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Fred's Gone?


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3 hours ago, twotravellersLondon said:

Fred's gone. So what will happen to FOCLs? Goodness only knows... the figures don't look good... the inability to attract and retain passengers has been a long-term problem for over a decade. We really don't think that a tweak here and there will make any real difference. on top of everything else... company reports show that there had been an increase in cancellations ... in addition to some other concerns... in the early summer. 

 

However, the parent company, Bonheur, owns/controls a dozen very significant windfarms in the UK supplying hundreds of thousand of home with electricity that's sells for more and more... so there are big pockets there. 

 

But are they willing to "throw good money after bad?"  (i'm not saying Fred's product is bad).  Cruise for Bonheur is not a core product and is a bit anomalous in a wind energy and renewables business, so my fear is that with Fred gone, as the biggest proponent for cruise within Bonheur, what appetite is there for a cruise business that isn't making any money? 

 

As other cruise lines are cutting Covid restrictions and reporting big surges in bookings Fred are cancelling cruises and will be operating just one ship for a period.  According to the latest financial report, it is costs 8 million NOK a quarter to have Braemar laid up.  As I look it the MarineTraffic app, I can still see the Balmoral still in the A&P yard on the Tyne.  These drags on the bottom line aren't going away and it is all rather worriesome.  The company needs a good dose of luck right now.

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On 9/5/2022 at 3:54 PM, ovccruiser said:

the Avonmouth "cruise terminal" was in fact the warehouse used for fruit and veg and our great local authority was not willing to improve the facilities. I cruised out of Avonmouth on a 28 day cruise to Venice, it was a fabulous cruise and would have done it again had the local authority had the foresight to spend a little money to bring regular cruising to Bristol.

 

 

Many thanks for your interesting information. I know Bristol well. I was attached to the Council there in the late 70s... long before the business with Avonmouth... so I'm definitely not to blame!

 

The regional departures were like a well-known yeast extract... loved by some and not by others. They had been introduced, we suspect, to grab a greater market share. In 2012 FOCLs were using Southampton, Dover, Newcastle, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Rosyth, and Greenock. By 2013, Harwich, Belfast and Dublin had been added. By the end of 2014 FOCLs regarded the 10 regional ports as strategically important. But some just didn't generate the income and were soon dropped. That was perhaps because the infrastructure to support cruisers travelling to these ports; coaches, luggage in advance and a taxi service... just wasn't available.

 

On 9/5/2022 at 5:42 PM, richard_london said:

 

But are they willing to "throw good money after bad?"  (i'm not saying Fred's product is bad).  Cruise for Bonheur is not a core product and is a bit anomalous in a wind energy and renewables business, so my fear is that with Fred gone, as the biggest proponent for cruise within Bonheur, what appetite is there for a cruise business that isn't making any money? 

 

As other cruise lines are cutting Covid restrictions and reporting big surges in bookings Fred are cancelling cruises and will be operating just one ship for a period.  According to the latest financial report, it is costs 8 million NOK a quarter to have Braemar laid up.  As I look it the MarineTraffic app, I can still see the Balmoral still in the A&P yard on the Tyne.  These drags on the bottom line aren't going away and it is all rather worriesome.  The company needs a good dose of luck right now.

 

To try and understand FOCLs' more recent vison and strategy, it's very interesting to look back at the comments of the FOCLs managing director. In September/October 2020 he was describing the Bolette and the Borealis as "fabulous" and waxing lyrical about what he saw as a 4 to 4½ stars "slightly premium" offer that the company could make using these ships... (clearly he thought they were better than the other ships in the fleet and that FOCLs could sell cruises on them at a higher price.) He was looking at these old HAL ships as a great opportunity to grow the FOCLs business and to attract higher numbers of passengers. There was a hint that prices would be higher for the "premium option of cabins with balconies" and suchlike on the revamped HAL ships... but there was also a suggestion that the increase wouldn't be as much as 20%. 

 

Two years later, the reality is that the Braemar has already been out of action for a couple of years. It's possible that FOCLs opted for a "cold-lay-up" to save money. If that was the case, as much of the ship would have been closed down as possible along with most of the mechanical systems...  with just the bare essentials left on to preserve the ship. The aircon might have been left on to keep the humidity down or rooms might be sealed. The number of staff on board would have been reduced to a skeleton crew that could deal with an emergency. Getting a ship back from cold-lay-up is expensive and can be quite difficult because the ship and lots of its equipment needs to be recertified and that involves not only FOCLs but also the Bahamas, the UK Maritime Authorities and others. It could take a month or more. For instance the Balmoral returned to cruising in early May but the mobilisation began in Jan/Feb/March.

 

The Bolette is planned to go into a warm-lay-up for two months. It should only take a week or so to have her up and running before the Christmas cruise. However it will cost more per month to lay up than the Balmoral or the Braemar. The Bolette will still have the majority of the crew on board and berthing charges are likely to be greater because they're based on tonnage. In addition, according to the trade press, FOCLs is going to have to pay travel agents the commission on the cruises that they sold despite those cruises now being cancelled.

 

Traditionally, many cruise lines have made a loss on cruise sales... the goal over recent years has been to aim for market share in a pretty aggressive price comparison market and then turn a profit on onboard sales... that's been the strategy of Carnival that controls 47% of the global cruise market for ages. 

 

The pre-covid FOCLs published accounts suggest that, when everything was added together, the company was only making on average a few quid per day per cruiser. The 2019 FOCLs' profit was just over £2 million (the lowest in five years) on a turnover of well over £200 million. 

 

With FOCLs the bottom line is always... interesting to try and fathom... the company pays other companies in the same group; for the use of the offices in Ipswich, for the charter of "Fred's" ships and all manner of other things. So even if FOCLs made a paper "loss" the total financial benefit to Bonheur as the "ultimate parent company" via a labyrinth of other associate companies might well be different.

 

However on face value... It looks as if cruiser numbers have dropped, FOCLs may have been increasing left with a higher proportion of pretty savvy cruisers who have a very sharp eye on their spending. Many of these folk make use of offers, take the least expensive cabins, keep their onboard spend on things like drinks, excursions, WIFI and suchlike as low as possible. We have friends who cruise that way. They drink tap-water, explore independently and they also remove gratuities so that they have virtually no additional charges by the end of the cruise. They've tended to cruise at rock bottom prices five or six times a year... at less than it costs FOCLs to provide them with the cruise. Of course, if lots of people book with the same idea... cruise lines can make very big losses.

 

The latest figures published on the Norwegian Stock Exchange show that FOCLs have been making a significant loss in the first half of this year and it may well be that as the FOCLs managing director hinted in his recent statement that the company would lose a significant amount of money if the Bolette was to cruise this autumn. It may cost less to just put the ship into warm-lay-up.

 

It would seem that... Bonheur is not willing to throw good money after bad and will cut FOCLs losses were it can.

 

Now that Fred Jun. has gone, the profoundly important questions are... will "Fred's" traditionally loyal following... who between them we recon, contributed somewhere about £1 billion to the company's coffers in the ten years before covid, now be willing to pay more to cruise on ships that FOCLs rate as between 4 and 4½ stars when, on Cruise Critic review site, hundreds of experienced cruisers, many probably FOCLs loyalty members, have only rated as between 3 and 3½ stars? 

 

And... given the delay of the return of the Braemar by a year, with everything that entailed and the cancellation of the Bolette's cruises for a couple of months this autumn, will enough of "Fred's'" traditionally loyal following still have the confidence and the trust to book with FOCLs in the future?

 

We find that it really is sad that Fred's gone and FOCLs has lost the face of the brand. When he left in early July nothing was said, nothing was announced, there was no celebration with champers outside Fred Olsen house in Ipswich and no publicity which might have been used to enhance sales and marketing. Fred was the cruise line in many ways... we remember his famous comment, "It's my name on the door." At the end of last year, once cruising had resumed and while passengers were aboard, Fred Jun was personally supervising the final touches on board one of his ships and showing his family around. Nobody is irreplaceable and people do choose to move on at different life stages... but we really do believe... that to fill those 5,000 berths, make those ships buzz with excitement, offer more competitive prices, improve the food and to enhance the entertainment... FOCLs must, as in the "Good Old Days," make sure that it's ships are cruising full or nearly full.

 

Perhaps a  welcoming, charismatic leader... a friendly face of FOCLs to create a new interest and to inspire confidence and trust might be what's urgently needed.

 

 IMG_5214.thumb.JPG.fcc1ffb0b89b61b765fcd4e857297de7.JPG

 

The "Good old Days" when hundreds of people on a virtually full ship queued to fill the packed main restaurant for the much-anticipated midnight Gala Buffet... as the staff called with a degree of fun, "Move along now please!"

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  • 2 months later...

The Q3 Bonheur report is out and it doesn't seem to paint a positive picture.  It says Q3 occupancy was 73% (https://www.bonheur.no/quarterly-reports2).  In Q1 occupancy was 47%, in Q2 was 73%.  So, no improvement in what should have been their peak quarter (I imagine) for cruises given it covered the summer?

 

The report also says "Furthermore, some cruises during the quarter experienced lower than expected occupancy due to last minute cancellations and transfers because of guest concerns with rising cases of COVID in the UK"

 

The worrying thing is that all the financial figures except operating revenues are worse numbers and it says there is large impairment included, due "to the asset value of the two older cruise ships".

 

So it doesn't seem to be an improving position, and no news on a replacement for Fred Jr.

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On 11/8/2022 at 11:17 AM, richard_london said:

The Q3 Bonheur report is out and it doesn't seem to paint a positive picture.  It says Q3 occupancy was 73% (https://www.bonheur.no/quarterly-reports2).  In Q1 occupancy was 47%, in Q2 was 73%.  So, no improvement in what should have been their peak quarter (I imagine) for cruises given it covered the summer?

 

The report also says "Furthermore, some cruises during the quarter experienced lower than expected occupancy due to last minute cancellations and transfers because of guest concerns with rising cases of COVID in the UK"

 

The worrying thing is that all the financial figures except operating revenues are worse numbers and it says there is large impairment included, due "to the asset value of the two older cruise ships".

 

So it doesn't seem to be an improving position, and no news on a replacement for Fred Jr.

 

 

It's very worrying the Bonheur ASA accounts mention that many people were cancelling cruises with FOCLs at the last minute because of "guest concerns with rising cases of covid in the UK" when, in fact, all of the UK covid indicators fell throughout July, August and most of September. 

 

When the facts don't seem to support the claim... it can damage creditability. That's especially true when other cruise lines were running at higher occupancy rate and some ships were virtually full. 

 

The FOCLs published occupancy rate of 73% is actually much lower when the Braemar is taken into account.

 

Although FOCLs blame everything from a difficult market situation, to exchange rates, to fuel costs, to operational expenses, to the Ukraine... every cruise-line is facing exactly the same challenges but it's FOCLs that are in a far worse situation in 2022 than they were in 2019.

 

Unless my trusty slide-rule and my scribbling on the back on an old envelope are wrong...

 

The number of FOCLs passenger days are well down compared to three years ago and the average spend per day by cruisers is also lower than it was in 2019. FOCLs revenues for the July-September quarter of 2022 would also seem to be well down on what they were in 2019... a reasonable profit of about £8 million in the three months of the summer quarter of 2019, when Fred Jun was in charge, is now a loss of about £47 million in the same quarter of 2022 and the company is left with the accountants. It really looks like FOCLs is losing money hand over fist: It's carrying the vast majority of cruisers at less than cost price. FOCLs is losing sack-fulls of cash.

 

Result? Under Fred Jun. in Q3 2019 the company had no debt. Now in Q3 2022 with no Chairman FOCLs owes about £100,000,000. 

 

Many other cruise-companies face the same challenges but seem to be weathering the storm far more successfully. They are keeping most of their loyal customers on board... both metaphorically and literally. But FOCLs has chosen to paddle on without a Chairman... it's like expecting a cruise-ship to weather mountainous seas and hurricane-force winds without a captain! 

 

Perhaps the management in Ipswich, the holding company in London, the holding company's holding company in Norway, the ultimate owners in Oslo or any of the other companies in the labyrinthine Olsen chain need to face the reality... that the "Olsen Way" has been a turn-off for customers, a disaster for the business and that FOCLs is rapidly losing the trust, confidence and patience of many who still have fond memories of what once was.

 

What FOCLs needs to do is exactly the same as Fred Jun used to do... to provide good-value cruises with good food and great entertainment to fill his ships on an honest, value-for money rate without all of these additional charges. When "Fred" did that, all of his ships were in operation, they sailed full, customers were happy, future cruise sales boomed, the company had a great reputation and it didn't make huge losses.

 

Fred's Happy Cruisers in the Good Old days...

 

DSC_2899.thumb.JPG.42f6b876fa4e2851caf910f409e2bfc5.JPG

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1 hour ago, twotravellersLondon said:

 

 

It's very worrying the Bonheur ASA accounts mention that many people were cancelling cruises with FOCLs at the last minute because of "guest concerns with rising cases of covid in the UK" when, in fact, all of the UK covid indicators fell throughout July, August and most of September. 

 

When the facts don't seem to support the claim... it can damage creditability. That's especially true when other cruise lines were running at higher occupancy rate and some ships were virtually full. 

 

The FOCLs published occupancy rate of 73% is actually much lower when the Braemar is taken into account.

 

Although FOCLs blame everything from a difficult market situation, to exchange rates, to fuel costs, to operational expenses, to the Ukraine... every cruise-line is facing exactly the same challenges but it's FOCLs that are in a far worse situation in 2022 than they were in 2019.

 

Unless my trusty slide-rule and my scribbling on the back on an old envelope are wrong...

 

The number of FOCLs passenger days are well down compared to three years ago and the average spend per day by cruisers is also lower than it was in 2019. FOCLs revenues for the July-September quarter of 2022 would also seem to be well down on what they were in 2019... a reasonable profit of about £8 million in the three months of the summer quarter of 2019, when Fred Jun was in charge, is now a loss of about £47 million in the same quarter of 2022 and the company is left with the accountants. It really looks like FOCLs is losing money hand over fist: It's carrying the vast majority of cruisers at less than cost price. FOCLs is losing sack-fulls of cash.

 

Result? Under Fred Jun. in Q3 2019 the company had no debt. Now in Q3 2022 with no Chairman FOCLs owes about £100,000,000. 

 

Many other cruise-companies face the same challenges but seem to be weathering the storm far more successfully. They are keeping most of their loyal customers on board... both metaphorically and literally. But FOCLs has chosen to paddle on without a Chairman... it's like expecting a cruise-ship to weather mountainous seas and hurricane-force winds without a captain! 

 

Perhaps the management in Ipswich, the holding company in London, the holding company's holding company in Norway, the ultimate owners in Oslo or any of the other companies in the labyrinthine Olsen chain need to face the reality... that the "Olsen Way" has been a turn-off for customers, a disaster for the business and that FOCLs is rapidly losing the trust, confidence and patience of many who still have fond memories of what once was.

 

What FOCLs needs to do is exactly the same as Fred Jun used to do... to provide good-value cruises with good food and great entertainment to fill his ships on an honest, value-for money rate without all of these additional charges. When "Fred" did that, all of his ships were in operation, they sailed full, customers were happy, future cruise sales boomed, the company had a great reputation and it didn't make huge losses.

 

Fred's Happy Cruisers in the Good Old days...

 

DSC_2899.thumb.JPG.42f6b876fa4e2851caf910f409e2bfc5.JPG

Spot on. 

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Thanks for your insight and analysis.  They are always interesting to read.

 

Yesterday's "Indulge in a suite" email is sticking with the "Olsen Way", pre-fixing it with "Cruise in luxury".  I do like Fred and the two older ships but they aren't luxury and just putting up your prices and then for the posh cabins adding the "Suite Dreams package" doesn't cut the mustard.  I fear at some point the parent company, without Fred Jr, will just decide enough is enough and shut the business down.  The UK cruise market would be the worse for that, but those level of losses are staggering and unsustainable for such a small company.  When the large companies, such a Carnival Cruises and Royal Carribean (the brands, not the groups) are reporting great sales with relaxing Covid protocols, Fred are reporting Covid is still impacting the bottom line through cancellations.  As you say, things don't add up.  Fred might be hanging on to its loyal customers, but it doesn't seem to be attracting any new ones.  I maintain a passing interest in their itineraries, and if something really appealing came up, I would bite the bullet, but at current prices it's a no from me, especially with cost of living and inflation the way it is.  It's all very sad.

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They seem to be spending a fair amount of money on marketing. I have been bombarded in the last few weeks with emails and snail mail drops. 
 

The latest is offering 10% off but as lately there has been nearer 30% off on last minute bookings I’m not tempted. They are also sending these offers on a cruise I have already booked so also slightly annoying.

 

 

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News story on the refit for the Borealis, according to the article costing £5.8m.

 

https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/cammell-laird-upgrade-means-cruise-25426596

 

They need to maintain her,  but given Fred can't fill her to capacity when she is sailing and taking her out of service means zero income from her during that time, it's just more expense that the company seemingly won't be able to recover. 

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  • 3 months later...
On 11/8/2022 at 11:17 AM, richard_london said:

The Q3 Bonheur report is out and it doesn't seem to paint a positive picture.  It says Q3 occupancy was 73% (https://www.bonheur.no/quarterly-reports2).  In Q1 occupancy was 47%, in Q2 was 73%.  So, no improvement in what should have been their peak quarter (I imagine) for cruises given it covered the summer?

 

The report also says "Furthermore, some cruises during the quarter experienced lower than expected occupancy due to last minute cancellations and transfers because of guest concerns with rising cases of COVID in the UK"

 

The worrying thing is that all the financial figures except operating revenues are worse numbers and it says there is large impairment included, due "to the asset value of the two older cruise ships".

 

So it doesn't seem to be an improving position, and no news on a replacement for Fred Jr.

 

When FOCLs give occupancy figures it only includes the available berths... so if a ship is take out for a couple of months because FOCLs can't find enough passengers... those berths are removed from the calculation.

 

The full year figures released today are"interesting."

 

It was about this time last year, in February 2022, that FOCLs was reported in the trade press as having seen bumper January sales and a return to pre-pandemic levels. Peter Deer, M.D. at FOCLs, was reported as saying: “The New Year has brought with it a fresh wave of optimism for overseas travel... “This is a really great start to the year, and we are looking forward to a successful season of cruising as we sail into the summer months and beyond.” 

 

However, the final figures for 2022 (converted from NOK to £s) show their own story. At the end of 2019 FOCLs had a revenue of a little over £200 million but at the end of 2022 this had fallen to only £155 million. The annual net profit has fallen from £3.1 million in 2019 to a loss of £88 million at the end of 2022. The one thing that has increased is FOCLs' debt... at the end of 2019 the company had none, by the end of 2020 the company had s debt of over £40 million, which increased to over 80 million by the end of 2021 and now stands at over £127 million at the end of £2002.

 

At the beginning of 2022, the fleet capacity was 4,947 but with the intended sale of the Braemar leaving only the Bolette, the Borealis and the Balmoral the combined capacity at the end of 2022 was only 4,023... a year-on-year reduction of 19%. For a company that only made about £1.3 million a year on average in the five years prior to the pandemic and has lost about £80,000,000 to £100,000,000 every year since... a huge debt of almost £130,000,000 seems to gobsmackingly large.

 

The good news is probably that... in a recent press release dated 2 February 2023, Peter Deer, M.D. at FOCLs, said: “We have seen a phenomenal start to the year, with bookings – including those trying our brand for the first time – exceeding those in our last pre-pandemic year in 2019." ... the line’s most successful January on record – with more guests than ever choosing to book with the family-run company than ever before.

 

The bad news is probably that FOCLs have still to pay HAL for the old Amsterdam and Rotterdam (now renamed as Bolette and Borealis.) For instance FOCLs bought the Rotterdam/Borealis from Holland America in mid 2020 and the ship was delivered to FOCLs in September 2020. It cost FOCLs £11,164,274.30 but FOCLs obtained a mortgage for the same amount from HAL. No repayment is due until the 3rd anniversary of the delivery date... so September 2023. The first instalment is £3,721,424.77... and there is also interest at 2.5%. And of course, it's a very similar story with the Amsterdam/Bolette. So that's well over £7 million due in repayments this autumn, again next autumn and yet again the year after that.

 

So you're absolutely right: it doesn't look like and improving position and Fred. Jun hasn't been replaced either. So where's it all gone wrong for the much beloved "Fred" that used to have hundreds of thousands of loyal fans many of whom would cruise with the company again and again several times a year? It really seems that there is just not the same degree of loyalty to FOCLs current offering as there was to Fred's wonderful cruises.

 

 

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Very interesting reading. I will be very surprised if this Cruise line is still operating in a years time. We were on the Balmoral last May and it was dreadful, so bad they flew the senior management on board the ship, there were lots and lots of issues from appalingly poorly trained staff, the pool that was closed for most of the sixteen night cruise as it was leaking, running out of lots of the drinks, the first night they were still serving the second sitting after eleven PM and many more issues. Everyone on the Cruise received an apology and 25% of the money they had paid towards a future Cruise. We are taking ours on a short ten night cruise in May, hope they are still in business, I am even very annoyed at this next ( and probably last with FO ) as they reduced the price of the Cruise by £400 pp after we booked and they refuse to apply this to our booking, so much for early booking and customer loyalty, they did offer an "upgrade" but this has not been forthcoming as yet - I do not have much faith in them honouring this either. We went on a SAGA Cruise over Christmas and New Year and I urge all the Fred Olsen regulars to jump ship. What a difference, light years better all round, food, quality of drinks, entertainment, all balcony staterooms, free wi fi, included excursions, and tipping and of course brand new ships not old rusty honks and included travel to the ships from many parts of the country.

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2 minutes ago, ARDXXX said:

Very interesting reading. I will be very surprised if this Cruise line is still operating in a years time. We were on the Balmoral last May and it was dreadful, so bad they flew the senior management on board the ship, there were lots and lots of issues from appalingly poorly trained staff, the pool that was closed for most of the sixteen night cruise as it was leaking, running out of lots of the drinks, the first night they were still serving the second sitting after eleven PM and many more issues. Everyone on the Cruise received an apology and 25% of the money they had paid towards a future Cruise. We are taking ours on a short ten night cruise in May, hope they are still in business, I am even very annoyed at this next ( and probably last with FO ) as they reduced the price of the Cruise by £400 pp after we booked and they refuse to apply this to our booking, so much for early booking and customer loyalty, they did offer an "upgrade" but this has not been forthcoming as yet - I do not have much faith in them honouring this either. We went on a SAGA Cruise over Christmas and New Year and I urge all the Fred Olsen regulars to jump ship. What a difference, light years better all round, food, quality of drinks, entertainment, all balcony staterooms, free wi fi, included excursions, and tipping and of course brand new ships not old rusty honks and included travel to the ships from many parts of the country.

Agree - Shame as Fred used to be good.

We liked the adults only itineraries and the staff were really good and the pricing was more consistent.

 

We stopped when the adults only itineraries were no longer offered and the prices went berserk.

 

We went on Saga last year and agree with you - it was superb in every way.

 

Best put out of its misery I think.

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1 hour ago, paulatsea said:

Best put out of its misery I think.

I’m not a Fred loyalist by any means, I travel with several lines. I would not however wish to see them fail.
 

What I would say is that they are the only show in town in the north of England and Scotland for local departures. That’s why they get away with charging eye watering prices for these departures. More from Rosyth than Southampton when the ship is going north for both!

 

SAGA like most of the rest of the cruise lines leaves from the south of England and does not offer their door to door to anyone too far north. A car park does cut it. 
 

At the moment my husband and I can manage the very long journey south, in a few years who knows if that will be possible. Fred is now not a great option but at least it is an option.

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On 2/17/2023 at 1:17 PM, twotravellersLondon said:

When FOCLs give occupancy figures it only includes the available berths... so if a ship is take out for a couple of months because FOCLs can't find enough passengers... those berths are removed from the calculation.

 

Thanks for your helpful assessment of the latest report as always.  

 

Looking at occupany over the year, Q1 was 47 per cent with Bolette and Borealis only, Q2 was 73 per cent with Balmoral back then Q3 and Q4 were 73 per cent and 64 per cent.  Not encouraging unfortunately. 

 

I was suprised to read in the report it said "Borealis was 16 days in dry-dock, Bolette 56 days in lay-up and Braemar was 92 days in lay-up".  We know Braemar wasn't used at all so 16 and 56 is 72 days, so not far off equating to one ship out of service for the quarter. 

I didn't find the outlook positive.  After all, previous reports have trumpeted "great" sales figures yet the occupancy rates tell a different story. 

 

So given what you said about vessels out of use not figuring in the occupancy figures the figures are 64 per cent of two ships, not three?  That's not many passengers sadly. 

 

Still think dropping the Braemar is a big mistake.  The Corinth Canal transits were a differentiator for the brand, now the itineraries are nothing exceptional, especially with the current pricing model. 

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On 2/18/2023 at 1:13 PM, Eglesbrech said:

I’m not a Fred loyalist by any means, I travel with several lines. I would not however wish to see them fail.
 

What I would say is that they are the only show in town in the north of England and Scotland for local departures. That’s why they get away with charging eye watering prices for these departures. More from Rosyth than Southampton when the ship is going north for both!

 

SAGA like most of the rest of the cruise lines leaves from the south of England and does not offer their door to door to anyone too far north. A car park does cut it. 
 

At the moment my husband and I can manage the very long journey south, in a few years who knows if that will be possible. Fred is now not a great option but at least it is an option.

 

Our thoughts entirely.  The regional departures must be the better business for Fred as there are always smaller discounts for those cruises compared to the south coast departures, which is logical considering the competition down there. 

 

Yes, the new Ambassador ship is scheduled to do a few departures from a number of regional ports, albeit with very run of the mill itineraries, but we have tried Ambassador and will not be repeating that experience.  Price is not an advantage if the cruise experience is so bad as with Ambassador imo, but all a choice for individuals.  The overall idea of Saga offering certain extras for higher prices could be an advantage for some, but not for us as the perks included are of no use to us.  We live beyond the range for free transfers and also have no interest whatsoever at leaving home at some unearthly hour to start our holiday totally k*****"d, when we could enjoy a night in a hotel near a departure point and be well rested, sometimes with a few days extra to extend our holiday - we had a great time in the NE before a Newcastle departure last summer.  P&O have started asking higher prices, but adding a large obc, which is far better as we can then choose to spend it on things which are of use to us, but their itineraries and bigger ships have great limitations for us despite lower prices, though some Aurora cruises have been of interest to us recently, we have enjoyed one already. 

 

The only Fred cruise we have booked is Christmas from Liverpool which includes New Year fireworks in Funchal, a couple of other late nights at a time when Christmas lights in ports are a big attraction to us and La Gomera, a favourite port of ours.  Yes pricy, but a similar Arcadia cruise is much the same price at Xmas as it is an expensive time anywhere. The real crunch for us though was the local departure, which removes the need to drive at that time of year when weather and traffic can be a problem, as well as the cost of travel, hotel and parking if we drove south or even took public transport. Sadly I forgot about my Blue light Card, so missed the extra 5% discount we could have had as well as the drinks package and 5% loyalty discount which we have for that cruise.  A number of member discounts are given by Fred, e.g. U3A, WI, so always worth checking with Fred if a member of a group, but overall I do agree clearer pricing could be a much better way forward for the company as many people suggest.  If Fred does not continue (and that is clearly a very real possibility), he will follow the first three preferences we had for cruise lines, with only the mid sized P&O ships and Azamara in the frame for us for standard cruises, though the odd highly expensive expedition cruise or two may well be on the table - buyt that is a very different holiday atogether. 

 

I have been saying for a while that land holidays will be our way forward, I remember going out onto a hotel balcony a few years back and saying to DH, "The sea is rough and I do not feel seasick", with a big smile - so one advantage.  Also, no need to plan for getting back to a ship at the end of the day either.

 

 

Edited by tring
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On 2/18/2023 at 1:13 PM, Eglesbrech said:

I’m not a Fred loyalist by any means, I travel with several lines. I would not however wish to see them fail.

 

On 2/20/2023 at 12:18 AM, richard_london said:

So given what you said about vessels out of use not figuring in the occupancy figures the figures are 64 per cent of two ships, not three?  That's not many passengers sadly. 

 

Talk about Chocolate on the pillow!

 

In the many years that we chose to cruise mainly with "Fred" we met and chatted with lots and lots of pretty like-minded folk for whom "Fred" provided a lovely holiday, where they felt, safe, welcome, well looked after, regally catered for and they could enjoy entertainment that they normally wouldn't find outside major cities. 

 

These folk were fans rather than fanatics, loyalty members rather than loyalists. They quite correctly surmised that in taking an informed choice to buy a cruise with "Fred" that they could trust the real Fred. Olsen Jun, Chairman of the company, to make sure that they weren't likely to be disappointed. That was probably why... the ships were often full.

 

Somewhere around the mid-Twenty-teenies things began to change. 

 

On every cruise and at every opportunity we were given the same mantra by cruise directors, Ocean's reps and even comedians about how we didn't want to sail on a block of flats and all manner of other things. The atmosphere became more and more "Hi de Hi" than Hilton, the food became more lasagne than lobster and members of the show companies were less and less able to perform the same shows (that we'd seen again and again and again) as well as previous troupes. 

 

Casual conversation that were once full of animated, excited, exhilarated discussions about where we'd just been, were we were going to next with lot of tips, suggestions and amusing anecdotes... were increasingly replaced by boring bucket lists of previous cruises. 

 

And even worse... the "one-up" brigade began to emerge... folk on the rail would be approached by people they'd never met with the opening conversation stopper... "we were invited out for dinner on shore last night by the captain and senior officers and we had an excellent meal and show in a local restaurant... but head's a bit thick this morning after too much vino." In our opinion...competitive cruising at its very worst!

 

It was off-putting. Ten years ago the occupancy rate was over 90%. That fell in 2013, again in 2015, again in 2017 and by 2019 it was just over 70%. The results was that the company cut back on the offering and increased prices... it became a bit of a downward spiral.

 

When we go on a cruise we don't want to be constantly drilled  in the "Olsen Way" mantra as if it was some dogmatic catechism or party line propaganda. Neither do we want to be bored by, what we see, as the  pointlessly banal "branding" efforts. (Why brand a product that's been on a slippery slipway of decline for over a decade? We do want to be presented with; an immaculately clean and comfortable cabin: well-served, fresh exciting food: relaxing lounges where we can chat over a drink and still enjoy the background music: interesting and affordable excursions and the opportunities to have things like cabarets, deck BBQs, small drinks receptions with the officers and such like. 

 

The majority of people that we meet who have had an experience with FOCLs have fond memories and might best be described as critical friends... concerned about the company's declining fortunes and, out of a sense of loyalty and self-interest. Often they would like to give friendly suggestions as to what might encourage them to carry on booking... because they would like the company to succeed and make a profit as it did in the past... and they would really want to "go forward to the past" and to re-experience the golden days of "Fred" when ships were full, food was good,  entertainment was exciting, excursions were affordable and folks on board were there to really enjoy the experience.

 

There is absolutely no doubt that FOCLs has its "Top Fans" who do most sincerely believe that FOCLs is "Fantastic," "First Class," "Five Star" and that many often can't wait until their next cruise with FOCLs. They describe the food as "Excellent" the entertainment as "West-End quality" and do still book again and again and again. But there are far fewer of these very immensely appreciative and loyal supporters than there used to be.

 

A test of FOCL's success is the bedtime chocolate count. In 2010 "Fred" gave away about 1.3 million "chocolates on the pillow.'' In 2013 that dropped dramatically to about 1.2 million. By 2015 it was about 1.1 million and by 2019 it was only about 1.0 million. The figure for 2022 suggest that it might now be as low as about 0.9 million. The pillow "Chocolate test" shows that one of the main reasons that FOCLs is making such a staggering loss these days is that the company just can't find enough passengers! We even know of one group which will transferred to and from Surrey by coach to a cruise in Newcastle.

 

FOCLs say... "We are proud to sail our own course." There's the old joke that does the rounds. The Commander of the Fleet, seeing something on the radar ahead, radioed demanding it change its course. The response was that the Fleet should change its course. Again the Commander of the Fleet demanded that the object in front change its course. The response was the same as the first time. The Commander of the Fleet responded... "This is the flag-ship MS Bolette, the second largest ship in the FOCLs fleet. We are accompanied in line by the Black Watch, the Boudicca, the Braemar, the Borealis and the Balmoral. We are proud to sail our own course. I demand that YOU change your course or we will run you over!" The reply... "Commander... this is the Longships Lighthouse... continue on your present course and you will lose your ships one after the other and most of your passengers... it's your decision!"

 

The concern of many isn't that they want "Fred" to fail... it's that they're worried that unless the company changes course very, very soon... that it will fail.

 

image.thumb.jpeg.2489507c575affd6d7a979dc391fe18a.jpeg

 

 

This was taken from the Braemar in September 2018. The Braemar is up for sale. The Boudicca was scrapped in 2021. The Black Watch's last known position was at the Alang Ship Breaking Yard in India. Last in Line... the Balmoral.

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On 2/25/2023 at 2:32 PM, twotravellersLondon said:

When we go on a cruise we don't want to be constantly drilled  in the "Olsen Way" mantra as if it was some dogmatic catechism or party line propaganda. Neither do we want to be bored by, what we see, as the  pointlessly banal "branding" efforts.

You are quite right there, that is how it feels sometimes.  WIth the "new" ships it does feel like they are saying it more, since we know (and they must know) that they aren't small ships (because they can't replicate the itineraries of the Black Watch and Boudicca).

 

After reading your post I came to a realisation about FOCL.  I know things change, and the pandemic has caused many changes in the cruise industry, but of all the cruise lines that have survived, I think FOCL is the one most changed in terms of its hard product.  I know Carnvial Corp and RCCL shed ships from various brands, and we lost CMV etc but Fred dropped half its fleet and now we know the Braemar will never return to service, just the Balmoral remains from before Covid.  That is quite a revolution in terms of the product, but I'm not sure the HAL ships are are better than the vessels they replaced.  They are bigger, but therein lie the problem.  They aren't Fred's ships as they don't fit the ethos of small cruising.  They are HAL ships that have had a change of soft furnishings basically.  They don't look like part of the family. 

 

Balmoral and Braemar were both cut in two and extended and extensively refitted when they entered service with Fred and the two older ships have been refitted many times.  There was a familiarity and family feel across them, and now that has gone.  Gone too are the itineraries the smaller ships could do, so the pre-Covid product from Fred is not the product we have now.  The Kiel Canal transits that could be done have vanished from the schedules, there are a few for the Balmoral, but I guess the war in Ukraine accounts for the small number of Baltic itineraries, French river cruising seems now to be done only with the Balmoral now that the Braemar has gone.  Braemar did her Corinth Canal transits and cruises around Greece and the Adriatic; those are all gone from the schedules.  Not that I could have afforded it, but the Braemar based out of Havana has been dropped.  All of these were great small ship itineraries that were distinctive and what made Fred stand out at their price point.  If I wanted to do these cruises now it would be with cruise companies I can't afford (even Fred's increased prices were already a stretch).  It is impossible for the Balmoral to do the work of her and the Braemar, and with the new ships limited by their size I feel the choice of cruises on offer is worse.  Also, four ships down to three also means less choice.  So worse choice and less choice, is not an attractive offering.

 

Most other lines have reverted to what they were doing before the pandemic, Fred can't do what they did before the pandemic.  The fleet is incompatible with the idea of small ship cruising, so they Olsen Way is a meaningless slogan because the product has changed so fundamentally and I don't recognise it.

 

Why is it that change always seems to make things worse?  From my own experiences with other cruise lines and from hearing other people's experiences (friends and on this forum) since Covid there has been a drip-drip-drip dilution of the cruise experience in a negative way, that makes it seem worse than before,  Unforunately for Fred it has been more a deluge than a drip and the product is not what it was, which is a terrible shame.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I've only sailed with Fred once, some years ago, on the lovely Black Watch. In more recent years, I've had a Balmoral cruise cancelled due to Covid and a Boudicca cruise through the Kiel Canal cancelled when she was replaced by Bolette. I say cancelled but Fred insisted it wasn't cancelled but the itinerary had been changed - from Holland, Germany and Scandinavia to around Britain!

One of the big issues for me now is the pricing policy. Whilst retired, I do have a number of committments and like to book around 12 months ahead. Fred's launch prices, especially for a solo like me, are crazy. Almost every cruise for a solo seems to work out at over £200 per night for the cheapest cabin and can be nearer £300 for some itineraries. I can just about get a Saga cruise for that with all the added benefits. Fred's nearest rivals (for me) are P&O's smaller ships and Ambassador which both work out significantly cheaper. These lines also offer lower fares at launch meaning Fred is completely out of step.

Not everybody wants to wait until 12 weeks or so before departure to get a cheap deal. Perhaps if Fred came up with some good launch offers their occupancy levels would increase...

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On 3/1/2023 at 4:46 PM, richard_london said:

They are bigger, but therein lie the problem.  They aren't Fred's ships as they don't fit the ethos of small cruising.  They are HAL ships that have had a change of soft furnishings basically.  They don't look like part of the family. 

 

 

“Managed” decline?

 

Successful companies have clear, concise, credible unique selling points. The fact that FOCLs have a long, confusing ten point “The Olsen Way”, which we feel is full of contradictions suggests that the FOCLs is unclear about what it offers, what space the company occupies within the industry and it is unable to clearly identify a market.

 

Having watched a long and rather tedious interview with the FOCLs’ managing director about the acquiring the two redundant HAL ships, our impression was… that he wanted bigger ships so that he could make more economies of scale and that he also wanted to use them to charge more premium rates. The customer experience just didn’t seem to feature much and neither did the idea that the company’s loyal club members were stakeholders.

 

Offering members only bookings day and then selling the same grade of cabin at significant discounts with added extras to all comers weeks later seems to be the best way possible to drive away loyal customers.

 

Selling “balcony cabins” with no balcony is a sure fired way of losing creditability and making new prospective customers question every single claim made in the company advertising.

 

Advertising an “from” price and then allowing those people who take it to feel like third-class passengers seems likely to deter passengers who need to stick to a budget.

 

Renaming a balcony cabin as a “jun. suite” and then charging so much extra for it than a similar sized cabin… is likely to alienate those who find that paying more for the same amount of space, the same food and the same entertainment is not for them.

 

We’re currently on a cruise on a ship where, unlike some of FOCLs ships, balcony cabins do have balconies. The fare is about the same as FOCLs with FOCLs add ons. The difference is that the food, the entertainment, the cabins, the public spaces and the ambiance is better than what FOCLs is currently offering. Every time that we sit with people over a meal, or drinks, or in the proper theatre… it’s the same story… we used to travel with “Fred.” In fact we’ve just arranged to meet people for dinner that we’ve known for over 20 years from “Fred” and who, like ourselves, have been driven away.

 

Why are so many people moving away… we can only speak for ourselves… it’s the management… the people who count the cost of the coffee beans instead of appreciating the value of an exciting, exhilarating, enticing cup of coffee to their potential customers.

 

We’ve lost Freddy Jun. that so many hundreds of thousands of happy holiday makers fondly knew as “Fred.” We’ve lost our smaller ships… Black Watch, Boudicca and Braemar. We’ve lost our “Baked Alaska on Parade” our “Gala Midnight Buffets” and our Lobster dinners that made travelling with “Fred” so good. We’ve even lost our unrestricted access to the chairs on the prom decks of a couple of the ships.

 

Result… a company that was once worth a small fortune is now very seriously in negative equity. A company that once made modest profits has seen decades of profits totally wiped out by a massive debt. A company that once had full ships has vessels out of service because of lack of sales.

 

The FOCLs’ management can always blame international changes, the war in the Ukraine, Covid and the cost of living crisis but the plain facts for us are that... we’re still cruising with FOCLs competitors in a ship that is pretty full and we’re meeting people at every meal, every drinks reception and everyday on deck… that we’ve either met before on a “Fred” cruise or who happen to mention that they used to cruise with “Fred.” Like for us... FOCLs' approach has been a great big turn-off.

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by twotravellersLondon
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  • 2 months later...

Fred. Olsen Jun resigned from FOCLs on the 4th of July 2022. Bonheur, FOCLs' ultimate Norwegian parent company, have published accounts today showing how the cruise line... that so many of us loving referred to as "Fred"... has prospered or otherwise in the nine months since Fred. Olsen Jun. retired.

 

There's some good news... during the 2023 1st quarter, FOCLs' MD reported in the trade press that the company had seen a phenomenal start to the year, with bookings – including those from "new to Fred" customers being better than in 2019.

 

Certainly FOCLs' sales figures (revenue) are up on four years ago. In the pre-pandemic days of 2019 "Fred" brought in a revenue of NOK 504,000,000 in 1st quarter (1 January-31 March.) In the same period in 2023 FOCLs' revenue was NOK 682,000,000. That looks good... and a tad above what it was when inflation is taken into acount.

 

The number of passenger days in the 1st quarter of 2019 was 246,806  (suggesting an occupancy rate of a little over 70%). No figure has been given for the number of passenger days in the same period in 2023 but the occupancy rate is given as 66% and that would hint at about 230,000 passenger days in the 1st quarter of 2023. So the figures might suggest that there are less people cruising on FOCLs now than did over the same period four years ago.

 

That's odd when cruising with FOCLs seems to be less expensive in 2023 than it was in 2019.  The "ticket" income in the 1st quarter of 2019 was an average of  about £194 per person per day (including excursions, drinks, Wi-Fi, shuttle busses etc.)  In the same period in 2023 the income was only an average of £180 per person per day. If it had kept in line with inflation over the last four years the new figure should be about £248.

 

The result is that FOCLs were still making a loss in the 1st quarter of 2023. In the 1st quarter of 2019 the company made a modest loss of NOK 89,000,000. In the same period in 2023 FOCLs made a smaller loss of NOK 53,000,000... the average customer seems to have been cruising for well below cost price. 

 

The really striking thing is that FOCLs is in increasingly serious debt. When Fred. Jun left the company, at the beginning of the 4th of July 2022, it had a net interest bearing debt of about NOK 976,000,000 (accumulated during the Pandemic) but in the last nine months, since Fred. Olsen Jun. retired; the debt has increased to NOK 1,478,000,000. (At today's exchange rates that's about £110,000,000.) That's a huge amount of debt for a company that before covid was just breaking even in many years. 

 

By contrast one of FOCL's nearest UK competitors running small ships had an occupancy rate of 75% despite charging an average of £318 per person per day. P&O reported a little time ago that they had the strongest "Wave" of early year sales ever, with a record-breaking number of bookings made during the 1st Quarter of 2023.. 

 

When Fred. Jun. resigned on the 4th of July 2022 he left the company with 4 ships and a capacity of  5,000 berths... now with the Braemar out of action pending sale the company is left with only three ships and the number of berths has been reduced by about 929: from 4,959 berths to about 4,030... that's getting onto something like a 20% cut in capacity.

 

Is it possible that FOCLs are now looking towards the budget end of the UK cruise market and will it be able to compete again the established players? Might it hope to be able to turn a profit in shop sales, excursions, drinks Wi-Fi and suchlike? Will it succeed? If so, how will the substantial debts be covered?

 

 

 

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An interesting analysis twotravellersLondon.  I can’t begin to imagine how a debt of £110 million can be repaid.

 

We are currently sailing on Saga’s ship Spirit of Adventure.  Drinks, tips, WiFi, speciality restaurants plus transport from home to port are included in the price.  The price we paid for a balcony cabin compares favourably with the price we paid for a Junior Suite last year on Bolette (the lowest grade of balcony cabin on Bolette and Borealis). We try to book with Saga as soon as cruises are advertised, in the knowledge that we won’t subsequently see the cruise advertised at a lower price.

 

We have met several ex-Fred cruisers on board, who are now Saga converts, for various reasons. 

However Saga do not offer fly cruises at present, or departures from Northern ports, so won’t suit everyone.
Fred. Olsen needs to address it’s pricing policy, otherwise I think it will struggle to survive.
 

 

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I went back and looked at all the quarterly reports to see what statements FOCL were making, and I have copied out the positive spin they have been putting into their reports.  What strikes me is how repetitive they are, with the same text recurring in consecutive quarterly reports.  But despite all these positive reports occupany as you point out is 66%.  And I see they now have up to £500pp off on 58 cruises as part of the "Cruise Summer Sale" and then on some you can get an extra £150 off with their Coronation offer.  I can't square the demand highlighted in the quarterly reports with the need to discount fares so much.  I suspect many have cottoned on to Fred's pricing strategy and are just not booking and looking for last minue deals which are more realistic in terms of their pricing.

 

Q2 2021: .....a substantial increase in demand for cruises.

Q3 2021: From Spring/Summer 2022, and going forward, FOCL is experiencing substantial demand at normal prices for it’s [sic] cruises.

Q4 2021: FOCL is experiencing good demand for cruises in 2022 and 2023.

Q1 2022: FOCL is experiencing good demand for cruises in 2022 and 2023.

Q2 2022: FOCL is experiencing good demand for cruises for the summers of 2022 and also for 2023

Q3 2022: No "positive" statements.

Q4 2022: FOCL has seen improved booking numbers in recent weeks, with January 2023 being the best booking month ever.

Q1 2023: FOCL has seen improved booking numbers in recent weeks, with January 2023 being the best booking month ever.

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On 5/9/2023 at 9:16 PM, richard_london said:

  I suspect many have cottoned on to Fred's pricing strategy and are just not booking and looking for last minue deals which are more realistic in terms of their pricing.

I would concur. We have been stung on the last few cruises, seeing the prices plummet a few months before departure and this recent summer sale is no exception.

 

I have another cruise in mind but won’t be booking it as I can almost guarantee it will be cheaper nearer to the sail date. If it is not I still get to book at the rate everyone else has paid and not 33% more.

 

If it is full then there is so much other choice out there on the market that I will simply find something else with another line. I suspect many people are doing exactly the same thing.

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I would like to comment on our recent experience, we returned from our Baltic Cruise las Saturday we were on the Bolette in the Baltic.

We booked the Cruise when it was first published and a few months later I noticed that the price had been reduced by between 4 and 5 hundred pounds per person ( is this a familiar story!! ) I contacted Fred Olsen and requested that they honoured our booking and reduce our booking price, they refused but said that they would give us an upgrade instead if one became available, I reluctantly accepted this even though I was tempted to cancel our booking and rebook at the reduced price and would still have saved a considerable amount even if we lost our initial deposit.

I phoned FO nearer our sailing date as I had heard nothing regarding the upgrade and was informed that I was on the list if one became available - a week prior to the Cruise my travel agent phoned me to say that a balcony upgrade was available for £1100, I reminded them that I had been informed that I would get a free upgrade if one became available which it obviously had!, they contacted FO who admitted that this was correct.

We boarded the ship and went to guest services but they did not know anything about this so contacted head office, but was informed that I would not be getting one.

On return I emailed FO and received a phone call to say that unfortunately there would be no redress even though this spoilt the Cruise and this makes me very reluctant to go with this company in the future. They are fantastic at taking your money but will give nothing in return.

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4 hours ago, ARDXXX said:

I would like to comment on our recent experience, we returned from our Baltic Cruise las Saturday we were on the Bolette in the Baltic.

We booked the Cruise when it was first published and a few months later I noticed that the price had been reduced by between 4 and 5 hundred pounds per person ( is this a familiar story!! ) I contacted Fred Olsen and requested that they honoured our booking and reduce our booking price, they refused but said that they would give us an upgrade instead if one became available, I reluctantly accepted this even though I was tempted to cancel our booking and rebook at the reduced price and would still have saved a considerable amount even if we lost our initial deposit.

I phoned FO nearer our sailing date as I had heard nothing regarding the upgrade and was informed that I was on the list if one became available - a week prior to the Cruise my travel agent phoned me to say that a balcony upgrade was available for £1100, I reminded them that I had been informed that I would get a free upgrade if one became available which it obviously had!, they contacted FO who admitted that this was correct.

We boarded the ship and went to guest services but they did not know anything about this so contacted head office, but was informed that I would not be getting one.

On return I emailed FO and received a phone call to say that unfortunately there would be no redress even though this spoilt the Cruise and this makes me very reluctant to go with this company in the future. They are fantastic at taking your money but will give nothing in return.

They acted no different from any other UK based cruise line. No other UK cruise company will give you any redress if the price drops after booking.

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Not sure about UK based Cruise lines but we have sailed with much better companies than FO such as Regent and Silversea and have always been able to receive the lower price if it changed. Anyway I am more annoyed about the so called  free upgrade that we were offered as a way to retain our booking,which failed to materialise even though these were available.

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