It’s over 2 years since last cruising with Fred Olsen, affectionately known by regulars as ‘Fred’, now’s my chance to reacquaint myself, but as a solo passenger aboard their new flagship, Bolette, did I enjoy it? Read on.
Due to strict health measures implemented by Fred. Olsen, check in at Dover has changed. Enter terminal 1 with your luggage, take a lateral flow test and all being well 30 minutes later your luggage is taken and you board the coach to terminal 2 for security screening and checking in. Minutes later, you are up the gangway and on board. A very well managed and slick operation.
My cabin on deck 7, a Premier Suite is extremely spacious, queen size bed, dressing and bar areas, 3 glass fronted wardrobes, settee, armchairs, flat screen TV, hairdryer, coffee and tea making facilities plus ‘Whirlpool’ bath, large balcony complemented by table, 4 chairs, 2 sun loungers and foot stools.
The ship is stunning, exhibiting an elegantly relaxed style rather than glitz. Shining brass and sparkling glass adorn all areas of this tastefully furnished ship. Although a new ship to ‘Fred’, regulars will recognise The Morning Light Pub, with traditional armchairs and red leather Chesterfield settees. The Oriental Tea Room, its red and gold carpet contrasting against white and red upholstered chairs, the Bookmark Café and lounge adjoining the library, displaying exquisite cakes and confectionary. I particularly enjoyed the piano bar, exuding a wonderfully intimate feel. The Neptune Lounge, common across the fleet as the theatre, is on Bolette and sister ship Borealis 2 decks high, thus accommodating many more passengers in very comfortable seats. There is much to see, but this short cruise was not sufficient to visit all the venues, there is even a flower shop.
I’m on early seating so time for dinner, Bolette has two main dining rooms, Bloomsbury, and The Terrace forming the balcony to Bloomsbury. The menu is extensive, food as always excellent, my choice Prawn Cocktail, Soup, Sirloin Steak, Apple Crumble washed down with a delightful Rosé wine served by polite, happy, efficient waiters.
Time to say goodbye to Dover, its castle and white cliffs bathed in the rays of the setting sun as we sail into the English Channel heading for the North Sea and our first port of call 350 nautical miles north, Lerwick, capital of The Shetlands.
Early Thursday morning sees us at anchor in Lerwick Bay. Breakfast finished, it’s time to board one of the ship’s tenders and transfer into Lerwick and board the coach for my tour of the main island. It’s a thick cloud, but the rain is holding off and the sun is attempting at times to brighten the day as we pass 18th century houses and cottages heading into the countryside. Of the Shetlands islands, 15 are inhabited, the largest being ‘The Mainland’. In medieval times the islands were dominated by Norway, which is less than 200 miles away hence the large Scandinavian influence, before becoming part of Scotland in the 1400s. Farming and fishing have always been the mainstays of the economy, but when North Sea oil was discovered this significantly increased revenues.
The first photo stop is above the beautiful little town and harbour of Scalloway, featuring a tower house built in 1600. Back on the coach, we enjoy the beautiful hilly scenery as we make our way to Ramnaberg Stud and ‘Carol’s Ponies’. Just before our arrival she has grazed some of the ponies in an enclosure and proceeds to give a very interesting talk, who knew they have roamed the hills of Shetland for over 4,000 years, can be used as pack animals and only grow to between 28-42 inches tall, I certainly didn’t. We continue our journey past farms, grazing sheep, the hills have started changing colour as the heather turns from green to mauve as autumn approaches. The tour passes quickly and soon we are back at the quayside to board our tender back to the ship.
That night I have dinner in ‘Colours and Tastes’ one of the speciality restaurants, a menu of Asian Fusion Cuisine. Wonton Soup starter followed by Massaman Lamb Curry with potato, peanuts and a side of steamed Pork Sui Mai with garlic and chilli sauce. To finish, Banana Fritters, Spiced Syrup, Vanilla Ice Cream and a coffee. The charge for this restaurant, £5, is unbelievable value for money.
Next morning, I wake to sun streaming through my windows, time to try my whirlpool bath, not worth having if you don’t use it. Very invigorating and a great way to start the day. Today we are in Orkney and the port of Kirkwall, one of my favourites. Up early, I decide to make breakfast an enjoyable experience rather than the usual quick snack before dashing out. Porridge topped with golden honey is always a good starter followed by smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, toast, marmalade and several cups of coffee. Today my tour visits a location I always enjoy, the Italian Chapel. Travelling by mini bus, it doesn’t take long to cover the 8 miles to the chapel situated on the island of Lamb Holm. In 1942 550 Italian prisoners of war were brought from North Africa to assist in building the Churchill Barriers, large concrete causeways to protect Scarpa Flow from being infiltrated by German U boats after the disaster of the ship HMS Royal Oak in 1939 when it was torpedoed by German submarine U47 resulting in the loss of 835 lives. The prisoners asked for somewhere to pray and were given 2 Nissen Huts. Over the next 2 years they turned the huts into a beautiful chapel using concrete and scrap iron from the barriers; it has become world-famous. After the war ended several prisoners stayed on to complete the chapel which has been restored several times since.
From here we travel to Stromness where the sun has come out to welcome us, a beautiful town with harbour, fishing boats rock gently on the water, fishermen mending their nets, guest houses that are still receiving visitors, holidaymakers strolling the area as the dark blue sea contrasts with the now azure blue sky, but time to move on.
We travel to Ness Battery, an encampment that during WW1 was an important part of the defences to Scapa Flow and the main base for the Royal Navy during the war. In WW2 it was again used as one of the major defences. On touring the now disused site you can enter the huts, one of which was the mess hall of ‘Other Ranks’ where murals on the wall are in excellent condition and the piano still occupies a corner of the building.
Time to return to the ship for dinner in the 2nd of the specialty restaurants, Vasco Goan Cuisine. Starters are 4 samples of squid, mackerel, mushrooms, Goan sausage accompanied by 6 sauces and chutneys, these really had the taste buds tinrgling. For mains, it had to be Xacuti chicken with rice and spicy potato followed by rice pudding blended with almonds to finish. A dinner that will remain in my memory for all the right reasons and the cost, zero, on this cruise as it was included in the fare.
Next day is a sea day, time to sample first a Swedish massage in the Atlantis Spa. An hour-long massage expertly performed with wonderful warm oils relaxing the body and mind. It was so relaxing I was almost asleep.
Later it’s the traditional afternoon tea, sandwiches of cheese, smoked salmon, cucumber, cut into fingers as it was when afternoon tea was not a tradition but the norm. Darjeeling tea served in a pot and poured through a strainer, wonderful. Scones with jam and clotted cream, but which goes on first, clotted cream or jam.
After dinner, I return to the Morning Light Lounge for a final drink with the friends I have made on the trip and to listen to Sean Saye as he sings an amazing selection of songs with his 12-string guitar as accompaniment. He really is excellent and one of the best I have ever heard on any ship.
The next morning, we are back in Dover, and it’s all over.
So how was it for a solo traveller? Unfortunately, the solo meets that Fred. is famous for weren’t able to take place due to current health protocols, however I found it surprisingly easy to recognise other solos, strike up conversations with them in the bars, entertainment areas and on tours. Within the first few days I had made friends with several other passengers in the same position as myself, recently bereaved and able to share lunchtime tables, see shows together, have drinks in the evening and book the speciality restaurants with them. Everyone was very friendly and since arriving home I have been contacted by several of them. If my experience is anything to go by, I would certainly say to most solos contemplating going on a cruise with Fred., book it!
Alan was a fare paying passenger.