13 Fred. Olsen Balmoral Romantic Cruise Reviews

We chose this cruise because of the itinerary and were just viewing it as a means of getting to Orkney and Shetland and really were not expecting much. However how wrong we were. We found our inside cabin clean and spacious with a good ... Read More
We chose this cruise because of the itinerary and were just viewing it as a means of getting to Orkney and Shetland and really were not expecting much. However how wrong we were. We found our inside cabin clean and spacious with a good sized shower room. The food was excellent and we found the entertainment some of the best we have come across. We have cruised many many times with Cunard, Holland America, Princess, Carnival, Celebrity and Costa always having had either a suite or balcony so feel I am in a position to give an honest review of the Balmoral. We found the size of the Balmoral easy to walk around especially when in heels of an evening. The crew and staff were very friendly and there was none of the hard sell for good reviews from the restaurant staff or the maitre d. The only thing I would change is the disembarkation/embarkation at ports of call. This is the first ship where both have taken place on the same gang plank but I guess this may be due to size. The ports of call - Invergordon, Kirkwall and Lerwick were good and we were blessed with excellent weather. We toured independently and hired a car for the day in Lerwick through Bolts car hire who had car waiting on quay upon ships arrival at a reasonable price. The age range on board was varied and yes there were some people who had mobility issues and how nice it was that they too could enjoy a lovely holiday. I would definitely consider cruising on the Balmoral again. Read Less
Sail Date August 2018
Five nights Norwegian fjords, our first cruise. What a revelation! Self catering holidays are now well and truly in the shade. Impressive organisation from start to finish, friendly efficient service, good food and entertainment, high ... Read More
Five nights Norwegian fjords, our first cruise. What a revelation! Self catering holidays are now well and truly in the shade. Impressive organisation from start to finish, friendly efficient service, good food and entertainment, high standard of cleanliness. Super spacious suite. In short everything ship shape. Couldn't fault any of it. Dined in Spey restaurant at table for 2 by a beautiful circular window. We want one of those at home now complete with waterfall. Lovely waiter and room stewardess looked after us very well. I wasn't expecting to enjoy entertainment and activities but the jolly atmosphere was infectious and ship's company great. Despite the ship being fully booked we never felt crowded. We had booked this cruise to celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary and it was a memorable and romantic way to mark the milestone. It was also my husband's birthday so the waiters ended up singing to us twice and presenting 2 celebration cakes. A delightful time was had and we are now converted. Next year's Fred Olsen brochure is open on the coffee table... Read Less
Sail Date August 2017
We chose this cruise because of the convenience of a Newcastle departure,we live in the north of England and wanted to avoid flying. Check in was easy and boarding was well organised. We had a cabin in the forward section on the 4th ... Read More
We chose this cruise because of the convenience of a Newcastle departure,we live in the north of England and wanted to avoid flying. Check in was easy and boarding was well organised. We had a cabin in the forward section on the 4th deck,lots of storage and kept nice and clean by housekeeping. When we sailed away the sun was shining and temperatures made us feel as if in the med ,not Tyneside! The ship was a good size,and although full we always found little quiet spots. I made use of the pool and Jacuzzis as the sun shone throughout. We ate dinner in the Ballindalloc restaurant most evenings though enjoyed a delicious Asian buffet in the Palm cafe on last night. We loved the group 4th dimension in Lido lounge which got going after the show in the theatre. We had a drinks package that we took full advantage of! It was great to be able to explore Bergen independently,very easy as we docked in the centre. Likewise with Eidefjord,where we took a scenic walk along the river up to some Viking graves,with good views on the way back. The ship then sailed along the beautiful scenery. We felt sad to be leaving. Read Less
Sail Date April 2017
We have been on Balmoral before, and we have been to Norway lots of times before - but who could ever tire of Norway? We chose the "Fred's Favourite Fjords" cruise because the departure port was from Newcastle, which is ... Read More
We have been on Balmoral before, and we have been to Norway lots of times before - but who could ever tire of Norway? We chose the "Fred's Favourite Fjords" cruise because the departure port was from Newcastle, which is very handy for us in Durham. Embarkation was straightforward and efficient, and we found ourselves on board by about 2.30pm. We had wanted to sit out on deck with a cold cocktail, but the grey and drizzly Newcastle weather made this impossible. It was, however, the only grey and drizzly weather we saw, because there wasn't a cloud in the sky once we reached the fjords. We were allocated cabin 4125, a spacious outside cabin with a large window and two single beds in an L-configuration. There was ample wardrobe and drawer space, tea and coffee making facilities, a flat screen TV and a small-but-adequate bathroom with a shower stall. Not the Ritz, but certainly enough to ensure we would have a comfortable cruise. I like the Balmoral (indeed, all the FO ships) because they actually look like ships and not like floating apartment blocks like some of the RCI monstrosities. Balmoral is the flagship of the FO line with 1350 passengers, and is just a nice size to ensure there is plenty to do on board without being overcrowded. We ate in the Ballindalloch restaurant on the 6.15pm sitting and the food was the high standard we have come to expect on Fred cruises. Service was quick and done with a smile. We were travelling on the all inclusive package and this is well worth the money if, like us, you enjoy a drink. Even premium brands and cocktails were half-price. Entertainment was very good; the Balmoral Show Company put on original, lively performances and the guest entertainers included a funny comedienne and an amusing comedy magician. I must also mention John Smithson, the resident entertainer in the Morning Light pub, who played the keyboard, guitar and violin (not all at the same time) and had everyone's feet tapping and hands clapping with his lively fiddle tunes each night. The cruise itself was fantastic. As I mentioned, the weather was perfect and the scenery, cruising along through the beautiful fjords, was stunning. Think of the Lake District but on a grander scale - all mountains, waterfalls, mirror-like water and glaciers; absolutely beautiful. We did an excursion in most of the ports and these were expensive (aren't they always?) but well organised, with the exception of Hellesylt, where the cruise director made the mistake of announcing that the gangway was open, leading to a massive bottleneck as 1350 passengers all tried to disembark at once, leading to our tour starting over an hour late. This was the only blip, however, and everything went to plan after that. Our only complaint on this week-long cruise was that it wasn't long enough! We could easily have managed another week. Everything was spot-on and I cannot understand the negative reviews I have read here - it's hard to believe those people were on the same cruise. We are looking forward to our next one, and would advise anyone who hasn't been to Norway to go there at once; if there is a Heaven, it must look how the Norwegian fjords look. Read Less
Sail Date June 2016
Various friends keen on cruising had suggested that we try it and so, after years of travelling abroad by plane and car, we chose Fred Olsen's Christmas and New Year trip on the Balmoral to Madeira and the Canaries to dip our toes in ... Read More
Various friends keen on cruising had suggested that we try it and so, after years of travelling abroad by plane and car, we chose Fred Olsen's Christmas and New Year trip on the Balmoral to Madeira and the Canaries to dip our toes in the water, as it were. In short, I have to say we both found it simply excellent. We stayed at the De Vere New Place hotel, 10 miles outside Southampton, the night before our embarkation and found their cruise package very good. It included dinner, bed and breakfast, 16 nights car parking and taxi transfers to and from the terminal before and after the cruise and we would certainly stay there again. At the terminal the check-in and embarkation process was trouble-free and we were delighted with our Superior Suite on deck 9. Our cabin stewardess, Ellen, was a delight, as were our two evening waiters. The food and entertainment was suitably varied and of high quality throughout our time onboard and what struck us most was just how friendly all staff were, from the Master down. It really was a happy ship. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day were simply superb thanks to the staff's efforts. We, in our mid 50s, were probably some of the youngest passengers aboard, but the age mix was not a problem for us as we made some good friends along the way. We tended to do our own thing whan ashore, but found the mix of land and sae days fine. Disembarkation was just as impressive, particularly compared to passing through airports. We enjoyed this trip so much that, whilst we will still look forward to other forms of overseas holidays, we will definitely look to cruise again and more than likely with Fred Olsen. In short, Fred and his team on the Balmoral made this the best Christmas and New Year we have ever had, and we are already eyeing up a trip for the same time this year. Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
Our 8 day Balmoral cruise was quite stunning. Having previously sailed with QM2 and Celebrity, I tried Fred Olsen last year with Blackwatch and fell in love with the unique style of British food and unique personal experience of the ... Read More
Our 8 day Balmoral cruise was quite stunning. Having previously sailed with QM2 and Celebrity, I tried Fred Olsen last year with Blackwatch and fell in love with the unique style of British food and unique personal experience of the Fred Olsen staff, many of which seem to effortlessly remember guests names. I dined with my wife and mother in the Spey restaurant, waiters as usual were highly trained and nothing was too much trouble. The assistant Maitre De, Greg, was marvelous,courteous and extremely helpful as were our able friendly table waiters, Chai and John, and in the mornings the ever cheerful waiter Made'. Evening dishes were of the highest quality and varied, including venison rich in its game sauce, sirloin steak, lobster in herbed crust, and river trout. Our cabin 4071 was midship, noiseless and clean. Our cabin stewardess was attentive and cheerful. The Norwegian scenery was stunning, my mother who accompanied us in a single adjoining cabin thought the scenery of the Fjords heaven on earth. The Flam train took us through some of the most picturesque scenery I have ever had the privilage to see. This particular excursion is well recommended. Shows on Balmoral were particularly good, the comedians Bret and Bob were extremely funny, more so than what you see on TV, and jokes were clean. The show company dancers were entertaining and on international night, ship staff held an extra show singing their socks off. Highly entertaining. All in all a very enjoyable cruise indeed, we loved the Blackwatch, and I'm pleased to say the Balmoral was every bit as good. I hope Fred Olsen keep up the good work as after we got off this cruise we immediately decided to book 22 days with Balmoral to the Adriatic in October! Robin & Penny Farrant, Sidmouth. Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
We chose this as it was my husband’s first experience of cruising although I’ve been on several. The duration and itinerary were ideal, as was the ambience of a small ship. Food and service were very good and we particularly enjoyed ... Read More
We chose this as it was my husband’s first experience of cruising although I’ve been on several. The duration and itinerary were ideal, as was the ambience of a small ship. Food and service were very good and we particularly enjoyed hearing Adam Reece playing in the Observatory Bar. Embarkation was very well organised and we both felt we benefitted from the relaxation of the cruise. Luckily, we were on a dining table with two other couples with whom we had some most lively conversations over dinner. Our waiters showed great patience over the fact that we were last to leave each evening. One disappointment was caused by the itinerary being changed, resulting in only one day on the Kiel Canal instead of two. Nevertheless, my husband is happy to try another cruise and it is likely that we shall opt for Fred Olsen next time. We didn’t go on any shore excursions, preferring to be independent, but we did choose to book the drinks package and it was well worth it. Read Less
Sail Date December 2018
We booked this very short cruise at exceptionally short notice (book Monday sail Saturday.) We were accommodated in a suite on Deck 9. During the booking procedure I made it clear that we wished to dine at 8-30 pm but were later told that ... Read More
We booked this very short cruise at exceptionally short notice (book Monday sail Saturday.) We were accommodated in a suite on Deck 9. During the booking procedure I made it clear that we wished to dine at 8-30 pm but were later told that we must eat at 6-30 pm. It took very many telephone calls to unravel that situation but having paid an extra £12 we were granted our wish. We have sailed in Balmoral on a previous occasion and felt confident that we would enjoy ourselves. The parking arrangements by ABP and the boarding procedure were excellent. Our suite (9028) was large and well decorated if a tiny bit tired. Our cabin stewardess was charming and efficient and worked exceptionally hard. We had asked for a double bed but were provided with 2 singles I expect that this was because I booked so late. The Champagne (Cava,) the fruit and the fresh flowers were a nice touch as were the canapes in the evening. We were assigned a table in the Ballindalloch Restaurant which is large and very noisy. We breakfasted in the Spey Restaurant. Breakfast was a very generous buffet arrangement. Dinner was a five course affair with good variation. Generally we felt that the standard of the food was good to very good without being exceptional, the one exception was the roast beef that was exceptional. The wine was perfectly acceptable if one chose carefully. There was no draught bitter beer apart from Newcastle Brown Ale which is not to everyone's taste. A disappointment! We attended the entertainment in the Neptune Lounge on all three evenings. The dance troop worked tirelessly and with professionalism, the music was not to our taste but it suited most people. The comedian was very sharp and his act in the top flight. We visited Rouen and Honfleur, in both places it rained but we enjoyed wandering about. We chose not to use the organised tours as they seemed to be very expensive. We felt that the service on board was not quite as good as we have experienced on other cruises. It may be that the staff are being worked too hard. All in all this was quite a fun break in a monotonous winter. Will we choose to sail with Fred Olsen again? I am not sure. There are many cruises on offer and the competition is fierce.. We will decide soon. Read Less
Sail Date January 2018
We chose this cruise for two main reasons. The Newcastle port of departure and the itinerary. Fred Olsen documentation appears to indicate that port facilities at Newcastle are not as good as other ports. However, we found the arrangements ... Read More
We chose this cruise for two main reasons. The Newcastle port of departure and the itinerary. Fred Olsen documentation appears to indicate that port facilities at Newcastle are not as good as other ports. However, we found the arrangements to be pleasant and relaxed with a smooth embarkation, giving no cause for concern. Disembarkation was a little slow but our luggage was available for collection in the car park, which was helpful The cruise itinerary was very interesting taking us to areas that we had not visited before, and including some river sailing, down to Hamburg and also right down to Bremen. The shore excursions are a little expensive, but did include some good choices. There were also opportunities for some free time whilst the ship was in port. All ports were directly accessible by the ship, but the first visit at Kiel was especially impressive with airport style walkways direct to the ship. We have travelled on this ship before and generally enjoyed our experience. We are not a fan of very large cruise ships. We did feel on this cruise that the standard of restaurant service, whilst very good, had reduced very slightly. The "all-inclusive" drinks option was limited to "singles" this time, where previously "doubles" had been permitted. However, this did not cause us any difficulty. The cabin was the same category as our previous cruise, and again we were very satisfied. The cleaning was also good and reliable. There is an annoying feature in the Marquee Bar on the highest deck. The doors are automatic and cause an uncomfortable gale when the entrance onto the open deck and entrance from the inside of the ship are both open. As this tends to be used as a through route, this occurs frequently. Our overall experiences to date have encouraged us to book another short cruise from Newcastle on this ship for 2018. Read Less
Sail Date August 2017
On Saturday 30th April my partner and I travelled with Fred Olsen on Balmoral to Norway. My partner and I are in our early 20's, so much younger than most travellers. We found that the design of Balmoral was quite dated and feel that ... Read More
On Saturday 30th April my partner and I travelled with Fred Olsen on Balmoral to Norway. My partner and I are in our early 20's, so much younger than most travellers. We found that the design of Balmoral was quite dated and feel that it could do with a make-over, new carpets, chairs etc. but no problems with the facilities so we couldn't complain. We arrived at Dover at 12pm (the times given were between 12pm and 2pm) and check in was smooth and fast. We did have to wait until 2pm before they started embarkation which was a bit of a pain as we expected to get straight on as I did in my previous cruise with Cruise and Maritime Voyages. Once we were invited to the ship we were directed straight to our room where our luggage was waiting for us outside - very fast service. We asked for a table of 2 in the restaurant as we were hoping for a romantic holiday together as it was our first, and we were given this! We were in the main (Ballindalloch) restaurant which was very spacious and waiters were great. With dinner you are given a choice of wine, beer or water, but no choice for soft drinks. As we had paid for the all inclusive package and expected to have soft drinks available to us with our dinner, as advertised, but when we asked we were informed that we would have to pay for our soft drinks. Aside from this there was a lot of variety of food available and waiters were very fast in taking orders, and serving food. Very nice people. The drinks... As mentioned above we had paid for all inclusive when we booked with Fred Olsen. With the all inclusive you are offered a variety of house wines and spirits, and selected beers and ciders. Cocktails are NOT included in the AI which I feel should have been. The cocktail selection was not great either. Having the AI package you receive a 50% discount on cocktails and branded drinks, which is better than nothing and understandable with branded alcohol. Tea and coffee are only available from the restaurants and if you wish to have them from the bar you are asked to pay which is not acceptable. There were no self service machines either so you couldn't go and help yourself when you want one. The waiters serve you tea and coffee after your meals but there is no selection of tea or coffee, you just get what you are given. The entertainment and Activities provided on board was phenomenal. Fantastic staff and incredible shows every night to end the day on a good note. The Balmoral Show Company, who were new to the cruise were amazing and had incredible voices, Barnaby (the ship comedian) was very funny and Matt Cairnes (another vocalist) was fab too. 4th Dimension, who played in the Lido Lounge every night, were great and always got the crowd up dancing of an evening. The waiter service in the bars was good, fast service and always quick to take orders. We waited a max of 20 minutes but was understandable as the Lounge was very busy during the show. The Excursions provided at the Port of Calls were great. In Bergen we went to the Fløibanen funicular which was a great day out, in Olden we visited the Briksdal Glacier on Nordfjord which was beautiful and in Flam we travelled on the Flam Railway which was a little bit disappointing at this time of year. Overall, we had a fantastic cruise with Fred Olsen and would recommend travelling on Balmoral. Read Less
Sail Date April 2017
Staff – some good some bad, certainly not at the level across the board of the more expensive cruise lines but a lot of the staff where great. Drinks – the drinks package includes so little variety I ended up always paying the top ... Read More
Staff – some good some bad, certainly not at the level across the board of the more expensive cruise lines but a lot of the staff where great. Drinks – the drinks package includes so little variety I ended up always paying the top up to have different drinks however it wasn’t very pricey to top up to nicer drinks. Swimming pools and recreation activities - They have very little and much of what they have is catered to their older clients. Knowing in advance this was a smaller ship with older patrons we took a PS3 with us, on day one the reception staff refused to set the TV up for us so we could plug it in (it needed a different controller to the one supplied as they have their own system that doesn’t allow other HDMI channels) however we asked different staff on day two and they sorted it for us. As this was a Christmas time cruise we avoided pools as did pretty much everyone else as it was to cold. Quizzes and shows – you could turn up pretty much as the shows were starting and still get a seat a big change on the larger ships however the shows were very low budget versions of what you get on larger cruise ships they were mildly entertaining at best. With the quizzes we were lucky if we found one per day so we spent quite a bit of time in our room with the entertainment we brought with us. Photo's & other items to purchase – we didn’t get any pictures done really so didn’t investigate this price. Bathrobes – not available to purchase ☹ Anything extra you may want to pay for was reasonably priced. Food - Breakfast Breakfast in room was ok, not much in the way of queues for the buffet and we didn’t try the sit down breakfast. Food - lunch, snacks and late night food. Buffet not too busy but variety was very low although quality was very good. Food - dinner Sit down meal was largely good quality but amount of food was limited and my husband who is a picky eater struggled to find food at dinner time. Food - room service Food was pretty good and was included in the price which is unusual and nice however it was very much snacks no meals available. Fred Olsen were a good low budget cruise line where the quality is good but variety is limited however the price of this trip was similar to we paid on P&O so I don’t feel the price reflected the fact they are a budget cruise line. Would happily sail with them again but I want the cost to be dramatically lower than the mid range cruise lines like P&O and Royal Caribbean Read Less
Sail Date December 2018
We enjoyed a cruise on Fred Olsen last year and like the smaller ships. The staff and the ship are good BUT the food was so disappointing. Very small amounts in the evening in the dining room and nothing special at all.We had a meal ... Read More
We enjoyed a cruise on Fred Olsen last year and like the smaller ships. The staff and the ship are good BUT the food was so disappointing. Very small amounts in the evening in the dining room and nothing special at all.We had a meal one evening which was not unlike a frozen Findus dinner from years ago. A dry piece of pork covered in very burnt breadcrumbs and a few frozen diced carrots and peas and again frozen chips.Yuk, even the Head Waiter agreed it was rubbish. There was no sign of steak or lobster and having sailed with several other lines, these items usually make an appearance especially on a Gala night. The buffet between 11pm and midnight seemed to have more interesting and hot dishes and we went down there regularly for cheese and biscuits as we were hungry, (a first for us on any previous cruise) All in all not good value as we had paid over £4000 for 7 days!! Read Less
Sail Date July 2017
Background: My wife and I (aged 60 & 62) are new to cruising - we took a Last Minute Budget All Inclusive Mediterranean 7 Day Cruise in June 2014 to see if this type of holiday suited us before committing to a more expensive and ... Read More
Background: My wife and I (aged 60 & 62) are new to cruising - we took a Last Minute Budget All Inclusive Mediterranean 7 Day Cruise in June 2014 to see if this type of holiday suited us before committing to a more expensive and sophisticated version over Xmas and New Year (18/12/15 to 05/01/16). We booked (3 weeks before departure in the Black Friday Sale) the Balmoral sailing to the Canaries and Cape Verde Islands. I gambled that I would be 'signed off' by the hospital physiotherapist on 4th December after a hip replacement operation - I need not have worried! The main attraction of the cruise was a) Winter Sun and b) visits to 6 ports over 18 days to give a decent balance of sea days and visits. We actually visited only 4 ports and spent 14 days at sea - not what we signed up for! Travel to Embarkation: We drove from Fife, Scotland whilst the Forth Bridge was closed so had to leave at 03:30. We had booked the Marriott Meon Valley Overnight Stay, Free Parking (up to 28 days), Evening Meal (extra charge), Breakfast and free taxi to/from Southampton Cruise Terminal. Total cost £212.88 compared to £136 for only the Port Parking - £76 for Dinner, B&B and taxi transport for 2 adults was very good value for money and the entire operation was smooth. friendly and professional. Ship Information: 1300 berth stretched 27 year old vessel - not a modern tower of flats at sea by any means - 'shabby chic' is a reasonable description - care worn but serviceable. The ship is very clean and the Norovirus protection regimes is borderline obsessive - a good point - with two auto dispensers and two serving staff in support, armed with manual 'squeegee' antiseptic dispensers. The cruise brochure says that Fred doesn't bother with climbing walls etc - just as well since the average passenger age is about 70 (with a fair few in the late 50s/early 60s age range and a lot of 80 years+ passengers). The Reception Area (Deck 6) on embarkation afternoon resembled a Mobility Support Convention - buggies, zimmerframes, crutches and walking sticks in all sizes and hues - until everyone had found their cabins. About 6 shops on Decks 6 & 7 - watches, perfumes and a decent range of clothing & accessories, especially bearing in mind the space constraints - we only used the clothing shop (needed the next size of shirt after 12 days of cruise dining ...) and the service was excellent. There is a promenade on Deck 7 (4 laps for a mile) where the Daily Walk (led by Hristov from the Gym) takes place at 09:15 - not well attended because most people were either eating breakfast or undertaking other activities. Throughout the day, a hardcore of power walkers and a couple of joggers were steaming around - the deck width is just comfortable for two strollers side-by-side so it is necessary to squeeze in when the 'Scuse me ...' cry goes up as the more athletic zoom by. Most entertaining when the overtaking occurs on the slalom sections where the walkers and joggers have to dodge the crew who are on permanent repainting duty (more of which later). Don't wear your best jeans or shorts when walking unless you want a free white stripe on the right leg. The poolside furniture is plentiful as are the seats on the promenade deck - but all is well worn with yellowing rubber support straps for the seating/reclining portions - careworn but serviceable. Pools (seawater) and jacuzzis are on Deck 7 (rear of Palms Cafe) and Deck 11 (can be reached by both internal and external stairs - good exercise). The Daily Newsletter became something of a joke - no proofreading undertaken. Crosswords were printed without corresponding clues - make up your own answers ... and details of one port of call for Cape Verde was a straight 'cut & paste' from an earlier voyage, referring to a port in the Azores! Cabins: We booked the Anchor Fare Inside Cabin and were allocated number 5031 on Deck 5 - about six cabins short of the prow of the ship - like sleeping on a roller coaster during the Bay of Biscay section in each direction. Wardrobes, between-bed chest of drawers and dressing table were worn and a catch was missing from the chest of drawers and one from the wardrobe. Only a problem in the Bay of Biscay where drawers flew open every 20 minutes or so and after the chair we jammed against the drawers travelled some 6 feet down the cabin, we gave up and lived with the cacophony. The furniture quality was 'decent charity shop' standard - usually advertised at up to £35 each unit. Cabin cleaning and bedmaking/turning down was excellent every day, despite the staff having more cabins to clean than on previous years (according to other passengers). The cabin crew and serving staff are really superb and should be the standard that other areas of the operation aspire to. Towels were changed regularly and the bathroom kept spotless - a lot of work since the washbasin is quite shallow and the 'Off to Full Power' settings on the tap were very fine, resulting in the mirror being spottled with splashes each time it was used. The shower was very powerful but the hot to cold setting was very fine - a challenge not to burn or freeze. There was no waiting time for the water to heat up - less than 5 seconds. Dining: Formal dining in the Ballindalloch (Deck 6) and Avon and Spey restaurants (Deck 10) whilst Palms Buffet on Deck 7 served breakfast, morning coffee (and cakes), lunch, afternoon tea (and cakes), evening meal, Supper Club (and cakes) which explains why I bought a larger shirt ... We were allocated Ballindalloch restaurant for Dinner (2nd sitting, which we requested so that we could have maximum time in port - sore point). The serving staff in all restaurants are excellent and are probably a major reason for Fred's loyal customer base; the sight of a waiter (humming 'Here Comes the Bride'), carrying two bowls of soup at the same time as supporting two quite frail elderly ladies who clung onto his arm as we crossed the Bay of Biscay in really heavy seas, was a joy to behold. Yosi ('You see' phonetically) and Jonathan were superb - remembered names, preferences etc faultlessly - and were endlessly cheerful in the face of some rude comments from other diners. They are a credit to Fred (as is Ruby-Ann in the Morning Light Pub). Serving staff in the Palms were a little more relaxed but still looked after passengers excellently. We took lunch in the Ballindalloch (and breakfast on 2-3 days) and also in the Avon and Spey restaurants (but not when crossing the Bay of Biscay - the sway was too much!) and were delighted with the service, quality and range of food - I am a picky eater and valued the ability to choose from the Menu and then forage in the buffet area to produce some quite eclectic food combinations that would probably have caused chef to despair. Other meals were taken in the Palms where the talents of the pastry chef were always evident - consistently superb. Entertainment: Meets the needs of the client group - safe. clean and gentle. The comedian was the most 'edgy' but kept to mildly naughty so very difficult to be upset. The nightly shows in the Neptune Lounge (Deck 7) were well produced - a couple of strong singers, from the in-house company, carried those whose voices were weaker or a little off-key. The crew panto was very energetic, rich in slapstick and generated lots of belly laughs - deserved for the amount of work that had gone into rehearsal. Not Broadway or West End - but it never claimed to be - and a pleasant way to pass the evening. Quizzes, Art & Crafts Classes, Bridge Classes, Line Dancing and Guest Speakers completed the line up. Some Guest Speakers were very good, others were very bad (one sent me to sleep - and other passengers suffered the same fate). The Elvis impersonator never appeared on stage although he was spotted wandering around the Decks from time to time. I believe these are volunteer Speakers who receive a free cruise for their efforts so it is unfair to expect experts in their field. The Rosario Trio played at least twice each day (violin, double bass and guitar) and had a really good and broad repertoire - jazz. classical, Spanish guitar etc. Very popular with the audience. The scheduled shows were changed on at least 3 occasions because of staff illness so the Entertainment Cancellations alternated with the Port Cancellations to keep the passengers guessing. Excursions: This is where matters fell apart with a vengeance. The itinerary was Funchal, Arrecife, Cape Verde (Mindelo and Praia), Las Palmas and Tenerife. At the Captain's Welcome Party (queued 15 minutes to meet him but then told 'just enter the Lounge at the other entrance when we declined to be photographed - grrr!), he said that there was an exciting new project - we had left Southampton with a white hull but would return with a new grey version. Our visit to Funchal was then cancelled (via the 'Daily Cancellation Broadcast' at noon each day), allegedly because of delays crossing the Bay of Biscay. In the absence of hard information from the Captain, rumours circulated that there were engine problems and that the power was inadequate after the new section of ship was added some years ago, meaning that the timetable was too tight for the plod across the Bay of Biscay, unless it was 'like a millpond with a good downhill slope' as one passenger eruditely described matters. Our first port visit was to Arrecife, Lanzarote was 23rd December after 5 days at sea. A 5 minute trip to the town in modern coaches that operated a smooth 15 minute shuttle service. This was the port where the Guest Speaker had sent me to sleep so everything was a pleasant surprise - the old castle and port area were very pleasant as was the small mini-pontoon where small private boats were moored and the circumference was occupied by market traders selling belts, wallets etc - the standard range. The town centre was pleasant in a low key fashion - we just wandered around and took photos (second objective of the cruise - wander, take pictures, drink coffee at an internet cafe, then repeat after lunch ...). It was nice to be on terra firma again. Christmas Eve and Day at sea - the atmosphere was a little muted with mutterings of discontent - 'It wouldn't be Fred if he didn't cancel at least one port - and this is our 4th cruise with him!' was one remark we overheard. Boxing Day was spent at Mindelo, Cape Verde. The tour buses were real museum pieces (40 years old oil burners - could have come from a film set!) - no air conditioning, seat belts and Anchor fare passengers were charged £5 each for the 10 minute ride to town). Mindelo town is a very poor area but we were stopped 3 times by locals who were very keen to practice spoken English and to tell us where to get the best photographs. We found a side street cafe (as did about 4-5 other passengers from the cruise) and spent a very pleasant hour or so amongst local residents, drinking huge mugs of capuccino and using the free WiFi - all for the princely sum of €2.30! On the walk back towards the tour bus, we were approached twice by beggars/pickpockets who were quite persistent - kept walking, tightened grip on camera and raised monitoring until we were back in the Town Centre. The Town Beach is quite charming - fishermen working, females taking the catch direct from the small boats and the running the length of the street trying to sell the fish to the cafes and restaurants. Numerous dogs on the beach, none of whom are toilet trained, so be careful if you need to step back to capture that important photograph. Mindelo is a developing area and I had to remind myself that my 'charming/quaint' photograph was someone else's daily poverty. Well worth the visit - although we seemed to be the only passengers who thought so! The island and its residents are working hard to develop tourism but it is very raw and basic - we hope to see it again before it becomes too commercialised. Next day was Praia, Cape Verde where we took the 2 hours minibus and Colonial Walk Tour with Eugene, a very erudite and entertaining guide who told us about his family and daily life for the Verdeans. Excellent pace - we have been on similar tours where the duration was crammed into 1-1.25 hours; Eugene left plenty of time for the photographers so we didn't miss any of the information at the next point of interest and we finished with a 30 minute cafe break for a coffee and a meat pie of unknown origins - it might have part of a rodent control team in a former life - who knows - but it tasted OK. 2 hours was probably a wee bit padded but it allowed a gentle pace and we felt we had received good value for our £25 per head charge for the excursion. The only downside was an attempted pickpocketing on my wife by a small 'blind' boy (no white stick and walked with far too much pace and direction to be visually impaired - no coincidence that his contact point was my wife's purse but her hand had reached it first). We left Praia early because, according to the Captain, quote 'This is not a safe place to be after dark' unquote. It would have been nice to have been advised of this earlier! Next came the Captain's Cancellation Message - Tenerife had been cancelled because he was expecting more bad weather (a staff member whose parents were on board had predicted this some 48 hours earlier ...) BUT, as a bonus (!), we would have more shore time in Las Palmas. We were pretty cynical by this time and had heard that Fred has a large operation in Las Palmas (tour buses, inter-island ferries) and so has a little more leverage. Because, staying until 23:00, the majority of the hull repainting was completed in port. Did Funchal and/or Tenerife refuse permission for a badger-coloured vessel to dock? The next Captain's promise was to 'try and dock off Funchal for the New Year's fireworks - we can't dock because there are no berths but I have a plan ...' This involved the ship circling in the outer reaches of the port for about 3 hours - great views of the fireworks display but going round in circles is not the same as a full day visit! A passenger was taken ill during the night and we had to return to Funchal at about 04:00 for a hospital transfer; later that day, we had to turn back towards Funchal for about 45 minutes to enable a helicopter evacuation of a sick passenger but this was aborted - we heard later that the passenger had died. Despite these delays, we managed to stay ahead of schedule for the rest of the voyage, despite slowing down to a 'pootle' speed for over 30 hours - we still arrived in Southampton some 2 hours ahead of schedule despite a real 'force majeure' Bay of Biscay storm that led to a string of injuries and the closure of the public areas of the ship to passengers one evening. The difference in distance between Tenerife-Southampton and Las Palmas-Southampton is only some 150 nautical miles and, had we maintained a normal speed, instead of dawdling for over 30 hours, we could have made Tenerife for the scheduled visit. This is supported by the fact that the Black Watch was in Funchal at the same time as the Balmoral but was still able to reach Liverpool before we made Southampton on the same day! Why doesn't Fred stay with the published itinerary - or at least refund the Port Taxes that the fare includes? Disembarkation: Smooth and quick after breakfast that was served from 06:30. We were waiting for our taxi back to Marriott Meon Valley Hotel at about 08:15 to collect our car - perfect! Conclusion: We booked the cruise because of the destinations - to cancel 2 from 6 is shoddy, as was the manner in which the reasons were given. The changes to the Entertainments at short notice and the Daily Newsletter/Misinformation sheet merely compounded the problem. The superb service by the serving and cabin staff was spoiled by the senior operational Managers who really should lead by example. Fred appears to have become cynical and complacent, trading on the ageing client group who value/need these elements. We may need to be guided to our seat and have our food fetched in 10-15 years' time - we have no intention of cruising with Fred until we reach that state. Read Less
Sail Date December 2015
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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