Alan Fairfax sets sail with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, this time visiting Amsterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp
Stepping aboard Fred Olsen’s flagship Bolette at Southampton was as if I had only left it a few days ago, the truth is, it’s over 7 months since I was last on board. Did I enjoy my second cruise on this ship? Read on.
Covid tests done and checked in I’m soon onboard and heading for my cabin on deck 7, 7017, a Premier Suite. These suites are extremely spacious, a queen size bed complimented with reading lights, dressing area, large dressing table, hair dryer, usb charging sockets and 3 wardrobes fronted with folding mirrored doors. The sitting area sporting a large settee, armchairs, and large flat screen tv, coffee/tea making facilities is just the place to relax with a pre-dinner drink, a book or the canapés that are delivered daily. Something very welcome is the bathroom mirror which usually steam up but these have a central area that always remains clear and the ‘Whirlpool’ bath is wonderful for teasing those tired muscles. Finally, a large balcony complemented by table, four chairs, two sun loungers and foot stools.
The ship exhibits an elegantly relaxed style rather than glitz, and although a new ship to ‘Fred’, regulars will recognise the traditional ‘Fred’ areas. Morning Light Pub, its traditional armchairs and red leather ‘Chesterfield’ settees, Oriental Tea Room, red and gold carpet contrasting against white and red upholstery, Bookmark Café adjoining the library, displays exquisite cakes and chocolates, the Neptune Lounge, common across the fleet as the theatre which on Bolette is two decks high, there is even a flower shop.
I’m on late dinner seating so time for a drink at one of the many bars. Bolette has two main dining rooms, Bloomsbury, and The Terrace forming the balcony to Bloomsbury.
We say farewell to Southampton, slowly making our way down Southampton Water through the Solent and English Channel as we cruise towards the North Sea and our first port of call, Amsterdam.
1pm the following day we take on board the pilot, pass through the large sea lock and transit the North Sea Canal to Amsterdam passing docks, ship building, repair yards, container depots and much more before our arrival on our berth at just before 6pm.
As night arrives it’s time to board one of the many canal boats for a tour of Amsterdam from the water. What a contrast as you glide along the quiet waters, taking in sights of beautifully illuminated buildings, bridges, churches, old houses and of course the canal house boats whilst sampling various Dutch cheeses washed down with a delightful glass or two of Rosé. It’s easy to understand why Amsterdam is known as ‘The Venice of the North’.
Having overnighted in Amsterdam, the next morning the sun’s shining, time to enjoy a coffee around one of the pools and chat with new made friends.
Lunch is taken in the buffet, there’s a huge choice of food but I admit to succumbing to the fresh made ‘stir fry’ which the chef will do to order with your choice of ingredients.
That evening several of us book one of the speciality restaurants, ‘Colours and Tastes’ specialising in Asian Fusion Cuisine. Bao buns with crispy chicken to start, Glazed Peking Duck, Steamed Pork sui mai with a garlic and chilli sauce and Asian Salad with soy ginger dressing as my main course and Banana Fritters to finish all washed down with an excellent Rosé wine. And the cost, just £5 per person, excellent value.
Next day we are at sea as we head across calm waters for our next port, Hamburg. I wake to sun streaming through my windows, time to try my whirlpool bath: it’s not worth having if you don’t use it. This is something I could get used to, luxuriating in the warm bubbles. Following a hearty full English breakfast, it’s time to sample a Swedish Massage in the Atlantis Spa. A 30 minutes long massage expertly performed with wonderful warm oils relaxing the body and mind.
1.30pm is the solos meeting – something ‘Fred’ excels at but had to postpone during Covid, happily now reinstated. It’s an opportunity to meet other solo travellers and from experience many long-lasting friendships have been made. When travelling alone it can be a daunting experience for some, especially in later years and this is where the meetings are so useful. It gives solos an opportunity to make up a group for dinner, go on tours together, sightseeing or just meet up for drinks.
Later it’s the Traditional Afternoon Tea, finger sandwiches, Darjeeling tea, scones with jam and clotted cream, but which goes on first, cream or jam.
Following dinner, yes just got room for it after all that food today, it’s off to the Observatory for a night cap and to listen to the singer and group before returning to that large comfy bed and with, of course, a chocolate on the pillow.
Next day after transiting the River Elbe we arrive in Hamburg, Germany’s second biggest city to a ‘water cannon salute’ marking the ship’s first visit. We are here overnight so its an early start the following morning for my trip to the Belsen Concentration Camp 61 miles south of Hamburg. On arrival I was a little surprised that none of the original buildings remain but had been burned down, many when the camp was liberated in 1945. It is however still easy to see the area with its large memorial, burial mounds, silent room and museum. Following the tour, it’s lunch at a delightful Greek restaurant a few miles away which really brightened the mood.
Soon after arriving back at the ship we cast off and begin our transit back along the River Elbe to the North Sea and our final port of call Antwerp.
Antwerp is a delightful old town with beautiful buildings, cafes, chocolate shops, and restaurants only a few minutes’ walk from the ship’s berth. The ‘City Hall’ adorned with gold facias, flags and statues, the 16th century ‘Guildhouses’, the water statue of the ‘Giants Hand and much more in the main square, the beautiful ‘Cathedral of our Lady’ completed in 1518 only a short distance away. We are in port overnight thus allowing us to see the area after dark with its busy restaurants and bustling cafes. The following morning, I board the tour bus for a walking tour of Brussels, followed by one of things Belgium is famous for, yes, beer. A chance to sit in the warm early spring sunshine and reminisce on what a wonderful trip this has been.
So how was it for the solo traveller? I found it surprisingly easy to meet other solos, strike up conversations with them in the bars, entertainment areas and on tours. The food and service were excellent, especially the two speciality restaurants ‘Colours & Tastes and ‘Vasco’ serving Goan cuisine which is free. 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.
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