The early years
The roots of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines trace back to 1848 in Hvitsten, a beautiful village on Norway’s Oslofjord – one of the many scenic cruising highlights of our cruises. The first Olsen family ship-owner was Fredrik Christian Olsen, who operated a fleet of primitive sailing vessels. Fredrik’s brothers, Petter and Andreas, also became involved in trading with small fleets, but it was actually Thomas Fredrik – Petter’s son and the second Fred. Olsen – who put the family name on the map.
Thomas Fredrik took command of one of his father’s ships at just 23 years old, and ships were added to the growing fleet over the next few years – the largest being Morning Light, a Canadian-built ocean-going full rigger. In 1896, Thomas ordered Bayard – the first steamship in the fleet of newly-founded company, A/S Bonheur – and from this point on it became family custom that most Fred. ships should bear names beginning with the letter “B”. This tradition continued when the Brabant was delivered in 1926 to the Færder Steamship Company – a passenger service acquired by Thomas Fredrik in 1901.
The war years
Shipping in general was heavily affected by both World Wars. Half of the 40-ship fleet was lost in World War One, but Olsen responded by introducing the Black Prince and the Black Watch in 1938. Unfortunately both of these ships were then seized by the Nazis in World War Two, along with 26 other Olsen vessels. The Bretagne then started a Norway to Newcastle service in August 1945.
In the aftermath of the war, the company slowly recovered and in 1951 the Blenheim – named after Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill – was added to the fleet, with the first Braemar introduced two years later. Both were small ships, but among the most eye-catching liners of their day. In 1955, the 3rd Fred. Olsen – and current Fred. Olsen Senior – suddenly had to take over the empire at just 26, as his father Thomas became ill.
The modern story
The second Black Watch entered joint service with Fred. Olsen and Bergen Line in 1966 and first sailed to the Canary Islands from London. Black Prince soon followed, cruising the same route as her sister ship. In 1987, the “reborn” Black Prince became a “sunshine cruiser” and sailed to destinations such as the Canaries, Madeira and Gibraltar. Her friendly officers and crew on board were well-liked by their guests – a trait that continues today as one of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ most endearing characteristics.
Black Prince was a one-ship operation until 1996, when the third Black Watch joined the fleet after an extensive refurbishment. By the new millennium, the company’s success prompted the purchase of Braemar, which joined in 2001 after a major overhaul at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg. More recently, Boudicca – the sister ship of Black Watch – entered service in 2006 after a complete refurbishment, followed by Balmoral. After being re-fitted, re-designed and “stretched” by 30 metres to provide extra cabins and improvements to guest facilities, Fred. Olsen’s newest and largest ship completed the current four-ship line-up in 2008.
Today and beyond
Today, Fred. Olsen Jnr is Chairman of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines and the Olsens are heavily involved in running the business. The company continues to invest in the fleet and the services provided to our guests: recent improvements have included Terrace Balcony rooms on Black Watch and Boudicca, as well as the implementation of The Grill restaurant, The Bookmark Café and “chill out” areas across all four ships.
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has always been successful by ensuring that it meets and exceeds the needs of all its guests, and the family – along with the whole team at the Head Office in Ipswich, England and across the fleet – are committed to ensuring that this remains true for another 150 years and beyond.