Black Watch Cruise Review by jlajr
- Sail Date: July 2017
- Destination: British Isles & Western Europe
- Cabin Type: Single Inside Cabin
I didn't think too much about the itinerary, although I of course realized it would be cold. I have lived in a warm climate almost my entire life. Normally, I would prefer an extra month of summer as opposed to an extra month of winter. In this case, though, I made the reverse trade-off. I bought two pairs of heavy socks and a fleece neck warmer. I brought them and other appropriate clothing with me. While we did get lucky with the temperatures and the weather, it was nonetheless cold, although it was never an issue for me. In fact, I often went into the open-air jacuzzis and laid out on deck (as did others) when the sun was shining. The bathrobe I rented for GBP 10 came in quite handy.
Because almost everything was so wonderful, areas with room for improvement were conspicuous. I simply can't mention everything that was great, but I will mention and describe the areas with room for improvement.
Choosing rate types and finding the best rate on the Fred.Olsen website is one of the areas with room for improvement. In fact, because my credit card payment did not go through (see below), I called Fred.Olsen to book the cruise. Initially, the representative did not find the Anchor Fare I saw on the website and I had to describe how and where I saw it. Another note is that the cruise line only has a UK office and phone numbers. Those were intercontinental calls for me.
As noted, I was unable to use my non-UK credit card to book the cruise. I was also unable to use it to purchase travel currency through City Forex, Fred.Olsen's partner. It eventually turned out that I did not understand the relationship between my credit card limit and my bank account credit limit, but I did see, read, and hear misleading information on the Fred.Olsen website, the City Forex website, in emails and during phone conversations. For example, an email from City Forex informed me that their website does not accept MasterCard, contradicting an error message I had seen. The fact is the website does not accept non-UK credit cards, so an expensive bank transfer was necessary. Fred.Olsen was eventually able to charge my credit card for the cruise, albeit manually over the phone. After I had resolved the credit limit issue, it is likely I would have been able to use the card on the website.
Back to the cruise itself. I was assigned Single Interior cabin 5085. For more information about the cabin, see the associated cabin review.
The one organized tour I took was also an area with room for improvement. Up until this cruise, I never booked or participated in an organized tour or shore excursion. A day or two before we docked at Reykjavik, I decided to book The Golden Circle tour, which included Gullfoss (the Golden Waterfall), the Geysir area, and Thingvellir National Park. The tour was one of three throughout the cruise line designated Must Do, and it was a popular one, with passengers filling up six buses, I think. My bus drove first to Thingvellir National Park. Unfortunately, we were only provided 30 minutes to walk from one parking lot to another. I would have liked (a lot) more time there.
We then drove to Gullfoss. We were given about 35-40 minutes to walk to the waterfall before lunch at the visitors center. Again, I felt it was not enough time to walk both available paths. Breathtaking waterfall, though, and the sit-down lunch was very good, too, with soup and fish (salmon?). After lunch, we drove to the Geysir area. Again, we were given about 30 minutes to walk around before we had to be back on the bus.
The tour was advertised as lasting 8-8 1/2 hours. The tour started at around 10:00. When we got back on the bus at 15:00 in the Geysir parking lot, we had already seen the Big Three. The only other item on the tour description was a short comfort stop at the village of Hveragerði. As far as I could tell, the ship was no more than an hour's drive away from the Geysir area. So, besides driving, what would we be doing for the next three hours that didn't appear in the tour description?
Well, the bus took what I think is the long way back to Reykjavik. We saw some nice scenery, with commentary from the tour guide. Not bad, but I still would have traded that time for more time at the Big Three. Then, we actually drove past where the ship was docked and went to the Perlan (Pearl) Museum. The museum is made up of former water tanks, sits on a hill, and has a fourth-floor observatory that provides a 360-degree view of Reykjavik and the surrounding area. Nice. However, the guest elevator/lift was out of service, and I decided not to walk up and down via the stairs. We were only given 20 minutes there, anyway. So, instead, I walked around the building, which I enjoyed. Nonetheless, I again would certainly have been happy if we had not gone to a place that did not appear in the tour description. I would have gladly traded the time there and the time it took to get there and back to the ship in favor of more time at the Big Thee natural phenomena.
Even though this tour allowed me to see these stunning natural phenomena, it was nonetheless an area of the cruise with room for improvement.
Another minor area with room for improvement were discrepancies in the daily newsletter. For example, one night, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was supposed to be screened in the Marina Theatre. They screened The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by mistake. A few days later, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel appeared in the daily newsletter, and they screened that movie again.
Finally, at Tromsø, Norway, the cruise line's port agent provided a paid shuttle bus to the city center. When I asked Guest Services whether there is public transportation nearby, the woman told me there isn't. Therefore, I bought a ticket for the shuttle bus. However, in a tourist information tent on the pier, I saw information about public bus services and the nearby stop. So, I went back onto the ship, returned the shuttle bus ticket, got a refund, and used public buses for the day.
Again, let me stress that these areas with room for improvement are conspicuous because of how great everything else was.
Even after paying a low price for the cruise and only GBP 4 per day gratuities, I discovered more and more ways the cruise line provides value as the cruise went along. One example is the GBP 10 bathrobe. Another example: Alcohol. In addition to reasonable alcohol prices at the ship's bars, a couple of days into the cruise, I noticed a form and a display for ordering alcohol for on-board consumption. The prices were higher than duty free, but you can't consume duty free alcohol on board. Over a four-week cruise, I ordered a few bottles of whisky and that's what I drank on-board except for the first couple of days and a few drinks with glacier ice (!). So what that I had to ask bartenders for glasses of ice a couple of times a day? A few of them soon remembered my "regular" drinks of either glasses of ice or water and offered one or the other when I approached the bar. Final example of value for money: Self-service laundry for GBP 2 per load, and free use of the dryers. Many ships don't even offer self-service laundry.
This was a phenomenal cruise in almost every way. Only a few weeks after this one ended, I booked myself on another four-week Fred.Olsen cruise!
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Considering the relatively long Black Watch itineraries, I was surprised at the lack of storage space in the cabin and how inefficiently that space was used. For example, it is basically not possible to use three quarters of the closet for clothes. A small refrigerator takes up the lower-right quarter of it. Having a refrigerator is fine with me; I used it for water, whiskey, and food every once in a while. The coffee and tea tray was on top of the refrigerator, which rendered useless the upper-right quarter of the closet. Although there was no other place to put it without sacrificing precious shelf or desk space, I guess I could have moved the coffee and tea tray. Then again, I guess I could have asked for it to be removed from the cabin altogether; I never used it.
There were no shelves or drawers in the lower-left quarter of the closet. It served only as a place to put my dirty laundry bag; again, not an efficient use of this space. Finally, the only other space really designed for clothes and accessories was a ridiculously small storage unit with two small drawers, a shelf and the top. In the recessed area it was located, a storage unit four times as large would easily fit without sacrificing any of the cabin's usable floor space.
As a light traveler who dresses casually, even with clothing for cold weather, I fit all of my clothes and accessories in the space provided. However, I imagine most people would find it impossible to store all of the clothes and accessories they bring onto the ship.
Port & Shore Excursion Reviews
AkureyriOn Friday, July 28, after I ate lunch on board and we docked in the early afternoon, I left the ship and walked toward the city center. I found information about the public transportation system and decided to take the circular A6 route around the city. I saw many of the city's residential neighborhoods, which was interesting. I didn't take the bus all the way back to city center. I decided to get off near a couple of the city's museums, including the Akureyri Museum. I went inside and bought something at the gift shop, but I did not see the museum exhibit. I then took a meandering walk to the city center and then I wandered around there for a while. I then decided to try to find a place to have a beer or a drink, and I discovered Akureyri Fish and Chips - with a 1 + 1 Happy Hour. Prices are relatively high in Iceland, as they were earlier in Norway. So, I paid about ILS 35 for two pints of locally brewed Gull beer. Considering the source of the water, I thought the beer could be better. I think it was a lager, which is not one of my favorite types of beer. I also drank some of the restaurant's tap water, and it was just as good as the beer. After relaxing at the restaurant for a while and checking email and Facebook, I then headed back to the ship. On my way back to the ship, I came across the Hof Cultural Center that I had walked past earlier in the afternoon. With plenty of time before the ship was scheduled to depart, I decided to go inside, and I'm glad I did. Amazing architecture and design, along with interesting art inside. Right along the water, too. Nice.View All 75 Akureyri Cruise Port Reviews
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BergenI walked around the Bergenhus Festning (Bergenhus Fortress) and Mariakirken (St Mary's Church). I then walked to the Mount Fløyen lower funicular station, rode the funicular, and walked around part of the top of Mount Fløyen (Fløyfjellet), including to Skomakerdiket (a lake). After I rode the funicular back down the mountain, I walked to and around the city center and the Bryggen (the old wharf), before heading back to the ship.View All 638 Bergen Cruise Port Reviews
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DoverI walked from Dover Priory rail station to the cruise terminal (2). It took about 30 minutes. Embarkation was smooth. I walked on with my one piece of carry-on size luggage.View All 65 Dover Cruise Port Reviews
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OldenAfter breakfast, I got off the ship and turned right (south), toward the center of the town. I then walked along the road to Floen, a lake in the Oldedalen valley, heading south. After reaching the northern edge of the lake, I sat down for a while. I then walked back to the ship mostly retracing my steps, and ate lunch on board. I then got off the ship again, and turned left (north) this time. I walked for a while and then turned back.View All 157 Olden Cruise Port Reviews
I believe I later discovered that a public bus travels between the cruise terminal and a glacier nearby.
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Golden CircleFor the first time ever on a cruise, I booked an organized shore excursion. I went on The Golden Circle tour, which included what the cruise line describes as the ‘Big Three’ of Reykjavík – Gullfoss (the Golden Waterfall), the Geysir area, and the Thingvellir National Park. The tour was one of three throughout the cruise line designated Must Do, and it was a popular one, with passengers filling up six buses, I think. My bus drove first to Thingvellir National Park. Unfortunately, we were only provided 30 minutes to walk from one parking lot to another. I would have liked (a lot) more time there.View All 107 Golden Circle Reviews
We then drove to Gullfoss. We were given about 35-40 minutes to walk to the waterfall before lunch at the visitors center. Again, I felt it was not enough time to walk both available paths. Breathtaking waterfall, though, and the sit-down lunch was very good, too, with soup and fish (salmon?).
After lunch, we drove to the Geysir area. Again, we were given about 30 minutes to walk around before we had to be back on the bus.
So, the tour was advertised as lasting 8-8 1/2 hours. The tour started at around 10:00, and we had seen the Big Three by 15:00. The only other item on the tour description was a short comfort stop at the village of Hveragerði. As far as I could tell, the ship was no more than an hour's drive away from where we were at 15:00, the Geysir area. So, besides driving, what would we be doing for the next three hours?
Well, the bus took what I think is the long way back to Reykjavik. We saw some nice scenery, with commentary from the tour guide. Not bad, but I still would have traded that time for more time at the Big Three. Then, we actually drove past where the ship was docked and went to the Perlan (Pearl) Museum. The museum is made up of former water tanks, sits on a hill, and has a fourth-floor observatory that provides a 360-degree view of Reykjavik and the surrounding area. Nice. However, the guest elevator/lift was out of service, and I decided not to walk up and down via the stairs. We were only given 20 minutes there, anyway. So, instead, I walked around the building, which I enjoyed. Nonetheless, I again would certainly have been happy if we had not gone to a place that did not appear in the tour description. I would have traded the time there and the time it took to get there and back to the ship in favor of more time at natural phenomena.
Spitsbergen (Svalbard)On Monday morning, July 24, the ship anchored off shore near Pyramiden, an abandoned Russian/Soviet mining town. After breakfast, I boarded a tender, and went ashore. It truly is a ghost town, and the first Russian area I have ever been to. Wild. After I walked around for a couple of hours, I eventually found myself at the Pyramiden Hotel bar. I bought a pint of beer brewed elsewhere on Spitsbergen; I believe in Barentsburg, another Russian settlement. I then walked back to the dock, boarded a tender, and returned to the ship. Later that afternoon, the ship departed and sailed to Longyearbyen, where we docked in the evening.View All 14 Spitsbergen (Svalbard) Cruise Port Reviews
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Torshavn (Faroe Islands)With the ship docked in the cargo area of the port, I ate breakfast on board and then took the mandatory port shuttle bus to the terminal. Without cellular service, a fellow passenger handed me information about the public buses and I also gathered some information on my own. Along with fellow passengers, I walked toward and then through the city center.View All 14 Torshavn (Faroe Islands) Cruise Port Reviews
I soon came upon a central tourist information office with bus stops outside. The buses were free, and I decided to take advantage of them. I wouldn't realize until later that the bus route I took, 1, while ostensibly a circular route with one terminus, actually consists of three "fingers." The route passes by that central location a number of times. I initially noticed that the same bus stop appears twice on the list of stops along the route, and advised fellow passengers based on that. However, I did not notice until later that morning that the stop appears three times, along with a stop around the corner, with a different name. In any case, I took a bus 1 to its terminus in the Argir village along the southern edge of Tórshavn. I walked around the neighborhood and then boarded a bus 1 back to the city center.
I got off that bus at Steinatún, but then decided to board the next bus 1 that stopped there, and got off next to Tórsvøllur, the national football (soccer) stadium. A door into the Faroe Islands Football Association offices at the stadium was open. I walked in and took an elevator up to a higher floor. Somebody working there told me it was OK to walk around the stadium, so I did.
I then boarded another bus 1 and rode on it for a while, as it passed through residential neighborhoods, the city center another time, a commercial/industrial neighborhood, and then back to the city center, at which point I got off. The ship was scheduled to depart in the early afternoon, but I still had some time before I had to be back on the ship. So, I walked around the city center some more.
At one point, I came across the Irish Pub. I went inside and decided to order a pint of Föroya Bjór Classic Dark Lager. I walked downstairs and sat down at one of the tables in the patio overlooking the harbor. Nice.
Earlier that morning, I had not walked through the Tinganes neighborhood, "the oldest part of the town," according to the cruise line, so I headed there at this point. I then walked back to the cruise terminal and took the port shuttle bus back to the ship.
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TromsoThe cruise line or port agent provided a paid shuttle bus to the city center. When I asked Guest Services whether there is public transportation nearby, the woman told me there isn't. Therefore, I bought a ticket for the shuttle bus. However, in a tourist information tent on the pier, I saw information about nearby public bus services. So, I went back onto the ship, returned the shuttle bus ticket and got a refund. I left the ship (again), walked to a bus stop and boarded a 42 bus to its terminus, the town of Eidkjosen. The route included the network of road tunnels under Tromsøya island, Tromsø Airport on the other side of the island, a bridge connecting Tromsøya island with the Kvaløysletta neighborhood, driving along the shore and finally, Eidkjosen. The bus driver recommended walking five minutes in a particular direction. The road led into Kaldfjord, a town on a bay of the Norwegian Sea. It was beautiful. I walked back to Eidkjosen and bought a beer at a supermarket. While sitting on a bench, admiring the views and drinking the beer, I decided to eat lunch at the supermarket cafeteria. I then boarded a 42 bus back to Tromsø. Along the way, I decided to transfer at Tromsø Airport to another bus with a different route back to Tromsø, around the island as opposed to the tunnels under it. I got off near the Polaria building, which is pretty cool, and then walked around the city center for a while. I took a bus back to where the ship was docked, and boarded.View All 72 Tromso Cruise Port Reviews
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