7 Fred. Olsen Balmoral Cruise Reviews for Senior Cruises to Europe - British Isles & Western

My wife and I recently took our first cruise. We travelled on Deck 5 in an outer, windowed cabin, on Fred Olsen's Balmoral to the North German ports of Bremen, Hamburg and Kiel dep Newcastle 19 November. To say it was grossly ... Read More
My wife and I recently took our first cruise. We travelled on Deck 5 in an outer, windowed cabin, on Fred Olsen's Balmoral to the North German ports of Bremen, Hamburg and Kiel dep Newcastle 19 November. To say it was grossly disappointing would be to ignore the few highlights, but even they are too few to persuade us to repeat the experience. The worst aspect was the selfish and uncouth behaviour of most of the passengers. Billed as 'adults-only' this should have been subtitled, 'ideal for greedy, self-centred and rude elderly people'. The experience began as soon as we got on board where we discovered what the 'Olsen Regulars' already knew - that the light afternoon tea of finger sandwiches and cakes were laid out self-service style. Because the staff made no attempt to serve the passengers, the Olsen Regulars who charged on board at the first opportunity had emptied the single tray of roast beef sandwiches leaving just the egg mayonnaise and other lesser fillings for the others. Mind, that didn't stop the Olsen Regulars pushing, (actually 'forcing' would be more accurate), their ways past those who boarded later to wreck and largely waste the cake display. So greedy were these people they misused the serving tools and instead of serving themselves a single portion of cake they destroyed one or two others which they left for the lesser mortals behind them and helped themselves to a third or even fourth undamaged cake. I'm told by more experienced travellers that this is normal behaviour on cruise ships, especially Olsen. If so the solution is within the cruise lines' control, ie serve these teas so all passengers get a fair share. Hardly rocket science. It was a coincidence that one of the films showing in the cabins was The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - not only an excellent film but also very apposite. In the open sequences the character played by Dame Maggie Smith explains to an American hotel employee who's just served her a mug with a tea bag and a flask of warm water that 'tea is a dried herb that's brought back to life by infusion in boiling water, not the lukewarm piss you've served'. That's exactly what every cup of tea served on Balmoral tasted like, grey, tepid urine. And the coffee's not much better unless you pay extra for it when they actually use real coffee. Again the solution is within Olsen's control, either teach your staff how to make tea and coffee or subcontract to Costa or Café Nero. Like un-monitored pre-school children, guests were allowed to behave as they wished regardless of the inconvenience they caused other passengers. For instance couples spread themselves and their knitting and newspapers right across a four-seat settee and refused to make space for other passengers wanting to sit down and buy a coffee. Far too many passengers using their own powered wheelchairs used the public areas like raceways to the detriment of everyone else. As we were disembarking at Newcastle the queue refused to budge for one elderly man trying to back out of a lift pulling his wife in a wheelchair, while at the same time another, obese man using a walking stick was trying to force his way into the same lift and complaining volubly because the wheelchair was in his way. God knows how many would have died due the selfish attitudes of passengers towards others if the ship had sunk. Now for some due praise. The cabin service was excellent, flawless. The girls deserve a raise for if anyone comes back it will be in large part due to them. True, the corners of the bathroom could do with steam cleaning with an industrial machine but that's a small point. The serving staff in the Ballindalloch restaurant were also generally excellent and are due similar praise though a little more attention to the cleanliness of glassware wouldn't go amiss. Sadly the quality of the staff didn't extend to the so-called premier restaurants, Spey and Avon. On two days my wife and I took lunch in these restaurants. On the first day we chose self-service, on the second we selected from the menu. That day we shared our table with a courteous and polite solo passenger. After our meal we were offered coffee and all of us accepted. The waiter brought two coffee cups, one saucer and a pot containing half a cup of lukewarm coffee. When we pointed out his omissions the waiter shrugged his shoulders and walked away. Other deficiencies we noticed in these restaurants were that waiters removed plates before diners had fully digested their last mouthful and plates were removed from one diner in a party who had finished eating before the others had completed their meal. There is little point in having an industrial toaster if the waiter operating it pre-toasts the bread and places this hot toast on a plate (albeit inside a napkin) so it's ready cooled for the next customer. This is idiocy. In general the food was adequate though occasionally tastes and flavours were rather too subtle and indiscernible. This comment applies especially to desserts, for instance lime and lemon cream item that's bright coloured but almost flavourless. My wife and I took the speciality Indian meal. We assumed that the kitchen does not include a tandoor oven but that really was no excuse for naan bread tasting more like cake. The spice in the curries was very muted and completely unrepresentative of Indian food that most passengers would know. A very poor extra. We purchased the All-in bar supplement but frankly this was not a good idea. Bar staff served erratic measures and didn't always get the right drink e.g. gin and vodka were often confused. Furthermore they constantly urged passengers to order doubles which obviously saved them work but was in contrast to the rigidly-enforced rule that passengers mustn't be served a second drink was the first is on the table. The maitre d' and the charming couple running the bridge sessions need to get some balls. In the case of the maitre d' it is not acceptable when the majority of passengers have observed the dress code for the two formal nights to have to suffer passengers seated on the same or nearby tables who have refused to conform for their own personal reasons. The code is well published and if any diner doesn't wish to observe it they should be obliged to eat elsewhere. Frankly the dress code is unimportant to the men but a courtesy to the ladies who can choose to dress up a bit if they wish. The same criticism must be levelled at the couple who run the bridge sessions. My wife and I were looking forward to learning to play bridge but our experience was completely spoiled by another couple who turned up at the beginners session despite being very experienced players. Their objective was simply to impress us with their expertise (and conversely our mediocrity) and furthermore to criticise the explanation and teaching being given by the experts. In contrast, although my wife and I were only observers, the dance tutors and hosts performed in an absolutely exemplary manner. They were not only skilled but courteous and polite and frankly a credit to whoever employs them. There is an air of parsimony in many cases throughout the ship. For example, doctors regularly recommend the elderly to drink a litre of water per day. For Olsen to charge £1.50 for a bottle in the cabin shows the company in a very poor light The entertainment offered on-board varied from first-class to puerile. The three headline acts, Geoff Taylor, Andy Eastwood and Paul Broadwood were excellent. The second level entertainers were adequate and Howard Johnson deserves special mention. Adam Reece on the other hand needed to practice. Having said that, playing music for others to talk through is a thankless task. However there is no excuse for the frankly paltry concert party. It was amateur, the singers were often out of tune and frankly Bolton amateur operatic society (with which I have no connection) would have done a better job. A number of guests who had sailed on Balmoral earlier in the season told us they had already seen the concert party performances and they were no better even after practice. If shows are contracted over a season and customers are likely to find themselves seeing the same shows twice or more they should at least be warned. For readers with young children around them the leader was reminiscent of the very talented Mr Tumble - though completely devoid of talent, charm, stagecraft or ability. He couldn't sing either. Although only six piece, the house band in the Neptune lounge was terrific. The same cannot be said of the Lido quartet who needed a considerably wider repertoire. Despite the description printed regularly in the ship's newspaper, Amy Winehouse is not representative of music of the 60s 70s or 80s. The music that was performed was too often music to slit your throat to. Even worse was the indulgence by the Olsen company of the leader of the concert party with a solo performance one evening the purpose of which he was quite open about was to provide him with a video for his CV. Again his comments revealed that his parents and possibly his grandmother were also on board and a number of people sitting near us wondered aloud how much discount they'd received. Of course staff discounts may be extended to their family but I suggest Olsen reviews the publicity staff are allowed to give this perk and treat them in the same way as British Airways staff are required to do, ie don't draw attention to your family. Of course cruise passengers realise that itineraries may have to be varied according to the vagaries of the weather. In our case it required us to remain a second day in Hamburg and all passengers were impressed by the announcement that tickets on the shuttle buses on the second day would be free in contrast to the £5 round-trip ticket charge the day before. The gesture was, of course, completely hollow since the queue to get on a bus into the city involved a 90 minute wait in line on the dockside and a 60 minute wait in the Hamburg street for the return journey. Bearing in mind how many passengers needed walking sticks and other aids the parsimony was a disgrace. You urgently need a competent cruise director who knows that his job is organising things like adequate numbers of buses and not replacing the compere at the Palladium. He needs also to be taught to speak clearly not gabble. Clearly Olsen is terrified of Norovirus. I have no experience of it but I do know that the way you handle the refusal of the captain and his crew to touch passengers even at a formal reception needs a serious review. By all means replace the receiving line with a pleasant, personal welcome and presentation but to word it in the way it was unnecessarily proscriptive. Additionally, on that subject, all the chairs in the dining rooms need a serious cleaning – the wooden arms and lower frames of most chairs were sticky. Again, most of the Dyson hand dryers in the men's toilets need urgent servicing. They only dry the backs of the hands - almost no air comes out of the palm elements. A final note of praise: the selection of films available on the televisions in the cabins was varied and should have appealed to most tastes. Overall, I would define our experience with Fred Olsen lines and Balmoral as a better-than-average holiday camp afloat. It had all the disadvantages of an all-inclusive hotel holiday without the single benefit that you can always walk out the door and into town. On the evidence of this cruise, once you've seen one German port you've seen the lot. We took advantage of the two days in Bremen to take a train to Lübeck and spend a delightful and informative – if a little wet – day in a fascinating city, but this was an exception. Our experience with Fred Olsen has ensured that we shall not be cruising again nor going to the pantomime in Billingham on Teesside where the majority of the concert party have apparently been hired to perform. Read Less
Sail Date October 2018
The reason for choosing this cruise were many One the embarkation and disembarkation port was only half hour from home so we did not have any extra travel to join the ship.TwoThe ship Balmoral, we have sailed on this ship in the past and ... Read More
The reason for choosing this cruise were many One the embarkation and disembarkation port was only half hour from home so we did not have any extra travel to join the ship.TwoThe ship Balmoral, we have sailed on this ship in the past and have had a wonderful time . The food,entertainment and ports of call had always been good. The size off the ship was also to our liking, friendly yet spacious but there was always things to keep you occupied whether it be energetic or a quiet spot to do a jigsaw or sit with coffee and loose your self in one of the many books in the very good library. The talks during the day also give a change of interest or where some of the guests took advantage and had a sleep. If you needed help there was always one of crew around willing to give you a hand. We did have a problem with the cabin on this cruise in the shower and the toilet, later we had debris blowing from the ventilation we where offered a change of accommodation but told no guarantee that the same thing would not happen, so we declined. All of the problems were attended to soon after they were reported. We now look forward to our next cruise with Fred Olsen Read Less
Sail Date October 2018
A bit of a mixed bag. We had been on Balmoral before and it was not as good this time. Superficially the cabin appeared spotless but there was a large accumulation of dirt under the beds and it obviously had not been cleaned for a long ... Read More
A bit of a mixed bag. We had been on Balmoral before and it was not as good this time. Superficially the cabin appeared spotless but there was a large accumulation of dirt under the beds and it obviously had not been cleaned for a long time. The water in the bathroom was seldom more than lukewarm and ran very slowly. The shaver points were hanging off the wall. The toilet paper was thin and poor quality. The TV picture kept breaking up because of "incompatibilty with the onboard transmitting equipment". The beds and pillows were comfortable. We were booked on the 2030 dinner sitting by Fred, we didn't ask for it. This was far too late for us so we asked the maitre d' if we could change to 1830. He told us there were over 200 people wanting to change and he couldn't do anything for us. From an earlier review it seems that if money had changed hands a change would have been possible. As it was we had little choice but to eat in the self-service buffet every night, not exactly a prime dining experience. The food was generally quite good with a large choice. The coffee, however, was very poor indeed, almost totally lacking in flavour. Cups and glasses were often less than clean, with lipstick or stains on them. We found the waiters to be very offhand, bordering on surly, with a lack of manners in many cases. The waitresses, whom we encountered only in the Neptune Lounge, were better, with the odd exception. The Captain's cocktail party was a farce. It consisted of walking past the captain and officers at the entrance to the Neptune Lounge (a theatre), getting a free drink, the captain speaking for a couple of minutes, a few words from a sample of crew members, and that was it. Hardly a party. The entertainment was of mixed quality. The onboard company of singers and dancers worked hard and were very good across the piece. The "guest" classical pianist was excellent, the guitarists less so, often playing obscure material. The comedian was excellent. The pianist in the Observation Lounge seemed to simply tinkle away tunelessly in a totally disinterested manner on the occasions we went up there in the afternoons. The trio in the Bar were wasted; they were far far better than the inconsequential material they were required to play. The tours provide by Fred were, as always, grossly overpriced and exceptionally poor value for money. Doing-it-yourself, using local transport etc was far far cheaper and enabled close contact with local people, who were unfailingly helpful. The port call at Invergordon, a very small town, was clearly settled upon as a prime opportunity for Fred to sell his tours as there was very little to do there. On the way back to Newcastle (North Shields in reality) we left Lerwick in the Shetlands at 2300 on a Friday. We arrived at North Shields at 0600 on Sunday two days later, a journey of 31 hours doing approx 10 knots. It would surely have been possible to leave Lerwick earlier, call in at another port on the Saturday, perhaps Aberdeen, sailed a little faster than a crawl and still get into North Shields in time for a turnaround for the next departure. It felt very much like a wasted Saturday, and a missed opportunity. Read Less
Sail Date July 2018
We are seasoned Olsen customers and have sailed on Balmoral (again this time) Braemar and Black Watch. This cruise got off to a shaky start due to very long delay for embarkation at Southampton.. Most ports interesting, but Casablanca ... Read More
We are seasoned Olsen customers and have sailed on Balmoral (again this time) Braemar and Black Watch. This cruise got off to a shaky start due to very long delay for embarkation at Southampton.. Most ports interesting, but Casablanca should be avoided unless on an organised tour. We settled for the shuttle bus into town and were dumped in a most appalling location. Like several hundred others in our position we stayed for about 15 minutes and headed back to ship. Olsen really must address this problem. A totally wasted port of call. Those on organised trips apparently had a good time. As always, onboard crew magnificent. If attempting to book a future cruise while onboard you may need to hassle a bit; at the fourth attempt a cabin to our satisfaction became available whereas previously nothing available. Other tour companies are taking block bookings at the expense of loyal Olsen customers. Read Less
Sail Date October 2016
We are fit 70 plus ex-teenagers from Middlesbrough. Travelling from Newcastle to Port of Tyne is very convenient and quick for us. We chose this cruise because our previous 2 Fred Olsen cruises, one to the Baltic and the other to the ... Read More
We are fit 70 plus ex-teenagers from Middlesbrough. Travelling from Newcastle to Port of Tyne is very convenient and quick for us. We chose this cruise because our previous 2 Fred Olsen cruises, one to the Baltic and the other to the Arctic Circle on the Black Watch were wonderful in all respects. We were not quite as lucky this time. Before we left home we were upgraded, once to Deck 6 by choice and on arrival at the port, we were upgraded again to Deck 9 for reasons unknown. We guessed there had been a problem on Deck 6. So our large cabin was comfortable and clean with a few extra niceties but being near to prow on the Bridge Deck in high winds with an Atlantic swell on the way to Spain, Portugal and the Canaries proved to be rather unpleasant, especially for my sea-sick husband. Rocking and rolling was not of the musical variety! Despite taking appropriate, prescribed medication from home, he spent more than 24 hours during the 3rd and 4th nights and days in the cabin feeling rather ill. I was okay but the feelings of being very unbalanced and slightly dizzy for most of the voyage have remained with me despite being back on dry land for several days. When I met others who had suffered similar symptoms, it was rumoured that perhaps stabilisers were not in use in order to save fuel. (I hope this is untrue as it is enough to dissuade us from taking another such cruise.) I am a retired qualified nurse. One member of medical staff who answered my phone call for advice, was not very helpful and did not listen to me properly. She told me to go and buy Stugeron tablets from the reception desk. (I already had some.) I told her my husband had no symptoms of Norovirus. Having already given prescribed tablets for sea sickness, I was not given chance to explain, neither was I prepared to give another dose which was contra-indicated under the circumstances. She failed to understand that he was taking other medication then she tried to tell me I was giving the wrong medicine. I knew I was correct so I was not impressed. Our cabin steward was hardworking and very helpful. She appeared to work very long hours and showed extra consideration to my husband's problem. She deserved a medal. All the restaurants provided excellent service. The waiters were great! At a table of 6, we enjoyed the company of our compatriots very much. Entertainment was excellent. We attended some of the brilliant evening shows given by the new Balmoral company. One of the new girl singers was understandably nervous but the choreography was out of this world. They all worked so hard. My husband, a seasoned Bridge player enjoyed playing Bridge on some of the days at sea. He said the Bridge classes were good and encouraging for the newcomers. Meanwhile I joined an excellent art group as there was no craft class on board. It was a large class of 47 so the teacher and his wife were to be congratulated on coping with so many pupils. We were provided with packs of art materials for a reasonable cost. Our end of cruise exhibition was enjoyed and well attended. Some of us look forward to meeting up on a future cruise if at all possible. The seven port excursions we chose were well organised with many photo opportunities but these trips were rather expensive. During coach tours of the places visited, at times, we felt we were being rushed from one port or one place to another especially as some people were disabled and/or had difficulties with mobility. One person delayed us on our first trip out as on returning to the coach she boarded the wrong one. (Some people do not listen to advice.) The tour operator showed great concern and patience. This threw our planned schedule into chaos while he tried desperately to find out where she had gone. The hunt and several phone calls caused a 40 minute delay meaning a huge rush back for the ship's due departure from port. All our tours apart from one, happened to be on consecutive mornings with very early starting times so towards the end, we became rather weary. Of course, we understood that the itinerary could not possibly please everyone. In some of the resorts, it turned out to be very busy due to bank holidays and local festivities. Some people had their tours cancelled due to lack of support. This is one disadvantage of choosing and paying for tours in advance. Customers have no prior knowledge of tour times until arriving on the ship. Embarking and disembarking was easy for us fitter elderly people but it was noticed that there were difficulties for some who had to walk much further than they expected from their buses to and from the ship. It was noted that there were a few accidents both on and off board. We would have liked some extra time in Lisbon. We would appreciate an extra night's rest in port at some places. If we book another cruise in future, we will not be booking so many tours in advance. On the whole, apart from 2 days at sea outward and 3 on the return journey, it was a good cruise. Read Less
Sail Date August 2016
We thought we would give FO a second chance having cruised with them before. We tried an inside cabin for the first time as it was only two nights. We have cruised many times before and know what is normal this time we were ... Read More
We thought we would give FO a second chance having cruised with them before. We tried an inside cabin for the first time as it was only two nights. We have cruised many times before and know what is normal this time we were disappointed mainly with embarkation/disembarkation, the food & food service. We use a disability scooter and normally have no problems getting on and off but the "ramps" were step/ramps and very steep, like they set up on the wrong deck. See photo. Staff helped with the scooter but my mobility impaired wife made herself totally breathless and exhausted and her inhaler was not effective by the time she got to the top, boarding staff were not interested so we went to customer services to advise of the problem for disabled persons, but again staff not interested and just said would put note on our file. The menus were uninspiring and the general restaurant service was organised chaos and totally disjointed. For example one person was serving tea & coffee and then you had wait while you hoped to flag down a separate milk person and then try and find the very rare toast person who appeared to have cold toast only. The breakfasts were very slow and food was cold. Many of the staff (There were exceptions) appeared totally disinterested and had the attitude I have only seen of people working their notice out or with very low morale. One in particular, we will call him Mark was ineffectual in seating people, making them wait unnecessarily while he showed others further down the line tables, the restaurant was virtually empty at the time, a jack of all trades wiping tables, serving drinks & toast and never a hand clean seen. The entertainment was OK and there were also late shows, when you had to be up very early the next day. There seemed very little to do during the day unless you wanted to play cards. Some loved the personal service that the smaller ships appear to provide but you can foster that on the big ships also and there is far more to do, its personal preference but the experience will not be repeated. Read Less
Sail Date March 2016
From the long queues at embarkation, despite being given staggered boarding times, this proved to be an old-fashioned, limited cruising experience. By the time we finally boarded lunch was long over, and newly embarked guests were heading ... Read More
From the long queues at embarkation, despite being given staggered boarding times, this proved to be an old-fashioned, limited cruising experience. By the time we finally boarded lunch was long over, and newly embarked guests were heading for lifeboat drill. We found our way to a deck 4 cabin, to discover we had 2 berths,a tea and coffee tray, and a smallish rusty window.The saving grace was that the bathroom was of a decent size and came with a tub, plus 2 neat little bags of toiletries. After the drill, we went to find some food- but it consisted of an afternoon tea type spread in the crowded Palms cafe, which we decided to avoid on future occasions. we had chosen to dine late, and had been allocated a table in the smaller Spey dining room , with its lovely sea views. we had requested a large table, but were not afforded our wish. Dining was very pedestrian, and totally lacked imagination and creativity.The wine list had some unusual wines of a decent quality, and was not overpriced. For our other meals, we lunched in the dining room, as it was so much quieter than facing the overcrowded,badly ladi out self service cafe. though food choices hardly varied and featured salads with tinned vegetables. We prefer room service breakfast when on cruises, but this was limited to cold continental breakfast items. Evening entertainment was offered in the Neptune lounge, but was of a very ordinary standard, and elsewhere a trio played, a keyboard player sang in a lounge, and a pianist played in the attractive Observatory, sea facing lounge. Day time activity was limited to bingo, lecturesand a few deck games.Cabin TV was very poor, with few chanels, and pay-per view films. The entire ship seemed so dated and dreary, with little to compete with the many other ships offering cruises from UK shores. Read Less
Sail Date April 2012
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

Find a Cruise

Easily compare prices from multiple sites with one click