I have been on 20 plus cruises on Celebrity, Royal Cruise Line, Princess, First European, Fred Olsen and NCL. This by far was my best cruise. I sailed on the Balmoral 12 times when she was the Crown Odyssey built in 1988 for Royal Cruise Line. She was never a 20 year old ferry as one reviewer described her. She was one of the most innovated and modern ships of her time. I am happy to say that her rescue from NCL by Fred Olsen was a miracle.
We flew from Minneapolis to Miami and were on the ship in 5 minutes after reaching port. At first I was worried what I might see. Upon boarding I was delighted to see her lobby and atrium in the pristine condition I remembered from my first cruise. Bright and shiny looking like new. I felt like I was home again. I was led to my cabin on the same deck ( 6 ) which was in the newer part of the ship that had been lengthened. Large, comfortable and a ton of closet space.
I immediately took a tour of the ship. Not much had changed outside of the new section. All new carpeting and furnishings through out the ship. The new Library and internet cafe were fabulous. The new restaurant, Avon and Spey were very nicely appointed. I had late seating in the Avon.
I was a little worried about the food being a British ship but found it to be some of the best I have had on a cruise. I'm pretty much a meat and potatoes guy and I decided to eat at the buffet one night since there was no beef item on the menu that night in the main dining room. They had a fantastic beef stew. When the waiter asked the rest of my friends why I wasn't at dinner they explained I only wanted beef for dinner and it wasn't on the menu. He got the Maitre De ( I don't know how to spell it ) who contacted me and assured me I would have steak every night if I wanted. From that night on I had steak! Talk about service!
My girlfriend wanted unsweetened ice tea which wasn't available. 2 days later they had it every day in the Palms Cafe.
I've read that people couldn't find enough deck chairs. Somewhat true but you can't have 1300 chairs for 1300 passengers. On deck 11 where the new pool is located the available space for lounging and sunning in at least a third of what the ship had before. I never had a problem finding a place to sit or relax.
The bar staff was the best I have ever experienced on a ship.
Cocktails were never forced on you but you never had to wait if you wanted a drink. Tipping was almost a chore! Nothing was ever put on your account and no tips were added to your drink tab. I had to go to the pursers desk to get envelopes for the tips for my waiter and cabin attendant. I also gave $20 each to the three bartenders who worked the Lido Bar where we spent some time. Again the best service I have ever received on a cruise. I still can't believe many passengers said they weren't going to tip since it wasn't added to their bill. These were mostly Brits. And they call us the ugly Americans. From my friends alone each bartender made over $100 for the 10 day cruise.
Entertainment was terrific from The Music Of Your Life's Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with Buddy Morrow to all the other singers and the great Staff Show.
We missed one port which I will go to in at a later date but added a port which hadn't been scheduled. All in all I couldn't have asked for a better cruise. If you want great service and food on a smaller ship make it a cruise on Fred Olsen.
Disembarkation was a pain in the backside but that's US Customs not Fred Olsen.