olsen, this is a very nice introduction as an evening alternative to the main dining room. At an extra tariff charge of £20 per guest, the sheer quality of the food and service would beat many land based establishments for both style and price.
Located outside, aft on deck six, The Terrace offers a la carte classics in a matchless setting. Feasting on Fillet Steak, asparagus and hand made chips while sailing through a sun draped Norwegian fjord in early evening takes some beating, for sure. That steak itself was so perfectly done that it almost fell apart at the touch of a knife.
The dessert I chose- chocolate cup with berries- was worth going for on its own. Pared with some exquisite wines and finished with a dreamy Cappuccino, the food served up in The Grill constituted, quite simply, the best meal that I have eaten on any cruise ship this year. Not simply a restaurant, but an open air theatre too, The Grill really raises the bar on the already fine dining offered right throughout this ship.
THE BOOKMARK CAFE
A wonderful, window lined indoor space that is one part library, one part sweet shop, Bookmark Cafe is irresistible to anyone with even a remotely sweet tooth. With rank upon rank of tempting, chocolate based treats-Chocolate Truffles, anyone?- on sale for around 65p each, not to mention an entire raft of reasonably priced, exotic speciality coffees to complement them, this room is a real hazard to activity of any kind.
In hues of ruby read, full of deep, comfy chairs and tables, and abutted by one of the most elegant libraries afloat, Bookmark Cafe oozes style, space and sheer temptation that few will be able to resist. And now available on all four ships in the Fred. Olsen fleet, Bookmark Cafe adds something fresh and compelling to the already considerable allure of this most stately of ships.
So- there we have it. Black Watch. Primped, proud and freshly powdered. Don’t take my word for it- go see for yourself.