Right set Fred: Skip the mega-ships with a Fred. Olsen cruise
Cruise 2016 Special
Want to skip the mega-ships? Award-winning travel writer Isabel Conway tries a cosy cruise close to home.
Set the mood
Don't look for rock climbing walls or water slides on a Fred. Olsen ship.
'Myths and Legends' was the theme of my 11-night UK and Ireland cruise aboard MS Boudicca. In place of surf simulators and robot bartenders, we had gentle visits to ports like Falmouth in Cornwall, Cobh, Dublin and the Scottish islands, serenaded with a whiff of Finn McCool, Celtic fables, fairies and druids.
Visits to the Giant's Causeway and picturesque Antrim coastline were on our itinerary, along with the glorious Orkneys, mysterious Lough Ness and statuesque Edinburgh - all long on my bucket list.
I worried about an older crowd, but bright sunshine and millpond seas meant it was warm enough to swim outside and relax with a glass of wine beside the pool... even in October. Not a bad way to cruise past the Inner and Outer Hebrides.
I tried a 'walk a mile' on deck regime to deflate that ballooning spare tyre, but soon ran into fresh temptation. The gala (once in a cruise) afternoon tea banquet was causing traffic jams. A pair of young pastry chefs who had been up most of the night baking, glazing and icing were imploring us, with big smiles, to try their handiwork.
How could I refuse?
Fred. Olsen is known for great value cruises, for plentiful (and good quality) plain food and reasonable bar prices. An all-inclusive upgrade starting from €14pp a day is a steal, with unlimited house wines, beers, selected spirits and all soft drinks outside of festive and mini cruises.
While an Orkneys South Isles excursion cost a hefty £40/€57, smarter folk caught the local bus taking in all the highlights for £3.50/€5, finishing off in Kirkwall's lively "Reel" pub for a proper-sized dram of single malt.
The Olsen brand appeals to the 'Darby and Joan' set drawn to the traditional, friendly onboard atmosphere and convenient UK departures. My 'Myths and Legends' cruise was a passport-free cruise with many UK golden oldies on their first visit to Ireland. What I missed most aboard was a mix of nationalities and generations.
Get me there
Isabel travelled as guest of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines (fredolsencruises.com).
Prices for a cruise similar to this one in 2016, including 10 nights' full-board accommodation, cost from €1,400pp departing Newcastle. A five-night Emerald Isle Cruise departing Belfast on MS Boudicca is priced from €879 in May 2016.
For more info, contact Cruisescapes (01 294-1000; cruisescapes.ie) or John Galligan Travel (01 207-6555; jgt.ie).