Making it Easy to Travel the World: While only unpacking your suitcase once!
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines may have celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, but its history stems back further than that. The company was set up by brothers Fredrik Christian, Petter and Andreas Olsen in 1848, when they bought their first ships while living in Hvitsten, Norway.
Five generations later and, as the only cruise operator based in the region, it has become a leading UK cruise line, with Fred. Olsen Junior as company chairman.
Operating from five regional UK departure ports, Dover, Southampton, Newcastle, Liverpool and Edinburgh (Rosyth) – and with a packed fly-cruise programme, Fred. Olsen will take guests to no fewer than 277 destinations in 90 countries in 2020/21.
Over its 30-year history, the company has developed a loyal and steadfast customer base with over half of its guests having cruised with them previously.
Combine this with 29 percent* of cruisers giving itinerary as the most important factor when booking a cruise, and it is easy to see why one of the most challenging and arguably most important functions carried out is planning the route each ship will take and the places they will visit.
For the last 13 years, Martin Lister, Head of Itinerary Planning and Destination Experience, has been involved in the planning process at Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, and over that time has gained an instinct for what makes a really good itinerary.
“The best cruise itineraries not only balance port and sea days but allow guests to experience the destination in a real and authentic way. At Fred. Olsen, we pride ourselves on bringing the world closer to our guests, and one way in which we do that is by offering shore excursions that truly immerse them into the destination they are visiting.
“In my opinion, a good cruise itinerary, not only manages to balance port and sea days, but offers something of ‘added value’, such as an event in one of the ports or some really fantastic scenic cruising. We give each of our cruises a concept or a theme to ‘tell a story’. This is then enhanced through our excursion programme, with tours allowing guests not only to see points of interest, but to really experience them.
“For example, our recent ‘Authentic Andalusia’ cruise that set sail from Southampton at the beginning of April offered immersive, cultural experiences in each port of call, from sampling tapas and sherry in the Jerez region of Cádiz, where they originated, to sailing right into the heart of Seville in time for the Feria de Abril (April Fair). Guests even had the chance to celebrate with the locals in a private caseta!”
However, the process of organising a cruise is a lengthy one, with some itineraries having to be confirmed many years in advance, said Martin. “There are many things that need to be considered when producing an itinerary and the planning really affects everyone working for, and involved with,
“We have very positive relationships with our port and destination partners across the world, which helps us in planning varied and new itineraries; however, we do face challenges. When we are putting together cruises, there are many things that we must consider, such as tidal restrictions, pilot requirements, docking allocations, managing speeds and schedules, the ability to re-stock the ships in ports around the world, destination experience and local immigration procedures – and this is just naming a few!”
This sounds a massive task for just one ship, but Fred. Olsen operates four – Balmoral, Braemar, Boudicca and Black Watch – across its ocean fleet, plus its river ship Brabant, which was introduced in 2018. Since the second Fred. Olsen in 1896 named a new steamship he purchased Bayard, it has been a family tradition that the ships should have names beginning with ‘B’.
Martin continued: “Running four cruise ships is a huge operation and it’s important when planning itineraries that all internal departments are considered, as well as onboard staff and, of course, our guests. We start each new season with a completely blank canvas. With our ex-UK cruises, we do not operate ‘track’ itineraries, meaning that we are not repeating the same route over and over again. We are writing the overall schedule and each individual cruise from scratch every year.
“At the end of the day, our business is cruising, and we are only successful if we offer the experiences our guests want. That is why another very important aspect of our decision to get the ship to visit a certain port or country, is the valuable feedback we get from our guests and agents.”
In December, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines was named ‘Best for Itineraries’ and ‘Best for Shore Excursions’ in Cruise Critic’s UK Editors’ Picks Awards 2018 and Martin is immensely proud of the role he plays in creating some of the most innovative cruises on the market.
“Our ‘Uncrowded Baltic’ cruises do exactly what they say on the tin,” he said. “We know that our guests love to explore destinations at a more relaxed pace, so we take them to enjoy the beautiful Baltic at times when there are typically fewer tourists, allowing them to experience the destinations in a completely different way. In late September and early October, when we visit, there are around 50 percent less tourists than in peak season.
“In fact, our 2018 ‘Uncrowded Baltic’ itineraries achieved the highest tour satisfaction ratings of the year. We have some exceptional experiences available in the Baltic. For example, we don’t just take guests for a tour around the Spilled Blood Church in St. Petersburg, we give them the opportunity to meet a local artist and capture their memories of the Church in a mosaic to take home.
“Of course, many of those visiting St Petersburg want to watch the ballet. We go that extra mile by also giving guests the opportunity to go backstage afterwards to meet with and talk to one of the dancers.”
This year, Fred. Olsen is set to break a world record when its 196-metre ship Braemar becomes the longest ship ever to traverse the Corinth Canal, a sailing which Martin has been instrumental in creating.
“This is set to be a momentous sailing, not least because it will be a milestone in our own company history. We knew we wanted as many guests as possible to be able to experience this with us, so we will be repeating the sailing in April 2021.
“Guests aboard Braemar will be so close to the edges of the canal that they could almost touch the rock faces, so we know it is a trip that will remain fondly in their memories.
“At Fred. Olsen, we want to create memories to last a lifetime, and these extra touches really help us to achieve that.”
In March, Fred. Olsen unveiled its exciting programme of 2020/21 itineraries, and next year its ships will sail across six continents, covering 104 areas of scenic cruising, on 170 different itineraries. However, Martin admitted that one of his favourite ports was one not too far from home.
“My favourite port of call is Seville. The city is beautiful and has something for everyone. As well as the burial site of Christopher Columbus, it has stunning architecture, Flamenco, great gastronomy, pretty orange trees lining the streets and a very impressive Gothic cathedral, which is the largest in the world.
“As our ships are smaller and have shallower drafts than many of the larger lines, this means we can dock much closer to the heart of the towns and cities we visit. Seville is a key place where we can take guests closer, by sailing right up the tidally-restricted Guadalquivir River right into the heart of the city.
“There is this theory that cruises are only for retired people who have time on their hands. Although this is true for our Grand Voyages, we also have some fantastic five-night options that are great taster cruises for people of any age. A five-night cruise with us is great, as it is the shortest duration you can take while still experiencing the ‘Fred. Olsen experience’, along with scenic cruising and a great on-board experience. Depending on where you sail from, you can visit the stunning fjords of Norway, sail the River Seine in France and visit the beautiful Scottish Isles with us in just five-nights.
In addition, we have really invested in our fly-cruise offering in recent years, which means guests can visit exotic destinations such as the Caribbean, Indian Ocean islands and South Africa in a two-week holiday.”
Martin Lister is Head of Itinerary Planning and Destination Experience. For further information on Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, visit the website at
Book online, call Reservations on 0800 0355 242 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm; Saturday, 9am to 5pm; Sunday, 10am to 4pm), or visit an ABTA travel agent.