Having not yet cruised in 2023 (!!), it was with great excitement that we woke up this morning to the happy knowledge that we would be joining the Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines flagship Bolette later this morning in the Port of Tyne, for a wonderful 10 day cruise to the Nordic capital cities. 😊
We love cruising out of Newcastle. Living in Durham, it usually takes us less than half an hour to drive to the Port of Tyne, unlike the seven or eight hours (on the coach) it takes to go down to Southampton.
We therefore spent a leisurely morning doing the last of our packing and loading up the car. Our check-in time had been given to us as 11.30am – much earlier than usual but this was because we had been given a free upgrade to a Premier Suite, courtesy of Fred Olsen! 😊
We had originally booked a Junior Suite but a few weeks ago we received a call from FOCL to offer us the free upgrade to one of their 568 square feet Premier Suites on Deck 7. How brilliant was that?! 😊
We left the house at 10.30am as we had to take Cedric, our cat, to the five-star cat hotel at Rainton Gate en route to the port. So our little Vauxhall Corsa was pretty full when we left; three suitcases, two rucksacks, two humans and one cat in his basket! Dropping him off 15 minutes later, we left him in the capable hands of the cattery staff and continued on our way; the traffic was fairly light on the A1(M) at that time of day.
Once we arrived at the cruise terminal, Trevor dropped me and all the luggage off and then went up the road to the Premier Inn where we were to park the car for the next 10 days. At £4.00 a day to park, it’s much cheaper than the 12 quid that Port of Tyne charges and it is quite literally only a 10 minute walk away. As soon as Trevor returned they announced that we could start to check in. In fact, Trevor and I were the very first people to check in for this cruise! 😊
We were then directed to a shuttle bus outside the passenger terminal and we had a wait of about 15 minutes before the ship was ready for us. Nevertheless we were on board before 12 o’clock and, as our cabin (suite!!) was not yet ready for us, we made our way to The View self-service buffet for some lunch, which I washed down with a chilled glass of sauvignon blanc. 😊
As soon as the announcement was made that the cabins were ready, we went down to Deck 7 and along to stateroom 7036 and got our first glimpse of our home for the next 10 nights – wow!
It was massive! As well as having floor to ceiling balcony doors there was also a large window, so one side of the room was almost completely glass, giving it a lovely light and airy feeling, aided by the many mirrors in the room. There was a king-size bed, a large 4-seater sofa with two armchairs and a coffee table. On the table was a vase of flowers, a bowl of fresh fruit and a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne on ice, a couple of flutes sitting waiting.
The bathroom was a lot larger than most cruise ship bathrooms, and contained a Jacuzzi bath tub as well as a shower. Adjacent to the bathroom was a separate dressing room which contained a large dressing table and stool and lots of mirrored wardrobes. In fact, there was loads of storage space all around the room. There was also a fridge containing a mini-bar and a leather-topped writing desk, upon which was our Oceans Club goody bag of gourmet snacks – a small gift from FOCL to thank us for our loyalty. 😊
Going outside onto our balcony, we could not believe the size of it! There was a dining table with four chairs as well as a couple of sun-loungers and a smaller table. We hoped we would get the weather that would enable us to enjoy sitting out on the balcony taking part in that most pleasant of pastimes – watching the world go by.
As our cases had arrived, we spent some time hanging everything up neatly and folding stuff into drawers. I lined all my shoes up in the bottom of the wardrobe and placed all my cosmetics and hair tools on the dressing table. Once we were done, we considered it was time to go up to the Observatory and partake of some of the all-inclusive drinks package. 😊 When we got there, however, no-one was there and no staff were about, so we decided to go to the indoor Pool Bar instead.
The pool has a large retractable glass roof, which meant that, out of the nippy little Northern breeze, it was pleasantly warm in there. We took our places on a couple of bar stools and had some cold drinks whilst enjoying the conversation with some of our fellow passengers. We had that fantastic feeling that we always get on embarkation day, that happy “we-are-going-on-a-cruise” glow of the 10 exciting days to come.
We stayed for three drinks each then returned to our cabin (suite!!) for an afternoon power nap. Shortly afterwards a gentle knock on our door heralded the arrival of some tasty pre-prandial canapés. In addition, we were given a list of drinks from which we could choose a complimentary bottle to enjoy in our cabin (suite!!) during the voyage. 😊
Then it was time to get washed and changed and ready for dinner at 6.15pm. We always like a table for six as we enjoy the interaction with our fellow cruisers and we have forged some interesting friendships in the past, particularly as it is so easy to keep in touch with people these days.
We have been allocated table #46 in the upper tier of the main dining room, The Terrace, as our designated restaurant is called. When we arrived, the other two couples were already seated. We all introduced ourselves: one couple, Peter and Marian, were from Whickam (near Gateshead, south of the Tyne) and the others were a father and daughter from Edinburgh, called Roy and Jane. Everyone seemed very pleasant and there was no shortage of conversation particularly, as if often the case, regarding previous cruises taken and future cruises booked. 😊
As we have come to expect from Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines, the food and service were excellent. There was a good selection of starters, salads, soups, main courses and desserts and we really enjoyed our dinner. I started with a shrimp cocktail followed by a house salad with honey and mustard dressing, and enjoyed a fantastic Caesar Salad for my main course; I asked for extra anchovies as a love those strong, salty little fish, yum yum.
We washed our dinner down with a couple of glasses of chilled rosé wine and cold water (to keep hydrated in these air-conditioned surroundings). Afterwards, I enjoyed a cheese board and we each partook of an Amaretto to finish off. A delicious meal in convivial company.
We couldn’t help comparing the meal and the service to that on our Christmas cruise on P&O’s Arcadia. P&O have turned into a ‘budget’ cruise line (but at premium prices), using ‘Covid’ as an excuse for all their cutbacks, but we were pleased to see that FOCL have not made any cutbacks and have maintained their excellent standards and all the little ‘quirks’ that we’ve come to know and love with Fred. It’s always lovely to see that nothing has changed. OK, Fred has put his prices up (quite a lot) in recent years, but it really is true that you get what you pay for. Even though this was our first time on Bolette, it all felt comfortingly familiar.
Of course, we were on her sister ship Borealis in February 2022 and in July 2021 and the two ships are almost identical, just with different décor. It was just so great to be back! 😊
After dinner (the waiting staff gently had to chivvy us out because they wanted to get ready for second sitting!) we made our way along to the Neptune Theatre for tonight’s introductory show, called “A Taste of Things to Come” which gave us a small teaser of the excellent entertainment we had to look forward to.
While we were sitting at our front row table, we were joined by an elderly gentleman who introduced himself as Nigel. During the course of the conversation, he mentioned he had been born in Portsmouth. “You’re kidding!” I exclaimed. “I was also born in Portsmouth”. He then elaborated by saying he’d been born in Copnor. I was incredulous. “I was born in Copnor too” I told him. “You could see the floodlights of Fratton Park from our street!”. What an amazing coincidence. Nigel explained he’d moved from Portsmouth to Devon several decades since, but I’ve lived in Durham for 47 years so, although I now consider myself a Northern lass (with the accent to match) I still have a soft spot for good old Pompey.
Nigel and I swapped stories about different places in Portsmouth that we knew, until the lights went down and it was time for the show to start.
Our cruise director was Simon Egerton, and we realised we’d seen him on the Borealis in July 2021, when the ships had returned to cruising post-pandemic. He introduced the show company and some of the guest performers; we knew we had some great entertainment in store. Lots of people we know on cruises don’t bother going into the theatre for the evening shows, but we think they’re great. Trevor and I are regular theatre-goers at home and theatre tickets are expensive; a night out can easily cost in in excess of 100 pounds. But on a cruise you can see a stage show for free, and in the past we have seen some cracking shows, as good as any you’d see in a theatre.
Once the show was over (which we enjoyed immensely) we went along to the Morning Light pub at 10.00pm for the evening Trivia Quiz. The pub was packed as the quizzes are always very popular. We therefore perched on bar stools and joined forces with the couple next to us to form a team. We scored 11/15 which was not enough to win; several teams had 12 points so it went to a tie-breaker.
Meanwhile, we enjoyed the company and the banter of our fellow quizzers and stayed in the Morning Light for the rest of the evening. I don’t know how many of the all-inclusive drinks we consumed, but I always seemed to have a glass of the gold, bubbly in front of me, and I think it was some time after midnight when we returned, somewhat unsteadily, to our cabin (suite!!). 😊
We were asleep more or less as soon as our heads hit the pillow. The Bolette was heading steadily north on an already-choppy North Sea, taking us to our next exciting destination, and we looked forward to what tomorrow would bring.