We like the intimacy of the Fred Olsen ships,so the Balmoral was an ideal vessel to convey us on this cruise.We had the added advantage of embarking at Southampton rather than the pressure of flying to our first port.
We had originally booked 2 outside cabins on deck 6 with a couple of friends. We were offered an upgrade at a reduced rate so booked a balcony cabin on deck 9 for ourselves. When we arrived to book in we found we had been given a further upgrade free of charge to a junior suite on deck 9. This started off the holiday with a great boost as we had extra space, a better position on the ship, and a range of other extras free of charge. The extra sitting area was a big advantage for having pre-dinner drinks with our friends each evening.
The beds were comfortable, the bathroom included a bath with shower over it, washhand basin, toilet and lots of storage space. The wardrobes and drawers supplied would satisfy your needs should you wish to wear change your clothes several times a day.
The food was good on the whole although the salad bar was limited in variety compared with that of other cruise lines. The range of sugar-free desserts and vegetarian options were good. The waiters were most attentive and helpful in the dining rooms and also in the self-service Palms cafe. The wine list was plentiful, designed to suit everybudy's taste and pocket. The bars were comfortable and again the staff were pleasant and chatty.
The entertainment was varied. The show group was a very talented group of young dancers and singers who entertained us with a number of different and sometimes spectacular programmes. The small band were a little limited, the keyboard player in the Morninglight Pub was good in an understated "musak" way, and the group who preformed each day in the Lido Bar provided a good range of music from a number of musical eras.
The other "Theatre entertainers" were not to everyone's taste. There was a female singer whose repertoire included operatic and more classical songs, a musical duo who played guitar and flute and a comedian who was not to our taste but appealed to a large section of the audience.
The ship entertainment team did a good job. We were not aware of the 60 children who were on board, the twice-daily quizzes the Lido bar were well put together and the sailaway parties were fun.
Enrichment talks were mixed - those about Russian culture were best.Port talks were poorest.
My husband and I used the well-equipped gym most days. It was in a great position looking out to sea which was a good way to while away a session on the treadmill or rowing machine.There were also a range of weights and machines, steps, a few gym balls and hula hoops.
There was an outbreak of Novovirus on the 9th day so the passengers and crew were involved in a very thorough hygiene regime. All self-service was stopped which meant extra pressure on the waiting staff. They dealt with this with humour and professionalism. One of our party unfortunately was affected by this and was quarantined in her cabin for 48 hours which was a shame as she missed our time in Tallinn and Copenhagen. However this did ensure that the outbreak was kept under control for the remainder of the cruise. It also meant that the crew missed their shore leave as the whole ship needed deep cleaning before the next passengers boarded.
Disembarkation was slick and efficient and we were back at our car within 30 minutes of our deck being called.We can recommend Cruise Parking in Southampton for a very smooth and efficient service at both ends of our holiday.