In June, travel agents joined Fred Olsen Cruise Lines for a VIP fam trip to Iceland. Gary Peters reports live from his time on board Borealis.
We’re standing next to the Great Geyser in Iceland, on the outskirts of Reykjavík, when suddenly it comes to life, ejecting water high into the air as all around it gasp at the power of mother nature.
It is for moments such as these that we – I and a group of eight travel agents – have come together on a special VIP fam trip with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines.
In recent times, the line has focused heavily on what it stands for and what sets it apart from other cruise lines in the market. At the forefront of this is The Olsen Way, 10 key principles that define what makes it unique.
To help agents understand this, Fred Olsen invited agents on board Borealis – one of its new ships. The 10-day Whales, Waterfalls & Geysers of Iceland itinerary, which starts in Liverpool, sails on to Reykjavík, Ísafjörður, and Akureyri, among other scenic ports of call.
The cruise has been designed, from start to finish, to immerse agents in everything that happens on board, and ashore during excursions. So, how does this help agents when convincing clients to choose Fred Olsen for their next cruise holiday?
Let the Fred Olsen learning commence
The learning journey begins as soon as we step on board Borealis in Liverpool. Following a simple and easy embarkation process, the first thing that strikes the group is the atmosphere on board and warmth from the crew.
As Newmarket Holidays’ Stephanie Blackmun explains: “They [the crew] are genuinely interested in you – it doesn’t feel forced in any way. It makes a massive difference. One you experience it for yourself, you believe in it.”
With a short stop in Belfast up next, agents soon get their hands dirty, quite literally, during an exclusive cooking demonstration, making pastries and decorating cakes, and speaking to the chefs on board in a menu briefing, to understand the meticulous work that goes into catering for all tastes and passengers’ dietary requirements.
As Fred Olsen highlights, this is all about attention to detail, making the guest experience personal to each and every guest, and showcasing that everything that happens on board relates back to one key message: it’s all about the people – something key to highlight to clients.
The exclusive access continues on the first sea day as we make our way to Iceland, with a full tour of all cabin grades on Borealis, as well as a comprehensive presentation into The Olsen Way principles.
From its hand-crafted, not mass produced, itineraries, to the belief that smaller is better, taking guests to hidden-gem ports of call, and the joy of the journey, with painstaking attention paid to every detail – agents have tangible assets and a brand identity they can use when talking to clients.
Kevin Reeves, from Cruise 118, says: “I was surprised at the space [in the cabins]. There is one class of guest, everyone on board is a VIP and all guests are treated equally.”
Magical moments in Iceland
The beautiful sights on board are soon joined by many beautiful sights on land, as Borealis arrives in Reykjavík.
Here, many in the group opt for the Golden Circle and Hidden Gems excursions, which not only takes us to the famed sights of Iceland – such as the Gullfoss waterfall – but also less-discovered, truly local landmarks – representing the ‘travellers, more than tourists’ principle, which, again, is a fundamental component agents can lean on when pitching Fred Olsen itineraries.
As for the excursion, Connoisseur Travel Services’ Linda Thomson says: “As this is my first time in Iceland, I was looking forward to seeing what makes the country famous – I wasn’t disappointed.”
This theme continues in Ísafjörður, where our guide, Gunnar, explains more about the local community, and we meet Christian, a local farmer, and his family.
Even when things don’t go according to plan, as is the case in Akureyri, when our RIB tour is cancelled due to bad weather, Fred Olsen goes above and beyond to organise an alternative excursion to spot whales.
Fred Olsen Travel assistant manager Tom Holland says he is thankful to Fred Olsen for helping him to tick off a bucket-list moment. “As with all wildlife, you are never guaranteed to see anything, but our tour guide was determined to make it happen and we kept sailing until we finally saw what we had come to see.”
‘It’s like coming home’
As for the experience as a whole, Lincolnshire Coop Travel’s Lisette Barnes says: “The Fred Olsen team has gone over and above to make our cruise special. Every member of crew has been so kind and thoughtful. They will go that extra mile for you, no matter what the request is.”
Meanwhile, Appleby Travel’s Alice Hook says “everyone on board can have a difference experience”, as there is “terrific variety in things to do”.
However, Stephanie Blackmun perhaps sums it up best: “People are guests, not customers. Sailing with Fred Olsen is like coming home and holidaying with friends.”
All in all, The Olsen Way principles, coupled with the overall Fred Olsen experience, form a formidable selling angle for all agents.