How and where do we start?...Having been on two previous cruises with Fred Olsen on the Braemar which we enjoyed immensely we decided to give their new ship the Balmoral a chance. Big mistake, first the ship is based in Miami so after a 9 hour flight we then spent 3 hours in US immigration standing in line in an over crowded and chaotic room waiting to be processed. This meant we did not get to the ship until late by this time everybody was in a foul mood and that set the scene for the whole cruise. After having suffered the dreadful ordeal of US Immigration we in fact spent only 2 hours on US soil (Or should I say water) so why did Fred Olsen put us all through that? Good question!
The Ship: Firstly our cabin was supposed to be a twin outside superior on main deck, when we got into it we discovered it was in fact a twenty year old ferry cabin (Which the ship had been in a previous life)that had been painted white, Superior it most definitely was not. The power point for the kettle to make a hot drink was on the floor outside the small bathroom (still in its original state. When we pointed out to the reception that there was an issue of health and safety with boiling water on the floor easy to trip over their only solution was to get maintenance to bring up a homemade extension lead, luxury indeed!
8 ports of call planned and 3 sea days, because of engine failure the captain dropped 2 ports of call, Playa del Carmen and Key West, apparently 2 ports of call had also been cancelled on the previous cruise on the Balmoral. So with Fred you don't always get what you pay for!
The ship has been cut in half and stretched with a piece put in mid ship and went into service in February 2008. The consequence of the stretching is that now the internal distribution is disjointed and confusing. For example a new restaurant on deck 8, but the kitchens are on deck 4, result cold/tepid food. Not enough sun decks and sun beds for the increase in passengers numbers. Half of the sun deck on deck 11 is under the engine flue, with a continuous loud engine noise, and soot particles floating down on the sun bathers below. Not ideal I think you will agree.
Conclusion The ship overall was badly managed, the cruise director was hopeless, the overall service level was poor, confusion with dress code, electric room keys being cancelled a day before disembarkation, meaning an horrendous line of passengers at reception at 11.00pm getting theirs keys reinstated. This is just some of the issues we experienced during the 12 days.
Our advice is spend your money elsewhere, there are far better value for money cruise ships out there. Avoid the Balmoral and Fred Olsen if you want an enjoyable cruise. We certainly learnt our lesson, never again.