As a regular cruiser with Fred. Olsen having taken several longer cruises eg sectors of the world cruise I decided to take a festive short cruise to escape the Winter weather in the UK. It was my third cruise on the "Balmoral" and it still impresses me as a real ship compared with the floating blocks of flats which seems to be the model for modern cruise ships. The ship is well maintained although, being an old vessel, it occasionally has its problems. Getting to Dover to board the ship had its problems due to the closure of the Channel Tunnel and the consequent traffic problems on the motorway leading to the port. The ship was tastefully decorated for the Christmas season and the atmosphere was really festive. Christmas was very traditional with carol services, a visit from Santa Claus (mainly for the children on board !) and festive fare in the restaurants. New Year was equally enjoyable. On New Year's Eve there was a splendid banquet which included haggis and a "wee dram". After this meal there was an entertaining cabaret in the Neptune Lounge. Towards midnight the deck party really came to life with champagne flowing, lots of music and general enjoyment to welcome the year 2010.
The ship's first port of call was scheduled to be Leixoes (Oporto) but due to rough seas the port was closed and the call cancelled. In succession we visited Funchal (Madeira), Santa Cruz (La Palma), Fuerteventura, Las Palmas (Gran Canaria), Arrecife (Lanzarote) and Santa Cruz (Tenerife).
We were blessed with fine weather, warm enough for the odd swim in the sea as well as in one of the ship's pools. In the early days of the cruise the seas were relatively smooth as we crossed the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay. As we sailed down the coast of Portugal we were met with some rough Atlantic weather. The ship rode the waves pretty well.
The cruise was enhanced by the performance of the crew and the staff. The Captain led the way with enthusiasm and he mixed well with the passengers. The Cruise Director worked hard and kept the entertainment going. The "domestic" staff, as usual, were great. They come from the Third World, mainly Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and India and with their courtesy, efficiency and smiling faces make it a pleasure to travel with them. The entertainers were good and I was particularly impressed by most of the performances of the Balmoral singers and dancers. The crew show (which I did not attend) was, apparently, as good as ever.
On the downside, the ship had a serious outbreak of the gastro-bug (Norovirus) which struck down more than 200 people. From speaking to some of the sufferers they were treated by the medical staff with great professionalism. Overall I enjoyed the cruise and look forward to joining the "Black Watch" (and possibly the "Balmoral") in 2010.