Christmas Markets Cruise -â€" Balmoral 10th to 17th November 2011
My wife and I have travelled with most of the major cruise lines with the exception of Fred Olsen so when we noticed they were advertising a Christmas Markets Cruise to Hamburg, Bremerhaven, Amsterdam and Antwerp we thought that was an ideal opportunity to assess some of the very positive comments that we had heard from some of their previous passengers.
I booked direct with Fred Olsen because I had received poor service from some of the cruise agents and I was certainly impressed with the standard of paperwork that I received from them prior to the cruise. We were given a 14.00 time to join the ship at Southampton but when we arrived we were met with long queues and it took us just over 1 hour to get onboard but our first impression of the ship was that it was clean, the public areas were nicely decorated and presented and the staff appeared helpful, smart and efficient.
Our cabin 6101 was well located and the information in the cabin was also to a high standard but my first impression that something was not quite right was when I went through the paperwork and found one piece headed Christmas Markets Cruise and another Christmas Shopping but I though that perhaps they were combining some specialist groups. When we went to the first Port Shopping talk the presenter informed us that the Christmas Markets usually ran for a month before Christmas and knowing that it was more than a month to go I started to wonder if they would be open but thought that they wouldn't have made such a mistake.
When we arrived in Hamburg we found that they had indeed made such a mistake and the markets were not open as was the case in Bremerhaven our second port of call. It was clear from some of the other passengers that they were as upset as us that the markets were not open but all we were told by the staff "was that it was out of their control". What was also strange was that some passengers that had booked the cruise at short notice had not been informed that it was a Christmas Markets Cruise but a Christmas Shopping Trip and so they were not disappointed.
Another major disappointment came when we were due to leave Bremerhaven and the ship suffered a "technical fault" and was delayed leaving for 5 hours which meant that we had to miss out Amsterdam and go straight to Antwerp which many passengers thought was very convenient. One passenger that I spoke to who had been in the Royal Navy asked for an explanation and felt that he was insulted by the explanation that the first officer gave him and asked to see a more senior officer but still felt that the ship should have been carrying sufficient spare parts.
Whilst the ship was quite nice we tried the Ballindalloch Restaurant the first night and were not impressed with the quality of the food and drinks service and so we decided to eat in the Palms Cafe which we found suited our needs. The price of drinks were quite reasonable and the entertainment was good.
Unfortunately, this experience has not given us a very good impression of Fred Olsen which is a pity because so many people appear to like what is offered and have high praise for the ships and their staff. I have written to their Managing Director and look forward to receiving an explanation of how this sad state of affairs happened.