Our first time into the Baltic and second time on the Balmoral.
The ship first: it was as good as we remembered. Having dined in one of the smaller restaurants (Spey) on our last cruise, we decided to try the main restaurant (Ballindalloch) and loved it. The food was as good as ever and the waiters brilliant. We went "all inclusive", which is worth the cost (if you get a good deal) and means your whole table for evening meals are all AI also. This means that, if you are travelling with someone else (friends etc.) then they have to be AI as well. It may also mean that the waiters need a reminder to fill up your glasses.
The entertainment was excellent, with a singer and 2 comedians and, needless to say, the Crew Show was amazing, especially the Engineering Department! The great advantage of this ship is the stage, which drops for dancing and rises for the entertainment, meaning that the views are usually unimpeded.
Because the Balmoral is relatively small More
(1300 passengers) it can navigate the Kiel canal, which was superb.
We stopped at Copenhagen - great city but poor local guide; Stockholm - excellent and a great local guide. We were moored in the harbour, 5 minutes from the old town, which was a prime spot; we stayed overnight, so many passengers took advantage of the nightlife. Next was Tallinn, which was an easy walk into the centre from the ship and proved to be favourite with many of the passengers. Another overnight followed in St. Petersburg - we went to Peterhof Palace, which was spectacular and the following day spent all day with a local guide going round part of the city, including the metro. It's a shame that you have to obtain a visa to do your own thing in Russia, although both out trips were excellent. Our final stop was Bornholm, a small Danish island that's worth an afternoon, once.
Perhaps the highlight of the cruise for me was the Schleswig male Sea Shanty group that we took on board for our return through the Kiel. Their average age was at least 70, but they were brilliant, entertaining us twice on deck during our transit. When they got off at the North Sea lock, I think half the ship was on deck to wish them "auf wiedersehen".
We really like cruising with Fred. It's semi-traditional, with formal nights, but has changed to smart casual for all other nights. Although, as with most cruises, there are a selection of lemon-suckers (moaners), in general, most are there for a good cruise.
We are shortly cruising the Med for a week on the Thomson Spirit, so the comparison will be interesting. until that review, "keep cruising!!". Less