Take a look inside Fred Olsen Cruise Line’s Bolette, which spends some of its time cruising the coastline of Norway in the summer and winter.
Cruising isn't for everyone, but it's never been more popular as a way to experience the Norwegian coastline. There are many options to see the fjords but fewer to see the far north of Norway, especially in the winter.
Of course, the Norwegian coastal voyage is a popular year-round option, but there are more traditional cruising options too.
Regular readers will know I have recently started speaking about life in Norway to guests travelling with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines. Back in January, I travelled on the MS Borealis for a winter northern lights hunt.
Two months later, I did it all over again. This time on the sister ship of the Borealis, the MS Bolette.
Watch a tour of the Bolette
First things first, I know many of you prefer videos. If that's you, check out this full ship tour video before scrolling down.
I hope you enjoyed the video. It was a lot of fun putting it together! For more detail on the Borealis including lots of photographs, read on.
Introducing the MS Bolette
Together with its sister ship the Borealis, the Bolette is relatively new to the Fred Olsen fleet but it’s not a new vessel. Fred Olsen recently bought the ships from Holland America Line, where the Bolette was called the Amsterdam. It took its maiden voyage in the year 2000.
It has a passenger capacity of 1,338 with space for up to 645 crew. As it turned out, the ship was almost full with the most passengers it's had on board since it's been part of the Fred Olsen fleet. Yet it really didn't feel crowded very often.
So how would it be cruising on a 23-year-old ship? Come on board and I’ll show you around.
Cabins on the Bolette
My cabin 3429 was at the back of deck 3 and had a restricted view on to the promenade. While you do feel the movement more at the front and back of the ship, I was just steps away from access to the outside promenade on deck 3 which was a big bonus for me.
For those choosing cabins, this is an example of an Ocean View cabin, one of the more basic cabins on board but more than comfortable for me. I was taking the journey on my own but I think with two people in this cabin there would still be plenty of space.
Read more: Packing List for a Northern Lights Cruise
The bathroom is a good size for a cruise ship and I never had a problem with water or the plumbing. I drank the water from the bathroom tap every day and it was absolutely fine.
A few details about the cabin: the TV only functions once you’ve watched the safety video. There are TV channels, movies and probably my favourite channel to watch, the bridge camera.
In the cabin there is a mini-fridge, a small kettle with tea and coffee replenished daily, and UK, EU and USB power points, albeit only on the desk and not by the beds. That’s one of the disadvantages of sailing on an older ship but honestly it was never an issue for me.
To get a feel for some of the other cabins on board, check out my Borealis ship tour where I looked at several other cabin grades including balcony cabins and suites. They are very similar to what’s available on the Bolette.
Nearby my cabin was one of the self-serve laundry and ironing rooms, or if you prefer there is a housekeeping service for laundry, dry cleaning and ironing too.
Now that’s enough about the cabins, let’s take a look at the rest of the ship. The ship has 10 decks and they are named as well as numbered.
Promenade Deck 3
Decks 1 through 3 are mainly guest cabins although deck 3 is where you’ll find the covered promenade that allows you to walk a complete circuit of the ship.
Three and a half laps is approximately one mile and there were organised “walk a mile” walks at 8am on sea days, but I saw people getting in their steps throughout the day around here.
While not the best place for northern lights hunting or stargazing because of the lights on the deck, it was terrific for scenic cruising especially as we approached northern ports.
Inside, you’ll find the bottom of the three-level atrium. This is where you really start to understand how well this ship has been looked after.
Covering decks 3 to 5, the atrium is built around this wonderful clock tower that is quite different from the one on the Borealis. Make sure you take at least one walk around the spiral staircase to admire this wonderful centrepiece from every angle.
The atrium area hosts guest services, the excursion desk, the future cruise desk and a flower shop.
Main Deck 4
Decks 4 and 5 are really the beating heart of the ship, as it’s here you find the Neptune Lounge theatre, the main restaurants and many of the shops, bars and lounges.
The Neptune Lounge on Deck 4 hosted many lectures and all the evening shows. It’s also used as the meet-up point for most excursions.
Unusually for a cruise ship there is no bar in the theatre but table service is always offered before and during the evening shows and this works surprisingly well even on busy nights.
My preferred spot for evening shows is either at the very front or up on the balcony which you access from deck 5.
At the other end of decks 4 and 5 you’ll find the Bloomsbury and Terrace restaurants spread over the two levels.
This is the location of the five-course evening meals, which are offered as a fixed dining concept over two sittings, usually at 6.15 and 8.30. The evening shows are timed to follow each sitting.
The restaurant is also open for table service breakfast and lunch, while there are other places to eat on the ship for dinner if you prefer. More on those later.
There are a lot of bars and lounges to explore in the space between the theatre and the restaurants on decks 4 and 5.
On deck 4, there is the auditorium. This is a flexible space for just over 100 people to watch cookery demonstrations, film screenings and smaller talks usually during the afternoon. It is also sometimes used along with the main theatre as a meeting point for excursions.
Colours & Tastes
Deck 4 is also home to one of the speciality restaurants, Colours and Tastes. I didn’t eat here on the Bolette but I did on the Borealis. It does come at an extra charge but personally I think it’s well worth it based on my experience on the Borealis.
Lounge Deck 5
Deck 5 is the Lounge Deck and it’s here you’ll find many of the most comfortable bars and lounges. The biggest–the Morning Light Pub & Lounge–is styled as a homely pub and serves as the main lounge on the ship.
It played host to quizzes, bingo and other games throughout the trip, while live music was on offer during the extremely popular pre-dinner times.
I think the busiest times aside from just before dinner was when the crew were able to set up a live screening of a Newcastle United football game and a Six Nations rugby match during a sea day.
Other bars on Deck 5 include the Ocean Bar, popular for pre-show drinks given its proximity to the Neptune Lounge and games including indoor curling, and the stylish Piano Bar, popular later in the evening.
The Bookmark Cafe serves premium coffees and tea at an additional charge, together with chocolates and cakes. Tea and coffee was always free from the buffet restaurant, but Bookmark always did a good trade in lattes and the like.
Table service was offered in the Bookmark lounge and library, and a lovely garden-themed lounge with gardening books available to borrow and ocean views.
Adjacent to this garden room, the Oriental Tea Room was an elegant spot that held occasional tea tastings. I found it one of the more relaxing and quiet places on the ship throughout the cruise. Finally, regular bridge teaching sessions and competitions took place in the card room.
Highland Deck 6
As with the Borealis, Decks 6 and 7 are mostly premium balcony cabins and suites, but there was a wonderful outside space at the front of deck 6.
Because it’s directly below the bridge, it’s the darkest spot on the ship when at sea, perfect when there is aurora activity overhead. It is however quite exposed and therefore one of the coldest and windiest spots too.
Lido Deck 8
Deck 8 is the Lido deck and as with many other cruise ships, it’s here you’ll find the swimming area and buffet restaurant. The swimming pool was used much more than I had expected although it was heated, as were the popular hot tubs.
The Poolside cafe is a hidden gem on the ship. I never actually ate here on the Borealis but on the Bolette I ate several meals here and they were absolutely fantastic. I can recommend the burger and the marinated tuna. Really, really good.
This area has a retractable roof so it will look completely different on a summer cruise.
Because of the very cold temperatures and the heated water, this area was often quite steamy especially in the evening and I always enjoyed walking through the deck when it looked like this, and the bears always seemed to be enjoying themselves too.
The buffet restaurant known as The View is where I ate most of my meals. It’s open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and a late-night supper club, with tea and coffee always available.
The buffet is a mix of self-service and served items some cooked on demand such as eggs or stir-fries. Crew were usually on hand to seat you so you didn’t have to worry about finding somewhere to sit. The busiest times were on port days right before excursions began.
In one corner of the buffet restaurant you’ll find the other speciality restaurant, Vasco. This specialises in Goan cuisine and you need to go here hungry because the portions are big.
Aft deck & pool
Behind the buffet is this aft outdoor deck with a smoking area, a bar, and the somewhat optimistic deckchairs surrounding the heated pool. The Borealis had a garden area here so this pool is one of the main differences on the Bolette.
Despite the cold temperatures this heated pool was used surprisingly often! This is one of the best spots on the ship for scenic cruising, especially as a bar, the buffet, and tea and coffee stations are just a few steps away.
Spa & fitness centre
The spa and fitness centre occupies the front end of Deck 8 and I only had time for a brief look here as I got a haircut on the first sea day.
If you’re interested in the other facilities, check out my Borealis tour article and video where I take a closer look. Also watch out for spa offers on port days as prices tend to be much lower.
Sports Deck 9
Deck 9 is known as the Sports Deck although on a winter cruise this becomes a spot for scenic cruising and northern lights hunting.
It was often windy up here but it was well worth the time spent out in the cold. We got some of our best sightings of the northern lights from out here, especially when the crew turned out the lights when a sighting was particularly good.
The downside of coming out here was the slippy conditions at night and while the crew did their best to grit the deck and clear away slush, you still had to take care out here at night.
During the daytime, this was also a great spot for Arctic landscapes and especially the sunrise.
At the front of Deck 9 you’ll find the Observatory, which wraps around the front providing a wonderful daytime view of the scenery.
There was dancing here in the daytime, live music in the evenings, and it also served as the ship’s late night venue for those who wanted to party including karaoke and silent disco events.
The art studio is a little hidden away at the other end of deck 9 just above the buffet. In this quiet room there is plenty of space for taking part in the various arts and crafts classes offered on the cruise.
Sun Deck 10
Last but definitely not least is the Sun Deck on Deck 10, accessible via stairs from deck 9. This was the venue for stargazing sessions, and once again, we enjoyed seeing the northern lights from up here.
The deck was sometimes closed due to the slippy conditions especially on the stairs, but when it was open this was a terrific dark spot to see the northern lights.
The Bolette is on the small side of mid-size cruise ships. It's easy to navigate with one confusing exception around the main restaurants.
It does feel dated in parts, particularly the use of wood and colourful carpets, but there are also more modern areas too. The cabins also feel dated but if you're the kind of person (like me) who spends very little time in their cabin on a trip then this isn't an important issue.
I would be interested to take a trip on the Bolette (or Borealis) to a sunnier climate, so I could experience the Lido deck with the roof off. I'd also like to see the outdoor areas on sunny days. So if you've been on a Fred Olsen ship in the summer, let me know what it's like!
I hope you enjoyed this quick tour of the Fred Olsen Bolette. I’ve got several other videos related to winter cruising in Norway including a northern lights hunt and a tour of the Bolette’s sister ship, the Borealis, so check those out if you’re interested. Thanks for reading!