Update on my knee issues

December 29th 2017

I have finally completed the last of the delaying tactics that my GP is forced to do to comply with NHS rules.

My recent MRI scan showed a number of loose bits of cartilage floating around in my knee, plus one obvious torn area. There was also a possible bit of ligament damage, and of course signs of wear.

It has taken a while to get these results as the heavy snow a fortnight ago meant my appointment with the GP was cancelled. Deb and I then went on a short cruise, and this week was the first available slot to see him after Christmas.

He finally accepts that my knee has a problem that needs further attention.

Hence I was referred to an orthopaedic consultant to decide what can be done. My doctor actually warned me that this might mean having a full knee replacement.

….I think I knew that was very likely several months ago!!

Anyway as he looked at his computer screen, he said I had a choice of hospital. I could go to the local NHS hospital in Hereford where any surgery had a 36 week waiting list, or the Nuffield Private Hospital where the appointment could be just 2 weeks away, and their surgical waiting time was 13 weeks.

….stupid question.

So I now have a tentative appointment at the local Nuffield Hospital for 2 weeks’ time, although I don’t know the name of the consultant to be seen. There is a possibility that it will be Mr Oakley that performed my hip replacement nearly three years ago.

I did ask my doctor how much the NHS has to pay the private hospital, and he replied that the consultation, and ongoing treatment costs are the same wherever it is done. That surprised me a little. He also said that the Private Hospitals only take on cases where there are not likely to be any complications. He turned to me and said that I was relatively young, fit and healthy, so just what they like.

That comment made me feel quite good.

OK, so that is the latest on the very long saga of an aching knee. I will update you again after I have seen the specialist.

Although I don’t look forward to a quite serious operation, this chance to move on has been a rather pleasant late Christmas present.

Happy New Year to you all.

 

Comparison of Fred Olsen cruises verses P&O

Fred Olsen compared to P&O

Fred Olsen has a loyal, and very protective, group of followers. They will hear no complaints about the ships, the service, or the crew.

In other words, it is very similar to the P&O faithful.

Having just returned from a cruise on Fred Olsen’s Black Watch I have tried to make a comparison between the two cruise lines, but please note that it is very much a personal view, and not meant to upset either side.

Firstly there is the most obvious fact that the ships of the Fred Olsen line are smaller with far fewer passengers. So I have based much of my thoughts as a comparison with our experience on P&O’s Adonia earlier this year before she was whisked away yet again.

Black Watch has recently undergone a makeover. Listening to several of the regulars on board with us, it has really brightened up the ship and furnishings compared to what it was. I must say it does look clean and the wall colours are light making the ship feel quite airy. The chairs and sofas all appear quite new, and there are several styles to choose from around the various venues. It appears that all the Fred Olsen ships have had, or are going to have, a similar refit.

About Black Watch

This ship started life in 1972 as the Royal Viking Star. In 1991 it moved from the Royal Viking fleet into the Norwegian Cruise Line and became the Westward. There was another move in 1994 to the Royal Cruise Line as the Star Oddyssey and in 1996 she changed flag yet again and became the Black Watch in the Fred Olsen fleet.

In her present form Black Watch has a tonnage of 28,600 and can entertain some 800 passengers in 423 cabins and looked after by a crew of 330. She is 205 metres long, and to give you some comparison, P&Os Oriana is 245 metres.

The ship has 10 decks and the lowest accessible one is lowdown deck 3 where there are inside and outside passenger cabins as well as the Marina Theatre (cinema) and the medical centre. Moving up to deck 4 it is all passenger cabins. The outside cabins on these two decks have a double porthole.

Deck 5 (known as Main Deck) was where we were, and here there are inside and outside cabins again which now have the more modern rectangular windows. In the central section this deck also houses the reception desk, various shops, photographers, and the tours desk. The shops are all in a line and although they sell the usual over-priced stuff as on P&O ships, they didn’t spread all over the corridors.

The photos are cheaper than on P&O ships, and they offer various packages to tempt memory searchers.

Deck 6 is referred to as the Lounge Deck with Glantanar Restaurant at the front, and the theatre (Neptune Lounge) at the rear. Between these two major rooms there are various eating and drinking areas.  On one side to the rear of the main dining room are two smaller eating areas called the Orchid Room and the Brigadoon buffet. The Orchid room seems to act as an overflow for either the buffet or Glentanar restaurant. Behind the other side of the main dining room is the Morning Light Pub, which is where we spent a lot of our time. In between the pub and the Brigadoon buffet is the Black Watch Room which is now called the Seafood and Steak select dining room.

Going further to the stern there is the Neptune Bar on one side with access to the theatre area. On the other side is a smaller lounge area with a 24 hour tea and coffee self service area, plus access to the theatre again.

Deck 7 has the small but full wrap around promenade deck with more cabins inside the front half, which now have balconies.  Incidentally, five laps of the deck is the equivalent of a mile. Inside in this deck at the rear is a small card room (with jigsaws) and then the Bookmark Café that is the library, plus a reasonable area to have coffee plus the Future Cruises Desk. Behind that is the Lido Lounge and the second major bar area where quizzes take place throughout the day. There is also access to the stern seating area that overlooks the lower swimming pool and Jacuzzis below.

Deck 8 (Bridge Deck) is for the passenger Suites with nothing else.

Deck 9 (Marquee Deck) has further Suites in the central section and then the Observatory Lounge at the front. This is the equivalent of P&Os Crow’s Nest bars and has a late night quiz. At the rear end, this deck has another swimming pool and Jacuzzis with a larger area to enjoy any sunshine and of course another bar.

Finally up to deck 10 (Sun Deck) which speaks for itself, but it also gives access to the Fitness Centre.

Deb and I explored most of the inside areas plus took a couple of strolls around the promenade deck, but the temperatures were pretty cool, so I am sorry but and we didn’t bother too much with the outdoor decks.

Our Cabin

As I said, our cabin was on deck 5 and it was a superior outside room. It was smaller than some cabins we have experienced in the past, but was comfortably large enough for us. It had plenty of hanging space, but a little short of drawers. The dressing table was the only source of drawers. It also had the power sockets, with two familiar UK sockets, plus another two continental ones and also a USB socket to charge those mobile bits. On the wall was a good size television with interactive facilities to keep an eye on our account.

In one wardrobe was a fridge (not stocked) the usual safe, and tea making bits. Sadly there was no socket available in the wardrobe, so the kettle had to be moved to the desk to boil.

Now the cabin did have an obvious weakness. The twin beds would only fit with one against the window wall, and the other at right angles at the other end of the room against the bathroom wall. Although perfectly adequate for sleep, there was no bedside storage for the bed against the bathroom. I had to use the upturned waste bin for my clock and night-time bits.

The beds had a very good space below them for suitcases, and our quite large cases fitted easily, with room to spare.

The bath room was a good size with a virtually full size bath, with the shower over it. The toilet and sink were fine, and cupboard space was better than I expected. The toilet flush was the usual vacuum gulper, but it seemed to be far more effective than those on P&O ships. Of course it was therefore a little noisier for a longer period, making it impossible to not hear the adjacent cabin toilets being used.

Being near the mechanical level of the ship, we were aware at times of engine noise, and most definitely the thruster motors. Apart from that we had the usual jiggling and juddering movement and expected noises from wave action. Fortunately we had rather good sea conditions for most of the cruise, so I didn’t discover how angry seas affect the ride.

For the majority of passengers who use the cabin to sleep and dress in, this cabin was perfectly acceptable, and it was good enough for us on this very good deal.

Alternatively, Black Watch has a wide range of cabins to choose from.  There are inside, and smaller outside cabins plus balcony options and suites. Now we were quite happy with what we had, and never even considered a balcony for a December cruise. This proved to be a good decision as the standard balcony cabins had balconies that opened onto the Promenade deck…

…Yes I mean actually ONTO the Promenade deck allowing anyone on the promenade deck to look into the cabins or have a neighborly chat as they passed by.  The better suites on deck 8 were one deck up and still completely open to inspection by the walkers on the Promenade deck. That little bit of private fresh air provided by a balcony did not exist unless you had the suites on the higher decks.

Deck 9 suites were the only really private ones.

The Food and Dining Experiences

Facebook forums suggest that everyone has a very positive view about the food on Fred Olsen ships, so we were hoping to enjoy our meals.

Black Watch has a main dining room on Deck 6 called the Glentanar restaurant where all passengers are allocated either first or second sitting. Because we booked late we were put onto second sitting which was not our favoured time. Fred Olsen offer a chance to choose a dining slot by paying a £5 per passenger per night supplement, but the first sitting was already fully assigned, so no changes could be made. We ate there on the first night, and the two formal evenings.

On the three nights we ate in the in the main Glentanar restaurant, the food was well prepared, and of a good quality, but it was no better than we have had on any P&O ship. Sadly the choice wasn’t very varied with a great deal of sea-food. The meals were ready plated and came with quite small amounts of vegetables that were designed for the dish. Deb discovered that if you didn’t like the vegetables, the waiters weren’t too keen on getting an alternative. She even asked for a plate of food without gravy one night but was told that wasn’t possible.

Another negative in the Glentanar was the slowness of the service. Arriving at 8:30 we were slightly disappointed to not get our sweet course until well after 10:00. This meant forgetting coffee, and a rush to get to the Neptune Lounge for the late shows.

There is also a buffet option in the Brigadoon restaurant which is again on Deck 6. It has a circular server in the middle of bistro style tables and chairs. But it is small and rather popular meaning queueing was quite common through our week’s cruise.

We ate here on two occasions and the selection available was of a reasonable standard, but the choice was limited. Sadly I hadn’t noticed the on demand stir fry option available at a hatch on the side of the restaurant which might have been a very good choice. Strangely while we were the stir fry didn’t seem that popular so I cannot comment on it.

The third dining option we found was in the Black Watch room with a special menu featuring Seafood and Steak dishes. It is designed to be a special place to eat as a treat, but it comes with a hefty £20 price tag per passenger. To be honest the supplement looks to be set too high, and the restaurant did not attract many people.

Breakfast was available in the Glentanar and Brigadoon dining rooms. We always ate in the main dining room where it was a buffet style, or waiter service if you didn’t want to get your hands dirty, or fancied something from the ‘a la carte’ menu. The food was as good as any ship we have been on, including Bucks Fizz for anyone interested.

The Brigadoon buffet offered the same food, but the only waiter element was to bring the tea or coffee.

My problem was lunchtimes.

The choice is to eat in the main dining room, or the Brigadoon buffet. We prefer the grab and go option but the buffet is rather compact, and the servery counter made it feel a little like a traffic jam on a roundabout. The choice was far less than for a typical P&O lunch menu, and seating was limited.

We again stuck to the main dining room for lunch where once more there was a buffet option, with two separate servery counters.

With this available, I don’t quite understand why people chose to eat in the Brigadoon buffet.

The main dining room also offered an ‘a la carte’ menu option as well for waiter service, so the room was a mixture of casual buffet eaters alongside those who preferred the waiter to go and fetch from the kitchen, or even from the buffet selection for some.

Hence it was a little confusing.

On the plus side, the main dining room was never crowded and we regularly chatted to new people. Hence so much better than the cattle crush in the Brigadoon buffet.

Choices were not always the best we have seen however. An example was the Sunday carvery where the only meat on offer was pork. This was fine for my personal tastes, but it would have been nice to have a choice.

For late night moments of hunger, the Brigadoon buffet offered food from 10:30. There was a choice of simple biscuits right through to full blown hot meals. It gets busy of course, but we simply grabbed a piece of cake and then went to the self-service tea bar and sat there.

Entertainment

The ship’s show troupe consists of four singers plus four dancers. The Neptune Lounge has a small dance floor that is where the shows take place, with the ship’s orchestra using the stage. The shows were as professional as those on P&O, but just on a little smaller scale. They performed three shows of which one was a British Night with flag waving and the usual songs. This was the one we didn’t go to. Like sail-away parties, I think the format has been overused by the cruise companies. Many people still love these moments, but a lot of us would prefer something different.

Visiting cabarets included a comedian/impressionist that we thought might be fun, but it left us rather cool. The impressions were standard ones used by various acts over the last decade or so, and his jokes were similarly well tried and tested.

There was also a traditional crew show with various people from the show troupe and many of the other crew members singing and dancing. We didn’t see it but it was enjoyed by all those who I heard talking about it.

There are musicians and singers performing all over the ship during the evening, and the ones we listened to were very talented. When they were resting, the ship’s piped music took over, and this was a little less exciting. The Christmas songs and carols were delightful to listen to with the ship in full Christmas decorated mode. Sadly someone has decided that Michael Bublé is loved by everyone, no matter what he is singing. The endless loop of Bublé Christmas songs took over the daytime and whenever the live musicians were missing. Many of the songs were seasonally special, but Bublé has turned classics into jazzed up or over orchestrated versions. OK to listen to once in a while, but not six hours a day in all the venues.

I wonder what P&O are playing on their ships during this season?

During the daytime there were morning and afternoon quizzes in the Lido Lounge that were very well attended, as was the late night one in the Observatory Lounge. There were also a couple of fun and games moments with Reindeer racing with large wooden models of animals. I didn’t see how it worked but it certainly created a lot of laughter.

Even in the cool weather, hardy passengers took on the usual deck games. The Jacuzzis were quite popular, and a small number of people even used the swimming pool. It was kept very warm with the captain making a point of announcing it was up to 29°C. It certainly looked warm with steam rising from the Jacuzzis.

Our unwanted late dinner time showed up a weakness on this ship. When first sitting is busy filling their stomachs, the ship ceases any virtually all organized entertainment. Our only activity during the early evening was sitting in various lounges playing trivial pursuit, or reading, as we made the most of our all-inclusive drinks deal.

Those on an early dinner can occupy their time once their meal is over, and have far more attention than those on the late meals.

Service and Crew

There is a good ratio of crew to passenger numbers, and they looked after us very well.

All the cabin stewards on this ship were girls, and our chambermaid was bright and bubbly as she labored to look after her 15 cabins. She never stopped smiling during her 10 hour day. Just as with the good P&O cabin stewards, she listened for doors closing and quickly glanced to see who it was. There was always a wave and by the time we got back from breakfast our cabin was spotless again.

Waiters in the restaurant do their best to keeps eaters happy by continual checks if we were happy. They worked hard, but always seemed to have a smile on their faces.

Drinks in the bars were served by girls (in the main) and they were fast and efficient at taking orders and getting what we wanted. Again, they were always smiling, and willing to have a chat and a joke with the passengers.

One extra point here, they all wore shoes that fitted them. On P&O there seems to be a lack of smaller sized shoes for the girls.

And another positive compared to P&O is that they don’t pounce on people the moment they arrive in a lounge. They wait for passengers to sit and relax for a moment before asking if they want a drink. I have been annoyed with the way the P&O cocktail waiters work like packs of wolves following people to a seat and demanding an order before they have even sat down.

I know they all make commission on the drinks purchased, but the pressure on P&O to sell, sell, sell, is annoying and verging on frightening at times.

Final Conclusions

The ship does externally show her age with lots of corrosion around the window outside. But inside everything looks bright and well decorated. I have to say that after our short seven day trip on Black Watch we liked her.

Fred Olsen ships are all older and all smaller than PO ships. They do bob and jiggle around in rough seas, but the service appears better with polite and helpful staff always with time to make conversation as they make their commission.

The Black Watch self-service tea/coffee bar is available 24/7 with decent on tap coffee as well as coffee sachets and various teas.

The entertainment is as good as PO but on a smaller scale.

The drinks package is good value if pre-bought (£15pppn) compared to £25 if bought on board. This varies from cruise to cruise I believe.

Tips are £4 per person per night, and the crew members always smile. Perhaps less people are opting out at this price compared to PO.

This ship destroys the myth that small ships are more expensive to run, and that service levels have to be cut to keep them economical.  Fred Olsen cruise prices are very comparative to P&O but standards and service levels are better than current P&O offer.

P&O experts suggest that the smaller ships should be removed from the fleet as they are all old and uneconomical. I personally believe that there are good reasons for the giant ships, but also a place for the smaller traditional ships.

I don’t know if it will happen, but my personal view is that if Fred took on a little bit bigger ship, many of the traditional PO passengers might consider changing fleets.

I still like P&O as their medium sized ships offer a little more choice of venues and entertainment, and less propulsion noise in the cabins. But, our two experiences of Fred Olsen ships have definitely been enjoyable, and added to our list as possible options to get as much cruising time in as possible.

If you still scoff at the thought of sailing on a Fred Olsen ship, think again and look out for the amazing late deals they offer. They go to some amazing ports that larger ships struggle to put on the itineraries.

A cruise on ‘Black Watch’ – second half

SUNDAY 17th December – Amsterdam

I should have mentioned before: I am sick to death of Michael flippin’ Bublé.  It seems that every time there’s piped music playing around the ship, it’s him.  Don’t like him at the best of times, but when he’s murdering Christmas songs all day and night, I’m ready to kill someone.

Neither of slept well.  George had been feeling a bit queasy, and I had a painful itch in one foot, but we both eventually dropped off and woke to a bright and sunny, if chilly, day.

Our morning was just a relaxed time, reading, chatting to our fellow passengers, and watching the ‘scenery’ as we approached Amsterdam.  The only thing we did, really, was a late-morning quiz, and a brisk mile walk (five laps!) around the deck.  That blew the cobwebs away!

We’d discussed eating today, as we would be ashore in the evening and so miss dinner.  We opted in the end to grab a decent meal at lunchtime, and maybe afternoon tea, to see us through.  Well, George had a decent lunch (roast pork), but I struggled to find much to interest me.  The buffet selections on here are really very limited, especially if like me you can’t eat shellfish.

I listened to a guest speaker in the afternoon.  His subject was the Lusitania: I already knew a fair bit about it, but he came up with some interesting facts and figures that were new to me.  His talk was followed by the Grand Tea Dance: George joined me for take to the floor a few times, though his shoulder was hurting him too much to stay in formal ballroom hold for long (a result of all that digging in the snow earlier in the week), so we didn’t dance too much.  But the tea, sandwiches and cakes were welcome!

We had watched our arrival into the first lock of the North Sea Canal system after lunch (quite amazing to see, but nothing compared to the Panama Canal) and we finally docked while we were dancing.  We had a couple of hours to kill before our evening tour, so we investigated the free wi-fi in the cruise terminal which was pretty good.  We managed to read our emails, download the daily paper, and have a quick look at Facebook.

Then it was time to go off on our tour “Evening Canal Cruise”.  Fred.Olsen had chartered a barge, and I guess there were around 30-40 of us on board.  It was lovely, especially as Amsterdam was holding their annual Festival of Light.  We were taken along both major and minor canals, where we saw Christmas and Festival decorations, and examples of the architecture that is such as feature of this city.  The only shame was that it was raining the whole time, so the boat’s windows kept steaming up.  We got as far as Anne Frank’s house before heading back towards the cruise terminal.

And all through we had wine, cheese and nibbles on each table.  George and I both fell in love with a Gouda cheese that had speckles of something in it.  We both recognised the flavour, but couldn’t place it: it turned out to be cumin, of all things!  One to look for tomorrow…

Back on Black Watch, we were far too late for dinner (and pretty full of cheese, anyway!), so just went up to the Observatory lounge for a drink and a late-night quiz.

Exploring Amsterdam on foot tomorrow!

_____

MONDAY 18th December – Amsterdam

Best night’s sleep we’ve both had on this ship, and we woke relatively late.  But we were still breakfasted and ready to go ashore fairly early, and by 10.00 am we were walking through the nearby Centraalstation on our way to the Daam, the centre of the city.

As we walked along we browsed in many of the shops, but didn’t buy anything until we headed back later.  Some shops we spent less time in than others, mainly due to the pungent smell of cannabis wafting around.  Although we knew how relaxed the Dutch are about drugs, it still came as a bit of a shock to see (and smell) just how openly they smoke the stuff.

It took us about half an hour to reach the Daam square, where we turned off into some of the small side streets where the quieter, narrow canals are.  Coffee was drunk, and many photos taken!

And we found the cumin Gouda cheese!  There was a lovely shop-cum-cheese museum on the Damrak, where we stocked up: I think we have enough Gouda of various types to last us until Easter!

We got back, foot-sore, to the ship in time for a late lunch, and after returning briefly to the cruise terminal building to grab the free wi-fi again, we both relaxed for an hour or so.

We had a bash at another quiz mid-afternoon, before preparing for the second formal night on board.  Dinner options included Christmas dinner (with crackers), not that that interested me – I ended up with pasta again.  But the chat and jokes between our table and the next made it an enjoyable couple of hours.

Yes, I said a couple of hours.  We sat down at 8.30, and only left shortly before 10.30.  We didn’t particularly want to see the Neptune Lounge offering (the Crew Show), but our companions had to rush across from the restaurant to get seats before curtain-up.

We just had a final drink before bed.

_____

TUESDAY 19th December – Antwerp

Strange noises woke us in the early hours, which may have been explained this morning by the Captain’s announcement.  It seems Antwerp was under thick fog and we couldn’t progress down the river until it lifted, so the anchor was dropped and the ship sat around for a couple of hours until we were cleared to progress on to the city.

We were on the move again before 11.00 am – straight into more thick fog.  There really was nothing at all to see outside, not we really wanted to go outside as it was bitterly cold all morning.  So we just found somewhere comfy to sit and read, until we finally docked just after 2.00 pm.

We were quickly making our way ashore (along with most of the ship, I think!) to have a brief look around and get our bearings.  Just across the road from where we were docked was the start of the Christmas markets, which extended into the Grote Markt.  It was beautiful: dozens of stalls selling gifts, decorations, food and drink of all types.  Everywhere was decorated with trees, greenery and lights, and there were loads of large patio heaters around to keep the chill off.

In the Grote Markt itself a large skating rink had been set up.  It seemed very popular, with dozens of youngsters whizzing around and showing off their skating skills – or lack of them!  We stood watching for a while, munching on sugar waffles we’d bought from a nearby stall.

By now it was getting dark, and our ears were getting cold.  We went back to the ship, and collected our woolly hats before returning to the fun in the city.  We wanted to see it all again, but at night.  And it was just stunning.  We even came across singers outside the cathedral: around 30 schoolgirls, all dressed in Santa hats and green capes.  Worth listening to, even though we couldn’t understand what they were singing about!  “Why are these Brits staring at us?” maybe?

We’d agreed to give dinner on board a miss, and grab some street food instead.  Have to say I’m rather impressed with the braatewurtse!  And as for the hot chocolate – well, this Belgium!

We stayed in the city for well over an hour, soaking up the atmosphere, but returned ‘home’ just in time to catch the theatre show from the Black Watch Company – this one called “Musicality”.  Pretty good, if a bit confusing at times.  And we ended our evening in the Observatory Lounge, doing a quiz about famous women, which was okay.

_____

WEDNESDAY 20th December – Antwerp

Neither of us slept particularly well as a light from the port terminal seemed to be shining straight into our cabin.  Oh well…

Today our grandson is four years old.  I left a message with our daughter asking her to ring whenever was convenient, just so we could wish Oliver “happy birthday”.  In the end he wouldn’t come to the phone: too taken with his presents!  Never mind, we’ll see them next week.

We went back into Antwerp mid-morning, and as we were too early to go into the cathedral we went wandering – and managed to get lost.  And this is a city where that’s not an easy thing to do!  Fortunately we did manage to find our way back in the end, and spent a good half an hour or so in the cathedral, mostly admiring the Rubens paintings there.  A stunning building.

We just had time for a bit of souvenir and chocolate shopping before we had to be back on board.  Even though there was still quite thick fog around, Black Watch left on time, which was good.

But the fog meant that there was very little to see as we sailed back down the river, so we spent our afternoon packing and relaxing.  We had an early(ish) dinner in the Brigadoon restaurant before heading to the Neptune Lounge for the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail party, which was even less enthralling than his ‘welcome on board’ one.  Never mind, it was another chance to chat to people we’d not come across before.

And I had quite an interesting encounter as we waited to go into dinner.  A lady came up to me and said “excuse me, is your name Deb?”  A bit warily I said yes – and it turned out she’d recognised me from my Facebook profile picture!  A photo, I might add, that had been taken at our daughter’s wedding in 2006!  The years must have been kinder than I thought!  And it turned out that she was a fan of George’s books, and just wanted to say ‘thank you’ to him.  How nice was that?

We weren’t overly keen on hanging around to see the show in the Neptune Lounge (described as comedy and music, a combination that always makes us go “umm?”), so had a drink in the Observatory before having a bash at the quiz, followed by a final drink in the Morning Light bar.

Our final ‘job’ was to put our cases outside the cabin and set the alarm for the morning.  It’s been a nice cruise, with lovely cities to explore, and we really like the ship.  But our big disappointment has been the food: nicely cooked, but not a great choice at any meal, and a distinct lack of vegetables.

Ah well, some you win and some….  And it’s only just over seven weeks until our next cruise, on the lovely Oriana!

 

A cruise on ‘Black Watch’ – first half

THURSDAY 14th December

After three days of serious snow, and George and some of the neighbours trying to dig us all out, we finally managed to get away yesterday afternoon.  But our journey down to Southampton was horrible, with filthy spray being thrown up by all the lorries.  But we arrived and checked into the Holiday Inn around 5.00 pm, had a meal there and settled down for the night.

This morning after breakfast we wandered around the West Quay shopping centre before our taxi arrived to take us to ‘Black Watch’ for 1.00pm.  Check-in was very straightforward (and quiet – this is a TINY ship with not many passengers), and we were on board and finding our cabin well before 1.30pm.  The cabin seems fine: our only grump is that the beds are fixed-singles (which we knew when we booked), and due to the layout one bed had no bedside table.  But no doubt we’ll manage.

George grabbed a deck plan, and we wandered off to try and get our bearings a bit – never easy when it’s your first time on a ship!  We went deck by deck, forward and aft., and although we found most things we’re not sure if we’ll find them again for a few days!

Back in the cabin, we unpacked before going to the Brigadoon restaurant for a late lunch.  It was okay, but the tea was FOUL.  Discovered later that they use UHT skimmed milk – ugh.  And that’s pretty much the same all across the ship.  There’s no semi-skimmed at all.

We carried on exploring until it was time for what Fred calls “guest assembly” – muster drill, to most people.  That was straightforward as we didn’t have to take our lifejackets, just watch the crew demonstration.

Then we had a couple of hours to kill before our second sitting dinner, and managed to catch most of the Hamburg port talk, though as we’d pre-booked a tour there it was only of general interest to us.  And as well as having a bit of a dance we made a start on making the most of our fully inclusive drinks package!  Then at 8.30 we were sitting in the Glentanar restaurant with two very pleasant chaps, perusing the evening’s menu.

Again, our meal was okay.  I have yet to understand why Fred passengers rave so much about the food: it’s neither better nor worse (apart from the milk!) than we’re used to on P&O.  But we had an enjoyable hour or so with John and Bob, which is always a bonus.  However, all four of us felt that second sitting was too late, so we’re not sure how many evenings we’ll get together again.

We rounded off our first day by watching the Black Watch Show Company performing “Musical Legends” which amused us for an hour.  But I came away thinking Fred should invest in new costumes, as one of the men was wearing trousers at least 3″ too short, and all the girls had holes in their tights.  I just felt it came across as a bit shabby, which was a shame as the singing and dancing were really good.

_____

FRIDAY 15th December

We both slept better than we expected, and although we’d seen forecasts for Force 7+ in the night the ship was pretty stable, which was a surprise considering how small Black Watch is.

We returned to the Glentanar restaurant for a buffet breakfast.  Not as wide a choice as P&O provide, but there was eggs benedict available, and bottles of bubbly open by the fruit juices so you can make yourself Buck’s Fizz, if you can face alcohol first thing in the morning!  And we went back there for lunch later on, though I can’t get my head round some of the meal being a buffet and some served to your table.

We went to the port talk on Amsterdam, and as a result booked an evening canal cruise.  There’s currently a Festival of Lights in the city, so the boat trip looks like being extra special.

There was a quiz later in the Lido Lounge.  We went along to see what standard of quizzers are on board with us.  Not overly-brilliant, I have to say – the pair of us scored 11/20, and the winning score was only 13.  We did better in the lunchtime “Name That Tune”, scoring 26/30, just two marks down from the winners.

The sea was still pretty flat-calm as we sailed into the North Sea.  We both opted to have a bath late in the afternoon, rather than a shower: the bath’s a very good size, none of this knees-up-under-your-chin nonsense some cabins have.  Sadly the same can’t be said for the bath towels, which are barely bigger than the hand towels.  Note to Fred.Olsen – must do better.

They also need to do better with scheduling entertainment for late-sitting diners.  They was literally nothing for us until our “welcome on board” drinks at 7.45 pm, leaving us with over two hours to kill.  We sat up in the Observation Lounge drinking and playing Trivial Pursuit.

After our cocktail ‘party’ we went to dinner.  As yesterday, it was okay but not outstanding, and service was a little slow.  The evening show was billed as a “TV Comedy Impressionist”, a chap called Christopher Gee.  Personally I didn’t find his impressions that good, and the comedy just wasn’t funny.  George chuckled a few times, but I don’t think I did at all.  Not good.

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SATURDAY 16th December – Hamburg

George didn’t sleep well last night, mainly due to the noises of the various docking procedures as we arrived in Hamburg before dawn.  But we’d been to breakfast and sorted ourselves out in plenty of time for our 10.30 am tour, “Hamburg and Christmas Markets”.

Our guide turned out to hold a doctorate in archaeology, a very intelligent man who spoke excellent English.  He was funnier than last night’s ‘comedian’, though his singing was a bit ropey!

We started our tour with a ride along the Reeperbahn, and a chance to gawp at some of the seedier establishments where The Beatles made a name for themselves.  It’s been tarted up a little since the 1960s, but not much.

Our coach dropped us off by the Rathaus (town hall) where we had 90 minutes or so to wander through the huge Roncalli Christmas Market.  It was lovely, everything you associate with Germany at Christmas, and it must be magical when it’s lit up at night.  We were each given a mug of gluhwein to warm us up before we were let loose amongst the stalls.  We found a few items to buy, and a bit later had a bratwurst for lunch, but mostly we just soaked up the atmosphere.

Back on the coach we were taken on a ride round the city, with photo stops in the Warehouse Quarter (all done up and posh now), St Michael’s church and the Aussenalster (Outer Alster) lake.

Overall a very enjoyable tour, even though by the end we were nearly asleep!

Back on the ship we went straight up to the Brigadoon restaurant for the “enhanced” afternoon tea laid on for those of us on tour who’d missed lunch.  I have no idea what was ‘enhanced’ about it – just like yesterday, it compared badly to P&O’s offering.  So we just picked up a mince pie (enhanced by being warm, maybe?), a sandwich and a drink before having a doze in the cabin.  We returned to the Brigadoon for dinner, as we’d missed lunch and wanted to eat earlier than our 8.30 second sitting allocation.

This evening was the themed ‘British Night’, which we weren’t interested in (though I did wear a red dress!  No white or blue, though).  The entertainment/shows seemed to revolve around flag waving and “Rule Britannia”: we gave it all a wide berth and just had a quiet drink and a game of Trivial Pursuit, and joined in with a quiz later on.

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