Embarkation was a breeze and aside from the pesky ships photographers getting in the way I found my way to my cabin in no time. I believe 600 people joined the ship that day but the place was quite calm and collected. Alas my cabin door swipe key didn't work. I asked for help from some bloke standing at an office next to my cabin. He tried the key, said it didn't work, (ya don't say ?) and told me to go to Reception. I trooped down two decks to Reception and they issued me with a new key. In the end I trooped up and down no less than 5 times before my gyppie hip and gammy knees started screaming at me. I was very hot and very bothered and very annoyed at this stage. Finally that same crew member reappeared, turned out he was the Assistant Cruise Director and he couldn't believe my story (ya don't say ?). I thrust the key card at him and told him that I would sit on the stairs until something was done about it. He didn't seem very impressed. Finally someone in cover-alls arrived with implements for repairs. Turns out the lock on the door needed to be re-programmed. The Reception staff should have perhaps twigged ?
Anyway, finally in after 55 minutes, luggage arrived, unpacked and relaxed.
Balmoral is a rather nice ship but suffers from very dated decor. The ship was cut in half a couple of years ago and a 33 metre section was added and I'll be blowed if I know where they managed to find the 80's decor to fill the new space. But find it they did and install it they did.
I was allocated a table in The Spey Restaurant, one of two smaller restaurants way up on The Highland Deck. All three restaurants on board served the same menu for that meal. The Spey (and The Avon) have beautiful floor to ceiling windows, although fairly cramped seating (the waiters constantly having to squeeze between diners). The food was, as expected very British but surprising good. The portions looked a bit small but if you followed the others and ate each course, you did just well. My table companions were all on the 105 day Dover to Dover cruise, they were all 60 plus but they welcomed me with a nice British reserve and we were all quite relaxed after a few days.
The Palms Cafe was also surprisingly good with a great variety of foods and there never seemed to be a crush or a scramble for seats.
A Nono Virus outbreak prior to departing Dover and with a small reoccurance after San Francisco had the ship on alert. Handwash was everywhere and crew stood at the entrance to restaurants and bars offering it. For the first few days from Sydney the food in the Palms Cafe was actually served to you by staff. This was not a problem and their attention to detail on this was a reassuring comfort.
The staff throughout the ship were wonderful except maybe some of the surly Reception staff. I guess you might get surly when the same hot sweaty and annoyed passenger appeared 5 times with his faulty key ? My cabin stewardess was dying of some terrible flu but showed up each day to clean the room and staggered back at night to turn the bed down. Poor lass should have been sent to her bed to recover.
I didn't participate in much of entertainment. It reminded me of Butlins holidays camp stuff. Very British. But then this is a very British ship.
The ship is well maintained and kept spotlessly clean.