Our short Winter break on the Balmoral 10 November 2011.
We began our holiday at Southampton City cruise terminal. The car parking was slightly different from what we are used to. In the past we have sailed from the Mayflower terminal where they seem to have got it together better in as much as dropping off the car seemed much smoother. This time we had to drop off the luggage and then drive back to the entrance and leave our car. However, both being able bodied the short walk from the car to the Terminal with hand luggage was no problem. Just an observation. Unfortunately there were long queues for checking in and boarding. Much of this seemed to be due to the Xray machine and it wasn't until we were well into the queue that the port authority decided to open another one. Once through we then waited to go onto the ship. The whole process took an hour and three quarters so that we missed lunch arriving in our cabin number 8020 at around 2.30pm. We were pleasantly surprised with our cabin which had a bath and all the amenities. It had a restricted view but this didn't upset us unduly. After unpacking we went to the Neptune Lounge where sandwiches, tea, coffee and cakes were being served. Again there was queueing. We have been on the Balmoral before in 2008 but couldn't recall there being as much queuing,this seemed to be for most things this time. We are easy going and it wasn't the end of the world but some people complained. We had remembered that the food was quite good both in the main restaurant and in the buffet and again were not disappointed this time. We were looked after everyday by our waiter Alvin who was very attentive and good humoured. Nothing was too much trouble when we deviated from the menu, bringing us extra food such as icecream and cheese. The food was of excellent quality, there was even champagne available with breakfast if that was what you required. It was a bit early for us! At dinner in the main restaurant we had a table for 6. We felt very lucky as we had really pleasant company and had a good laugh.
The ports Hamburg, Bremerhaven and Antwerp were fine although we were disappointed not to go into Amsterdam due to technical problems. Perhaps we could have been allowed to spend the afternoon in Bremerhaven instead of waiting on the ship in port for 5 hours. However it didn't really spoil our holiday as we found plenty to do. We didn't go on the arranged tours, preferring to find our own way round the ports shopping, sightseeing etc. It is true that the Christmas Markets were not open, but to be honest we have done them before and seem to be full of tinsel and sickly sweets (not our thing). Again we were not disappointed and had not gone on this cruise for them anyway. On reflection we met some nice people, it was relaxing enjoying good food all washed down with a nice glass of wine and beer.
Disembarkation was fine although again queueing was the norm, but we were soon on our way home smoothly and efficiently. So to sum up we found the whole experience a pleasure and good value for money. We would recommend the Balmoral if a smaller ship is for you.