The Black Prince Remembered

It’s hardly surprisingly, but the retirement of the most famous Ocean Liner in the world (Cunard’s QE2) in 2008 overshadowed the announcement that Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines was to retire its vessel, ‘Black Prince’ in October 2009.

Now the only things that these two ships have in common, is that they were both old and were both favourites with the British cruising public. Apart from that, they were ‘chalk & cheese’.


(Courtesy Fred Olsen)

Although owned by the Norwegian Olsen family, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines offer a very traditional British experience. Initially it can be quite difficult to pinpoint the secret of Olsen’s success. Olsen does not operate modern state-of-the-art ships, in fact the fleet  comprised of four aging ocean ships. Their onboard facilities may seem a little limited in comparison to new ships, the food and entertainment can be good, but not always outstanding, and the fares are not particularly low.

The secret is that Olsen are a family owned business. They operate a small fleet of ‘classic’ intimate ships which renowned for their friendliness and particularly appeal to the more mature Brit. The food and entertainment is aimed firmly at the conservative British pallet. The ships are easy to get around if you have limited mobility and are not overwhelming like most new ships are. In fact many of the Black Prince’s loyal following would regard a 30,000 gross ton ships too big.


The Black Prince is arguably the most unique in the fleet, at the time. Black Prince was built by Flender Werft, Lubeck, Germany in 1966 (three years older than the QE2) and entered service for Fred. Olsen Ltd on 19th October. She had the role of a joint passenger/freight ferry operating between the UK and the Canary islands in the winter, and the UK and Norway in the summer. The ship was converted to a full-time cruise ship in February 1987.

Part of the ship’s cargo hold was transformed into an indoor fitness centre with a heated pool, a large area for table tennis, badminton court and a children’s room. In addition a ‘marina’ is stored in the cargo hold,. This could be deployed via her stern doors and floated on the sea to be used as a ‘jetty’ for water sports. Aesthetically The Black Prince Is not a very attractive ship, in fact some may say she’s ugly. However clever photography is the Fred Olsen brochures, such as overhead images make her look acceptable.

blackprince_200x_dpx (1)


Very Small

There’s a lot of talk these days about mega-ships, will Black Prince was a micro-ship.

At 11, 209 gross tons, she had just seven decks, carrying up to472 passengers, served by 200 crew. The Black Prince was 8-10 times smaller in volume (gt) than many of her competition, and carried a fraction of the passengers. In fact two lifeboats from RCI’s  ‘Oasis’ class ships, carry more passengers than the ‘Black Prince’ could!

There was no climbing walls, ice rinks, water parks, big casino’s, surf simulators, tiered theatre, parks or vast atriums. You don’t even get a wrap around promenade deck. What the Black Prince does have is three intimate dining rooms and three intimate lounges, a shop, card room and small Library.

I recall Olsen marketing director at the time, Nigel Lingard, saying that having such a small ship in the fleet allowed them to pioneer new itineraries without the risk of having to sell a thousand cabins.

The Black Price experience created a very divided public opinion, as passenger reviews at the time, clearly demonstrate: “Black Prince is a tired rusty old vessel that should have gone to the scrap yard long ago” and “My favourite very friendly no glitz – a proper ship”.

Although many commentators described the Black Prince’s public rooms as comfortable, many have also described her cabins as ‘outdated’. In fact many did looked like basic Ferry cabins, because that’s what they were, with drab 1970’s teak veneer décor.  Many of her cabins are very small with drab 1970’s teak veneer décor. The outsides tended to be smaller than the insides and many had bunk beds. However her loyal followers have obviously been prepared to tolerate these shortcomings in order to cruise on a friendly intimate ship.

A spokeswoman for Fred Olsen said that the introduction of new Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations which come into effect in 2010 was largely behind the decision. However the economic downturn and increased fuel costs at the time, were also factors. She added that the number of modifications necessary to bring Black Prince in line with the new standards were economically unviable, particularly for such as small ship. The removal of wooden panelling throughout Black Prince’s interior – considered a fire hazard under the new regulations – was one of the changes required.

Black Prince’s Farewell Season began on the 9th September 2009 with a ten night Around the UK cruise from Liverpool, then a three night mini cruise from Liverpool to Southampton. The season continued with a 10 night Historic Home Ports cruise from Southampton back to Southampton; followed by her final cruise of 14 nights to the Canary Islands. The ship returned to Southampton on Friday 16th October, 2009.

She was scrapped at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in October 2013.

Malcolm Oliver

Below: full Deck Plan

blackprince_200x_dpx edit



Boudicca: HERE           Black Watch: HERE 

Braemar: HERE            Balmoral:  HERE 

20 Responses to “The Black Prince Remembered”

  1. Malcolm Oliver Says:

    How interesting. Sorry I can’t help but good luck. ( His name must be in a whats on sheet. Some collector/dealer must have one.)

  2. Malcolm Oliver Says:

    How interesting. Good luck!

  3. Greetje Speckmann Says:

    Hi. I am looking for a passengers-list of the black Prince-cruise of februari 7 1985 (14 days canary-islands)
    Rotterdam – las Palmas
    My husband (Bill Speckmann)) was cruise-director😉
    I have tried vck Amsterdam and Fred Olsen head-office england.
    Due to privacy-law no results😮
    Maybe you can?
    Kind Regards
    Greetje Speckmann

  4. Malcolm Oliver Says:

    Hi ken, she could of offered the same itinerary over several years. On the other hand, maybe not?

    Did you enjoy the BP?

  5. Ken Mckie Says:

    I wonder if anyone can settle an argument. We went on a cruise on the black prince called Madeira, Morocco and the Mediterranean, we can’t remember if it was September 2001 or September 2002

  6. Pieter Goderie Says:

    Thank you Tom. I know this website very well.

  7. Tom Says:

    Pieter, we must have crossed paths at some stage although I can’t remember when. I also worked on Black Prince ( and Blenheim, unfortunately!) as Shop Manager. I did my first round the world trip on Chandris Lines on the Australis while waiting for Fred Olsen’s Blenheim to be built. When Blenheim broke down soon after its maiden voyage (1970?) I went back to Chandris Lines, again as Shop Manager, this time on Ellinis for about two years, then after a six month holiday, joined SS Australis and stayed until 1977. I LOVED working on Chandris Lines, loved the Greeks and made many friends. I live in Australia now, but at the moment I’m back in Greece once more, catching up with many old shipmates from Chandris days.
    Yia Sou

  8. Malcolm Oliver Says:

    Sounds like exciting times Pieter! I hope that you never had to deal with any serious medical emergencies (or deaths on-board).

  9. Pieter Goderie Says:

    After my experience on board of the Black Prince I went to Chandris Lines and worked on board of the Australis, Ellinis and Britanis. It was mainly sailing with migrants tot Australia and New Zealand. For a part there was cruising as well. Pacific, Carabean and Mediterenian. Thanks fr your quick reply. Pieter.

  10. Malcolm Oliver Says:

    Thanks Peter. Did you work on other Olsen ships or with other cruise lines?

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