We could see Balmoral berthed as we approached the Cruise terminal at Dover but were puzzled when directed to a car park well away from the ship.There was a great deal of traffic leaving the area and we learnt that Balmoral had been held outside the harbor because of extremely high wins and a heavy swell.She had planned to dock at 5.00am but had not berthed until 11.00am!The result was chaotic as passengers disembarking met with incoming passengers and their vehicles. It certainly stretched the resources of Dover's Cruise Centre but theharbour staff were superb and handled the crisis with patience, skill and good humour.We had arrived at 1.00pm and were on board at 4.00pm.Their was a wait while the incoming passengers were documented,the allocation of cabin allocation was difficult as one had to seek a an Olsen crew member with a clip board,however we found cabin 6110 which was aft on the main deck.A comfortable double bed with large double window,Tv east chair,dressing table with large mirror,and bathroom with sower and a tub. There was plenty of hanging and storage place.Kettle'tray etc and effective air conditioning.
We had a long wait for our luggage and I eventually found the last two cases on the reception area of main deck, obviously the late arrival had caused a huge problem fore the luggage handlers.The Captain welcomed us aboard over the p/a system and warned of very rough weather in the Bay of Biscay,because of the wind and high seas he said that all decks were out of bounds and the doors were being locked. Sadly these conditions existed for most of the trip and I briefly list the course of the voyage: Sun 18 Jan- Still in the English Channel but ship was rising and falling in the heavy seas and everybody had found sleep difficult in the stormy conditions. Access to decks still locked. Mon 19 Jan Another bad night we had to place everything on the floor as violent motion sent everything on lockers or shelves went spinning off to the floor.
Captain Trond Lippestad said at 9.00am that he had been on the bridge all night and we were now in the Bay of Biscay with atlantic swells causing waves 40 foot high and a force 9 gale.We should have docked in La Corunna at 10.00am but arrive at 7 p.m. Tues 20 - Woke to heavy rain but it was good to be on terra firma.We found the town quiet and unhospitable in a heavy hail storm.There was more bad news when the Captain announced that the terrible weather meant he had to cancel the visits to Tangier and Lisbon.To go further south would mean he could not return to Dover by 27 Jan (the storms meant sailing at 10 to 12 knots instead of the normal20-22knots. Wed 20th-Docked in Bilbao mid morning,we are here for two days and revised itinerary is Fri 23 - La Rochelle, Sat 24 Jan -Lorient Mon 26 Jan - Cherbourg. Thursday22 Jan Left Bilbao at 4pm and Captain broadcast that a satellite weather map showed a hurricane moving towards the Bay of Biscay.He was forced to abandon plans to visit La Rochelle and Lorient and would head North for the relative shelter of the English Channel.Olsens were trying to find two Northern ports that we could visit en route to Dover.This was disappointing but the Captain bore the responsibility for 1300 passengers(many elderly) and 550 crew,apparently there had been several broken limbs reported due to violent movement of the ship. We had sunshine in Cherbourg and a warm welcome from the port authority during our 2 day stay in Antwerp.There were hastily arranged visits to The Bayeux tapestry at C.bourg and Brussels in A/werp but we felt they were a poor substitute foe Tangier and Lisbon!
CONCLUSIONS A cruise break in January is tempting particularly to N. Africa but be prepared for violent seas in the Bay of Biscay.You have two days out and 2 days back.The need to maintain a strict adherence to the Olsens cruise calendar means that ports will be cancelled from the itinerary if the ship is not back in the home port on schedule. The Captain, Officers and crew of Balmoral maintained a calm very attitude during a very difficult cruise.Waiers with laden trays weaved across canting decks as did the dancers in the cabaret. Balmoral is a happy ship and we will certainly sail with her again(not in January) They were fair in pricing the cruise and refunded the fuel supplement of £60 that had been on our invoice days after returning home a letter from Mike Rodwell their M.D. apologizing for the disrupted cruise but offering 25% off a future Olsen cruise. Some passengers will claim they would expect a refund in compensation I believe the majority will accept we were the the victims of abnormal weather conditions and we together with Balmoral survived THE CRUEL SEA. ........................