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Cruise Ship Information

MS Braemar (formerly Crown Dynasty, Cunard Crown Dynasty, Crown Majesty and Norwegian Dynasty) is a cruise ship, currently operating with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.

The vessel was constructed in 1993 for Crown Cruise Line, operating under the name Crown Dynasty. Between 1993 and 1997, the vessel was also chartered by Cunard Line, who would name the ship Cunard Crown Dynasty while under their flag.[citation needed]

In 1997, the vessel was transferred to Majesty Cruise Line, who renamed her Crown Majesty. This only lasted until the end of 1997, when the vessel was transferred again; this time to Norwegian Cruise Line, who renamed the vessel Norwegian Dynasty.

The vessel returned to her original fleet and name in 1999, but was sold to Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines in 2001, where the vessel currently operates under the name Braemar. Her sister ship[citation needed], originally named the Crown Jewel and now known as the MS Gemini, is currently laid up in Tilbury Docks, UK, awaiting sale or charter.

When built, the ship had a gross tonnage of 19,089 but it was stretched to its present size by Fred Olsen Lines in 2009, the new middle section containing extra cabins, lounge space and swimming pools.

Atmosphere on board

Braemar will go into dry dock on November 12, 2014, for an eight-day refurbishment, which as well as various engineering works, general refurbishment and interior and exterior painting, will include the installation of a new cafe. Café Venus, which will serve high-quality coffee and luxury chocolates, will be installed on Lounge Deck 5 by reconfiguring the Library area, and the Card Room will be moved and integrated with the Arts and Crafts Centre on Atlantic Deck 3.

 

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has a reputation for offering very good value-for-money to its mostly 60-plus British clientele, which enjoys traditional cruises with a smart -- but not too "tiara and sequins" -- dress code. First impressions on a three-night Southampton roundtrip to northern France confirmed much of this, although there were far more 50-somethings and even younger couples on completely sold-out Braemar, which can accommodate 929 passengers. Braemar may not be the flashiest ship at sea, but it's definitely one of the friendliest. Wherever you sit -- out on deck, in the lounges or waiting for a drink at the bar -- you are guaranteed to be able to turn around and have someone to engage in a pleasant and warm conversation.

 

Braemar was originally built in 1993 as the 19,089-ton, 727-passenger vessel Crown Dynasty for the now-defunct Crown Cruise Lines. It joined the Fred. Olsen fleet in 2001.

 

In 2008, Braemar went into dry dock at Hamburg's Blohm + Voss shipyard where it was given a massive overhaul and facelift. The ship emerged as a shiny, new, 23,000-ton, 929-passenger vessel with an extra 31.2 metres in length in the mid section. (Editor's note: When you are standing next to the ship in port, see if you can make out where the cut was. It's pretty easy to spot!) Along with this addition came 70 new cabins, a new lounge (The Observatory), a second restaurant (The Grampian) and an expanded sun deck with one new pool and plenty of room for bathers.

 

One of the biggest changes that past passengers will notice is the Braemar Room on Deck 5 -- it leads into the new Scottish-inspired Morning Light Pub (which debuted on sister ship Balmoral in early 2008). Prior to the refit, the area was more of a walkway, but now the extended Braemar Room has become more of a public room in its own right, with Aztec and nautical-themed decor. The area is also home to a library, card room and Internet room.

 

Braemar is clearly a ship that attracts repeat passengers, and much of this is due to the friendliness of the passengers and the camaraderie a small ship engenders. Many conversations on my cruise started with "Last time I was on Braemar..." or "We sailed on the ship before the extra space was added...." But, instead of acting cliquey, the repeat passengers were very welcoming, even offering cruising tips to Fred. Olsen newbies.

 

Braemar is a really lovely ship, light and airy with decor that's mostly cream and gold or shades of blue, with some truly elegant public rooms. Its 2012 refit has left it dazzlingly clean, although refurbishment takes place all the time: there are two upholsterers among the crew to deal with daily wear and tear.

 

It's the perfect ship for those who enjoy the simple things when it comes to cruises. There's a new gym with sea views, a small spa and salon, a new crafts room, two swimming pools, two whirlpools, golf nets and deck games. There is also a card room and Internet room near the library. In addition to the main Thistle Restaurant, there's the more intimate Grampian Restaurant and a self-serve buffet, plus a choice of bars and two evening entertainment venues.

 

The cabins are reasonably large and bright but a little old-fashioned, most without balconies or floor-to-ceiling windows, and the bathrooms are standard but underwhelming. Although better bathrooms should be a priority, we didn't think there were many other areas that needed serious improvements.

 

The upside of staying on this pleasingly classic cruise ship is that it doesn't feel like any other -- so there's no deja vu like you get on some modern vessels.

 

Braemar is a truly British ship -- with tea served in abundance, British guest speakers and a Daily Mail print-out paper available each day in reception. It's also quite traditional, with formal dining and plenty of enrichment classes. For this reason, the ship attracts the senior crowd, particularly in the winter. However, during the summer holidays you will find children onboard and the kids do have a daily programme. Because of this, die-hard Fred. Olsen fans should probably avoid the school holidays.

 

Braemar used to be based mostly in the Caribbean, but with Caribbean flights growing increasingly expensive, it will now spend winter in the Canaries and West Africa, early summer in the Baltic and Norway, and high summer in the Mediterranean.

 

 

Family with Kids/Teens

There were no children on the ship during our cruise, but there are usually a few during school holidays. When children are onboard, the Arts & Crafts Room is often used as a club room for them, with qualified staff to organise activities.

 

On embarkation day, the captain and other officers attend a children's club meeting with the youngsters and their parents to introduce themselves and discuss the club's activities.

 

Typically, the children are split into age groups: 1 to 4, 5 to 12 and 13-plus, with activities like colouring, playing games and making cookies and pizzas in the Palms Cafe. A children's edition of the Daily Times keeps them informed of each day's activities.

 

There is also a paddling pool next to one of the swimming pools and a few interconnected cabins that are ideal for families. No baby-sitting services are available, though.

 

 

Past Passenger Programs

Most of the public rooms are grouped together on Deck 5 around the Braemar Room, a long lounge with comfortable armchairs and sofas that is the ideal place for a quiet read or cup of coffee. You can borrow books from the lovely library, decorated in restful shades of rust and teal, which is next to the lounge and where there are also comfortable chairs and small tables. The card room next door has a similar colour theme, as does the adjacent midship Internet room. You can buy packages for the Internet, as well as Wi-Fi access to use with your own laptop in the hotspots around the Braemar Room. Hotspots include the Morning Light Pub and library, as well as the Internet room. Packages cost from £5 for 20 minutes to £50 for 300 minutes, with £10 and £25 packages in between. As with all cruise ships, the Internet service fluctuates and is particularly slow at peak times (evenings and sea days).

 

The Arts & Crafts Room on Deck 3, previously the gym, is now used for some lectures but mostly for the enrichment programme's craft sessions. It has a large screen as well as comfortable chairs.

 

The Boutique Shop, selling clothes, jewellery, perfume and gifts, is also on Deck 5 near the photo gallery and reception. The smaller Port Shop, for toiletries, sweets and other essentials, is on Deck 7 near the Fitness Centre.

 

Editor's Note: Smoking is banned in all indoor areas on Braemar. Smoking is only permitted on cabin balconies and in certain outdoor deck areas.

Fitness And Spa

The Fitness Centre has a prime position on Deck 7 with views over the back of the ship out to sea. It's large for the size of the ship and well-equipped, with several treadmills, cross trainers and bikes, weight machines, exercise balls and mats, and a wooden floor space ideal for exercise classes.

 

This was once the dance floor for the Skylark Club, and the room is one of the best gyms we've ever seen on a mid-sized ship in terms of space, equipment and views. Personal training is available for £30 an hour, and Pilates, yoga, stretch and other exercise classes are held every morning in the gym (possibly outdoors in summer) and cost £5. During longer cruises, there may be some free stretching or exercise sessions, plus dance classes that include ballroom or line-dancing.

 

The Atlantis Spa and beauty salon is quite compact, but it's an extremely friendly place where passengers can swap gossip and chat while they wait to be transformed. A 60-minute Collagen Smoothing Facial costs £58, or you can choose the 75-minute Silicium Lifting Facial for £66. Like most of the treatments these are aimed at the more mature passenger to treat fine lines and wrinkles or aching feet, backs and legs. Pedicures cost either £25 for 30 minutes or £35 for an hour, and you can also get a wash, cut and blow dry for a reasonable £35 to £40. There is also a very small sauna and steam room in the spa changing rooms, which can be used for free.

 

Outside, there's the complimentary Walk A Mile With A Smile session at 8 a.m., when a fitness instructor leads power walking five times around the deck. The two pools are just about big enough for swimming, rather than just dunking your body, and there is a golf net where you can improve your technique. You might just prefer, though, to sit in one of the two whirlpools and relax.

Food & Dining

Most passengers will be allocated a dinner table in the Thistle Restaurant for either the 6:15 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. seating. It's an elegant, circular room with panoramic windows and creamy gold decor, but those prefering a more intimate setting should ask for a table in the smaller Grampian Restaurant at the time of booking. This also has two seatings, which you should be able to choose when you book, but it is mainly for cruisers staying in the upper decks and is equally light but L-shaped with quirky artwork and some large porthole-style windows. Breakfast and lunch, however, are open-seating, so you can order your waiter-served meals at either restaurant or go to the self-serve Palms Cafe, which is also open for dinner from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

 

As you might suspect, the food is aimed at the British palate, but, in line with American-style menus, there are five courses at dinner: starters like chicken liver parfait or avocado and shrimps; soups like Galician ham broth or cold cream of apple and chestnuts; salads that might include marinated fennel with beetroot or Indonesian 'gado-gado'; main courses like hazelnut breaded chicken or balsamic lamb shank; and desserts featuring honey and Whisky creme brulee or warm flourless chocolate cake. Every night there is also a British Dish of the Day. On our sailing, there was Irish stew with dumplings and a vegetarian main dish (such as broccoli and ricotta strudel). You can order off menu from a choice of grilled fish, chicken breast, omelettes and pasta. There are also plenty of vegetarian and healthy choices on the menu. We found the food at dinner was either excellent (soups and freshly-baked speciality bread) or a bit average (grilled fish).

 

The same food is served in all the restaurants for all the meals, although there is generally less choice in the Palms Cafe buffet. Although this restaurant is bright and pretty during the day, it's a bit dull in the evening, especially compared with the almost glowing Thistle Restaurant. The Palms Cafe is also the place to go for Supper Club, from 11 p.m. until midnight, and for 24-hour tea and coffee service. During our mini-cruise, waiter-served morning coffee and afternoon tea with a selection of cakes from the buffet were also available in the Palms Cafe, but that may not be the case on longer cruises. You can also book an afternoon tea in the Observation Lounge, where you will be served finger sandwiches, pastries and warm scones with jam and cream while you are entertained by the onboard pianist. (This costs £6.95 per person).

 

The Marquee Bar, with a la carte service, is open from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and weather permitting passengers can order fish and chips, pizzas, burgers and baguettes on deck or around the pool. On longer cruises, the Palm Cafe also holds themed nights, such as barbecues.

 

Breakfast is served from 7:15 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., and you can choose from cereals, fresh fruit and cooked items to make up your favourite full English breakfast. Omelettes, kedgeree, kippers, French toast and American pancakes can be ordered and are waiter-served.

 

Lunch takes place from noon until 2 p.m. and is waiter-served in the restaurants or buffet-style in the Palm Cafe.

 

Alternatively, you can order complimentary room service. Breakfast is available if you book it the night before, although you are limited to continental-style choices, but same-day orders can be made from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m. Again, these will be light snacks, rather than cooked meals, such as Greek salad, Norwegian smoked and cured fish, ploughman's platters and sandwiches. You can also order cheesecake, creme caramel or fruit salad and a selection of afternoon tea pastries between 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. For-fee drinks and canapes, about £17, or party platters, from about £16 to 28, are also available from room service, while an Americano coffee from one of the bars costs £1.50.

Fellow Passengers

The passengers, like the ship itself, are friendly and interesting characters, never overbearing but happy to strike up conversations.

 

Like the other ships in the company, Braemar caters for British tastes, with afternoon tea, the Daily Mail "Instant" news available each afternoon and British guest speakers (although there were none on our Christmas shopping mini-cruise). However, on world cruises, the clientele becomes more international, and there are a few Americans and continental Europeans -- particularly Norwegian passengers. Most are 60 and older, although mini-cruises do seem to buck the trends; there were plenty of passengers in their 50's and some in their 40's. The company is not known for its children's programmes, but during school holidays children are often onboard with parents, grandparents or both. Multigenerational cruising also seems to be a trend on Fred. Olsen.

 

At least half of the passengers on every Fred. Olsen ship are repeat passengers, and some wouldn't consider using any other cruise line.

 

Tipping

Allow up to £4 per day (£2 each for your cabin steward and waiter) per passenger.


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