We selected the Fred Olsen cruise to The Baltic 1) because it coincided with our 30th wedding anniversary and 2) We would be in St Petersburg for 2 days - the highlight of our trip. As a bonus there will be a gym, a library, and self ... Read More
We selected the Fred Olsen cruise to The Baltic 1) because it coincided with our 30th wedding anniversary and 2) We would be in St Petersburg for 2 days - the highlight of our trip. As a bonus there will be a gym, a library, and self service coffee/tea bar etc. What more could you want?
Here is what we experienced:
The Ship: Balmoral-
Balmoral is a 30+ year old ship. No better nor worse than a 3 star hotel that gets well used. The cabin we had on deck 5 was perfectly adequate. The public lounges were comfortable and plenty of seating. Piped music was everywhere. Your only escape for peace and quiet was your cabin because the public address system there only worked occasionally.
The passengers were almost all elderly with many infirmities. You had to admire their pluck making the journey. All the passengers we encountered were very friendly.
The ship was remarkably stable – even in a force seven sea you were hardly aware of any swaying movements of the ship.
The Crew – were brilliant. At all times they were attentive, thoughtful and skilled at their job. The Guest Services team did their best but you felt the Cold Dead Hand of Head Office on all their decisions.
The Tours Team - were hopeless – in fact the whole experience of booking tours online direct with Fred Olsen was a shambles from the beginning. We had to produce our own spreadsheet to make sense of times and dates of the tours. To cap it all the order confirmation of our bookings came back a complete jumble, not in date order or port order, only a haphazard mess. The Tours were expensive. The tour guides however, (not FOCL staff) were very good.
Be Warned: the stopovers in port were very short. For example, ‘two days’ in Stockholm, yes, but not the full 48 hours. We arrived around 2pm one day and left 2.30pm the next.
This started of with a bit of excitement, two hours out from Newcastle we had to turn round and go back into port because a passenger had a suspected heart attack. Among other diversions was a small fire in a cabin down from us. Our toilet flooded and pumped raw sewage all over the bath room floor once and two blockages later. Other cabins had similar problems. There were at least three if not four public announcements ‘Stretcher crew to the medical centre’ which sounded serious each time.
All over the ship were sanitizing stations which squirted disinfectant onto your hands and twice daily reminders from the captain over the public address about hand washing and sanitization.
Cabins Deck 5– we had a picture window. The cabin was adequate – lots of storage space. We had our cases taken away which freed up floor space. The constant air conditioning was very dehydrating. Our cabin steward was very obliging but for some unexplained reason the cabin wasn’t hoovered any of the time we occupied it. Beds were comfortable. The bathroom was small but adequate with a bath/shower.
– if you took advantage of the offer of a complimentary wedding anniversary or other package do not rely on the Self Proclaimed Wonderful Customer Service provided by FOCL to do anything.
We booked our 30th wedding anniversary complimentary package online in Oct 2015 soon after the time of booking our cruise– as requested we sent a copy of our marriage certificate by post as soon as it was requested.
We failed to check that the Self Proclaimed Wonderful Customer Service had received it. They didn’t bother to check back with us on its non arrival so again the Cold Dead Hand of Head Office did nothing. They probably thought we’d been ‘trying it on’ because we hadn’t sent the certificate. I would have hoped that a customer spending nearly £5,500 (Cruise + Trips) with them was worth a phone call.
So, on our anniversary on board, nothing happened. On querying why not we were told they had no record of it. The Guest Services Manager hid in their office and would not talk to us to sort out the problem. By now the ‘shine’ on the celebration had been knocked off. After more wrestling with Customer Services they did reluctantly honour their offer. If the Cold Dead Hand of Head Office is reading this I’m more than happy to provide the evidence, again, of our wedding 30 years ago.
Norovirus (projectile vomiting and diarrhoea)
We weren’t 2 days out before the first cases broke out, and kept presenting throughout the cruise. The result was that the gym was closed, the library was closed, the laundrette was closed, the Jacuzzis were closed. Poor crew members had to sit outside the public toilet doors (propped open) monitoring hand washing and sanitizing. Or the toilets were closed for deep cleaning at odd times so you had to rush from one end of the ship to the other to find a working toilet if you were caught short.
Be Warned - If you caught the virus you were confined to your cabin for 48 hours after the last incident.
We were both confined to the cabin for over 60 hours although only one of us was affected.
The result – we missed seeing Tallin and worst of all we missed St Petersburg, the main reason for the trip. We were ‘released’ with half a day to spare. We asked the Tours desk if they could find any St Petersburg tours we could get on. They said they’d come back to us – guess what? They didn’t. I’m convinced they made no effort to help after our major disappointment of missing two much anticipated trips ashore at St Petersburg.
FOCL didn’t charge us for the medical ‘attention’ we received (but left us to provide our own medication). Is this an admission that it is not entirely the passengers to blame as FOCL try to make out?
The cost of the ‘missed’ tours was refunded – big deal. We got a letter from FOCL offering us a ‘discount’ of around £395 but only off another cruise. Not good enough FOCL, not good enough at all.
If you Google Fred Olsen + Norovirus you’ll see that Balmoral has had repeated attacks of Gastro-intestinal problems. You will also see that a class action has been taken out by other sufferers and FOCL has just lost a high court appeal against not having to pay compensation.
You will find the name of the solicitors bringing the case in one of the Google results. I have been in touch the solicitors and they told me a number of others from this Baltic Cruise have been in touch with them – we may, and I say may, have a cause for action. I urge you to do the research and join in with other sufferers from this cruise.
Be warned: While Balmoral has a poor record of Gastro-intestinal problems, I am reliably informed that ALL Cruise ships suffer on-board infection to a greater or lesser degree and none of them seem to be able to get rid of the problem.
Online booking direct with FOCL was not a happy experience. Suggest you book via a travel agency. They had all our details, email and postal, but seem to find it necessary to keep us up to date. We had to phone them several times to find out about tours, tickets, cabin facilities, port parking, etc.
The cruise offered a good selection of ports (if you got to see them), exceptional service from the Crew, food was good, accommodation OK. On board entertainment was a good professional standard. The rest of the trip for us was an expensive disappointment in the extreme.
We have no intention of taking up an offer to spend over £ 5,500 again (less the paltry discount) to get what we had been promised by this cruise and to be put at risk of being ‘poisoned’ again.
I urge anyone contemplating a cruise to check out on Google - Cruise ships + Norovirus or gastrointestinal problems and you will see what a major problem it is. Think twice. . . . Read Less