FIVE THINGS I LIKED ABOUT BLACK WATCH

P1010523.jpg
The Black Watch in Flam, Norway

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.

THE CREW

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.

THE COURTYARD

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.

THE GRILL

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.

 

 

CMV’S COLUMBUS TO MAKE WORLD CRUISE IN 2018

Columbus-edit-quarterside-web (1)
Columbus, the new CMV flagship as of June, 2017

In her first full year of service for CMV, the company’s new flagship, Columbus, will make a full world cruise in 2018.

The spectacular, 121 day odyssey will sail round trip from Tilbury on January 5th, 2018. Leaving home waters, the Columbus – a ship that many will remember as the popular Ocean Village– will visit some forty ports of call on four different continents.

Among the more exotic highlights en route will be such destinations as Tahiti, Hong Kong, Auckland, Shanghai, and Sydney. She will cross three oceans, as well making transits of both the Panama and Suez canals during the course of the adventure.

Fares for the full voyage start at £8, 275 per person- around £68 per day- for all bookings made before November 30th. Another big plus point for this ship is the availability of some 150 single cabins, priced at a supplement of just 25% on the equivalent twin grade fare.

The idea of using Columbus on the 2018 world cruise follows healthy bookings for the line’s inaugural world voyage, due to be operated by Magellan, in January of 2017. In contrast to the pioneering Magellan, Columbus carries roughly the same number of passengers, but she is something like 18,000 tons larger.

That extra space translates into more space per passenger, several more dining options, a large number of balcony cabins and suites, and a much larger entertainment handle on the newer ship. If bookings keep on looking as brisk as current trends suggest, it might be entirely possible that CMV might well consider offering a world cruise each year.

Stay tuned for updates.

SAILING THE BLACK WATCH- TAKING A LEGEND TO FABLED LANDS

BLACK WATCH
Black Watch- formerly the Royal Viking Star- in her original Fred. Olsen white livery

I’m currently in the last stages of packing for the next voyage in this year’s series of adventures. In this case, it’s a short, five night cruise from Scotland to Norway and back aboard Fred. Olsen Cruise Line’s fabled Black Watch.

This year, the company introduced a range of these short, five night cruises for the first time, sailing from northern ports such as Newcastle’s Port of Tyne and Rosyth, the cruise port for Edinburgh. It is from this latter port that I’ll be embarking on the former Royal Viking Line veteran to three of the loveliest fjords on the cusp of western Norway.

Bracketed by a brace of sea days sailing to and from Norway, the Black Watch will make calls at Flam, Olden and Geiranger, showcasing some of Norway’s platinum chip scenery against the backdrop of the last days of summer. An itinerary that combines the timeless pleasure of life aboard one of the true aristocrats of the cruise industry with one of the most amazing scenic smorgasbords on the planet, at a time sensitive pace, and a at a price that won’t break the bank, either.

En route, I’ll be checking out Fred. Olsen’s legendary cuisine, including the new outdoor dining concept at The Grill, an extra tariff establishment that has been getting rave revues. I’ll also be sampling the extra price, premium afternoon tea, a white gloved extravaganza served up in the lofty heights of the Observation Lounge each afternoon.

Both represent something different and more upmarket for what has always been this most traditional of ships. With her profile resembling a miniature version of the QE2, Black Watch embodies all that is best and timeless about old style cruising, without simply becoming some kind of Victorian theme park afloat.

For example, there is no shortage of spacious suites and cabins with private balconies, many installed in a very comprehensive refit a couple of years ago. And, while the jury is still out on the ‘new’ dove grey paint scheme, Black Watch has all the contemporary creature comforts that a 21st century cruise passenger could want.

It will be interesting to see if the ship has managed to maintain the air of special, personalised intimacy and superb service that I remember her for. Though I visited her recently, I have not actually sailed on Black Watch since 2004.

Hence, I’m looking forward to boarding this very special, highly styled ship. Departure alone should be stunning and dramatic, swinging out and under the fabled Forth Bridge. It will hopefully prove to be a grand appetiser to a wonderful adventure, come rain or shine.

Look out for the blogs and photos to come, as Black Watch and I renew our old acquaintance.