CruiseMates' Readers Cruise Reviews


Fred Olsen Lines Black Prince by Garry Seach January 26, 2000

GETTING TO THE SHIP AND PRE CRUISE HOTEL

Although most people did not like the idea of flying abroad on 31st December 1999, the thought of flying into the new Millennium brought great excitement to me, as this was to be my first lengthy sea voyage from the Northern Hemisphere down to the Southern most tip of Africa - Cape Town. A route that had been sailed by many passengers during the Union-Castle era. And as this was my first I was not going to allow any so called "bug" to stand in my way.

Leaving home on 30th December, 1999, it was hot and humid in Durban as it always is at this time of the year. Arriving at Durban's International Airport I transferred to the Domestic Departure Lounge for my flight that would take me to Johannesburg International Airport for the two-hour flight to Windhoek. As this was the first time I was to fly with Nationwide Airlines, I had no idea what was in store for me, not only that, but I had also never flown on a BAC 1-11. The flight was called on time, and on boarding the aircraft I was taken aback at the decor, ahead of me were rows of plush leather seats, that were cool to the touch from the air-conditioning that was obviously working extremely well considering that the outside temperature was reaching 35 deg. C. Nationwide Airlines operate eleven of these aircraft: 5 x 400 series & 6 x 500 series. The passenger capacity for the 400 series is: 10 Business / 62 Economy. The 500 series carries: 12 Business / 82 Economy. Both have a range of 2 600 km, a cruising altitude of 35 000ft, and cruising speed of 778km/h. Nationwide Airlines also have a fleet of 3 Boeing 727's and 3 Boeing 737's. We were pushed back right on time, and departed without any hitches. Nationwide Airlines operates in alliance with Sabena Airlines and Air Portugal. Arrival at Johannesburg International airport 45 minutes later was spot on.

A three-hour wait now stood before me prior to my departure for my overnight stay in Windhoek. However the time soon passed as I strolled around and admired the newly completed section of the International Departure Lounge at Johannesburg International Airport. There are so many shops and restaurants to choose from, and all the shops and boutiques are of course duty-free. Eventually the time came for my departure to Windhoek which was a pleasant 2-hour hop, and where upon arrival I would transfer to the Windhoek Country Club for the overnight stay. Unfortunately upon arrival at Windhoek International Airport it was raining, and I among other fellow passengers were rather perturbed that there was no shuttle bus to transport us to the terminal, seeing that the aircraft had parked some distance away. By the time I got inside I was soaked. I feel that the Department of transport in Namibia will certainly have to take a look into this matter. However, I soon forgot about this dampness when I was really surprised to be greeted by the most friendliest custom officials I have yet come across - "Welcome to Namibia" was heard as I approached the custom official, and with outstretched arms at that. It made me realise that by being friendly and courteous anyone can be put at ease, even if they are soaking wet.

Early on the morning of 31st December,1999 I transferred to Windhoek's International Airport for my Air Namibia flight to Heathrow via Frankfurt.

At 0900 on 31st December,1999 Air Namibia's Boeing 747-400 Combi arrived from Frankfurt, and after the passengers had disembarked and the cargo offloaded the flight was called. One could clearly see that this was a new aircraft, and once inside this was also clearly evident, she was absolutely spotless, the cleaners had also done an excellent job in cleaning the aircraft prior to me embarking. You could even smell that she was new, another surprise awaited me as I stood in the doorway, I was ushered upstairs to the upper deck, surprised I said "I think you have me mixed up with someone else because I have an economy ticket!", "no came the reply from the stewardess, due to our outbound flight not been full we have been advised to upgrade all the passengers to Business Class at no extra cost". Well I thought, this has never happened to me before, is this the kind of service that awaits me for my 9-hour flight, and I was not wrong at all. It is very difficult to comment on the service aboard an airline because they are so similar, however Air Namibia is clearly not the same as other airlines, this carrier is clearly dedicated in maintaining a highly professional attitude towards their passengers, and was clearly evident throughout the trip. The food was extremely well presented, and plentiful, and most important was that it was freshly prepared.

During the flight I proceeded down to the economy section and found the seating to be extremely comfortable, the air-conditioning down there was just as good as in the upper deck. One noticeable difference with this airline was the air mixture, usually on long haul flights your nasal passages tend to burn slightly from the icy air that is drawn in from 35,000ft. Not on this airline, the mixture was perfect and I did not experience any difficulties whatsoever.

According to Dr Jaafar Bin Ahmed - Managing Director, Air Namibia, 1999 was indeed a very challenging year for them, but they have managed to pull through and they can proudly say that they are on the right course. They accepted that there would be no quick fix in turning around this airline. In fact, the first four to six months of 1999 was devoted solely to the cleaning up exercise in pursuit of higher staff productivity and operational efficiency. They have also restructured their operation to improve on customer services and delivery at all stations, including a re-orginisation at the Hosea Kutako International Airport (Windhoek) and at Heathrow and Frankfurt Airports. In addition, they have added new vigour to their cargo services, where they have doubled their capacity.

In terms of destinations, 1999 saw the introduction of Lusaka, in co-operation with Zambian Airways, to their flight to London. Furthermore, they have enlarged their co-operation with South African and South African Express Airways by utilising Air Namibia as the operating carrier on the Windhoek - Cape Town - Windhoek route. This co-operation was made possible with the delivery of their flagship, the Welwitschia, on 23rd October 1999 (on which I made this flight). And with their increased capacity, the introduction of a cross-Atlantic flight could be on the cards this year. Their hard work in 1999 has paid off; and in 2000 they can look to the future of Air Namibia with some degree of optimism.

I found their cabin staff to be highly-trained, and they will stop at nothing to make your flight more comfortable, all you need to do is ask. It is a pleasure for me to mention that Air Namibia will definitely make your flight a pleasant one, and when the situation requires me to fly into Namibia or abroad I certainly will fly with this carrier again.

Arriving at Heathrow at 2130 the temperature was 5 Deg. C, and being used to the cold climate I had no problem in adapting to this. An overnight stay at the Heathrow Sheraton enabled me to get rid of the jet lag, but I must advise that this Hotel group does not come cheap. At 110.00 per night (R1100-00) I found it a little too expensive just to rest my head overnight. I will certainly look at another option should an overnight stay in London be on the cards again.

The morning of 1st January,2000 saw me transferring from London to Dover - a rather delightful experience was to be had in the 2 hour train journey. Now it was time for me to transfer to the Churchill Hotel at Dover where I would spend the next five days prior to boarding Fred. Olsen's Black Prince for my return journey to the Southern Hemisphere.

Historic Dover Dover's history abounds. A port since medieval times was granted a Royal Charter by James 1 in 1606. Dover is dominated by Dover Castle one of the oldest castles in England and was described in the thirteenth-century as the "Key of England".

Dover evolved through the Iron Age to Roman occupation, through Henry V111 on through the first and second world wars. Now Dover is one of the busiest ports in the world with extensive marina facilities and a new purpose built liner terminal. A truly international port. At its hub is The Churchill - Dover's Waterfront Hotel.

As a touring centre Dover is very well positioned. The beautiful Leed's Castle is just a short drive away and the historic medieval City of Canterbury is even closer. Nearby are walks on the famous White Cliffs of Dover. The Churchill is ideally situated for the traveller to France. It is so easy whether by ferry, Hovercraft, Seacat or Eurotunnel - all are very close.

The Churchill History The Churchill is situated within a Regency Crescent that was built in 1834. The Crescent was originally built as a terrace of houses and apartments, mainly catering for visitors undertaking the new fad of sea bathing. Such visitors would 'summer' for 2 or 3 months. The Crescent remained as private houses until just after the First World War when number 15 was converted into the York House Temperance Hotel. By the 1920's numbers 13 and 14 had been converted into the Brown House Hotel. Both hotels continued in business until the Second World War closed them. The hotel was renamed the Churchill in recognition of Winston Churchill's association with Dover during and after the Second World War. In 1951 Winston Churchill stayed at the hotel when he was made an Honourary Freeman of the town.

The Churchill Today The hotel today is quite rightly a listed building. It is the only hotel in Dover on the seafront and on clear days commands uninterrupted views of France. Nestling under the historic White Cliffs the hotel fronts onto Dover 's regal promenade.

The whole hotel has been refurbished and reflects elegance and charm. Warmth and friendly service are their keywords.

Winston's Bar is available for alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages, tea and coffee, bar snacks and afternoon teas. Watch the world go by in Winston's.

With panoramic views over the Channel, Winston's Restaurant is an experience in itself. Others are judged by the standard of their service and the quality of their cuisine. As you would expect of a waterfront restaurant, seafood is a speciality. Chef Ian Broughton cooks with the seasons and utilises local produce. His specialities include the classic Dover Sole.

All have en-suite facilities, satellite TV, in-house movies, direct dial telephone, trouser press, tea and coffee making facilities, and hair dryers. Why not try one of their executive rooms? They contain all the above and include 26" television sets, mini bars and bath robes. This hotel comes highly recommended and is part of the Best Western group of Hotels. An ideal setting to relax and rid yourself of the jetlag before continuing on to your cruise.

Contact Details: The Churchill, Dover's Waterfront Hotel, Dover Kent CT17 9BP Tel: 0944 - 1304 - 203633 Fax: 0944 - 1304 - 216320

THE CRUISE

All too soon it was time for me to bid farewell to the Churchill and so on the 6th January 2000 I proceeded to the Passenger Terminal at Dover to board Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines' Black Prince for the Southbound voyage to Cape Town via Tenerife, Dakar, St.Helena, Walvis bay, a 20-night voyage that would see me arriving in Cape Town on 26th January 2000.

On arriving at the Cruise Terminal I was taken aback on how large the waiting area is. Its airy with a bounty of comfortable chairs to lounge in whilst waiting for the embarkation procedures to begin. Unlike here in South Africa where it is a mad cattle rush to board the ship, here it is done in uniformity. Each passenger is issued a boarding pass containing a number, and you board the ship according to your number when it is called, a smooth operation that saw me aboard the vessel within half an hour after the embarkation procedure began.

An Uncompromising Commitment To Service....... As with my previous cruise aboard Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines' Black Watch it begins with a friendly greeting, and from the moment that you arrive, their charming Filipino staff lavishes you with personalised, pampering service. Your cabin stewardess quickly reveals her uncanny ability to sense your wishes, moments before you do. Your waiter remembers your preferences as if you were a lifelong friend. Each and every staff member offers a style of service that is warm and friendly, yet eminently refined. I was due to find out why it was that so many British passengers would not dream of cruising on another cruise ship.

The result of this obsession is a ship that feels more like a friend's private yacht. Except for the extraordinary sense of spaciousness. Spacious and part of Fred. Olsen Cruise Line's uncompromising commitment to the most discerning guests.

A Value Like No Other....... Aboard Black Prince, you will find all the things you love most about cruising, plus one more distinctive benefit: their incredible value for money. You might say that they thought of everything and left you free to relax and enjoy your holiday as you please.

Your Private View of the World........ There is something magical about discovering the world from this ship, out on deck you feel the ocean breeze across your skin and listen to the surf gently roll by. Beautifully appointed cabins with all the comforts of home, each cabin features a hairdryer, satellite television and their own in-house TV programmes. The Junior Suites and Superior Cabins features all of the above plus a refrigerator. And of course one must not forget the diligent stewardess who keeps scented soaps and fresh towels in an ever-ready supply.

Welcome Home Anywhere in the World...... There are sanctuaries at sea that captivate the senses, that tempt you to linger in their tranquillity and leave you feeling quite peaceful. You will find such places across the threshold of cabins available on the Black Prince, all designed with a rare degree of refinement.

The Pinnacle of Good Living...... The largest and most stately of their accommodation, the Junior Suites offer you room to compare. These Suites will delight your senses with their spaciousness and picture windows that give rise to a commanding view of the horizon, a majestic window on the world usually reserved for the ship's Captain, now available exclusively to you.

Time To Design Your Day...... With days of leisure slipping into and out of exotic ports, you discover faraway places. Yet your favourite destination of all is your Fred.Olsen ship. With neither schedules nor routines to hem you in, you enjoy endless pursuits among the ship's amenities.

It starts with breakfast either in your cabin, the Royal Garter Restaurant, and when the weather is behaving itself in the Bablom Restaurant set high above the ship. Perhaps a soothing massage after an invigorating jog. A dozen laps then a lazy cat nap. The day is yours to design. Escape to the spa shop or the boutiques. Work out in the Gymnasium or take a dip in the indoor pool, or stir up some fun in the art classes provided. Participate in a game of contract bridge or retreat to your cabin and watch a first-run video. Before high tea is served in the Lido Lounge, you go on a tour of the bridge. The perfect end to a perfect day.

An Evening At The Club...... As the night falls, the camaraderie rises and the bars come alive with meriment. The sounds of a live quartet mix smoothly with conversations. A shimmering dance floor beckons you to waltz. Whatever your mood, the bars provide the perfect setting for mingling with new-found friends. The service is warm and friendly, the atmosphere always cozy. The nearby casino tempts you to test your skill. A stroll on deck kindles your love of the sea, which intices you to sit and gaze at the stars. Memories are made from evenings like this.

Entertaining Options..... The moon and the stars take second billing when it comes to the evenings in the Neptune Lounge as this is where the curtain rises on an entertaining array of productions. You will applaud the dazzling troupes of entertainers - as well as the spaciousness that surrounds you. The Neptune Lounge is designed to host two shows nightly after each dinner sitting. So sit back. Relax. And let the show begin.

An Accent on Culinary Excellence..... Step into either the Royal Garter or Fleur DeLys Restaurants and you are magically transported to Europe's great dining establishments. Where the art of fine dining is a wondrously engaging affair. As you relax and enjoy the atmosphere of elegance and conviviality, Filipino and Chinese waiters - hand-picked from the finest hotels and restaurants - graciously serve repasts on fine china. Fine wines from around the world are carefully poured into the glasses. Yet, no matter how polished the silverware or how crisp the linens, they are always eclipsed by the bright culinary artistry of Fred. Olsen's chefs. The ultimate taste of luxury.

The Drama of a Casual Cafe....... As the latitude and longitude of your ship change, so do the possibilities for lunch and dinner, especially in the Bablom Restaurant. Fragrant truffles from Rome. Delicate blue berries from St. Petersburg. Cool mangos from Bangkok. Fresh Italian pastas, made to order with your favourite sauces. The possibilities and the menus - are limitless. An alternative to the more formal Royal garter and Fleur Delys restaurant, the Bablom Restaurant offers the same culinary excellence but in a more casual setting. And, as always, you have the option to dine when and where you prefer - including a table alfresco in the balmy sea breeze (Weather permitting).

Partners In L'Art Culinaire....... Consistently delectable. Endlessly inventive. Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines' cuisine is held in the highest regard due, in part, to their highly trained and experienced chefs.

It is a gastronomic collaboration of unprecedented proportion when some of the world's most prodigious culinary talents gather in their galleys. The resulting Le Cordon Bleu Signature Dishes are truly epicurean artistry.

As with the Black Watch the Black Prince has no less than 19 chefs aboard, and Fred. Olsen's chefs use only the finest ingredients, adding their renowned culinary skills to prepare food that's deliciously irresistible. Best of all, after every meal, the bill remains conspicuous by its absence!

A World of Possibilities Unfolds...... Whoever said that one day is much like another had clearly never sailed with Fred. Olsen Cruise Line. When you reach port, specially planned and meticulously arranged tours will show you all that is best and most beautiful and leave you rewarded, refreshed - and replete with lunch when appropriate. If you are feeling independent, Fred. Olsen Cruise Line provides advice and guides to help you discover the perfect restaurant, the hidden beach or the little-known out-of-the-way temple.

Wherever you are, whatever your inclination you'll find that - with one crew member to every two guests - their service is unobtrusively excellent throughout the ship. From the bar steward who fetches drinks poolside to the helpful staff at the ship's office, from the wine waiter who offers a string of affordable recommendations to the comedian who entertains you one night then beats you at tennis the next day, each and every member of your ship's complement shares a genuine desire to cosset you all around the world, and are all excellent ambassadors for their respective countries. When you cruise with Fred. Olsen, a whole world of exciting options awaits you. And, whatever you select from this palate of options, one thing is clear, your days with Fred. Olsen Cruise will be among the most varied, the most enthralling and the most rewarding of your life with the friendliest crew and passengers I have ever come across.

And so, another dawn, another day with perhaps a new country to explore, new friends to make, another sport or activity to try. Or just a new way to relax and do absolutely nothing at all, the Fred. Olsen way. This ship provides an excellent cruise experience for all discerning South Africans at a decent price, and there are no tannoy announcements during the day or night, except for the captain's noon day weather report. Fred. Olsen Cruise Line follows a strict policy code not to disturb the guests unnecessarily.

Black Prince - Fast Facts: Gross Tonnage: 11,209 Builder: Fender Werft Germany Original Cost: $20 million Christened by: Lady Doris Denny Entered Service: 1966 Interior Design: Platou Design Length: 470.4 ft Breadth: 66.6 ft Draft : 20.0 ft Propulsion: Diesel 12,310kW Propellers: 2 (CP) Decks: 7 Crew: 200 Pass.Capacity: 446 Outside Cabins: 168 Inside Cabins: 70 Wheelchair Cabins: 2 Cabin Current: 230AC Refrigerator: Upper grade cabins only Cabin TV: Yes Dining Rooms: 2 Sittings: 2 Elevators: 2 Casino: Yes Swimming Pools: 1 outside/1 inside Whirlpools: 2 Gymnasium: Yes Sauna: Yes Watersports facilities: Aft Marina Pool, zodiacs, windsurfers, waterski. Classification Society: Det Norske Veritas.

Well maintained ship run with family pride. Good indoor fitness centre. Life size chess game is fun. Features a popular 60ft hydraulic "marina park" and free float swimming pool surround that extends aft of the mother ship (only used in very calm waters)

The two main dining rooms (both non-smoking) have big picture windows. Food is of high quality. Communication with some of the Filipino waiters can prove frustrating. A solidly built ship, which was converted to a full time cruise ship in 1986. Well suited to the informal British market.

And all too soon the vacation comes to an end. A lot of people say that some cruise ships of this age are a bit long in the tooth, but perhaps one should consider that some teeth do have long roots, and this is fact, I now know why so many British passengers come back time and time again to cruise on the Black Prince, she is an extremely friendly and well-maintained ship, it's like cruising on a private yacht where all the passengers belong to an exclusive club, the only difference being that outsiders are more than welcome to join them. Although she may be small in comparison to the mega-liners of the day, she is therefore able to offer a wider range of ports to her passengers, and in doing so one can journey into and out of the world's most captivating places Fred. Olsen Cruise Line offers you the opportunity to travel with them for months at a time on a journey as unique as the lands it touches.

Now let the journey begin.

Garry Seach Editor/Publisher Anchors Aweigh Publication aweigh@mweb.co.za

Recommended Articles