I’ve just disembarked a traditional British cruise, despite very much not being a traditional person!
We had formal nights and dress codes, and I had to share my dinner table with strangers at a set time.
I also came across a few strange rules which I was not expecting!
Planning My Fred Olsen Cruise
This cruise was very different from any cruise I’ve ever taken before and we had highs and lows that I could never have predicted.
Those highs and lows were literal as well, the ship was so rocky and the seas were seriously rough!
I usually cruise with the casual cruise lines. I love big, new exciting cruise ships, the ones that have ropes courses and waterslides. I’ve been skydiving on cruise ships and even tried surfing, which was so cool!
Taking a traditional cruise on a small ship wasn’t on my radar but when I saw an amazing itinerary sailing with the traditional cruise line “Fred Olsen” I thought maybe this would be my chance.
Reading their website I saw that it said:
I’ve never seen a cruise line promise anything like that before so I figured I had nothing to lose really, and I booked the cruise!
I was nervous, I didn’t know if I’d fit in, I wasn’t sure if there were lots of rules I’d have to follow. I thought I might find it a bit boring, to be honest.
I had no idea how a small ship would handle the notoriously rocky seas on the route I was taking.
We embarked the ship in Newcastle. Embarkation was made very easy by the fact that I’d already been sent my luggage tags and tickets pre-cruise so there wasn’t anything for me to organise myself.
With most of the big cruise lines you have to remember to print the paperwork you need – Fred Olsen send it all by post.
This was a really good sign for me that traditional cruising might have some benefits that I hadn’t thought about!
I was still nervous but only time would tell if I’d be converted to the more classic style of cruising.
The ship that I was cruising on was Fred Olsen’s “Bolette.”
As soon as we got onboard we walked into this amazing atrium area and were greeted with a huge clock, that looked like something out of a steampunk-style movie!
There were fresh flowers everywhere and there was music playing in the background which made it all feel very classy.
This was very different from the sparkly atriums that I’m used to on more modern ships, but I personally loved it!
The carpets were so colourful too, it really felt like the ship was making a statement. Nothing about this ship was subtle!
Up until 2020, most of Fred Olsen’s cruise ships were from the 1960s and 1970s. They really didn’t interest me at all.
In 2020 they bought this ship from the cruise line Holland America and that’s when I added Fred Olsen to my ‘maybe’ cruise list.
I recently took a little cruise on a ship of a similar age that had some serious maintenance issues so I wondered if we would find any problems like that onboard.
To find out more about that disastrous trip, read the article below:
I hoped that we wouldn’t, especially since we were spending 9 nights on this cruise. It isn’t uncommon to find things like broken toilets or broken air conditioning on ships of this age.
Heading up to the top of the ship to explore we found a massive lounge that overlooked the ocean on three sides. I love lounges like this and I particularly love them when they have chairs that recline.
I had no idea that the seats did recline to start with, until I saw another guest do it. He must have been here before because he sat straight down and flipped out his legs! I copied, and it was so comfortable – I imagine a lot of people fall asleep in this bar!
I noticed a little stage beside the bar and started to wonder what sort of entertainment would be onboard.
I couldn’t imagine that there would be much happening in the day and I very much came on this cruise ready to entertain myself.
I couldn’t have been more wrong about a lack of entertainment! There were things on the schedule that I have never seen on cruise ships before.
After a quick Pepsi, we decided to head to the buffet for lunch. I’ve been in lots of cruise ship buffets over the years so I thought I knew how this would work.
Usually, you walk up to the food and either take the food or ask the person behind the counter to serve it to you. Then you find somewhere to sit down.
That wasn’t how it worked on Fred Olsen, and it did confuse me a little bit at the start. As I tried to walk up to the food one of the members of crew stopped me and asked how many of us there were. I was a bit confused but I said “two” and she took us to a table.
I’ve never been seated by a crew member in a buffet before, and although it was nice to not have to find my own seat I did wonder if it might get a little annoying as the cruise went on.
I’m somebody who likes to get snacks from the buffet quite often, and I don’t always want to sit down -and definitely not with people that I don’t know!
Also, the first thing you do once you’re seated is stand right back up again to go back and choose your food. This was served by the staff. It was a little bit odd, but I appreciated the idea behind it.
This was one of the first signs that this cruise would turn the things I thought I knew about cruising on their head.
I straight away found Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes in the buffet – which made me very happy!
I was expecting this cruise to be very British in things like the food, because the majority of guests onboard were from the UK.
I did find some Americans later on in the cruise but at this point, I’d only spoken to other British people.
Next, it was time to complete the safety drill that is a legal requirement on cruises. It has to be completed on the first day of a cruise and for this, we had to go and find out cabin.
We’d booked a “balcony cabin suite” on deck 8, which meant that we didn’t have far to walk from the buffet which was also on deck 8.
On big cruise ships, I’m pretty used to walking from a cabin on deck 5 right up to decks 15 or 16 to go to the buffet! That is a lot of stairs…
Just walking down one or two flights of stairs to reach things was amazing. Our cabin was pretty central too, which was good.
The first thing I did when I went into the cabin was run straight into the bathroom!
This might sound odd, but I’d heard a few rumours pre-cruise that some of the cabins onboard Bolette had baths. It has always been a cruising dream of mine to have a bath on a cruise!
It’s very rare to get a bath on a cruise ship without booking a suite. When I saw one in there, my goodness, I was so happy – some would say disproportionately happy – but I can’t explain how much this bath meant to me!
To find out more about my cabin on Bolette, click here:
Our cabin felt very spacious and we had tons of storage space.
I’ve been asked a lot:
“Dated” technically just means that you can work out the date of something by looking at it. You can tell that she’s not a new cruise ship, but having said that, nothing was broken or damaged,
It felt as though Fred Olsen had taken great care of this cabin, and for me – that’s the most important thing.
Some people love this more traditional design and some people prefer more modern-looking designs like the cabins on MSC cruise ships.
I do like the traditional thing of leaving chocolates on the pillow every night, most cruise lines have got rid of that and I definitely miss it!
Our balcony was huge and I instantly noticed the ashtray sitting on the table.
Almost all cruise lines have banned smoking on balconies in recent years, but Fred Olsen are one of only 4 lines that do still allow it.
To find out who the others are, read the post below:
There was loads of storage in our cabin, a big bed which interestingly had two separate duvets, a sofa, a TV, a kettle which I used a lot and some rather interesting art.
During the cruise, I looked at this one picture a lot as it was opposite my bed. I am convinced that I can see a little man inside this fish, and I did ask my viewers to name him.
They did not disappoint me with the funny names they came up with! He ended up being called “Jonah the Grape.”
There was interesting art like this all over the ship and every time I walked down a corridor I’d find something to make me laugh!
Assigned Late Dining!
In our cabin, I found a piece of paper that said that we had been assigned late dining. I am absolutely a person who likes to eat early, at home I eat around 5 pm but I didn’t think that would be a problem.
On every cruise I’ve ever taken, I’ve been able to change my dining time without issue so I assumed – wrongly – that I would be able to have it changed.
Reading down a little bit more, I realised that I would be charged to change my dining time!
I am a very stubborn person, so there was no way in the world I was going to pay to change the time of my dinner!
Guests who pay for the more expensive “freedom fare” when booking their cruise do have priority when it comes to dining times, but in true Emma style, I’d booked the cheaper saver fare.
It was only £2($2.50) per person per night, but that would have been £36 ($45) in total, which is insane to me!
This may be the most ridiculous and random charge I’ve ever come across on a cruise.
If Fred Olsen are reading this, please get rid of it! It leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths on day one of the cruise, and that isn’t a good way to start.
They did have a little table map on the back of the dining times paper though, which was awesome. I wish all cruise lines did this as I like to be prepared!
Late dining was 8.30 pm, so we had plenty of time to watch the sail away from Newcastle.
Our cruise was heading up into the Arctic Circle in pursuit of the Northern Lights, and at this point, I thought it was cold. I couldn’t have been more wrong! It was about to get much, much colder!
When we headed to the Terrace Restaurant, I was expecting to be seated at a table for two, but to my surprise, there was already another couple sitting down at the table when we arrived.
The other couple looked just as confused as we were to be table-sharing! There had been no mention of it before.
This was actually their first cruise and they weren’t expecting table sharing either!
I would usually never pick table sharing, but we were so lucky with our table mates. We had a great meal in this really cool restaurant that was split over two levels. It felt very grand and had stained glass on the ceiling.
The food was all very good and we came away very happy from that first meal.
There were always vegetarian choices, and things like gluten-free options were clearly marked. That said, I didn’t know if I would regularly be back in this dining room, just because of our 8.30 pm timeslot.
We did tell our new friends about this so that they didn’t think we were avoiding them if we didn’t come to dinner ever again!
If you do take a cruise with a cruise line that includes fixed dining, you don’t ever have to go to dinner there at that time – it just means that if you want to eat in the main dining room, that is your space.
You can still eat in other places, or go to the buffet instead. This is included in the cruise fare.
You can eat in the speciality restaurants too, but that costs extra.
We ended up eating in the buffet a lot more than normal on this cruise, mostly because I actually got pretty seasick, so didn’t feel like eating a sit-down meal.
When I take a lot of travel sickness medication I tend to just sleep, and I did that on this cruise a lot.
The ship was moving so much that my Apple Watch actually recorded a 3-and-a-half-hour dance workout while I slept!
(Because of how much I was moving around, it assumed I was dancing!)
Leaving the restaurant at around 10 pm, we were perfectly timed to head to the theatre for the 2nd performance of the evening show.
The Theatre, Bars and Entertainment
The theatre onboard Bolette is called the “Neptune Lounge” so I didn’t expect it to be a big theatre.
On some smaller cruise ships like the Azamara fleet, you’ll find that they just have a lounge where they do shows in the evening. The Neptune Lounge was every bit as impressive a theatre as you’d find on the larger ships.
The show told us a little more about what we could expect from the cruise and introduced us to a few crew members.
We saw a couple of songs from the show team and were introduced to the guest speakers who would be hosting talks during the cruise.
It’s fairly common for a cruise to have a guest speaker on board, but I’ve never been on a cruise that had this many before.
There were four guest speakers on board, covering various topics from “Life In Norway” to “Photographing the Northern Lights.” All were very interesting!
Drinks Packages and Pricing
They did have bar service in the theatre which was very good, it was very fast and the crew were always so friendly.
The drinks on Fred Olsen are a decent price too!
There’s no automatic gratuity added on drinks, as you’ll find on American cruise lines.
The drinks themselves are reasonably cheap – for a cruise ship anyway.
A soft drink like a Pepsi was £2.50 and a cocktail was around £7. A pint of beer was £5 which is pretty similar to a pub on land.
Fred Olsen does have a drinks package available which is called ‘All-Inclusive.’ Like most drinks packages, this isn’t really all-inclusive, but with it you can get soda, beer, wine, spirits and a “cocktail of the day” included.
It costs £25 per person per day, which is pretty cheap for a package that includes alcohol. In the past, I’ve paid £20 a day just for a soft drinks package!
I spent our first sea day feeling pretty seasick and awful, so I was so happy when we docked in our first port of Alesund.
Usually, cruise ships stay in port until at least dinner time, but we were only there for a few hours.
It was amazing to be able to at least explore in the snow. We do not get much snow in the UK, so it was quite an experience.
Our ship actually sailed away at 1 pm, so we had to be on board at 12.30 pm – which was a shame.
Other Bars Onboard
This afternoon onboard the ship gave me the chance to properly explore. We found a big bar area called “The Morning Light.”
This was a pub-type of venue, they had games here to play, and this lounge was very popular when the football or rugby was on.
They would even bring food here sometimes. I don’t watch any sports so I would tend to go to another bar, but it was very popular.
This bar area was actually the casino when the ship was owned by Holland America Line, but Fred Olsen took out the casino and now there isn’t one onboard.
It’s actually not uncommon for British cruise lines to not have casinos, or to have smaller ones. We don’t tend to gamble as much as Americans or Australian cruisers – so I’m told!
We also found “The Piano Bar” which would become one of my favourite bars onboard. It was small and felt modern in its design. There was a piano here as the name suggests, and they’d play live music in the evenings.
My only criticism of this bar was that they would sometimes play “My Way” by Frank Sinatra – if I had my way I’d ban that song from cruise ships!
It’s the most popular funeral song in the world, so I think most of us have been to a funeral where it’s been played. It seems an odd choice for me but it’s very popular on cruises!
We also found another bar, which was beautiful but had no name on the deck plans! I just called it the “Garden Bar with the tearoom next door.”
These areas have been refurbished most recently, but even the parts of the ship that felt a little less modern never felt damaged or old. It was clear to me that the ship was well looked after.
There was another bar by the atrium, where they would have live music and play games. We would often get a drink from here to take to our cabin because it was just up one flight of stairs.
The Poolside Cafe
By this point, we were getting hungry so we decided to go and grab a bit to eat at the poolside cafe.
On most cruises you’ll find somewhere by the pool that serves food – like pizza or hot dogs usually, it’s just “grab and go” but on Bolette this was a sit-down cafe.
They had similar things to most poolside restaurants on the menu but in a much more refined and classy way. They had burgers, they had fish and chips and they had Halloumi – which I ate quite a few times.
At one point I asked if I could have a Halloumi burger – which wasn’t on the menu. They said “Of course, no problem!”
The crew on Fred Olsen were some of the loveliest I’ve ever met on any cruise line!
I would often see the crew helping guests with things like putting on their coats if they needed it, and it really felt as though they had time to help their guests. Often on cruises, I feel bad when I see the crew running around, rushed off their feet.
On Bolette it felt as though they had a much higher ratio of crew to passengers.
Fred Olsen talks about the “Fred Olsen way” :
They talk about how the industry is changing to be all about the bigger ships and they want to keep things more traditional.
I really felt this with the staff. I did wonder if that extra service would come at a cost though, would I have to stick to strict dress codes or find anything I didn’t like?
Would I be bored during the day? I was on a mission to find out!
The cafe is located right by the inside pool. (I say inside pool, but it could be the inside or the outside pool depending on if the roof was open.)
During our cruise, the roof was closed because we were in the arctic circle, but I’ve been assured that it does open during warmer cruises.
All the pools on the ship were heated, whether inside or out. This was amazing given the chilly temperatures outside.
At one point the temperature got down to -14c / 6F. Being able to come into this area, even just to pick up a drink from the bar, was fantastic.
At the back of the ship, there is another pool that’s also heated and some people did brave a swim here.
I have to say the snow on the deck really did put me off, but some people seemed to love it and good for them! – I’m sure it’s very good for you!
If the inside pool area was on a cruise ship owned by another cruise line it would be always full of people – and probably full of kids!
At this point in the cruise I’d only seen two children onboard, so I didn’t know if they were hiding somewhere or if this really was mostly an adult cruise.
Fred Olsen doesn’t have a lot of things on their ships for kids – like waterslides or ropes courses. They do have kid’s clubs that operate during peak seasons.
We decided to skip having dinner in the main dining room as we’d already eaten by the pool, and this would turn into a habit that we would repeat quite a few times during the cruise.
Life Onboard Ship
The daily schedule was far busier than I imagined pre-cruise. Every day would start with “walk a mile” -where guests and crew would walk a mile around the promenade deck.
I did walk around the promenade deck but was never up at 8 am to join in with the group!
I saw that the “Blue Nose Ceremony” was on the list one day, This is a ceremony carried out when ships sail into the Arctic Circle.
I also wanted to see the guest speakers present – but apart from that my schedule was wide open to attend any events that I thought would be interesting.
I also knew that tomorrow was formal night, and I was nervous about how seriously Fred Olsen cruisers would take it.
I don’t mind dressing up when I cruise, but I really don’t like being told that I have to!
I started my morning with a bath which is the absolute best way to start any day! I did find that the bath took ages to fill up with the tap so I would usually fill it by putting the shower head in the bath which was for some reason quicker.
It was incredible, It was a very small bathtub of course, but I’m going to miss that on every cruise going forward!
We headed to the buffet for breakfast and they had the most amazing doughnuts! I ate a lot of bread on this cruise too, and I can confirm this is some of the best bread I’ve had at sea!
To me, this is very important as I’m mostly fuelled by bread, cookies and Pepsi. That’s my ideal meal right there!
It was around now that I realised that I hadn’t heard anybody on this cruise complain about the food – which is very rare! Usually, I hear people complain about things within an hour or two of getting on board, so that was a nice treat.
I wondered if that may be to do with who was on this cruise. Fred Olsen do have an older-than-average passenger demographic and they have a lot of repeat cruisers – more than on any other cruise line I’ve ever found.
The other guests loved to chat, especially at times like lunch when we would be seated with other people.
Other guests often told me how this was their 5th or 10th or even 20th cruise with Fred Olsen! They have so many repeat passengers, which is always a good sign!
This might be one of the reasons why I never heard anybody complain, everybody already knew what they were getting. It could also be just because the food was very good though!
There wasn’t a huge selection because the buffet on the ship isn’t massive. There were always local dishes to try as well as classic British things, like roast dinners and sandwiches.
I liked the little section that had small pots of dishes – like salads you could just pick up. They even had Crisps (Potato Chips) and Custard creams (Biscuits) at afternoon snack time – which was incredible!
The definitions of “Biscuits” and “Cookies” does always get confusing for other Nationalities. The most important thing is that in the UK we call this a biscuit and a “Custard Cream” is the best biscuit of all time.
When I was a child I’d always come home every day and have two biscuits from the biscuit tin after school. I really can’t imagine a life without custard creams, which sounds odd – but I must have eaten hundreds of thousands in my life.
They had “Bourbons” too! Another type of chocolate-flavoured biscuit. These aren’t cookies – not by the British definition anyway.
They had bar service in the buffet which was always pretty good and most days, this day included, I ended up eating here instead of waiting until 8:30 to go to the main dining room.
I was determined that I would go again to dinner in the main dining room during the cruise though, and I did later in the trip.
I went to the main dining room for lunch and was put on another table, sharing with strangers.
We were very lucky with our table mates once again.
In future, I’ll definitely try to stick to cruise lines without fixed dining times or table sharing – it just isn’t me!
Other Areas of the Ship
I knew that there was still an area of the ship that I hadn’t discovered. I’d seen the art gallery mentioned on the daily schedule but hadn’t found it yet, and I had heard rumours that there was another area for presentations called “The Auditorium.”
Still on my to-do list was to see a proper theatre show with the theatre team. I’d watched a Q&A with the cast about their lives onboard, which was very interesting but I wanted to see them in action.
It turns out that all of the members of the cast were on their first contracts at sea, and they seemed like such a friendly and open group. They chatted about how they got into this career, and what it was like behind the scenes.
All of the crew onboard always seemed very accessible to the guests and nothing ever seemed like too much trouble.
One crew member even got me a blanket when I was cold at one point, which definitely is going above and beyond!
They had lots of exercise classes, golf putting, bridge classes, cooking demonstrations, and arts & crafts!
There was a small charge for a few of the activities – like the crafts where you had to pay for the materials.
I think is fair enough, but it really was a ‘small charge’ of about £2, not like some cruise lines where they say a ‘nominal charge’ of $39.99!
I got the impression from the daily schedule that if you were somebody who liked to learn, a Fred Olsen cruise would be fantastic for you.
They had quizzes too. and gameshows – as well as things like “Name That Tune” which are pretty common on cruise ships.
The real difference on a ship like this, compared to say a big cruise ship with a cruise line like Royal Caribbean was that there were just one or two things happening at a time.
On a much bigger ship, there can be four, five or even six activities happening at once!
They have to have full daily schedules on the big ships because some ships can hold up to 7000 guests. Bolette had a maximum capacity of 1300, which in comparison is tiny.
I did really like the lack of ‘Fluff’ in the schedule. Some cruise lines will include things like a spa discount on the daily schedule in the main list, which really isn’t an event at all!
On the theatre schedule, I saw “Let’s Go To The Movies.” I love this traditional kind of theatre singing and dancing entertainment. It definitely wasn’t the type of big “Broadway style” show that you’ll get on the American cruise lines, but I wouldn’t expect it to be.
Bolette has a relatively small team, they had lots of colourful costumes and sang a range of songs that the audience knew.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was a shame that we couldn’t see more theatre shows really.
Some theatre shows had to be cancelled due to the bad weather and the rocky seas.
We did have afternoon tea in the observatory which was lovely. I love a good scone!
They had live music playing, the food is served to you by the crew, who wear white gloves.
I was still feeling the motion of the ocean quite a bit, and watching the horizon go up and down out of the windows wasn’t ideal – but the food was lovely.
Afternoon tea does cost extra on Fred Olsen cruises, it’s £13 per person.
If you don’t want to pay for that, you’ll find most of the same foods (including the scones) in the buffet for free.
When I embarked on the cruise I met one of the guest speakers, David Nikel, who would be holding talks throughout the cruise. He is a Brit who moved to Norway in 2011. He now writes and presents about living in Norway.
There was a Q&A happening with him in the theatre next and I knew that I didn’t want to miss it. We took a seat on the top level and I had a great view from up there.
If you were somebody who liked to learn, a Fred Olsen cruise would be fantastic. All the guest speakers were really interesting and knowledgeable.
Fred Olsen’s App
Fred Olsen does have an App, but this App doesn’t actually do a lot. They do have a webpage you can access when you’re onboard though, and that does a lot more. It lets you check things like your onboard account and look at the daily schedule.
Apps vary greatly from one cruise line to another. To find out more about them, read the article below:
There was definitely less focus on “Tech” on this cruise than on the bigger British or American cruise lines.
It would be totally fine to take a cruise with Fred Olsen without having a phone, whereas on some of the other cruise lines this is getting increasingly tricky.
On Bolette we were given a paper schedule each day, and you had to book things like speciality restaurants at reception rather than on the App.
I did do this, and there was no queue there at all which surprised me. I never saw any queues there to be honest and I don’t think I had to queue for anything during this cruise, other than a little bit getting off the ship at busy times – but that’s to be expected.
We decided to get dressed up for the formal night, but I just couldn’t wait until 8.30 to eat – so we ate in the buffet again and started to plan our next few days.
Tromso and Alta
We were spending the next two days in Tromso and Alta and spent most of our evenings keeping watch on the top decks for the Northern lights.
In Alta, I went on an excursion to see racing Huskies. This was probably the best cruise line excursion I’ve ever taken!
In Tromso, we bought the most amazing snack, which is basically a Norwegian version of a British “Kit Kat” bar, but so much better!
I said earlier this cruise was about learning, and for me it was about learning that there is a much better version of Kit Kats! I’ve ordered more since I got home too, they’re addictive!
Fred Olsen did put on a free shuttle bus for us in Tromso which was great.
Many cruise lines never offer free shuttle buses, and you are always expected to pay extra.
Bolette has two speciality restaurants onboard and I decided to book both.
I rarely do speciality restaurants when I cruise but Fred Olsens are much cheaper than the speciality restaurants that you’ll find on the big American cruise lines.
Each Speciality restaurant cost £10 per person, which for a cruise ship speciality restaurant is very cheap – Some speciality meals on other cruise lines cost over $100 each!
As I was on the cruise for quite a long time, and didn’t want to always wait until the late dining, booking speciality meals actually worked out pretty well for us.
I’m glad I did because somehow the team at “Colour and Taste” managed to turn cauliflower into the best food on the ship! I have no idea how! The sauce, oh my gosh, it was SO good!
The food in “Vasco” was great too, but I was absolutely not hungry enough when I went to dinner. My friend David had warned me that you need to go to Vasco with “an empty stomach and a big appetite” – but I wasn’t prepared. I did the best I could though!
I’ve been cruising since I was 11 years old and without a doubt, we had the rockiest seas on this cruise!
To find out more about what that was like, how I coped with my seasickness and whether we did actually find the Northern lights, check out this video next:
Taking a Cruise: Recommendations and Resources
Book a Cruise
Get Travel Insurance
Shop Cruise Gifts and Merchandise
Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide
Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.