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Classic CruisingSeptember 13, 2011 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
|The Neptune Lounge on Black Watch; entertainment onboard a Fred. Olsen cruise is intimate, cabaret-style.|
“Definitely not a typical North American cruise experience,” says Kate Wooldridge, international sales manager, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, when asked to characterize a cruise on her line. This U.K.-based line differentiates itself by delivering a traditional cruise product with a decidedly British feel.
Ninety percent of passengers hail from the UK, the rest from other English-speaking countries, Belgium, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. From her Ipswich, UK, office, Wooldridge spoke with Travel Agent by phone. Here’s a product update for U.S agents, not all of whom may be familiar with the line.
What to Expect
Fred. Olsen’s fleet of mid-sized ships sets it apart from many other North American cruise lines that field mega-ships, or alternatively, small-ship products. All four of Fred. Olsen’s ships sailed as different vessels in past lives, but are fully refurbished and boast new features and spaces.
The line’s largest ship, the 1,350-passenger Balmoral, was stretched and renovated in dry dock to create more capacity, and relaunched in 2008. Cruise agents may recall it as the former Norwegian Crown or Crown Odyssey. Balmoral still has sections that retain that traditional Crown Odyssey feel and the vessel often appeals to former U.S. clients who have sailed on that ship, Wooldridge notes. All public rooms have a Scottish theme.
Slightly smaller is the 929-passenger Braemer, the former Crown Dynasty, which was also stretched and refurbished in 2008. More public spaces were added, including a lounge and an informal restaurant, as well as more balcony cabins. The 24,344-ton ship has a five-deck-high atrium and public rooms with polished wood, gleaming brass fittings and subtle lighting.
The line’s smallest vessels are the 800-passenger Black Watch and Boudicca, both former Royal Viking Line ships. The 28,613-ton Black Watch was refurbished in late 2009. A new 120-guest casual dining restaurant, the Braemer Garden, was created along with a bar and buffet area. Soft furnishings were also updated in public areas. Refurbished earlier this year, the 28,388-ton Boudicca has a new gym facility with sea views and more passenger cabins.
“Certainly, from our point of view of marketing we do in the U.S., we try to hang our hat on delivering a traditional cruise experience, something that’s been lost [with mega-ships],” says Wooldridge, who adds: “There’s a very English country-hotel feel about our vessels. And we do remember passenger names.” The passenger-to-space ratio is higher than on many ships, she says. The inside cabins range from 140 to 160 square feet, while suites are 275 to 550 square feet.
Regarding entertainment, clients shouldn’t expect huge Broadway-style productions on board, but rather more intimate, cabaret-style jazz or comedic entertainment, as well as enrichment lectures and traditional cruise activities, such as bridge and shuffleboard.
The line’s Vistas enrichment program often focuses on gardening, music, dance, architecture, food, drink or antiques; most times, the activities are free. There isn’t a traditional casino on board, just a few gaming tables outside a lounge here or there. A golf program will assist guests who would like to tee off at ports of call.
Dining is traditional, with two fixed seatings in the evening. Certain nights, such as the Captain’s Cocktail Party night, are designated as formal and black tie is requested for men and cocktail dresses for women. Other nights are more informal or casual. Themed nights may include international or country western, for example.
Guests who prefer casual dining every night may dine at the ship’s buffet-style restaurant. But you won’t find alternative dining venues that carry a fee. “We have no supplements for any dining area, and we strongly believe in that,” says Wooldridge.
Onboard the line’s ships, your clients will encounter Norwegian and European officers, mainly British entertainment staff, and an international crew that includes many Filipinos.
Which American clients are the best fit? Most passengers on board are 55 years of age or older. Guests tend to be well-educated professionals who have retired. About 53 percent are repeat guests. It’s a line that appeals to Americans who desire a traditional cruise experience on a mid-sized ship. “They might not want to travel on a ship with 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 others,” says Wooldridge. “There are quite a lot of U.S. passengers that we believe are looking for something smaller and more discerning.”
|Braemer, a suite onboard which is shown here, was stretched and refurbished just three years ago.|
Another big draw? Fred. Olsen offers 200 pure single-occupancy cabins across its fleet, something not that common in the industry. “We very much appeal to the solo passenger,” she says.
Agents may also look for avid Anglophiles in their database—those who seek a truly British cruise experience. And clients who are of Norwegian ancestry may appreciate the line’s heritage, Wooldridge says. The company originated in Hvitsten, a small town on Oslofjord in Norway, in 1848, when three Olsen brothers—Fredrik Christian, Petter and Andreas—bought their first ships and began an international shipping company.
Today, the fifth generation of the Olsen family is still involved in running the company, with headquarters in Oslo, Norway, and Tenerife, Canary Islands. Fred. Olsen, Jr. is chairman of a multifaceted company that is also involved in offshore drilling, renewable energy, tankers, a luxury hotel, property development and electronics.
Fred. Olsen’s cruises with UK departures sail from Dover, Southampton, Greenock, Liverpool, Newcastle or Rosyth, but the line also has other departure ports worldwide. Cruises range from three nights to 106 nights. Fred. Olsen’s itineraries are eclectic, not the typical cruise fare. Many itineraries feature the Baltic, Norway, UK, Iceland, Greenland, Canary Islands, Africa, the Mediterranean, Adriatic Sea and Black Sea. The destination-focused line offers late night stays in some ports.
Annually, the line operates an Around the World cruise, as well as long Grand Voyages, including The New World, focusing on South America. So, what’s new? The line just announced an 80-night epic Indian Ocean Voyage, sailing January 13, 2013, on Black Watch from Southampton. It includes port calls in several African countries, a journey around the Cape of Good Hope, and visits to Mauritius and the Maldives, en route to India. The ship then sails to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Egypt, with a transit of the Suez Canal and calls at Turkey, Greece, Tunisia and Libya.
Fred. Olsen has tapped Borton Overseas as its U.S. reseller. Borton handles all U.S. sales, marketing and reservations, and relationships with U.S. travel agents. The firm’s website provides itinerary and ship details, e-brochures and e-newsletters, pricing in U.S. dollars and a new online training program for agents. Look for Fred. Olsen videos to be added this coming winter.
Details about group policies, familiarization programs and co-op policies are available upon request. Agents may also learn more about the line at the Specialty Cruise Collection site.
Fred. Olsen’s base commission begins at 10 percent, a bit higher for agents who complete the Specialty Cruise Collection certification program. Shore excursions and gratuities are not part of the fares but port charges and taxes are—a perk that can help increase the agent’s overall compensation.
Wooldridge acknowledges that Fred. Olsen has quite a challenge in the marketplace to entice more U.S. cruisers on board. “What we’re trying to do in the U.S. is to increase awareness and offer an alternative to the larger vessels,” she says. Agents are crucial in the process. “It’s all about finding those passengers in the U.S. who are looking for what we offer and matching up the people with the product.”