A TRIP INTO NOSTALGIA. AN ABTN BANNER FROM NEARLY 30 YEARS AGO
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2 AUGUST 2021
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Business Travel News Editor-in-Chief Malcolm Ginsberg (and wife Linda) were on board Fred Olsen Cruise Lines’ ship Borealis when she departed on her maiden voyage from Liverpool on Monday 5 July.
It had been a frustrating 18 months for both cruise companies and cruisers, the eight-day holiday voyage initially booked to Bordeaux, now condensed into a three-night trip to Scottish Western Isles with not even the opportunity to use the ship’s tenders. The lady from Holyrood had banned any chance of landing. Our thoughts were with the Scottish travel trade who, having travelled down to the Mersey, were unable to greet guests planned to meet at Greenock. They did not even get close enough to wave.
With all the crew vaccinated, the Fred Olsen policy was for passengers to take a lateral flow test before the normal check-in procedure. Well organised this added at the most 30min to the boarding, treated with good humour by passengers and the port staff. Looking after the 800 passengers were 690 crew.
Upon boarding we were given ‘Tracesafe’ bands, the idea being that if anyone on board should test positive for coronavirus during the cruise the medical team would have been able to identify if you had been in contact with them. Face masks were obligatory in covered public areas when not drinking or eating and social distancing was observed with tables well-spaced out and ‘bubbles’ kept to a maximum of six.
The Port of Liverpool, provided a noisy firework display as we departed. We were going to pass by some famous places including Duart Castle, the Isle of Mull, Fingal’s Cave, and Culzean Castle with commentary provided.
Borealis used to sail as Holland America’s Rotterdam. She will be joined by sister ship Bolette 16 August working out of Dover for the rest of the summer programme.
A very well laid out ship, Borealis is much larger than Fred Olsen’s Balmoral, of similar capacity and very popular.
Borealis offers a unique promenade deck (3.5 laps to the mile) with 30 'Terrace' cabins, ideal for the disabled. The sliding glass doors have one way viewing, or you can gain cabin entry from the internal corridor. They offer very good value for all users, a sort of halfway house between a balcony and window cabin.
Thomas Rennesland, Hotel Operations Director at Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, on board for the inaugural explained some of the problems building up to the maiden voyage. “The cruise industry was hit even more harder than the airline business. No real income at all, ships to maintain and in our case, serious refurbishment, and crews to bring in from all over the world. We had to balance cash flow versus investment.”
Borealis introduced a number of new venues and facilities to the fleet, including for the first time with Fred Olsen a grand two-tier theatre named the Neptune Lounge and double deck main restaurant called Aurora and Borealis. On the single (semi) formal night for this first cruise a string quartet played on a small platform between the two dining areas. It was a nice touch.
There are three sets of lifts, the ship layout providing 192 balcony cabins situated above two floors with the normal services facilities, the three lower deck cabins with windows (some providing the promenade access already noted). A daily UK/International newssheet was provided upon request and the courtesy wi-fi worked very well.
Forget the previous owner. Borealis is a proper Fred Olsen ship, with Fred Olsen (the fourth generation Olsen and now 92) watching the refurbishment from Norway via Zoom and ensuring that the unique Norwegian Olsen brand and artefacts are seen throughout the vessel. There is a prominent painting of Bolette Olsen, his grandmother, at a lounge entrance. What has been retained in the three-deck oval shaped atrium is a huge custom-made clock based on a Flemish original that includes an astrolabe, an astrological clock, and 14 other clocks.
The retractable roof on the all-weather pool remained open all the time supporting two huge hot tubs. There is a large spa, thermal suite and over the bow a fitness centre. The Auditorium offers culinary demonstrations but can be used as a presentation suite. This hosted the viewing of the England v Denmark match as well as temporary screens added all over the place. Fred Olsen made strenuous efforts to add a licence to broadcast the match, which only came through five minutes before kick-off. No need for a mutiny.
According to the brochure there are 11 bars and six dining options on board with our favourite the Crow’s Nest for pre-dinner cocktails and evening drinks after the show. There are a small number of gaming tables and a card room. Getting a deck chair was no problem especially in the large stern area on the lido deck, what was clearly a one time water area now turned into an attractive feature.
Not much chance on such a short trip but guests were able to savour new flavours in Borealis’ new specialty dining restaurants for a small supplement. Vasco, named after the famous explorer Vasco Da Gama, who was the first European to reach India by sea, offers a fresh and modern take on Indian food. Meanwhile Colours & Tastes offers modern Asian Fusion dishes. The décor is colourful, the mood cheerful and the food offering a stimulating set of new taste experiences.
You can take the traditional early or late dining option, or the increasingly popular flexible arrangement. If you are smart you will get the same waiter and table every meal. There is plenty of choice and if you want a five-course gorging the waiters are there to please. From six until midnight (and probably later) music and entertainment was provided.
A full programme of activities and entertainment was provided catering for all tastes.
For breakfast one can be served continental in the cabin but if something more substantial is required either the Borealis restaurant or the Ocean View is the place to go. High up on the Lido Deck the Ocean View provides meals throughout the day including a late-night buffet. The Oriental Tea room (again for a small charge) offers a refreshing menu of unusual loose-leaf teas from the East and either afternoon tea together with petit fours and finger sandwiches, or a tea-tasting experience where you can find out about each tea’s story and origin.
Prices for cruises usually include service charges but in any event Sterling is the currency applied on board with bar prices very reasonable. Fred Olsen regulars said that the tour costs are not outlandish.
One thing to bear in mind. The ship was designed for European and US electric systems, with UK three-point plugs added. Take with adaptors. They may come in useful. There is a self-service laundrette on board.
Anything negative to report? No not really except walking around like Dick Turpin does reduce interacting and making friends, one of the great features of cruise holidays. Hopefully it will end soon.
We will be booking Bolette at some point for a longer trip. This was an inspection and Borealis came out very well.
See also the August Cruise News and AND FINALLY in this week's BTN.
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John Brown & family, Liverpool
We were on the maiden voyage of Borealis, a quantum leap from Braemar. Great off ship trips but please be warned. If you are taking a Giants Causeway visit wrap up warm. We were caught out.