My husband and I decided to give the Balmoral a try since we like experiencing different cruise lines. We would recommend the Balmoral and would sail the cruise line again -- but we would let people know the following:
1) This cruise ship is primarily for older vacationers -- average age being 65. My husband and I are in our late 30's and didn't mind this but we know some people would.
2) Food not as abundant as with other cruise lines. The food is good but there isn't as much to choose from and not as readily available at all hours of the day and night like you would find on other larger ships.
3)This had to be the largest inside cabin we have ever stayed in. Nice toiletries.
4) Ship doesn't let you know the sailing times in advance -- in other words had we known that we would be leaving certain ports at 1p or 3pm we would have thought twice about booking the cruise since we go for the itineraries and we like to see as much as possible. We found out the week before what the times would be.
5) Not a lot of things to do or see but if you tire yourself out in port that's not a big deal.
6) Very few stores if shopping on board is your thing.
7) Its a small ship and you don't feel the movement -- stabilizers are very good.
8) Not too many children -- so if you want peace and quiet -- you'll get it!
9) Even though it was freezing outside you can use the pool and hot tubs since they are sufficiently heated.
10) No casino -- just 2 gaming tables in one of the lounges
11) Crew and staff are very nice and accommodating
12) Can easily do ports on your own without waiting to leave the ship at a particular hour
13) You have to buy medical insurance on this cruise line (b/c of average cruiser age) -- no way around it -- but you can get it on your own quite cheaply
14) American citizens have to book this cruise line thru Borton overseas.
Hamburg -- easily done on your own without knowing the language. This ship offers a shuttle into town but its not free. You can walk on your own into town or take the local bus right outside of the ship terminal about a block away. Do a hoho bus or take the train or walk
Bremerhaven - easily done on your own but you have to take the ship's shuttle -- too far of a walk. Leaves you right in front of the mall, zoo, museum. This particular sailing we weren't there long enough to really enjoy Bremerhaven -- I don;t know why they would bother getting to a port where everything opens at 10am and have the ship leave at 1pm -- you can't see everything in 2.5 hours.
Amsterdam -- they skipped that port to our disappointment due to engine problems in Bremerhaven
Antwerp -- very easily done on your own since ship is right across the street from town!
Very easy -- free shuttle to and from train station
If you want to explore Southampton before of after your cruise you should definitely do it -- we did it afterwards before catching the eurostar to Paris. We just left our luggage at Cat's Tavern (2 pounds per piece)at Salisbury train station which is about 1/2 hr away from Southampton and took the stonehenge bus tour to stonehenge, old sarum and salisbury cathedral -- well worth it!!