4 Fred. Olsen Balmoral Cruise Reviews for Holiday Cruises to Europe - British Isles & Western

This review will be quite detailed and is only my opinion but, as I'm a bit of a compulsive note taker, I have recorded information on the ship and ports which may be useful to others so here goes........... Background This was our ... Read More
This review will be quite detailed and is only my opinion but, as I'm a bit of a compulsive note taker, I have recorded information on the ship and ports which may be useful to others so here goes........... Background This was our first Fred Olsen cruise but our 30th ocean cruise...... can you tell we like cruising? My husband and I are in our mid 60s and I have some mobility problems. My husband and I are from the Midlands in the UK and we chose this cruise because it was very reasonably priced and fitted in with our holiday dates. Travel arrangements We travelled down by car from our home on the day before the cruise and stayed at the Premier Inn Central in Basingstoke which is roughly 30 miles from the dock in Southampton. I booked this hotel well in advance and got a room at a very reasonable rate (£36). The hotel is conveniently situated about 1mile from the town centre and within a leisure park with cinema and chain restaurants. Car Parking We pre-booked car parking with 'Cruise Parking' which is situated a 20 minute mini bus drive from the port area. The cost once again, was reasonable, especially compared to the port 'on site' car parks. The whole process was very straight forward. We drove into the site, handed over our keys and transferred our cases onto the mini bus trailer. From drop off to arriving at the port terminal took no more than 30 minutes. On arrival back in port we saw a representative from the company standing right outside the customs clearance area and he directed us to a waiting coach. Once again, it was approximately 30 minutes from getting out of customs to getting into our car. We will certainly use this company when cruising from Southampton. Boarding Unlike many other cruise lines, it is not worth arriving early at the terminus as the ship did not start boarding until just after 2.00p.m. We had been given 2.30p.m. as our embarkation time and we actually got on board at 2.45p.m. - Check-in was fairly quick -- about 20 minutes from arriving at the terminal (cases were whisked away) to completing the security checks and sitting down in the lounge. - There is a magazine stand just outside the departure lounge with many free travel and concept magazines. - There is plenty of seating inside the departure lounge together with toilet and snack facilities. - There was a stand advertising 'silver service afternoon tea' at £6.50pp. The same food is available without charge in the Palms Buffet. - Passengers are given a boarding number and groups of 20 are called to go through. This prevented a mad rush to get on board. - Once on board we were directed, not shown, to our cabin. Balmoral - the ship. My husband and I actually sailed on this ship in 2005 when it belonged to NCL and was Norwegian Crown. When it was sold to Fred Olsen the ship was stretched to add extra cabins and some new facilities. It was good to see that some of the original features still remained and we recognised the dining room, rear pool and buffet area. Balmoral is 43,500 tonnes with 1,300 passengers and 500 crew so a relatively small ship in comparison with many of today's liners. I felt it was geared towards the more mature passenger and had a definite British ambiance although there were a few guests from other countries on board and, as it was half term for many UK schools, there were over 50 children who appeared to be well catered for by the designated crew members. Muster Drill This took place immediately prior to sail away and the muster stations were all indoors. We took our life jackets, listened to the safety talk and then were asked to put on our life jackets. Dining options Palms Buffet - Food is not available 24 hours in the buffet. - The set times for breakfast 07.00 -- 09.30 Lunch 12.00 -- 14.30 Afternoon tea 15.30 -- 16.30 Dinner 18.30 -- 21.00 - IMHO the food was generally good with a fair variety of hot and cold dishes. - I did like the fact that the tables were set with a flower decoration, table mats, fabric serviettes, side plates and the correct amount of cutlery. Dining rooms - Evening Dining is traditional set times and tables -- early sitting is 6.15p.m. and late sitting is 8.30p.m. - Breakfast and Lunch servings are open seating in all 3 main dining rooms. Breakfast 08.00 -- 10.00 and Lunch 12.00 -- 14.00 - There are 3 dining rooms -- the largest, Ballindalloch Restaurant, is on deck 6 and the 2 smaller ones, Avon and Spey, are on deck 10. - There are several tables for 2 available. - I found the service to be efficient without being intrusive. - The menus were varied and always included a 'British traditional favourite'. - Food quality varied but I never had a bad meal. There are no speciality restaurants. Entertainment - There is no casino but there were a couple of Roulette and Black Jack tables available in the evening in one corner of the Lido Bar on deck 8. - The 'Morning Light Pub' was the main bar with comfortable seats and musical entertainment in the evenings. - There is a large Library with comfortable chairs, a good selection of books available to borrow, British news paper each lunch time and quizzes, crosswords and Sudoku challenges each day.- There is an internet room with computers but we didn't use it so I can't provide any information. - There were a few shops selling jewellery, clothes, cosmetics, alcohol, cigarettes and general items etc. - The Marquee lounge and the Observatory lounge on deck 11 provided quiet areas with good views. - The Neptune Lounge on deck 7 was the main show lounge and had sofas, swivel chairs and small tables. There was a fairly large dance floor which rose up to form a stage for the shows. My DH and I are keen ballroom dancers and we were in heaven.....there was ballroom and sequence dancing every evening and there were dance hosts (4 gentlemen and 1 lady) for people who needed a dance partner. - There were 3 production shows which I thought were among the best I have ever seen on a ship, a comedian who had most of the audience laughing (me included), a singing magician who, in my opinion, was poor and a terrific 'crew talent' show......definitely the best I have seen afloat. - There were 2 formal evenings where probably 70% of the passengers wore formal/semi-formal clothes plus a 'tropical' night and a 'rock and roll' night where approximately 30% of passenger dressed up. - There was a Captain's welcome and a Captain's farewell reception with free drinks and canapes. - There were quizzes, lectures, recitals, card competitions, craft classes, cookery demonstrations, dance lessons etc on sea days. Launderettes Wow!.......I know it is a bit strange to get excited about launderettes but, with creased clothes, modern airline baggage weight restrictions and longer cruises, I find the launderette particularly useful and the 2 on Balmoral are the best I have come across on cruise ships. - There are 2 launderettes -- 1 on deck 3 and 1 on deck 9. - They are both quite spacious rooms and fitted out in a similar pattern. - Each room has 8 front loading washing machines and 8 driers. - Deck 9 has 2 irons and deck 3 has 3 irons. - A wash costs £2 (tokens available from the reception desk) and that includes detergent which is automatically dispensed onto the clothes at the push of a button as the wash cycle starts. - Driers and irons are free. Remember to empty the water condenser at the top left corner of the drier to make drying more efficient. - If the washer door has been closed on an empty machine, there is a yellow tag to pull down on the left corner of the washing machine. - Opening hours are from 08.00 to 23.00 Cabin 5218A inside superior (deck 5 mid-ship) We were pleasantly surprised with the size, layout and comfort of the cabin. We knew when we booked this grade of cabin that the beds would be arranged in an 'L' shape so were quite happy with that. - I found the bed to be reasonably comfortable and the pillows were soft and fluffy which I like. - I found the duvet to be on the heavy side but my DH thought it was a perfect weight....everyone to their own! - I loved the fact that there was a kettle with coffee and tea sachets provided along with sugar, sweetener and milk cartons. It was lovely to have our early morning cuppa and I really don't know why the American cruise lines do not offer this facility on all their ships. - There was ample storage with plenty of drawers and hanging space in the wardrobes. - There was a bucket style chair and small glass table along with a large dressing table. - The safe was in the wardrobe and you input your own number. - The cabin had very good lighting which could be varied to make it darker or lighter. - There is a flat screen TV with BBC news, Sky news and sports channel, a film channel, bridge cam and interactive options -- pay films and access to your OB account. - There are plenty of plug sockets but they are US/European style. I brought an adapter and 4gang extension and this worked well. - I thought the bathroom was a reasonable size compared to our experiences with standard cabins on other cruise lines. - The best thing is the largish shower stall which had ½ glass wall/ ½ shower curtain so NO sticking curtain. The shower power was good and hot water was plentiful. - Toiletries were basic but reasonable quality -- liquid soap on the counter and liquid body wash in the shower. You could request things like shower caps, solid soap etc. - Towels and wash cloths were changed on request. Ports and ships tours. Our ports of call were -- La Rochelle, Getxo (for Bilbao), Aviles and La Coruna We had already visited all the ports except for Aviles. We decided to do 1 ship's tour and that was to Ile de Re just outside La Rochelle. We chose this one because a French friend holidays there regularly and we wanted to see the places he talked about. We also chose this one because it did not have 'compulsory walking' (Fred Olsen's description of their tours contains this information) and I have some mobility problems. - A set of port maps was left in each cabin during our 1st sea day. I thought this was a nice touch. - Ship's tours departed from the Neptune lounge. - All ports were industrial areas La Rochelle The dock is approximately 5 miles from the centre of La Rochelle and is a controlled area. - There was a free shuttle bus to the dock gates but there is nothing to see there and it is a very long walk from there into the town. - There is a small terminal building with a shop, toilets and tourist information desk. - FO ran a shuttle bus into the centre of La Rochelle for £10pp with unlimited transfers. These run from the car park outside the terminal building - The town is easily walkable with some pretty streets, an interesting small harbour area, outdoor cafes and many shops. Unfortunately, many things were closed or opened late as it was the end of the holiday season. - The Ile de Re tour was quite interesting. We saw the best of what was on offer including the Monastery ruins and some pretty fishing villages - La Flotte, Sainte-Marie-de-Re and Saint-Martin-de-Re were the most notable. There was 45 minutes free time in Saint-Martin-de-Re which was definitely not enough to explore the quaint streets and pretty harbour. Getxo and Bilbao Getxo is a thriving suburb of Bilbao and has its own charm. - Again it is an industrial port area so, although you could walk out of the port, it was a long way to the town centre. - There is a small terminal building with a shop, toilets and tourist information desk. - There were maps available in there. - FO ran unlimited return shuttle buses into the centre of Getxo for £5pp. The bus stopped 100 metres from the metro station where there are frequent trains into Bilbao. - There is a very nice beach just at the edge of the port. - There is a shopping complex just outside the port. - Getxo centre has cafes and shops. - There are some beautiful and imposing villas along the coast road. We had been to Bilbao twice before when I was more mobile and we had seen the main attractions already -- the Guggenheim Museum, the river front promenade and the Old Town -- so we decided not to do a ship's tour but to get the metro and then make our mind up what to do when we got into town. The metro was easy to use: - Ticket machines have an option to have information displayed in English. - It was €3.20pp return for the 20 minute journey. - We decided to get off at 'Abando' station which was nearest to the Old Town and was a short walk across the river. After coffees and a croissant at a pavement cafe (€3.50 which we thought was extremely good value) we caught the tram (€1.40pp single journey) along the river front to the Guggenheim Museum where we got off and sat in the sun in the park area for a while just enjoying the sunshine and people watching. - We caught the metro back from the San Marmes station We had a lovely few hours for a very reasonable price. Aviles Aviles was a revelation and turned out to be, by far, our favourite port. The old town area was very attractive with some most unusual cafes, little food shops and fabulous arcades. This is a relatively new destination and, I believe that Balmoral was the first cruise ship to use the port earlier in the year. There is a lot of building work going on to extend the dock area. - You cannot walk directly from the ship so there was a free shuttle bus to terminus at the edge of the old town. - The terminus is just a tent with a few chairs and tourist information. - It is quite a long walk from the drop off to the town as you have to cross the river and the railway line by bridge first. - There is a very helpful Tourist Information centre at the beginning of the street which takes you to the Town Hall square. - The streets which radiate from the square are all quaint and there are some beautiful buildings, speciality food shops and gardens. - The newer town is to the right of the old town and has a nice food market and a shopping Mall. - We had beautiful weather and enjoyed sitting out in a cafe and people watching. La Coruna Unfortunately, the weather changed as we got to La Coruna and it became cold and overcast with torrential rain showers. It was also November 1st which is a national holiday in Spain the vast majority of shops and many restaurants were closed. These 2 factors combined to make it a disappointing port for many passengers. Fortunately we had visited La Coruna before and remember it in better weather and as a bustling shopping centre. - The ship docks in walking distance of the town centre. - There is a small terminal building with a shop, toilets and tourist information desk. - 2 minutes from the terminal building is a huge shopping mall with cinema, restaurants and upper market shops. - There are lovely walks around the promontory and a beautiful beach at the other side of the peninsula which can be reached by walking about ½mile through the town centre. - The Old Town has a large Town Hall square with many cafes and restaurants. It's approximately 10 minutes walk from the ship. And finally We were so impressed with the Fred Olsen product as a value for money option that we have booked 2 more cruises with them. Balmoral was not the glitziest or most modern ship we have been on but she was one of the friendliest and had many things that we really enjoyed. Read Less
Sail Date October 2012
After an unscheduled overnight stay in Southampton due to technical problems with a lifeboat and its certification (why is there never an inspector on 24 hour call outs,surely the cruise company fraternity can give someone a good wage to ... Read More
After an unscheduled overnight stay in Southampton due to technical problems with a lifeboat and its certification (why is there never an inspector on 24 hour call outs,surely the cruise company fraternity can give someone a good wage to facilitate such matters).So,this meant no stop off at the French port of Hendaye,disappointment for some but i was okay with it specially as F.Olsen had reimbursed us £50pp of OBC,which took care of my bar bill! Pleasant weather most of the time, though a bit rough for some as we sailed through the Bay of Biscay,lots of sick bags available on this day plus we heard the doc's surgery was busy handing out sea sickness jabs (always take your own pills).After a couple of days sailing we eventually got to Lisbon,a wonderful vibrant city.Took the Big red bus tour here (15 euro pp) rather than a ships tour of the city (£40pp) and the bus stop is right outside the terminal gate,they did not advertise that in the brochure and only at the very end of the port talk (wonder why). However we did take a ships tour in Vigo,our next port of call. Seeing it was Sunday and all but the cafes were closed though the main attraction today was the Aircraft carrier, Spain's Juan Carlos was in town and the Spanish public were queuing for literally miles to get on it as it was open to them today. Our trip was okay though as usual way too overpriced for a view of the harbour and city from a high vantage point and a trip to Bayona were we saw some ancient castle/fortress which now houses a 4* hotel (with 5* prices for drinks,2.80 euros for a small coke!) Next up was La Coruna,did our own thing again, a free shuttle bus through the port to the port entrance was laid on,then we took a leisurely walk around the quaint old town,then into the shopping district where we stopped off for a coffee and watched the world go by.Next day was the port of Getxo for Bilbao,took a ships tour here,again our first stop was to a high vantage point to get a panoramic view of the city,this view was quite spectacular.A couple of stops in the city to a sacred church and then into the old town centre,again quaint, and very picturesque finishing off with a look only at the carbuncle of a building that is the Guggenheim museum. After each trip the weather was very good for a spot of R&R on deck 11 with its warm Pool and even warmer jacuzzis and if you did not fancy a 4 course lunch there was soup and sandwiches. We dined in the Spey restaurant were the food was excellent,service slow at times,as the waiters had a "lot on". Breakfast taken mainly in the Palms self service,they do a wonderful ham omelette,cooked fresh to your liking here. Entertainment, could not fault the visiting "pro" acts though the Balmoral singers and dancers were ordinary,probably the worse we've seen on a cruise but hey. The other entertainment staff were good,thought Juliet had a great voice in the wonderful crew show. All in all a very good cruise would recommend to anyone. Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
First timers with Fred Olsen Line This was our 12th cruise and the first one with Fred Olsen on the Balmoral.We selected this cruise because we wanted to sail from Dover/Southampton and avoid the present problems associated with flying. ... Read More
First timers with Fred Olsen Line This was our 12th cruise and the first one with Fred Olsen on the Balmoral.We selected this cruise because we wanted to sail from Dover/Southampton and avoid the present problems associated with flying. The checking in procedure was brilliant, we were invited for lunch on the Balmoral prior to departure which was a lovely touch and were in our junior balcony suite with our luggage waiting by 2.30pm. The size (more cupboard and drawer space than any other ship ever),decor,cleanliness and layout of the cabin was very good and the bath tub with shower was an added bonus. The balcony also was larger than most of the ones on other ships. Our stewardess was very helpful on the few occasion's we asked for something and the fresh flowers and fruit placed in our cabin made us feel special. Although the in-service cabin menu had a limited selection, when we did order food it was delivered very quickly and was excellent. In cabin tea and coffee making facilities was another great service not often supplied by cruise liners Our request to change our evening dining to 2nd sitting and to have a table for 2 was done immediately. We dined in the Avon restaurant which had wall to ceiling windows which made the outlook breathtaking. The food was very good,the menu changed daily and there was sufficient variety to suit everyone.This high quality food was served in all three restaurants. Our waiters (Nestor and Roland) were from the Philippines and they gave excellent service, were courteous,efficient and sometimes very funny. The main reason we selected this cruise was the itinerary as there were many ports of call we had never visited especially the ones in Scotland. We booked our excursions prior to departure via the internet. All excursions started and finished on time and were good value for money. My husband and I are in our early 70's and are both in good health, it appeared that over half the passengers were aged over 60 years and a number had mobility problems. Fred Olsen crew were marvelous to those passengers who needed assistance on the excursions especially when the trips needed tenders to get off and on the Balmoral. No wonder many of the passengers are repeat cruisers. The evening entertainment was excellent and as well as the two formal evenings there was also a "western evening" where the crew put on a show and a "British evening" with a sing a long and lots of flag waving. There was no casino as such on board just one blackjack table and a roulette table but these did not appear to be very popular anyway. This is the only cruise line we have travelled with who have not automatically deducted gratuities from your on-board account but allow the passenger to decide the remuneration. This in fact resulted in us giving more to the ones who had given us a good service. Also all drinks were as cheap as chips!. What wonderful value for money Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
As a regular cruiser with Fred. Olsen having taken several longer cruises eg sectors of the world cruise I decided to take a festive short cruise to escape the Winter weather in the UK. It was my third cruise on the "Balmoral" ... Read More
As a regular cruiser with Fred. Olsen having taken several longer cruises eg sectors of the world cruise I decided to take a festive short cruise to escape the Winter weather in the UK. It was my third cruise on the "Balmoral" and it still impresses me as a real ship compared with the floating blocks of flats which seems to be the model for modern cruise ships. The ship is well maintained although, being an old vessel, it occasionally has its problems. Getting to Dover to board the ship had its problems due to the closure of the Channel Tunnel and the consequent traffic problems on the motorway leading to the port. The ship was tastefully decorated for the Christmas season and the atmosphere was really festive. Christmas was very traditional with carol services, a visit from Santa Claus (mainly for the children on board !) and festive fare in the restaurants. New Year was equally enjoyable. On New Year's Eve there was a splendid banquet which included haggis and a "wee dram". After this meal there was an entertaining cabaret in the Neptune Lounge. Towards midnight the deck party really came to life with champagne flowing, lots of music and general enjoyment to welcome the year 2010. The ship's first port of call was scheduled to be Leixoes (Oporto) but due to rough seas the port was closed and the call cancelled. In succession we visited Funchal (Madeira), Santa Cruz (La Palma), Fuerteventura, Las Palmas (Gran Canaria), Arrecife (Lanzarote) and Santa Cruz (Tenerife). We were blessed with fine weather, warm enough for the odd swim in the sea as well as in one of the ship's pools. In the early days of the cruise the seas were relatively smooth as we crossed the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay. As we sailed down the coast of Portugal we were met with some rough Atlantic weather. The ship rode the waves pretty well. The cruise was enhanced by the performance of the crew and the staff. The Captain led the way with enthusiasm and he mixed well with the passengers. The Cruise Director worked hard and kept the entertainment going. The "domestic" staff, as usual, were great. They come from the Third World, mainly Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and India and with their courtesy, efficiency and smiling faces make it a pleasure to travel with them. The entertainers were good and I was particularly impressed by most of the performances of the Balmoral singers and dancers. The crew show (which I did not attend) was, apparently, as good as ever. On the downside, the ship had a serious outbreak of the gastro-bug (Norovirus) which struck down more than 200 people. From speaking to some of the sufferers they were treated by the medical staff with great professionalism. Overall I enjoyed the cruise and look forward to joining the "Black Watch" (and possibly the "Balmoral") in 2010. Read Less
Sail Date December 2009
Balmoral Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.5 3.9
Dining 4.0 4.1
Entertainment 4.0 3.8
Public Rooms 4.0 4.1
Fitness Recreation 4.0 3.6
Family 2.0 3.6
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.5
Enrichment 5.0 3.4
Service 5.0 4.3
Value For Money 4.0 3.7
Rates 4.0 3.8

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