Stories are circulating that Holland America Line’s Prinsendam, the company’s popular ‘Elegant Explorer’, will be sold to the German cruise operator, Phoenix Seereisen.
If true, it would re-unite the 1989 built ship with her former RVL fleet mate, Albatross, ex Royal Viking Sea.
The Prinsendam, originally built as the Royal Viking Sun, was the largest ship ever built for the Royal Viking Line from scratch, as well as the last. And she may well now be surplus to the Carnival Group’s overall portfolio. Carnival CEO, Arnold Donald, is on record as saying that any ship of less than 70,000 GRT is likely to be sold in the next few years and, at around 38,000 tons, the Prinsendam as is would certainly fit in that planning.
For sure, the Prinsendam was at one time highly coveted by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, and indeed she would still be a great fit with that company’s own duo of former RVL veterans, now sailing as Boudicca and Black Watch. but the smart money seems to be on the German operator, for now at least.
The Royal Viking Sun had a short stint at RVL, before that legendary company was wound up and the ship went firstly to Cunard, and then to Seabourn as the Seabourn Sun. Since her transfer to the Dutch brand in 2002, the restyled Prinsendam has offered longer, more destination intensive cruises, for which her intimate size and capacity-currently around 836 passengers-makes her a perfect choice.
Recently, Holland America Line sidelined two of its four, 50,000 ton Statendam class ships off to P&O Australia. In turn, one of these will now transition over to Cruise and Maritime Voyages next April. That leaves HAL as it currently stands with the two remaining ships in the class- Maasdam and Veendam-But this duo must surely also be on borrowed time as part of the HAL roster.
In any event, the move of Prinsendam to Phoenix Seereisen would make perfect sense if it does, indeed, come to pass.
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.
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.
Fred. Olsen Cruise Liner has formally announced that the next cruise of their popular Black Watch has been cancelled as result of recent fire damage sustained on her recent Canary Islands cruise.
The ship limped into Madeira, with damage to her engine cable systems. The fire was confined to the engine room, and all other on board systems remain operational.Some seven hundred passengers were flown home from the Portuguese island. At present, Black Watch remains in Funchal while technical teams assess the damage.
The July 8th sailing- so far the only one to be cancelled- was a Norwegian Fjords itinerary operating out of Tilbury.
At present, it is impossible to guess what the knock on effect might be to the remainder of the 2016 itineraries for Black Watch. This writer is currently scheduled to be aboard the 1972 built, former Royal Viking Line veteran, built as the Royal Viking Star for a short Fjords itinerary out of Rosyth.
As soon as updates become available, you’ll find them posted here. Please stay tuned.
Today, there are a handful of sybaritic, top end cruise lines that promise their guests the sun, the moon, and the stars on a golden platter. Crystal, Regent, Seabourn, Seadream and Silversea come most readily to mind.
All of the above are absolutely high end, incredible experiences. But, while they all compete with one another for the cream of the trade, one thing that all of them have in common is their original source of inspiration.
That source being the legendary Royal Viking Line.
Founded by the suave, patrician Warren Titus in 1972, and with head offices quartered in San Francisco, the line pioneered an almost identical trio of superlative sister ships, designed to take top end cruising to a stratospheric level. The plan was simple, but sweeping; create an environment of casual, spectacular ease and luxury that embraced the best of everything, from food, cabins and service through to stunning, far reaching itineraries. Wrap all of this up in a trio of incredible, swan like vessels, and garnish with real Scandinavian hospitality and flair. Titus thus laid the corner stone for the line which, even today, evokes unashamed awe and nostalgia as the true progenitor of luxury cruising.
First out of the stocks was the Royal Viking Star, in the summer of 1972. She was followed by the Royal Viking Sky in the summer of 1973, and by the third ship- Royal Viking Sea- in December of 1973.
The actual physical appearance of these three vessels was nothing short of stunning. Always immaculate in shades of bridal white, each boasted a graceful flared bow, and fine flowing lines topped amidships by a single funnel, one that owed a lot of influence to the rival, much larger QE2.
The three sisters were all of around 21,500 tons as new, and all were delivered from the Wartsila shipyard in Finland. Designed for epic, long distance cruising, the three sisters carried only around 550 passengers each- 200 or so less than similarly sized vessels of the day. And, although balcony cabins were not yet then in vogue, the on board space and accommodation was, quite simply, spectacular for the size of the ships.
Their clientele revolved largely around wealthy retirees, often from the Pacific Coast of North America. These were people used to expecting- and demanding- the best of everything. On Royal Viking, they were indulged and cossetted in a way that had never been seen before, on ships that were intimate enough to have everything imaginable, and yet still small enough to slip into the most secluded, sought after ports in the world. From Papeete to Portofino, these spectacular, modern day Vikings became a familiar, much treasured sight. Within a short time, Royal Viking gained a stellar reputation as the only real way to cruise. All three ships were so popular that they often sold out many months in advance.
This led to some dramatic cosmetic surgery for the trio. Beginning with the Royal Viking Star in 1981, and then followed by Royal Viking Sky in 1982 and Royal Viking Sea in 1983, each ship was taken out of service, cut in half, and then joined together with a new, ninety three foot long new mid section.
These extensions had the effect of raising the gross tonnage of each ship to 28,000, and allowed the ships to cater for a new total of 750 passengers each. Despite this, the three sisters were still able to accommodate all passengers at one seating for dinner, an industry ‘first’ that set the tone for almost every luxury line that followed them.
If anything, the additional length made them more beautiful and yacht like than ever. Still venerated and utterly sophisticated, the three ships went back to their own series of fantastic voyages. But change was in the offing.
In 1984, Royal Viking Line was bought out by the legendary Knut Kloster, as part of his plan to make Norwegian Cruise Line an international conglomerate. Grand as it was, the plan was way too early, and beset with logistical and financial hurdles. Disenchanted, Warren Titus left the company in 1987. But, by that stage, the visionary Kloster was already envisaging a big new build for the fleet. The first, in fact, since 1973.
When she emerged in 1989, the 39,000 ton, 850 passenger Royal Viking Sun had the same general appearance as her smaller siblings, with the exception of her superstructure. This was now garlanded with rows of the newly in vogue balcony cabins, and topped by a shorter, more squat funnel. Big things were expected of this new Viking flagship when she first appeared.
Kloster also gifted the line a small, luxury mega yacht, the 10,000 ton, 1992 built Royal Viking Queen. With all outside suite accommodation for just 212 passengers, she was at that time the most spacious cruise ship afloat anywhere.
But this bullish expansion belied the fact that Kloster’s overblown operation was now in deep financial trouble. Simply put, it had grown too big, too soon. By 1994, the whole operation was sailing on a rising tide of red accountant’s ink.
By now, even the sybaritic Royal Viking Line had lost a great deal of its shine. Newer rivals such as Seabourn and Sea Goddess ate voraciously into its former core passenger base. After twenty two years, Royal Viking Line was finally wound down as a company in 1994.
But the impact of Royal Viking on high end cruising has been seismic. Many of the senior staff on their ships have now transferred to the likes of Silversea, Oceania, and even Crystal.
And it is testimony to the original strength, excellence and adaptability of their design, that all five original Royal Viking ships still remain in service today. The original trio in particular are still utterly unmistakable. Over time and tide, they have evolved into some of the most graceful and elegant vessels still sailing to this day.
Today, Royal Viking Sky survives as Fred. Olsen’s Boudicca, having there rejoined her sister ship, Black Watch, the one time Royal Viking Star. Royal Viking Sea, meanwhile, sails on as Phoenix Seeresien’s magnificent Albatross.
Fittingly, Royal Viking Sun graduated to Holland America Line, sailing for them to this day as their ‘Elegant Explorer’, the beloved Prinsendam. And, still sybaritic to this day, the former Royal Viking Queen remains in service as the elegant Star Legend, of Windstar cruises.
In Royal Viking, Warren Titus created far more than a salubrious brand. He created a legend, one echoed today in the service, cuisine and stance of every de luxe cruise ship in service across every ocean on the globe.
For that, and for the memories that this great institution created over the better part of two peerless decades of excellence and indolence, Warren Titus deserves to be ranked right up there with the likes of Albert Ballin. To this day, Royal Viking remains a byword for the best of everything in luxury cruising. And history will only further embellish that reputation over the years to come.
Elegant luxury travel on sea, land and by air, past, present and future