We didn't actually book any of the ship's tours on shore as this was an Ancient Wonders of the World cruise and being in our sixties we see enough ancient wonders every day when we look at each other. However, we did go ashore and do our own thing in every port, walking for miles and finding plenty of interest locally. These ports included Almeria, Spain; Villefrance, France; Katekolon and Pireaus in Greece; La Goulette and Sfax in Tunisia; Limassol, Cyprus, Cittiavechia, Italy and Lisbon, Portugal. The only place we stayed on deck was in Alexandria, because by the time we had sunbathed for a while and done a bit of reading, coffee drinking and cake eating, earlier passengers were already returning to the ship saying "Don't Do It". They were apparently all being accosted at the port gates not only by sellers of Egyptian "antiquities" (mostly stuffed camels) but the taxi drivers were severely harassing passengers and one elderly lady was lifted off her feet and placed inside a taxi, having to be rescued by other British guests. The ships officers had to call the police to remove the offenders from the port gates.
The entertainment on board surpassed our expectations. The Show Company were brilliant, putting on excellent shows which we really enjoyed. We also had a comedian, Don Reid, who is a very funny man with clean humour, and in addition a Magician. We very much enjoyed going up to the Crow's Nest at the end of every day where Jackie, a lovely pianist with a beautiful voice played soft jazz songs and ended our day on a very pleasant note. There was also a jazz band on board who performed in their own shows, but often joined Jackie in the Crow's Nest and played some impromptu numbers accompanying her singing.
The whole of the top deck of the Balmoral is devoted to swimming pool, spa pools and sunbeds, so there is plenty of room for everybody to get a suntan and there was an additional pool and large sunbathing area at the back of the ship on Deck 9.
The cuisine on board was probably not what I would call 4* and was a little repetitive, for example after the Tropical Night, when we had coconut deserts etc, we then had several days where coconut appeared at every meal in some disguise, even once appearing as pink coconut soup! The meals could definitely be improved, but we certainly didn't go hungry and there was plenty of choice. The buffet restaurant, Palms Cafe, was excellent, serving delicious breakfasts, wonderful lunches and themed evening meals (eg. curries, or chinese).
Virtually all the staff on board were Philippino and were wonderful. Cheerful, charming, funny, helpful, hardworking and tireless.
There isn't a huge shopping area on the Balmoral, but then we weren't looking for Regent Street.
Our Captain was Norwegian and he was a real treat of the day. He often walked around the ship, mixing with the guests, he ate his lunch in the Palms Cafe, he was approachable and entertaining. Each morning at 9.00 am and each evening at 6.00 pm, he would address the passengers over the tannoy and his little speeches were a delight. Everyone went quiet in order to listen to him and he was a very well respected man.
We would recommend the Balmoral to anyone looking for a pleasant, relaxing cruise and would certainly cruise with Fred Olsen again when the opportunity arises.