Black Watch Gallery
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At more than 35 years old, the present-day "Black Watch" is in her 4th life at sea and with a very respectable pedigree, has earned her status of one of the modern-day "grand old ladies". She began life in 1972 as "Royal Viking Star" for the prestigious Royal Viking Line and she was the first of three identical sisters, the other two being "Royal Viking Sea" (1973) and "Royal Viking Sky" (1974).

Royal Viking Star (1972)
21,847 grt; length 582ft; 500 passengers

Designed with a Scandanavian flair for simlicity and elegance as modern luxury floating hotels, these three ships specialised in long cruises for the well-healed and for more than 10 years, with their award-winning, single-seating dining, were among the top 5 cruise-ships in the World.

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Official postcard of Royal Viking Star as she originally looked
Being the eldest of the three identical sisters, "Royal Viking Star" was the first to be lengthened, emerging in 1981 with a sleek new profile that also handled better at sea.

Royal Viking Star (1981)
28,221 grt; length 674ft; 725 passengers

But success was short-lived; Royal Viking Line had over-stretched itself as well as its 3 ships and in 1984, the Company was bought by the Kloster Group, owners of Norwegian Caribbean Line, who continued the luxury operation but began introducing economies over the next few years, with inevitable consequences. In 1990 NCL moved the now 18 year-old "Royal Viking Star" into its main fleet.

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(In Hamilton, Bermuda 1992)
Naming her "Westward" and changing her dining operation to 2 sittings, it was around this time that her aft sun-deck was unflatteringly extended and a new "Fitness Suite" added on "Sky Deck", replacing the lost sports-deck on top with a rather ugly wind-break. But now restricted to the Bermuda and Caribbean circuit of short cruises, she was ill-suited in this new role and in 1993, she was transferred to NCL's mid-luxury operation Royal Cruise Line.

For Royal Cruise Line she was renamed "Star Odyssey". Still retaining her 1981 enlarged dining room, she now reverted to single-sitting dining but while she continued to be highly-rated, she was never again to achieve her coveted 5-stars. In the meantime, though, NCL was having cash problems of its own and in 1995, it decided to sell-off a number of its older ships in favour of the new, larger ships that the Line was now heavily investing in. Show Picture Full Size
(As "Star Odyssey" in 1993)

Black Watch (1996)
28,613 grt; length 674ft; 850 passengers

Only a small, private line was likely to be interested in taking on a 24 year-old ship and Fred Olsen jumped at the oppurtunity but to make her viable, she had to be reconfigured, with more berths.

Part of her large dining room was remodelled as the "Garden Cafe", which could double as an alternative dining venue; another part became the "Orchid Room", a dining room for private functions; yet another section was made into the Line's trademark "Braemar Room" and she was switched permanently to a 2-sitting dining operation. With a number of Officer's cabins now converted into passenger accommodation, her capacity increased to about 850 passengers.

Although she had a difficult first season plagued with bad luck and mechanical problems, she soon settled into her new role as the Line's flagship and she quickly attracted a loyal following. Seeing her in Dover on a visit organised by the "Ocean Liner Society" in 1998, I made up my mind to travel on the old "Royal Viking Star"!

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Leaving Dover At Eidfjord At Ulvik Tendering

While I finally achieved my ambition of travelling in "Penthouse Suite No.1" and had a wonderful time, I didn't find the old "Royal Viking Star" quite as luxurious as I had hoped - perhaps befitting her age (27 yrs old by this time) she has been adapted a lot and carries 850 passengers compared to the 700 she had in her hey-day. But she still has lovely lines and feels like a "proper" ship!

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In Stavanger The Observatory
(The Stella Polaris Room)
Lido Deck Lido Lounge (aft)
(The Neptune Bar)
At Sea

Perhaps her best feature is the "Observatory Lounge", which used to be the "Stella Polaris Room" on the old Royal Viking Star. With its large wrap-around windows, the view is still one of the nicest afloat, even with its rather garish new carpet and window decoration!

The food in the dining room, as you might expect, was not up to what we had experienced; still quite good but mostly fairly ordinary. That's the problem with getting used to the 5-star life; you have to come back to 4-stars once in a while!

It would be another 8 years before I would travel on this ship again. By this time, "Black Watch" had settled into the Fred Olsen fleet and now had its own loyal following. More befitting her origins too, her itineraries covered the globe, just like in the "old days" of the 1970's. Every January, she would leave the UK winter behind and set-ff on a 3-month cruise that was different every year.

And it was in April 2005 that John & I made the momentous decision to take what would prove to be our "Cruise of a Lifetime".

Notwithstanding unflattering alterations to her superstructure and after-deck, "Black Watch" still presents a sleek "classic" profile that looks more like a ship than a hotel. An evening departure also has a touch of romance about it, though there were no streamers and no dock-side band send-off!

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In Southampton An evening departure Balcony Cabin 8024 Sunset at Sea

My cabin was on Bridge Deck where the Officer's accomodation use to be but now they have been moved to less valuable cabins and mine has even had a little balcony created outside with just enough room for 2 chairs and a table - perfect to watch the sun go down at sea!

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Observatory Lounge
Marquee Deck 9
Dalreoch Card Room
Previously on Deck 9
Midships Lobby
Lido Deck 7 (Promenade)
Explorers Library
Now on Lido Deck 7

The "Observatory Lounge" is still the nicest room on the ship, although these days it can get busy in the evening. Aft of this bar/lounge used to be the "Dalreoch Card Room", a beautiful room spanning the width of the ship and which also housed the "Explorers Library". Once the "Venus Lounge" on the Royal Viking Star, this was a lovely room but, apart from popular regular Bridge tournaments, it was felt under-utilised. In the 2006 re-fit, this space was converted to create 14 more Balcony Suites!

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Shopping Arcade
& Reception (Main Deck 5)
Pipers Bar
& Neptune Lounge beyond
Neptune Lounge
Lounge Deck 6
Lido Lounge Bar
Lounge Deck 6 aft

The "Card Room" and "Explorers Library" have now been relocated to Deck 7 in what was previously the "Star Night Club". Fred Olsen's passenger-profile is such that most are in bed by midnight and for those who aren't, there are still other lounges, so this latest reconfiguration does make sense!

On Deck 7 port side, the very limited "Casino" (Picture >>) occupies little more than a corridor leading to the aft-facing "Lido Lounge Bar", an attractive room which takes on a "Club" atmosphere in the evenings and which hosts the popular Quizzes during the day.

On Lounge Deck 6 is the "Neptune Lounge", the main entertainment venue with a modest stage and reasonable dance floor. Fred Olsen is one of the few Lines that still employ male Dance Hosts, for the unaccompanied ladies. The extremely popular "Pipers Bar" leads off this on the starboard side. (It was a point of some annoyance that they insist on leaving the doors open during the evening's entertainment, which can prove rather distracting in that corner of the "Neptune Lounge"!)

At Sea in the Indian Ocean

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At Sea The Promenade
Lounge Deck 6
Bridge Deck 8
view astern
The Bridge The "wrap-around"

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Lounge Deck 6
Marquee Pool Bar
Deck 9 aft
Lounge Deck 6
Sun Deck 10
At Anchor
Praslin Island, Seychelles

On joining the Fred Olsen fleet, a large section of the 1981 enlarged Dining Room became the "Braemar Room", the Line's trademark, country house-style "Withdrawing Room" where tea & coffee can be obtained at the "Self-Service Station" after lunch & dinner; a pianist adds to the atmosphere and in the evening, drinks are served and the room hosts yet another Quiz at 10.00pm!

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Braemar Room Glentanar Restaurant Garden Cafe Orchid Room

On the port side of the 1981 Dining Room, another section was converted into the "Garden Cafe" and "Orchid Room", the latter being initially a private function Dining Room but with the increasing number of passengers following recent refits, more used as an overflow for the main restaurant. An informal Breakfast and Lunch are served in the Cafe but only during inclement weather when it cannot be served Poolside; this slightly confusing practice is something you have to get used to.

The "Glentanar Restaurant" now occupies much the same space as the original Dining Room on Royal Viking Star but in 2 sittings for Lunch & Dinner while Breakfast is in a single "Open Seating".

At Lunch, you can be served from a short a-la-carte menu or, for those who want to help themselves, choose from a self-service buffet with a good range of hot & cold dishes. Continuing Scandanavian tradition, there is always plenty of seafood to choose from. However, the menu for the "Around Africa Captain's Lunch" was a bit special! Open Menu >> Open Special Lunch Menu

The Dinner Menu has, I think, improved since 1999. The variety is now a more imaginative and the choice quite good, although desserts are perhaps a little limited. Captain's Welcome Menu >> Open Menu 2 >>

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Finally, the good news is that in 2006, another of the original 3-sisters, "Royal Viking Sky" of 1974, joined the Fred Olsen fleet as "Boudicca". Having had her own adventures over the years, she now returns to her rightful place alongside her older sister and we may yet have a few more years to enjoy these beautiful "classic cruise ships" of the 1970's.

Total Mileage
aboard Black Watch: 25,318 n miles

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