Green rolling hills, mountains, glens, castles, clans, lochs and the swirl of bagpipes, Scotland, where else. This was a 10 night cruise, ‘Lochs and Isles of Scotland’ aboard Fred Olsen’s ship Black Watch.
Life onboard Black Watch
There is something magical, unforgettable about boarding a beautiful cruise ship, excited passengers looking forward to visiting areas new whilst for some it’s a return to those places they have fallen in love with over the years whilst to others it’s all about being back on their favourite cruise ship. For me it’s the former having only ever visited one of the ports on the extensive itinerary. First stop however is the cabin on deck 4, a spacious twin bed with large portholes giving good outer views. It has to be said the shower was one of the largest I have experienced on a small ship and was a delight to use. Lots of wardrobe and draw space together with what many consider to be a necessity, tea making facilities. Cases already arrived so the unpacking begins. It’s then I realise that whilst questioning my wife on why she needed to pack so much I notice I may have overdone it myself with enough shirts to last me a month, no wonder my case was the heaviest. This chore completed time to head for the promenade on deck 7 to see us sail away. The wind is blowing and the sea has many ‘white horses’ as with 3 long blasts on the ships whistle we ease away from the quayside and head out into the English Channel, we are on our way, heading east past the seaside towns of Hastings and Eastbourne towards our first port of call Dublin.
Dinner as we are on the early sitting is 6.15pm and time to meet our waiter Ian for the first time. He is from the Philippines, holds a qualification in hotel management and is certainly very proficient, friendly, polite and very knowledgeable. Now for the menu which is not only extensive but every evening contains a typical ‘English’ dish together with many of my favourites so choice is difficult. Finally, I select the salmon mousse followed by the ‘English’ fish pie, finishing with a selection of cheese and biscuits all washed down with several glasses of chilled rosé wine.
Dinner finished time to visit the show lounge where we meet our Cruise Director, Simon who introduces an excellent show performed by the Black Watch Show Team, 8 very talented singers and dancers who prove to be exceptional considering they have only been performing together for less than 2 weeks. This was not pre-recorded music and songs but live performances that were truly professional. Show over, it’s been a long day so time to try out those beds.
Returning to the cabin our cabin steward has already made up the cabin, turned down the duvet and placed a chocolate with the following days agenda on the pillow. The beds are so very comfortable and soon I am in the land of dreams.
On waking I turn on the flat screen TV and check our position, we are off the coast of Plymouth. Today is a sea day as we cruise east along the English Channel before heading north into the Atlantic and finally the Irish Sea to Dublin. Black Watch at a little over 28,600 grt. and carrying a maximum of 804 passengers is small in the modern world but a size loved by the regular Fred Olsen passengers who return in droves year after year giving Fred Olsen one of, if not the highest, repeat business percentages in the industry. On this cruise, it is an amazing 52%.
Time to wander the ship. Deck 10, a deck for the energetic, home to the Fitness Centre, golf nets and tennis court together with a sun bathing area for relaxation after all that hard work.
Deck 9 houses the Observatory Lounge affording outstanding views over the front and sides of the ship which, on sea days is a favourite with passengers who just want peace and quiet, read their books, watch the world go by or just enjoy a nap whilst at the rear is the Marquee Bar, pool and jacuzzis.
The decks visited by most passengers will be decks 6 and 5. 6, the deck where you gain weight, home to the Glentanar Restaurant, Black Watch Room speciality restaurant, Brigadoon Buffet, together with the Morning Light Pub and Neptune bar. Deck 5 houses Guest Services, Shore Excursions, Photo Gallery, Boutique and the Shop. There are also laundry rooms on decks 4 and 5.
One of my favourite areas is the Lido Lounge on deck 7, sit out in a comfortable chair take in the wonderful view, feel the rays of the summer sun and should you so wish, walk down to the deck below for a cooling swim or just bubble away in one of the jacuzzis. Personally, sitting in the sun, watching the coast line drift by and sipping a chilled glass of rosé for me was transformational.
The day passes quickly and tonight is formal night. As if by magic passengers turn from casually dressed tourists into an elegant parade of gentlemen in dinner suits accompanied by ladies in their finery as they queue to meet the captain and have their photo taken with him. Its then into the Neptune Lounge for a selection of drinks supplied by Fred Olsen at what is known as the Captain’s Welcome on Board Party. Introduced by the Cruise Director Captain Age welcomes all aboard and introduces his second in command who presents the rest of the senior officers including one considered by many to be the most important, the Executive Chef. Time for the Gala Dinner which for me is prawns and Scottish smoked salmon, cream of pea and leak soup, roast duck with a cheese board to finish. Dinner finished, it’s show time with another great performance by the Black Watch Show Team and bed as tomorrow starts the ports of call and tours.
Waking on day 3 and checking our location sees us making our way past ferries, container ships, warehouses and cranes to a berth in Dublin Harbour. Today we are on one of the ships tours so it’s time for that shower, healthy breakfast of fresh fruit and make our way to the waiting coach. Our guide, Stephen, a very knowledgeable young man with a great sense of humour is about to make this a tour to remember for all the right reasons. Leaving the harbour, we make our way along the banks of the River Liffey passing the famous Ha’penny, James Joyce and O’Connell Bridges, the amazing white Samuel Beckett Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava with its spar and cables representing a harp, the national symbol of Ireland since the 13th century. We pass buildings both new and old, the new National Conference Centre appearing as a glass drum, the Custom House, so big that it’s almost impossible to get it into one photo, the restored Four Courts and of course the famous Guinness Distillery. Moving away from the river we arrive at the magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral, national cathedral of the Church of Ireland built in 1191. The spire, 141ft high, enter and wonder at the beautiful Choir Area, the Lady Chapel, State Pew for the President of Ireland and much more, this is a must visit for anyone coming to Dublin. Travelling on we pass along famous O’Connell Street, Merrion and Fitzwilliam Squares with their beautiful Georgian houses and garden squares exclusively for the residents use before making our way to Phoenix Park. Phoenix Park, an area over 1750 acres and large enough to accommodate the London Parks and have room to spare. Established in 1662 and housing Aras an Uachtarain, the official residence of Irelands President, The Wellington Monument, 203ft high commemorating the victories of the Duke of Wellington, yes he was Irish, Phoenix Monument erected by the Earl of Chesterfield in 1747, Papal Cross erected to commemorate the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979, Deerfield Residence the official residence of the United States of America Ambassador to Ireland, The Victorian Walled Kitchen garden and my personal favourite Ashtown Castle dating back to the 1430s and now lovingly restored. After a quick glass of something cool and a visit to the gardens its back on the coach and return to the river where we board Spirit of Docklands for a leisurely trip along the ‘Liffey’. This time it’s an opportunity to appreciate buildings from the river and in many cases, get a better view of them together with other river craft like the Jeanie Johnston, a replica of the original Jeanie Johnston which made 16 emigrant journeys, carrying over 2,500 people across the Atlantic to the ‘New World’ of North America between 1847 and 1855 without any loss of life.
Finally, after passing under James Joyce Bridge we turn and head back to our start point where our coach is waiting to return us to Black Watch in time for afternoon tea.
That night show time is by one of my favourite comedians, ‘Barnaby’. An act I first saw in 2004 and although the multi coloured long jacket has gone and been replaced by 3 piece suits and his gags have changed his act is just as funny. ‘Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed but Never Blue’ is his motto and it is true. During his 45 minute show there were no swear words, no rude innuendoes or blue jokes yet at times all that could be heard were the sounds of uncontrollable laughter from an audience that loved him. Just goes to show what a true professional Barnaby is and you don’t have to be mucky to be funny. A quick nightcap in the Morning Light Pub and bed ready for the next port, Tarbert 168 miles north east.
A taste of life onboard Black Watch:
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.
- Dublin, the Isles and Lochs of Scotland onboard Fred. Olsen’s Black Watch – Part 2
- Dublin, the Isles and Lochs of Scotland onboard Fred. Olsen’s Black Watch – Part 3