My wife and I have just returned from a cruise of Christmas markets aboard the Balmoral and we were very sadly disappointed with our experience. We are seasoned travellers and cruisers and this was our first experienced with Fred Olsen. We were expecting a great cruise but our initial experiences with some of your crew soon put a stop to that and it all went downhill from there.
1. When we booked our cruise through an agency we requested for late dining (which was stated on the confirmation letter from our travel agent and on boarding the ship we were informed that we were given early dining. We proceeded to the restaurant to request a change in our dining time and there was a long queue plus a sign stating that because the ship was full, both early and late dining was full therefore giving the impression it was not possible to change ones dining time. While in the queue we spoke to a couple who were given late dining (they had requested early dining) and we agreed to swap. While in the queue we were watching the people ahead of us requesting a change in their dining times and we noticed it was possible to change your dining time. When we spoke to the restaurant staff about swapping our dining time we were informed that there would be a charge of £32 per couple (i.e. £64) just to swap the dining times over (we have never experienced anything like this before on any cruise ship we have been on). We requested to speak with head of food and beverages and on listening to our feedback he stated that he had no power to just swap our dining arrangements only if we both paid our £32 each. On principle we would not do this. Please note: his customer interface skills had much to be desired. The couple with whom we wanted to swap had requested early dining based on medical grounds (the lady was recovering from cancer) – i.e. she need to take medication early evening after a meal and the late dining was too late. On informing the head of food and beverages about her needs his was response was for the couple to either pay the £32 or eat up stairs in the anytime restaurant. He did not give the impression of any sympathy but just kept smiling with throughout the period. I believe he needs serious training in customer relationship.
2. On speaking to other passengers in the dining queue and others throughout the week (specifically those who were on the anchor deal) we got the same feedback - everybody was given the opposite dining time to what they requested. Now in my mind this seems very much like a scam – i.e. if you give people opposite dining time to what they want but then give them the opportunity to change for £32 (please convince me otherwise). Some people will change and pay because they are on holiday and they just what to enjoy themselves and a peaceful life but many will not change on principle. While in the queue (to change my dining time) I was observing those who changed their dining times and paid their £32 and everybody was so surprised that there was a charge and they were not pleased to par your charge. This is the first time on any cruise ship I have been on when I’ve been charged to change my dining time. Please note: we did meet one person who DID get their dining times swapped for free because they had special influences.
3. Disgusted with our encounter with your food and beverage manager we went to see your Guest Relations. After about 30 minute wait we spoke to your guest relations officer and she took down our details and said that because we were on the anchor deal (along with another 900 passengers) we had to pay to change our dining time and this rule was fixed by the company and is non-negotiable. She politely said she would send off an e mail to head office and come back to us shortly with a response. Throughout the whole cruise we did not receive any feedback or contact from your guest relations. The chasing for feedback came from my wife and me. To me your guest relations officer is redundant is because all she can do is refer the situation to head office and wait for a response.
4. Whatever deal a passenger has for a cruise is irrelevant to your ship staff – we should all be treated equally. Because we were on the anchor deal we were felt as though were being treated as Second class passengers. Please note: We were informed by your guest relations that over 900 of the passengers were on the anchor deal - that is more than three quarters of the passengers.
5. We came on the ship to get some rest and a good night’s sleep - we came off the ship more tired. Throughout the whole cruise we did not get one proper nights’ sleep and this was due to the noise and vibrations of the engines. We live near a major motorway (M1) and are used to the constant traffic noise and when the ship’s the engines are giving off a constant drone we were able to sleep but we were frequently awoken in the mid of night with loud engine noise and extreme vibrations. This you can appreciate upsets your sleep pattern. This happened every night plus when the ship was coming into port (early hours of the morning) the noise vibrations would go on for what seemed ages and it felt as though the ship was falling apart. Hence the lack of sleep. We have cruised on many other ships (also aft and on low decks) and never experienced the noise we heard while on the Balmoral. One night (I think it was about 2 hours after we had left Zeebrugge) I was in my cabin and I experienced very loud engine noise and vibrations. I wondered why because we out at sea. On looking out of my cabin window I saw a ship passing in the opposite direction which appeared to be only meters away. While you in your cabin at night one would expect a drone of the engine which we could sleep through but it seemed that on most nights in the early hours (while at sea) there was frequent vibrations and much increased engine noise which woke both my wife and myself therefore for most of the cruise we had disturbed nights and hence not much sleep.
7. Due to your staff not changing our dining time we had to eat (most evenings) in the anytime dining area and here we experienced food running out and not being replaced.
8. Fred Olson Guest relations said that they would be contacting the travel agency with whom I booked and discuss the booking arrangements. I have just spoken with the travel agent and to date there has been no request from Fred Olsen.