Editor's note: Balmoral went into dry dock on December 9, 2014, for a 10-day refurbishment included various engineering works, general refurbishment and interior and exterior painting. The ship has also had a ‘Café Venus' installed on board, serving high-quality coffee and luxury chocolates. The new Café will be created on Balmoral on Lounge Deck 7, by reconfiguring the Library area, to create a more open space.
Balmoral was launched in 1988 as Crown Odyssey, originally constructed for the Royal Cruise Line. It was operated by Orient Lines and Norwegian Cruise Line before being bought by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines in 2007. It joined Black Watch, Boudicca and Braemar in January 2008 as the largest ship in the Fred. Olsen fleet after a 99-foot section was added to the centre of the ship. Its classic lines were maintained despite the stretch, although extra balconies were added. However, it doesn't look like a floating hotel and has an intimate atmosphere greatly valued by many passengers. Most of those we spoke to were Fred. Olsen regulars, and all mentioned their dislike of big ships. They all felt at home on Balmoral.
The new central section adds some attractive public rooms on deck 7, including a large library, card room and Internet room. A glitzy 1980's glass and chrome atrium contrasts with the decor of the new section, which has a walkway leading off the atrium, carpeted in traditional patterns and furnished with comfortable sofas and armchairs. This leads to the Morning Light Pub, a large area stretching the width of the ship and furnished with wing chairs, through which the passengers have to make their way to the Palms cafe. As a pub, it's more Wetherspoons than the village local, but there is often a popular music act playing there until late at night. At the other end of the activity scale, there is a state-of-the-art spa and fitness centre on deck 10 with luxurious treatment rooms and a fully equipped gym. Throughout the cruise, you'll find a programme of exercise and ballroom dance classes, plus the first jazz dance class we have seen at sea.
Food is excellent, with many continental and Asian options, as well as traditional fare. There's a friendly and relaxed atmosphere throughout the ship, the English-only announcements are kept to a minimum, and a wealth of activities and entertainment is available with no pressure to take part in any of them. Smoking is banned throughout the ship, apart from certain sections of the outter deck. Balmoral, which goes into dry dock for a refit every two years, most recently in December 2012, would appeal to anyone seeking a relaxing environment while travelling the world.