Fred Olsen Cruise Lines

Erin De Santiago
Olsen Cruise Lines four ships – Balmoral, Braemar, Boudicca and Black Watch – in Bergen, Norway on 28th July 2015.
Fred Olsen's Balmoral, Braemar, Boudicca and Black Watch

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines is a UK-based, Norwegian-owned cruise line. They operate smaller ships with an emphasis on intimate and personal cruising experiences.

History of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines

The history of Fred. Olsen Cruises dates back to 1848, with the three Olsen brothers: Fredrik Christian, Petter, and Andreas. The company originated in Hvitsten, Norway, a small town on Oslofjord. Fredrik was the one who started buying boats, the earliest of which were small wooden schooners.

The cruise line is just one facet of the business, which not only consists of cruise and passenger shipping trade, but also aviation, ships' crewing, shipbuilding, and offshore industries.

Today, it's in the fifth generation of the family running the business and they also have a stake in luxury hotels, estate management, property development, and electronics. They have global offices, but the headquarters are in Oslo and Tenerife. The cruise line division is based out of Ipswich in Suffolk.

The company is also headed in a new direction as they prepare to debut their first river cruise division in spring 2018.

A Modest Cruise Fleet

On all vessels, you can expect a more traditional British style of cruise. The currency is Pounds Sterling, and the decor is comfortable and classy, but not over-the-top or flashy. Even the entertainment is more tame-mostly you'll find old-fashioned shows that include dancing, singing, and cabaret.

In keeping with their emphasis of personalized cruising, you will find Fred. Olsen only has four ships.

Black Watch in Eidfjord, Norway with kayaking tour
Black Watch in Eidfjord, Norway with kayaking tour
  • Balmoral: The largest at 710 rooms and suites, Balmoral gets its name from the Scottish residence of the British Royal Family. It has a distinct Scottish feel and theme, including restaurants inspired by the Highlands.
  • Braemar: Offering a country house feel, the Braemar accommodates up to 929 guests onboard.
  • Boudicca: With beautiful new Terrace Balcony Rooms and capable of holding up to 880 guests, Boudicca has more elegant touches, many of which are quickly evident in the food, like the Four Seasons restaurant.
  • Black Watch: Up to 804 guests can choose from a selection of suites and ocean view rooms. It is said to have a feeling of familiarity, giving passengers the more traditional cruising experience without showy gimmicks and attractions.

Sailing Destinations Served

During the summer, Fred. Olsen vessels depart from a number of UK ports.

 River Canal in Venice, Italy
River Canal in Venice, Italy
  • Southampton
  • Dover
  • Liverpool
  • Newcastle
  • Rosyth
  • Greennock
  • Belfast
  • Harwich
  • Falmouth
  • Tibury

They travel to a variety of interesting destinations within Europe, including:

  • Mediterranean
  • Canary Islands
  • Scandinavia
  • Baltic and Fjords

Other global destinations include Asia, Australasia, Africa, North America, and South America.

Cruise Lengths and Price Range

Cruise lengths vary from short, four-night jaunts to longer, seven to 100+-night, around-the-world sailings. Because of this, prices can vary widely as well. Always check with the cruise line directly for the most recent pricing information.

Consider a three-night River Seine Sojourn for about £300 per person for an interior cabin, while a suite is around £750 per person. On the other end of the spectrum, the 28-night Port Louis to Cape Town cruise over Christmas costs about £3,400 for interior, £5,900 for a suite, or £6,150 per person for a single occupancy suite. Another 28-night cruise, Islands of the Aegean, is only around £2,600 per person for an interior cabin, but a suite on this cruise is over £12,000!

Pros and Cons to Consider

Like any other cruise line, Fred. Olsen has positives and negatives. Depending on what your ideal cruise is, the potential negatives may not be negatives at all!

Benefits and Advantages

There are many features to cruising with Fred. Olsen that may appeal to you.

Premium Afternoon tea
Premium afternoon tea aboard the Braemar
  • They have started marketing some ships to North American passengers (Balmoral and Braemar).
  • The small to medium size of their ships means they can dock in smaller ports that large ships can't enter.
  • The new River Cruise Program is set to debut April 2018.
  • Some cruises are adult only (18+).
  • Coffee- and tea-making facilities are provided in each cabin.
  • Attend unique interest classes (ArtsClub program) with topics like gardening, painting, wine appreciation, and bird/wildlife spotting.
  • Smoking is banned in all cabins. It is strictly limited to outside decks.
  • Enjoy British traditions, including a proper afternoon tea service.
  • Itineraries seldom repeat within any season, so there is almost always a chance to experience something new if you are a regular cruiser.
  • They have shuttles in ports.
  • They are one of the few cruise lines to offer Northern Europe cruises year-round.
  • Single occupancy statements are available on all ships.
  • North American and European power outlets can be found on all ships.
  • The alcoholic drink upgrade package starts at £15 per person, per night (£34 per person, per night on one to four night sailings).

Potential Downsides

Before booking your next voyage, consider some of these possible disadvantages.

  • If you're looking for round-the-clock action, Fred. Olsen cruises may not be your best option.
  • Average age tends to be higher, so if you're looking for a younger crowd and a party ship, you may be disappointed. However, Braemar does attract a number of children during the summer months, thanks to the children's activity programs.
  • They've had some less than desirable press in years past with multiple norovirus outbreaks, fires, and breakdowns.
  • British Pounds are used for all transactions on board.
  • Wi-Fi is limited to public rooms, and computer rooms are tiny.
  • There is no chance of drinking duty-free liquor on board as everything is collected as you board and it is returned at the end of the trip.
  • Unlike other cruise lines, there is no real late-night entertainment.
  • Because they seldom repeat itineraries within a cruise season, you have to be flexible if there is a specific itinerary you want.
  • Activities and entertainment are definitely geared towards a more mature audience.

Critic and Customer Reviews

Reviewers on Holiday Watchdog are mostly mediocre. The highest marks go to food and cleanliness, while rooms, value, and location rank the lowest. A number of reviewers point out the average age of guests is 70 and over, and they are consistently disappointed with entertainment, which is designed with a very mature audience in mind.

Sherman Cruise has a review on Fred. Olsen as well. They point out that the 50+ age group is the norm, and they love the low-key ambiance. The lack of bells and whistles, technology, and flashy decor may turn off some travelers. Their review notes the cruise line is best for older couples who "want to see the world from a deck chair and discuss the latest offerings from the BBC." One major point they address is the aging fleet. Given some of the ships date back to 1972, even refurbishments can't hide some of the "classic" details, which may or may not be desirable to some travelers.

If you're over 50 and an avid cruiser, you may already be familiar with the Silver Travel Advisor, dubbed the "only travel reviews and advice site for the over 50's." They awarded Fred. Olsen Cruises their winner of the 2017 Best Ocean Cruise Line. Silver Travel Advisor has a number of reviews and forum discussions too.

Is This the Cruise Line for You?

If you're an older cruiser, typically over 50 years old, the laid back ambiance and mature crowd may be right up your alley. If you are younger and want a range of entertainment options, late night dancing, and quick access to e-mail, you may be slightly let down by choosing this line. In the end, it comes down to a combination of what's most important to you: itinerary, cost, and onboard activities.

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines