Fred Olsen Lines Black Prince by Steve Lee Western Europe March 8, 2005
We had cruised before with P&O, Princess, and Cunard; this was our first trip with Fred Olsen Lines, based in Ipswich, U.K.
The Black Prince is a very small ship, about 11,000 tons. She is a former car ferry, built in the 1960s and converted into a cruise ship a long time ago. Other reviews I read described her as one of the friendliest ships afloat. The cruise was also very inexpensive compared to most others.
The decor and staff were in the main very pleasant. The small number of passengers indeed made it easy to meet people and make friends.
All the good points, however, were dwarfed by the way the Captain drove the ship forward into force-9 conditions for four days across the Irish Sea and the Bay of Biscay to Madeira (from Dublin). It was a nightmare, and quite frightening. I made the same sort of journey on a much bigger ship, and the captain slowed the vessel down and put out stabilizers. Not so with this captain.
More than half the cabin doors on the ship were displaying fluorescent ‘Do Not Disturb' signs for three days. You would wake up in the night, if you could get to sleep, knowing that you were at the top of a roller coaster ride; three huge drops later there would be a huge bang as the ship belly-flopped on the waves. The whole ship would shudder and shake, and then it would start all over again.
Many passengers on this cruise were elderly, and many were understandably put off cruising altogether.
Things improved once we got to Madeira; in fact, we were very lucky that things were reasonably calm throughout the Canary Island stops, and all the way back to Spain, La Coruna, and Liverpool, U.K. Some people actually flew home from Lanzarote, our last port in the Canaries before attempting the return journey across the Bay of Biscay -- such was their fear of repeating the rough journey down.
Overall, this can be a nice, intimate, friendly little cruise ship, but it is not one I would use again on either the Canary Island cruise route or the Baltic, which are two of its regular routes.
Cabins are quite small, with bunks or fixed side beds. Double berths are few and far between. The engine vibration is constant, with a three second gap between sets of vibrations.
The indoor pool and gym area were adequate, but the two running machines had all their programming facilities disabled, so I could only set basic time or distance. There is no wraparound promenade deck.
The food appeared very good, and was always well presented and well laid out. The soups were superb! I was on a low-fat diet, so I cannot really comment in any detail, but it all seemed very nice and was presented very well.
I did, however, get violently ill after one turkey meal, and I was very wary about the food after that. This was not due to the bad weather, which had passed by then, but it might have been a bug. I have been around the world on a cruise ship and have never been ill like this; I always relied on the ship's food, rather than local food. I guess I was just very lucky in the past.
I am not one to be impressed by the entertainment on most ships, so I cannot give any real insight in that area. Others at our table described it as "Butlin's afloat" and not a patch on Airtours or Thompson's, so that might tell you something. There were painting classes, dancing classes, deck games, bingo, and quizzes aplenty. The Entertainments team, rather than the theatre company, tried hard to involve people. We certainly enjoyed a lot of these activities. The show put on by the crew from all over the world in their national costumes was superb -- a spectacular not to be missed.
Shore excursions were few and far between, and several were canceled. The library had lots of books but no audio books or CDs, which I usually rely on aboard cruise ships while I exercise, either around the deck or on a machine. The lack of these, and the absence of a promenade around the deck, meant I faced hours of boredom on the exercise machines.
The spa staff was very friendly and offered lots of treatments and facilities. We did not use them, so I cannot really comment further.
To sum up, we had a break over Easter and saw some sun, but I could not in all truth recommend this cruise to others. The final excitement of the trip was when an elderly sick passenger and his poor wife had to be airlifted off the ship by helicopter as we approached the U.K. The Captain finally broke his usual vow of silence to inform the ship about this at least, and about a problem with the ship's clutch that had briefly filled the engine room and the indoor swimming pool area with smoke.
The Captain liked to say at the end of his very brief statements (he never kept his promise to keep passengers up to date with information about the weather, etc.), "This has been another successful Fred Olsen production." I am not sure I would want to be on an unsuccessful one.