Last year over 2 million people cruised from the UK and many of them were solo travellers. Having often wondered what it would be like to be a solo traveller on a cruise ship I decided to put it the test. Did I enjoy it, read on?
Fred Olsen’s ship Boudicca looked pristine moored in the sunshine at Dover’s terminal 2. The departure hall filled with eager passengers of all ages waiting to be called through security and onto the ship that would be their home and mine for the next 7 days. Finally called it was swiftly through the formalities, on board and first stop cabin 4097, an outside with portholes, twin beds and lots of hanging and drawer space, more than I would need for my voyage. Even my tour tickets were on the dressing unit. Unpacked it is time to explore the ship and make use of that extraordinarily good value for money all-inclusive drinks package that Fred Olsen offer at £10pp per day. For those not on all inclusive the drinks are very reasonably priced and certainly a week here will not break the bank.
That evening is open seating at dinner and my first opportunity to sample Boudicca’s food which does not disappoint. The Prawn and Flaked Haddock Pie is excellent, certainly having the all-inclusive option ensures that the dinner wine keeps flowing. An added surprise is meeting people whom I had known for 30 years but not seen for the last 10. Lot of catching up to be done. Returning to the cabin a chocolate has been placed on my pillow and the duvet is neatly folded ready for me to dive under and sleep that peaceful sleep as we head out from Dover towards our first port of call in 2 days’ time, L’Orient, France.
Next morning breakfast is taken in the Secret Garden buffet where it’s waiter service for the first 24 hours in an effort to combat the Noro Virus that plagues so many ships. Well done Fred Olsen, it worked. Breakfast over, time to attend the first meeting of the ‘Solo Travellers’ held in the Lido Lounge. Each of the 27 who attend, 9 of whom are male, are given a glass of Champagne and a welcome by one of the ships hosts. A mixed age group from all walks of life including an ex town crier from Felixstowe. Many of them already know one another such is the high repeat rate of passengers with Fred Olsen. The company cater well for solo travellers and Boudicca is no exception with 37 solo occupancy cabins 4 of which have outside views. Boudicca also has 4 wheel chair access cabins so everyone is catered for. A ‘singles’ breakfast table for those who wish to make use of it is available in the Four Seasons Restaurant.
That night is the first formal night and one thing that can be relied on is Fred Olsen passengers adhering to the dress code. Nothing but formal dress and business suits in sight accompanied by ladies elegantly dressed for the occasion all making their way to the Neptune Lounge for the Captains Cocktail Party. More drinks as Capt. Lars Juel Kjeldsen welcomes everyone on board and introduces his senior officers. Party over, time for dinner and to meet my table companions for the first time. Fred Olsen’s go to great lengths to put solo travellers together and my table in the more intimate Heligan Restaurant with 4 males and 3 females is no exception. A good mix of ages ensured 7 enjoyable dinner meets.
First port of call is L’Orient a city that came to life in the 17th century. The 2nd largest fishing port on the Brittany Coast with its beautiful yacht harbour, churches and gardens now boasts a population of 60,000. Many will remember it as the home of the infamous U Boat pens from WW2. Large low level buildings with roofs of concrete 12 feet thick. Did you know that the native language of Brittany is Bretton and similar to Welsh. I certainly didn’t.
The following day we port in La Pallice the port for La Rochelle our last stop in France. A horse drawn carriage ride takes us through the old parts of La Rochelle and close to the Heroes of the Resistance Monument erected in memory of those who gave their lives working for the French Résistance in WW2. The beautiful church of Saint Sauveur, built in the 12th century, destroyed by fire and rebuilt between 1708 and 1718. Certainly worth a visit. With the sun shining it’s time to sit at a pavement café, enjoy a coffee and watch the world go by.
Late that afternoon it is 3 long blasts from Boudicca’s deep sounding whistle as we say goodbye to Brittany and head south to Getxo our first Spanish port of call.
The sun is shining, the air is warm and it is breakfast time as we berth in Getxo the main port for Bilbao one of the major towns in the Basque Region of Northern Spain and dating back to the 14th century. Home to over 1 million people the area at one time housed the largest ship yard in Spain employing 15,000 people but closed in 1964 causing large scale unemployment. Now the economic centre of the Basque Region and home to Iberdrola, Spain’s electricity company as well as headquarters to some of the major banks including BBVA formerly Bank of Biscay. My tour includes a walking tour of the older part of the city taking in ancient sites and the famous Santiago Cathedral de Bilbao. Although build during the 14th and 15th centuries it was not declared a cathedral until 1950. Lunch is taken at a small restaurant specialising in ‘Pinchos’, a small snack found mainly in the Basque Region consisting of small slices of bread upon which the toppings are fastened, often with a “Pincho” which means spike. They are extremely tasty, well ours certainly were. Time to leave and return to the ship driving through the beautiful green country side that in many ways reminds me of England.
Next, the port of Aviles, Northern Spain is also our last. Clear blue sky, bright sunshine with the mercury already heading into the mid 20’s as I head for breakfast of fresh fruit and coffee. Today I have decided to stay on board and enjoy the delights of Boudicca. Breakfast finished sees me heading for Marquee Deck at the stern of the ship. A comfortable area with cushioned wicker chairs, small swimming pool and bar where you can sit in the shade whilst enjoying a cooling drink. With the view over the small town shimmering in the sunshine of a Spring Sunday morning, I feel at peace with the world as I look back over the last few days and realise how quickly they have passed. Tonight, the final formal night and the Captains farewell cocktail party where again everyone has adhered to the dress code and all look resplendent in their dress. Scots in national costume and an army officer in full “mess dress”, add to the colour of the occasion. Dinner does not disappoint with appetiser, soup, salad and the best ‘Rack of Lamb’ that I have had for a long time. Desert is a case of decisions, decisions finally selecting the Cheese Cake drizzled with Strawberry topping and an added scoop of Maple and Walnut Ice Cream. Tonight the crew are the entertainment with their own show. There is an enormous amount of talent amongst ships crews, singers and dancers from around the world, dressed in their national costumes they receive a standing ovation every time. So ends another great day.
Our last day at sea before Dover. Anyone not knowing the sound of the ships whistle (Fog Horn) certainly did by the end of the day as the ship made its way through thick fog that only cleared as night fell. It was now time to reflect on the cruise. Fred Olsen have older, smaller ships but they are in excellent condition operated by an efficient and friendly crews. Not a blown or misted window anywhere. The food is well presented and tastes as good as it looks. As a solo traveller you are well catered for and I speak now from experience. Gratuities at £4 pp per day represent the lowest in the industry with the exception of those that include them in the fare, drinks package at £10pp per day is the lowest of any cruise line I know and the wi-fi package that is very expensive on some ships is a mere £30 for 1,440 minutes so no excuse not to keep in touch with friends and family. Chocolates on pillows and the Midnight Gala Buffet are still alive and well unlike so many other lines. Fred Olsen have a repeat passenger percentage that others can only dream of and this says it all. They keep coming back and it is easy to see why.