My wife and I are relatively new to the cruising scene. Most certainly when many of our previous fellow passengers appeared to spend most of their leisure time on board some cruise ship or other.
We have previously enjoyed four Cunard cruises, starting with the late lamented QE2 and including the maiden voyage of the Queen Elizabeth.
My wife let it be known that she would like to spend her landmark birthday on a cruise visiting the Norwegion Fjords. Not a problem. Cunards Queen Victoria and Fred Olsens Balmoral were both visiting and, as Cunard prices seemed to be on an upward spiral, we looked at Balmoral. We duly booked at the Cruise Show, and were sold on the idea that due to Balmorals smaller size, she would be able to get into ports that larger liners couldn't. We were also sold on the 'excellent customer service'
Anyway, come departure day, passengers were assembled in a less than salubrious terminal, for reasons which later became apparent. Boarding Balmoral up the steeply inclined ramp was not a problem for us, but for those less physically able, a different story.
Our cabin was well located in the newer part of the ship and nicely appointed with a big picture window offering splendid views.
The ship herself, whilst obviously not in the first flush of youth, was always clean and well cared for, but some of the public rooms were a bit 'ordinary'.
The food however was always good, with lots of choice. Restaurant service however, ranged from good (our evening waiters) to dire. Where was the acclaimed Fred Olsen passenger experience? Most of the waiting staff gave the appearance of wishing to be elsewhere.
On board entertainment was obviously 'homegrown', and no problem with that.
Drinks waiters were attentive and friendly. We didn't take any of the arranged tours as we prefer to do our own thing. However, our table companions,(all cruise newbies) praised them with glowing terms.
Over the week, we met up with Queen Victoria, but were surprised to find that despite "our smaller ships get into ports that large ships can't", Victoria always seemed to take prime position, leaving Balmoral at anchor and resorting to tendering ashore, with many physically impaired passengers remaining onboard.
Some cynics wondered if the Captain was choosing option two as it obviously saved money!
Not many children on board as you would expect, fellow passengers being of an older generation.
Disembarkation was quick and trouble free.
To sum up, perhaps we've been spoilt with our previous cruises. But this wasn't, for us at least, a 'cheap cruise'.
Were we made to feel special?
No, we weren't.
Would we do Fred Olsen again?