Fred Olsen Cruise Lines to revamp three ships

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Fred Olsen Cruise Lines is sending Braemar, Balmoral and Black Watch into dry dock this winter in preparation for the 2020-21 season.

All three will receive new public areas and cabin improvements during their revamps, taking place from now until December 21 at Blohm+Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Germany.

In addition, a number of cabins on 804-passenger Black Watch will receive bathroom upgrades.

On Balmoral, an Oriental Room will be added on deck six, where teas and Far Eastern-themed cocktails and drinks will be served.

A photo gallery and flower shop will also be installed on to the 1,325-passenger ship.

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Engineering works, general maintenance and other refurbishments will also be carried out.

Braemar entered dry dock on Thursday and will return to service on November 24 when it sales a nine-night French, Belgian & Spanish City Overnights cruise from Southampton.

Balmoral will enter the yard on December 10 before emerging 10 days later, while Black Watch will go in on December 11 and come out on December 21.

The line’s fourth ship – 880-passenger Boudicca – will go into dry dock in autumn next year.

Peter Deer, managing director of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines said: “We are very proud of our smaller, classic cruise ships and we recognise the importance of investing in ongoing upgrades to ensure that our guests can continue to enjoy them at their very best.

“Our refreshed and the renewed fleet has been very well-received by both new and existing guests following the last round of improvements at Blohm+Voss in 2017 and 2018, and we are keen to showcase the latest enhancements to our guests before Christmas.”

Royal’s Empress refreshingly retro refurb

The pool deck on the renovated Empress of the Seas has a more airy design than the ships built more recently for Royal Caribbean International. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
 
When Royal Caribbean International received the Empress of the Seas back from Pullmantur Cruises early this year, hopes were running high that the U.S. was on the cusp of a new era in its relations with Cuba.

Now it looks like it will get a chance to deploy the 1,590-passenger Empress as intended, following the news that Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has received Cuban governmental permission for cruises there.

Until last week, the ship had been stuck in limbo waiting for a decision that had been expected much earlier in the year.

Royal has spent $50 million on renovations to the Empress of the Seas — known as the Nordic Empress when inaugurated in 1990 — and on a tour in July I found the ship to be a pleasant change from the style of vessels currently being built.

 
The two-story dining room on the Empress.<br /><br /><strong>Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst</strong>
The two-story dining room on the Empress.
 
Start with the top deck, where the pool area feels more airy and open than the current designs. Instead of another whole deck running around the pool to provide shaded areas, there are canvas canopies stretched on a framework, making the feel lighter and brighter than on modern ships.

The airy feeling continues inside the ship, which was designed with lots of exterior glass to enhance the connection to the sea.

The effect is noticeable throughout but particularly in the two-deck main dining room, which unlike today’s designs is located in the aft, with double-deck windows in the rear.

Part of the reason the Empress feels different from modern ships is its use of materials.

The architects employed shiny chrome surfaces as liberally as the car designers of the 1950s, particularly in the stairwells and staircases.

In other spaces there’s more wood than you would see on a newer ship, such as the trim around cabinets, vanities, dresser drawers and door frames in the staterooms.

In many cabins, travelers will find the old-style, fold-down third and fourth berths fastened to the walls, instead of concealed in the ceiling. Also notable is the paucity of balcony cabins: only 71 were included in the original design.

In upgrading the cabins, Royal has paid the most attention to the suites, which got new furniture, carpeting, drapes and linens. The suites are also the only accommodations that have bedside USB outlets.

Other improvements include the ship’s lounge, which has been updated as a Boleros, the Latin-themed bar and dance space found on three other Royal ships. A Chops Grille steakhouse has also been added.

At 1,590 passengers and 48,563 gross tons, the Empress is about a quarter of the size of Royal’s largest ships, giving fans of smaller vessels a chance to experience the Royal brand attributes without the crowds.

“It truly is our boutique ship,” said Mark Tamis, Royal’s senior vice president for hotel operations. “So many of our guests love the intimate smaller spaces. This is the ship they grew up with.”

 

Oriana refit in focus

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We talk to P&O Cruises Senior Vice President Paul Ludlow about why Oriana holds a special place in so many guests’ hearts and why it’s time for her to undergo a refit

Cross-section of Oriana showing the areas of the ship that will feature in the refit

This cross-section shows the areas of the ship that will feature in the refit

Why do you think Oriana is so well loved, with such a loyal following?

Oriana is a unique ship with an incredible character; I think that’s what guests love about her. She’s exclusively for adults and offers all of the traditions and charms of cruising with an intimate atmosphere and a calm elegance. Also, one of the many benefits of a cruise on Oriana is the fantastic range of itineraries available. She has such a loyal following of guests who come back every year, more so than any of our other ships.

 

Oriana has a long history, how does this contribute to her popularity today?

Oriana was named by HM The Queen on 6 April 1995, so next year marks 22 years of loyal service. There are many things during this time that have made her so special and popular. Oriana still holds the prized Golden Cockerel Trophy, awarded to the fastest ship in the fleet, with a maximum speed of 30 knots. When she entered service, Oriana was also one of the largest cruise ships in the world (so you can see how times have changed!). However, size is not everything and Oriana’s tradition and charm remains throughout. The refit at the end of this year will not alter this but will just refresh her beauty.

 

What makes Oriana different to the other ships in the fleet?

Oriana offers traditional cruising at its best and brings to life everything about the luxuries of being at sea. Her signature tiered stern decks are reminiscent of ocean liners of the past, and the broad teak promenade and lido decks add a rich, classic feel to the ship. Her most recognisable feature is the stunning atrium with the Art Deco Tiffany glass ceiling. Coming on board Oriana is like stepping into the golden age of cruising, but with many contemporary touches and dining choices – a combination that is unique to Oriana.

 

The plans for the refit have taken into consideration guest feedback. Why do you think this is so important?

At every stage of a guest’s journey with us, from consideration through booking to the holiday itself, we aim to go above and beyond expectations. That’s why it’s so important for us to know what our guests are thinking – they are the whole reason our ships sail the world over, so their feedback is invaluable. We know that it’s time to give Oriana the attention she deserves. Her refit will take into consideration guest feedback on all aspects of the ship, from the public spaces and bars to the cabins, bathrooms and much more. We want Oriana’s guests, both returning and new, to feel that they are sailing on the most elegant and charming ship in the fleet. From what our guests have told us, we know that retaining these traditional elements that are unique to Oriana is as important as rejuvenating the ship. So that’s what we’re aiming to do.

Artist’s impression of the spa refit on board Oriana

Artist’s impression of the spa refit on board Oriana

Focusing on the public areas and cabins, how will the refit be balanced between the need to modernise and the desire to retain Oriana’s much-loved classic cruise feel? What added touches of luxury will there be?

We’ll be rejuvenating the public areas and cabins with a range of subtle upgrades that will have a big impact without losing Oriana’s unique charm. New carpets will enhance Oriana’s elegance while improved lighting designs will add to the atmosphere of traditional cruising. We’ll also be upgrading furniture and making changes to cabin bathrooms to ensure they meet the standards for P&O Cruises guests.

 

What’s most important, though, is that none of the changes will take away any of what makes Oriana so special. In fact, all of our plans aim to emphasise her unique and traditional charm – from the furniture choices to the fabric for our new soft furnishings and the chosen carpet designs, everything has been selected to complement and emphasise Oriana’s traditional feel.

 

One of the main changes in recent years is the wide range of dining available on Oriana. What further changes will there be?

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Significant changes will be noticeable in the Conservatory buffet restaurant,which will become a much brighter, modern space where guests will be able to enjoy casual all-day dining. We will also be refurbishing the space of our hugely popular Beach House restaurant, which offers relaxed evening dining at great value.

 

The Peninsular and Oriental main restaurants will also have fresh new looks, with specially designed carpets and new furniture throughout giving these popular dining experiences a new lease of life in keeping with the tradition of Oriana.

 

For those all-important holiday cocktails and refreshing beers, Oriana’s pubs and bars will be upgraded to ensure there is something to match every mood. The quintessential British sports bar, Lord’s Tavern, will have new carpets and furniture, and the plans for Anderson’s include replacing old furniture as well as introducing new lamps and stylish new carpets and rugs, all with the intent of retaining and upgrading Anderson’s classic elegance.

 

Of course, holidays are about relaxation and pampering too, so to offer guests the best in salon treatments we’re planning to upgrade salon equipment such as the washbasins and treatment beds, as well as refurbishing the spa and relaxation areas to rival your favourite spa on dry land. We’ll be uplifting the sauna, steam-room, whirlpool and changing areas with new tiling, modern furniture and contemporary equipment. An improved layout will mean that guests can focus on pounding the pounds in the gym area, while the relaxation areas are all about escaping to a calming retreat with soothing natural décor such as a living plant wall.

 

Where will Oriana be going next year?

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In 2017, Oriana has a wide range of itineraries, all sailing from Southampton. Highlights include the 50-night Caribbean & Amazon Adventure, which includes 13 different countries and covers over 14,000 nautical miles. This includes two full days in New Orleans to explore Bourbon Street and really pick up the musical vibe of this diverse city; two full days in Manaus in Brazil on the Amazon; an overnight stay in Fort Lauderdale; and extended time in Bermuda to relax on the pink sand beaches. There are also two Northern Lights cruises, which are always very popular, an Iceland cruise and seven long Mediterranean cruises. If you are short on time, then you could see the Iberian coast instead or have a quick chocolate, shopping and foodie break to Bruges or Amsterdam.