6 Fred. Olsen Balmoral Caribbean - Western Cruise Reviews

If you've never heard of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, it's probably because it is not usually marketed to the American megaship cruising market. It is a very British cruising experience, similar to P&O Cruises (or so I've ... Read More
If you've never heard of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, it's probably because it is not usually marketed to the American megaship cruising market. It is a very British cruising experience, similar to P&O Cruises (or so I've heard), but on smaller ships. The Balmoral is Fred Olsen's newest and largest ship. When I sailed in spring 2008, it had been refurbished only months before. Previously, it had sailed with Norwegian Cruise Lines as the Norwegian Crown but had been completely refurbished and undergone a "chop and stretch" before joining the Fred Olsen fleet. When I sailed, it had a new-ship feel and my cruise experience was wonderful, though very different from what you would find on an American megaship. Because we live in South Florida, we were able to take a taxi to the Miami pier. There was a bit of a wait but the embarkation experience was not terrible. Our passports were pulled unexpectedly, which worried us a bit, but it turned out it was only because we had booked fairly last-minute and the cruise line hadn't gotten our passport information. (Note: The Balmoral no longer offers Caribbean cruises out of Miami.) Our stateroom was a basic indoor cabin. There were two twin beds in an L-configuration and a third bunk. It was about average size for an indoor cabin. The ship is small compared to the megaships we are used to sailing on, but not as small as some of the other ships in Fred Olsen's fleet (mid-size is a good term). On the lowest deck, the Marina Deck, are cabins and an Arts & Crafts room, which is plainly decorated and so poorly marked (just a simple sign above the door) that it is easy to miss (we had trouble finding it at first). The only furniture are a couple of tables that are sometimes replaced by ping-pong tables. Pool toys are also stored here, and a few games for children. The Coral and Atlantic Decks are cabins only. The Main Deck also has several cabins, as well as the bottom of the two-decks-high atrium, the main offices, the photo gallery, the art gallery, and the Ballindaloch restaurant. The Lounge Deck has the Neptune Lounge, a showlounge (unlike on the megaships, it does not have a balcony). Also on the Lounge Deck are two small shops; the second deck of the atrium; the very nice library and card room; a room called the Braemer Lounge (there are tables, chairs, and couches, but no bar: you have to get your drink from the Neptune Lounge or Morning Light Pub and bring it with you); the Morning Light Pub, a very nice traditional English pub that serves beer, cocktails, and specialty coffees; the Palms Cafe, the equivalent of the all-you-can-eat buffet on the larger ships, except much smaller and not as casual (you can't just run through and grab a sandwich; you will be escorted to a table by one of the waiters); and the aft pool, which is the main pool area on the ship and the site of activities like horse racing and themed parties. A very wide promenade goes around the entire deck. The Lido Deck, despite the name, has no pool; it has the Lido Lounge and Bar, which is a sort of second show lounge where concerts, cabaret shows, and lectures are held. There are stairs leading from the small outside deck to the aft pool. The rest of the deck is large cabins and suites, and you have to make your way through a maze of hallways to get to the Lido Lounge if you come up on the wrong elevator. The Highland Deck has the beauty salon and fitness facilities (no spa), more cabins, and the very nice Avon and Spey restaurants. The uppermost deck, the Marquee Deck, has the rarely-used Sun Deck Pool, the Observatory Lounge, a jogging track, and a golf net. Dining is one of the areas in which the difference between this ship and a larger, more mainstream ship is most easily seen. There are two "classes" of dining. Most passengers dine in the larger Ballindaloch Restaurant, but passengers in suites are assigned to either the Avon or the Spey. This applies to dinner only; for breakfast and lunch, anyone can dine anywhere. The menus are identical, but the Avon and Spey are high on the ship, with large windows that let in the sun, at least in the daytime. The two are nearly identical, except with opposite floor plans (they are on different sides of the ship), and the fact that the Avon has blue chairs and the Spey green. The Avon and Spey are nicer for breakfast and lunch, but I personally don't know if I would have liked to eat there for dinner, as the Ballindaloch had a grandish mood. The food is excellent; fine quality ingredients expertly prepared. However, it is certainly not the healthiest and is heavy on red meat, including dishes you may not be familiar with, such as venison soup and reindeer (Nordic night only). Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style, even in the main dining rooms. The Palms Cafe is a self-serve buffet but with a small selection compared to the buffets on other ships. Afternoon tea is also served in the buffet. Activities are similar to what you might find on the larger mainstream ships, but on a much smaller scale. There is horse racing on deck, daily bingo, and ping-pong tournaments in the arts and crafts room. Other than those and a few other activities, you entertain yourself. This cruise was definitely more relaxing than exciting, but conversation with other passengers is generally good (except for the occasional weirdo). There is no spa, but there is a pretty decent, if small gym. There was a watercolor artist on board who gave lessons. You had to pay a one-time fee of about 10 pounds for materials, after which you can take as many classes as you like. There were few children on board, and no children's activities of any kind. There were some children's games and pool toys stored in the arts and crafts room. Most of the older children participated in adult activities, including art classes, bingo, and ping-pong. The service was excellent. Most of the crew was Filipino, and service is what you would expect from the premium mainstream lines. Evening entertainment was varied. There were a few production shows advertised in the daily program, but we did not attend them, so I can't really review them here. On one of the last nights, there was a "crew cabaret", which we confused with the "crew show" and attended. It turned out to be a sort of talent show in which the various crew members sang and danced oldies hits. Except for one entertaining interpretation of "Achy Breaky Heart", it was an extremely dull hour and I do not recommend it. There was a hilarious comedian who appeared a second night in the Lido Lounge. It was British humor, but very good. There was also a passenger talent show. Other than that, there were creative theme nights (find out before you sail if there are any on your voyage, so you can bring appropriate clothes). Some of the best entertainment was an Irish singer-guitarist who sang everything from Irish folk songs to modern rock hits in the pub. There is zilch entertainment after 11 pm; this is definitely an early-to-bed ship with no nightclub or disco. The itinerary was a big winner, stopping in Nassau, Jamaica, Cozumel, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and Key West. The only shore excursion we took was in Cozumel, where we looked at a coral reef from a semi-submarine (a boat with an underwater section). The excursion was great. Belize City was fairly nice but extremely hot on the day we went. Very few passengers liked Guatemala, except those that took one of the excursions to see Mayan ruins, but we took a boat tour around the bay and found it gorgeous (we sometimes talk about staying there for a week or two someday). Roatan Island, Honduras was by far the best port of call of all. We went snorkeling over a gorgeous and very shallow reef at a tiny little place where we had practically the whole reef to ourselves (although that will likely change now that Carnival has unveiled its "plans" for the island). In summary, the Balmoral is definitely a unique cruise experience. Don't go if you like spending all day participating in crazy pool games, huge theaters with acrobatics, chorus lines and pyrotechnic and hydraulic special effects, being pampered at a huge, elaborate Asian-style spa, dining at an exclusive specialty restaurant run by a land-based celebrity chef, or hanging out without your kids. But if you want a slow-paced, relaxing, intimate voyage among an international crowd on a mid-size ship with beautiful public rooms, great food, and friendly service sailing to off-the-beaten-path ports of call, you will love the beautiful Balmoral. Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
How and where do we start?...Having been on two previous cruises with Fred Olsen on the Braemar which we enjoyed immensely we decided to give their new ship the Balmoral a chance. Big mistake, first the ship is based in Miami so after a 9 ... Read More
How and where do we start?...Having been on two previous cruises with Fred Olsen on the Braemar which we enjoyed immensely we decided to give their new ship the Balmoral a chance. Big mistake, first the ship is based in Miami so after a 9 hour flight we then spent 3 hours in US immigration standing in line in an over crowded and chaotic room waiting to be processed. This meant we did not get to the ship until late by this time everybody was in a foul mood and that set the scene for the whole cruise. After having suffered the dreadful ordeal of US Immigration we in fact spent only 2 hours on US soil (Or should I say water) so why did Fred Olsen put us all through that? Good question! The Ship: Firstly our cabin was supposed to be a twin outside superior on main deck, when we got into it we discovered it was in fact a twenty year old ferry cabin (Which the ship had been in a previous life)that had been painted white, Superior it most definitely was not. The power point for the kettle to make a hot drink was on the floor outside the small bathroom (still in its original state. When we pointed out to the reception that there was an issue of health and safety with boiling water on the floor easy to trip over their only solution was to get maintenance to bring up a homemade extension lead, luxury indeed! 8 ports of call planned and 3 sea days, because of engine failure the captain dropped 2 ports of call, Playa del Carmen and Key West, apparently 2 ports of call had also been cancelled on the previous cruise on the Balmoral. So with Fred you don't always get what you pay for! The ship has been cut in half and stretched with a piece put in mid ship and went into service in February 2008. The consequence of the stretching is that now the internal distribution is disjointed and confusing. For example a new restaurant on deck 8, but the kitchens are on deck 4, result cold/tepid food. Not enough sun decks and sun beds for the increase in passengers numbers. Half of the sun deck on deck 11 is under the engine flue, with a continuous loud engine noise, and soot particles floating down on the sun bathers below. Not ideal I think you will agree. Conclusion The ship overall was badly managed, the cruise director was hopeless, the overall service level was poor, confusion with dress code, electric room keys being cancelled a day before disembarkation, meaning an horrendous line of passengers at reception at 11.00pm getting theirs keys reinstated. This is just some of the issues we experienced during the 12 days. Our advice is spend your money elsewhere, there are far better value for money cruise ships out there. Avoid the Balmoral and Fred Olsen if you want an enjoyable cruise. We certainly learnt our lesson, never again. Read Less
Sail Date March 2008
My Wife & I , both OAP's, and Cruise enthusiasts, have last week returned from our first ever `Fred Olsen Cruise' experience, aboard the newly converted and extended ship MS `Balmoral' and feel that we should express our ... Read More
My Wife & I , both OAP's, and Cruise enthusiasts, have last week returned from our first ever `Fred Olsen Cruise' experience, aboard the newly converted and extended ship MS `Balmoral' and feel that we should express our extreme dissatisfaction, unhappiness and total disappointment that this three weeks `Back- to Back' Cruise to the Caribbean & Central America's has been for both us, and so many other largely disgruntled passengers, such a unsatisfactory experience, which resulted in such very poor , uncomfortable and unhappy conditions, aboard this very overcrowded and poorly organized ship. Many like ourselves, who have cruised with other reputable Cruise companies before; we have come to expect professional standards from leading operators like `Fred. Olsen Cruises' , who we had understood could offer a reasonable degree of good service and value for money Holiday Cruise? I would confirm that the unfortunate experiences aboard the M S`Balmoral' has proved to be the worst Holiday Cruise experience that we have ever undertaken! The first day of embarkation in the port of Miami Florida, was without doubt a truly horrific experience starting with over 2.½ hours of seemingly never ending queue's whilst we were all herded like `Cattle to Slaughter', through the terrible `US Immigration & Customs' Investigations and checks , treated like Alien Terrorists, instead of welcome visitors from England , who are supposedly the USA's main supporters and long term friends, currently supporting this apparent ungrateful nation in both `Theatre's of War ',in Iraq & Afghanistan. Most certainly we both shall never attempt to visit the USA again EVER! This latest experience has indeed left such a profound feeling of utter disgust, disappointment and bad feeling towards that country from us both. Also upon the Ships return to the `Port of Miami' at the mid- section of our Cruise, plus again for disembarkation at the End,(Where we were `Dumped Off' for SIX + HOURS! at the Bayside Shopping Area complex , before being transported to the Airport. This in itself was such a uninteresting and waste of time experience. Everyone aboard the ship had to yet again to undergo such terrible Immigration & Customs checking procedures onboard, which on the further two visits to Miami, resulted in utter chaos and fantastic long queue's aboard the ship, which were totally without any form of crowd control or administration, by the Fred. Olsen, Senior Officers, Security Staff, or Crew, Which is unforgivable! Furthermore life aboard your ship became almost intolerable due to the seemingly poor administration, organization and total lack of directive and control, which appeared non- existent from the Senior Ships Officers and Staff. Due largely to the drastic overcrowding of the extended Cabin Accommodation aboard ,it was almost impossible to obtain a Sun bed or Chair on any of the Upper Deck area's during daytime hours , due to the complete lack of Deck Staff on duty in these area's controlling the horrible `Germanic' type actions of so many selfish people who persisted in placing their `Yellow Towels' on Sun beds & Chairs , during the early mornings before Breakfast and thus reserving them for the whole day time periods, even when going ashore for arranged trips, or attending other entertainment venues aboard etc. No dedicated Fred. Olsen Staff were on duty at any time ,so therefore were unable to administer or prevent the selfish and unacceptable actions of so many of these uncaring passengers. Many elderly and disabled Passengers were prevented from enjoying any relaxing moments at any time on the Upper Decks, this was also the case whilst trying to attend many arranged Entertainment events onboard, as there was just NO WHERE to SIT! Large queue's seemingly the norm. for everything aboard! Additionally, on many occasions there where found to be extra Sun beds stored out of passengers reach around the Ships Funnel Area, but these were coated in very dirty SOOTY deposits from the chimney stack, and thus again no Deck Staff on duty at any time, to untie and clean these much needed items, or indeed to assist elderly and disabled people to get something to sit upon. Early in the Cruise, I personally spoke to the `Captain' and requested that he put in place urgent measures to improve and resolve this totally unacceptable situation, but the only action he took was to place a brief written request in the `Daily Onboard Newsletter', requesting that passengers refrain from placing their Towels on Sun beds, and refrain from reserving them for longer than `One Hour'! and to check them for Dirty Soot particles? All of which was TOTALLY NON- EFFECTIVE, and largely ignored by the offending passengers. Surely a Cruise ships Captain's main task and priority is to ensure that his Officers and Staff are fully instructed in the overall control and administration of the Ship and the most important issue for a Cruise Ship being the Comfort , Convenience Satisfaction and Safety of all of its Fair Paying Passengers? However, we can only assume that on Fred. Olsen's `Balmoral', No one seemed to CARE or take any action or responsibility, to improve the awful situation that persisted throughout our cruise completely unchecked? Another serious problem that presented itself to my Wife and I, after joining the ship and eventually being placed in the correct TWIN- Bedded Cabin that we had requested, was that the `Air Conditioning System' in our eventual Cabin was faulty and stuck at the very cold level of 65°.F, though many attempts were made to fix the problem, all failed. We were informed by Reception Desk Staff, that the system throughout the ship was defective and could not be rectified? Also that no other spare Cabin's were available, as the ship was fully occupied. Oh Dear! we thought , is there anything that is OK on this Jinx ship? Thus, we were made to suffer extreme cold conditions at night, that was like living in Industrial FREEZER, which in turn resulted in us both, after a couple of days being infected with very severe Head Colds and Coughs infections, which unfortunately we are still suffering from at time of writing and which certainly contributed to an even more miserable Cruise experience whilst accommodated on this `CRUISE SHIP FROM HELL' Further cause for complaint, was the fact that the entertainment programme throughout the ship during the THREE WEEKS `Back to Back 'Cruise, was that after the first 10 days period, the Programmes and Artists became very Repetitive and Boring, with nothing New to entertain the long suffering passengers, who had opted for the longer cruise periods, which does indeed seem yet again, to be the result of the very poor organizational abilities of the `Fred Olsen' organization? It also became apparent that the `On-Board Services' charged to our accounts for such things as, Shore Tours-Bar/Drinks -Photography- Spa Services etc. were considered by most passengers to be quite expensive due to the £, Sterling being the Currency charged , This fact was indeed considered to be very unfavorable to both British and American clients, who usually benefit from the more favorable rate of the US. $ From most Cruise Companies who operate in this part of the World. Many indicated that they would definitely NOT use the Fred. Olsen Company again, as their `On- Board Accounts' were just excessive for the type of Services received! Also during our three weeks `Back to Back' Cruise we suffered the loss of THREE Ports of Call, ( i.e. Samana, (Dom. Repub.) + Playa de Carmen, (Mexico) and Key West. (Florida) due to Operational problems and the breakdown of the ships `Auxiliary Engine' the latter followed by the long delay in repairs, resulted in the cancellation of visits to the last two ports of call, Also towards the end of our Holiday Cruise , there was a severe WATER SHORTAGE aboard that resulted in further problems with Bathroom & Shower usage generally! It was also interesting to learn later that the cancellation of Ports of Call is still continuing with the ongoing next Cruise that followed our final departure date, when we understand that the planned visit to Antigua on the 29th Mach 2008 has also now been cancelled? It seems that the unacceptable situation is to continue on this FLAGSHIP OF THE `FRED. OLSEN 'Fleet?, with the ongoing and future Cruise programme, to the detriment of all customers, which it totally unacceptable! For the `Loss' of a high proportion of our quite expensive Cruise Holiday with Fred. Olsen Ltd, we were given £ 40.00 per person, refund? which indeed is totally unacceptable and insulting , bearing in mind the Horrible, Trouble Dominated, Overcrowded, Uncomfortable, `Jinx Ship' experience, that we and so many other unfortunate people have undergone over recent weeks , this largely due to the company altering and putting to sea a very unprepared Ship,Officers & Crew,that should certainly have been more thoroughly checked and re- checked, to a higher professional maritime standard and degree of competency , prior to accepting customer hard earned Cash? Indeed maybe a full cancellation and refund policy should have been implemented? to all booked Cruise customers due to this Companies complete failure to deliver in full, the Cruise that was advertised and booked with this organization that formed the`Contract' that was entered into by them,and they have completely FAILED to Honor and must therefore to be considered in default of that Legal Agreement. Whilst I do understand and appreciate that on a maiden voyage there will be teething problems. My main concern is that how the increasing number of problems was not dealt with and not rectified. This I found totally unacceptable. It seems that the complete `Shipyard Refit and Extension' of the ship was without doubt VERY POORLY executed! With major defects apparent throughout the ship like Rusting Seals & Frames around most windows, poor standards of decoration in most Cabins, Bathrooms /Showers & Unsafe Elect. Points for use of Kettles etc located at floor level near bathroom?All showing very poor standards of maintenance and cleanliness etc. Indeed the Exterior Surface of the Outer Hull of the Ship was indeed so badly dented and damaged to such a extreme extent, that it appeared to have just returned from some WAR ZONE! In conclusion, I do feel that my Wife & I, have had a much looked forward to holiday spoilt by many unforeseeable problems with the Fred. Olsen Cruise Holiday Experience. I would hope that my written complaints to their Head Office in Ipswich, Suffolk, requesting a full investigation , will soon be looked into further and dealt with accordingly. Sidney & Pauline Jones. review. Read Less
Sail Date March 2008
Booked BL004 as all research indicated Olsen ships were great and this would be a good opportunity to meet a lot of Brits and have some glorious conversations. We thought we had a confirmed balcony cabin but for various reasons we ended up ... Read More
Booked BL004 as all research indicated Olsen ships were great and this would be a good opportunity to meet a lot of Brits and have some glorious conversations. We thought we had a confirmed balcony cabin but for various reasons we ended up with a Class A on Lido deck. Specifically requested a twin bed arrangement but at check in found it was a double bed (8019), not even Queen size. Requested upgrade but apparently none available so settled for a downgrade - same deck but handicapped cabin with twin beds (8084). Recompense was offered and accepted, big mistake as upon occupation it became apparent that the ship refit had missed most of this cabin; cracked and missing bathroom tiles, cracked sink, stains everywhere, filthy windows with rust stained frames and a completely obstructed view. So OK we screwed up but we'll make the best of it - left explicit instructions at reception to give us first refusal if any upgrades became available. Learned later from a fellow passenger that indeed a mini-suite on deck 11 had been emptied but Customer Service Manager said carpenters were working in there so it remained unavailable. Poor communication from staff, not a good customer relations episode but press on. Embarkation for us was fairly painless, we'd driven from the Florida west coast to Miami (got lost in Miami) but finally found our parking garage and were shuttled over to the ship. The only unexpected event at check-in was the retention of our passports - never happened before on any cruise line - excuse was something to do with Bahamas immigration. Later on board we were called to line up with a completed Bahamas form and have it added to our passports. This passenger said no way and demanded his passport back as they should not be out of ones possession - it was reluctantly returned with the growled caveat that I would be woken at 8am at all ports of call to attend immigration if I intended going ashore.  Disembarkation at Nassau and all other ports was standard procedure - use ones ship ID card and carry your Passport if a photo ID is required - very unusual. Further words about this unidentified idiot running the passport fiasco, he was extremely rude to a number of passengers who were asking very pertinent questions (how long are we going to line up here?) - another customer relations screw up. Anyway overall impressions of the Balmoral = from dockside quite sleek and clean. Once aboard a different story. Last impressions first to set the stage: the ship, after lengthening and refurbishment was not ready for service and neither were the crew, but more of that later. The new center section stands out like a sore thumb, all new and shiny, the older bits show their age and are quite disgraceful on a cruise ship. Rust stains everywhere, misfitting panels and pins etc around the exhaust surround on deck 11, filthy decks around the lifeboat stations that haven't seen soap and water nor paint for ages, a general need for paint in areas where one would not normally look (indications of a skimped job?), cracked varnish on the handrails and so on and so on - overall the ship does not compare favorably with it's contemporaries. Mechanically one wonders; we had one delay of several hours because an auxiliary engine would not start - finally announced that a fuel pump was changed - how long to diagnose and fix a non-starting problem?. Then there is heavy vibration mostly at the stern when the ship goes astern or maneuvers to dock, high amplitude and low frequency that shakes glasses off tables a condition that makes one wonder about the engines; were they refurbished at refit? But the ship is seaworthy and rides well in a heavy swell with very little roll so the stabilizers are effective. The exhausts however did spew a lot of soot on the aft deck and the aft swimming pool, and there were a number of unidentified odors - a mixture of diesel fuel, urine and rotten fish perhaps - that occurred on deck 11 and were hosed away by the crew, and inside the corridors and by the elevators which dissipated on it's own but returned occasionally. First impressions of the crew were not too good, they were either poorly or inadequately trained and passengers seemed to be a hindrance initially. However things did change somewhat as the cruise progressed but there was always the feeling that the ship was understaffed in some of the areas important to passenger comfort. The staff at the reception desk were somewhat inattentive to questions and complaints and the Customer Service Manager was a promiser but not a producer. The old interior has a half-finished look, new carpets and furnishings but many old and rather scabby bits. And the layout leaves a lot to be desired - large unoccupied spaces with a load of "modern"art that serves no useful purpose as far as I could see. As for the much vaunted English pub the " Morning Light" it's about as much like an English pub as a pea is to a pear. No charisma, no character, no charm, many Brits likened it to a union meeting hall - seats around the walls and very few tables and a snug that ain't. Not warm and cozy and conducive to good conversation. The Palms buffet is another shortcoming - absolutely no ergonomic design thought in the layout - too small, buffet in the wrong place and the only coffee station on the ship almost inaccessible. Coffee, the staple of most yanks and apparently a lot of Brits, is a joke; the wait staff line up to fill absurd coffee/tea pots which then are circulated around the tables and by the time they reach you the contents are tepid. And trying to fill a cup by yourself takes courage as you fight waiters all the way, but this is the quickest way to get a fresh cup or a refill. Try it in the early am if you're an early riser and enjoy a cup on deck!! As for toast it's as rare as gold in a lead mine. If this ship is to make a mark in the US market it needs two more coffee stations, one forward and one amidships plus a supply of half & half, coffee with skimmed milk or even whole milk if there is any won't hack it. As for restaurants we used the Ballindalloch and after some early criticism to the Maitre-d ended up with a first class waiter and assistant. Service initially was aimed at the restaurant not the customer - 9:30 closing time for breakfast, now 10:00 for those who like to kip a little longer, table clearance and reset as soon as patrons left even if other people were still seated at an adjacent table -it is rather bad form to have a new table cloth waving around next to you, being sprayed with water to lay it flat and the have cutlery etc laid while you're still eating dessert, that no longer happens. Then there is the coffee story again, didn't get any after dinner on the first night but it did show up after much discussion thereafter; And thanks to an excellent waiter we also got cream instead of milk. The menu did not impress myself or my wife as it was pretty bland and again unimaginative - lamb showed up three or four times and as much as I like it I do like a variety. Lobster arrived once, at least if you were a trained detective you may have discovered a few minute pieces in a bed of rice, and shrimp (prawns in the UK) were around but certainly not the jumbo kind. Overall I was not impressed with either the menu selection or the presentation. Tried the Spey restaurant once for lunch - oh my they don't serve coffee at all - not impressed as all the menus are the same. Anyway I was not impressed with the food and breakfast anywhere, buffet or restaurant, was just the good old staples. Now to bars, my favorite was the Lido (close to our cabin) but well laid out at the stern of the ship. BUT: be prepared if you sit at the bar with a friend and try and converse because you will be constantly interrupted by waitresses leaning across you to place orders for guests seated at tables. Why there is not a waitress station at one end of the bar remains a mystery. Stella and Boddington were always, for reasons unknown, poured in the kitchen space behind the bar and arrived as a glass full of foam (but they did recover), but Stella ran out a few times which required a new Keg to be elevated out of the ships bowels hence some delay in the arrival of a pint. Cans of tonic, diet coke and some other sodas ran out before the trip ended, no tonic for the gin - disaster. There are only four elevators on the ship, two forward, two aft so we got quite used to walking and climbing stairs. If you head for the Atrium put your walking shoes on. And be prepared for a surprise if you think you can get to deck 3 by taking the aft elevator to deck 4 and going down one flight of stairs; no way Jose, the top flight of descending stairs ends at a blank wall. So then you back track and either walk forward on deck 4 to the center stairs or the forward elevators or take the aft elevators back up and go forward - good to know if you're headed for the Arts and Crafts room on deck 3. And the elevators do not always go where the arrow points, you may go up or down depending I think on the phase of the moon: one thing for sure you will encounter an elevator that either will not shut the doors or will shut them and then refuse to move and every one will give you a vibratory thrill when it does start to move. Deck space has increased with the new center section but so has cabin capacity with the result that deck chairs are the spoils of good early morning con games - I badly wanted an inflatable doll so that I could peg her to a chair before breakfast and have a reasonable feeling that the chair would be available post breakfast. Prices on board were reasonable - by the glass gin or vodka with tonic about four and a half bucks (30ml) but you will need a magnifying glass to find 10ml of scotch at about the same price so have ice with your scotch. There is no liquor shop on board but bottles are available from the barmen or the wine stewards - don't buy they are grossly overpriced; go ashore in Belize or somewhere and find it much cheaper - I brought Tanqueray gin in Belize for 13 bucks. A few words about the entertainment - absolutely first class. The Balmoral troupe of dancers performed wonderfully - great scores and wonderful costumes; the equal if not better than many other cruise ships that we've travelled on. Great comedy acts with one outstanding - Bob Webb - cockney type accent perfect timing, great innuendo and kept us in stitches for almost an hour.Then there was the Dorsey band with the 40's swing and the Music of your Life group that kept us going in the Lido lounge. The outstanding event was the last night's show where all the entertainers gave individual and one great big collective performance - The Farewell Variety Show in the Neptune Lounge - it must not be missed. The audience joined in with a rendition of "Ould Lang Syne" and the only thing missing was "The Land of Hope and Glory" to close the Albert Hall Pops concert. This was, without a doubt, the only thing that other cruise directors could well copy from this ship and use to their own advantage. Comments from other passengers, particularly Brits ranged from very good to bloody awful about the ship in general with the Brit stiff upper lip being very prominent, they are so bloody complacent at times that it hurts. But by God didn't they speak in one voice about their treatment at Miami airport on arrival - what a disgusting introduction to the States - they likened their welcome to cattle being herded in a barn where they stayed for two or three hours waiting for Customs and Immigration and there were no amenities nor seats for the elderly or infirm. My wife and I were disgusted that visitors from an allied country should be so treated. Disembarkation somewhat turned the issue around though as the ship could not be cleared until all non-US passengers had cleared Customs and Immigration so we yanks were stuck aboard - however in much better conditions than the arriving Brits. As soon as the ship was cleared we were the first to debark. Summing up I will say that in spite of many shortcomings we enjoyed ourselves and made many new acquaintances which hopefully will produce a whole new spate of Christmas cards and maybe some lasting friendships. The itinerary was changed because of the mechanical malfunctions but it didn't affect us personally although there were a lot of disappointed Brits who wanted to see Key West. As for Fred Olsens entry -into the American cruise market I fear that it will not succeed unless some major changes are made to the ship, the crews general attitudes, the food, and bringing the ship in line with with American expectations. With things as they are now Olsen ships cannot compete with the many other cruise ships serving the Caribbean from the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area. Alan Freeman Cruise BL004 3/13/08 through 3/24/08 Read Less
Sail Date March 2008
As on all previous reviews Immigration at Miami airport was chaos,once cleared you have to then reclaim your bags and transport them to the bus yourselves,which some of Fred Olsens older cruisers struggled with. Embarkation on to the ship ... Read More
As on all previous reviews Immigration at Miami airport was chaos,once cleared you have to then reclaim your bags and transport them to the bus yourselves,which some of Fred Olsens older cruisers struggled with. Embarkation on to the ship was OK and we where shown to our Cabin 1021.We where on Highland deck in a full suite, large and clean, the bathroom is a little tired looking but fine,ladies take your own hairdryer!as the one provided is poor. Dinning was in the Avon on late sitting,the food was excellent,the service was swift, though the wine waiter was slow and we where often through the main course before our wine arrive,would recommend pre -ordering any wine .The wine waiter in the Spey where we took lunch was much better. We used the Observatory bar for pre dinner drinks,the service was excellent,the bar prices are very good, though the wines on offer are limited,but if you ask for one of the restaurant wine menu they will get it for you. The "pub", what can I say its awful so far removed from a traditional British pub Fred Olsen need to look at P&O's version on the Arcadia much more like it and my husband would have appreciated a T.V. some where showing some sport. the T.V in the cabins shows news only . We did not go to any of the musical presentations ,but the comedians were excellent. My husband joined in the darts,table tennis etc and had no complaints about the organization. I used the Spa on several occasions and found the staff wonderful ,also mysteriously the air con always seemed to be working !! Shore excursions need to work on the organization,as each trip has a letter why not designate each one an area of the Neptune Lounge it may make "spotting" of the tours easier . The real issues we had were with the reception desk , boy do they need a crash course in customer services !!! and the Customer Relations manager needs to remember to get back to people.The Commercial Director from Fred Olsen ,Pete was on board trouble shooting ,with a blond haired girl, not sure if she actually worked for Fred Olsen and was on holiday so not doing anything or really his girlfriend who just wanted to be helpful but did not work for Fred Olsen !!! neither wore Fred Olsen badges so alot of people didn't know he was there . The ship had an on going problem with its engines ,which meant we where unable to leave Roatan Island for several hours,when we got back to our cabins that night we had a letter advising the water was short so could we be economical in our usage . The water to our cabin went off 3 times during our 12 night cruise ,The engine failed again as we approached Cozumel so the ship went round in a circle for a while, the air con also went off and never full worked again for the rest of the cruise . Due to the problems they dropped the visit to Key West (we got £40 a head credit on board for that ). Cruisers, if everyone reads and listens to the information provided , disembarkation could go quicker! we waited for 30 mins while the crew search the boat for 2 cabins which hadn't shown for immigration.Our flight to Stanstead was cancelled so we where put up in a hotel Fred Olsen need to take this up with Monarch as it was bad , but on arrival at Stanstead Fred Olsen had organized a taxi to take us home which was a big relief! Over all we would still cruise with Fred Olsen , but never out of the USA , Barbados is so much smoother , but they need to learn from the Balmoral, for the launch of the Breamar in July Read Less
Sail Date March 2008
We had a good Thomson flight from Gatwick to Miami but after 10 hrs the hard seats were uncomfortable. Immigration at Miami was an experience to say the least and we will never fly there again. Our cabin smelt of rancid fried fish oil. ... Read More
We had a good Thomson flight from Gatwick to Miami but after 10 hrs the hard seats were uncomfortable. Immigration at Miami was an experience to say the least and we will never fly there again. Our cabin smelt of rancid fried fish oil. Great! Also there was a huge black crack across the wash basin. We had written confirmation of queen set up for beds when in fact they were unmovable singles. When I asked to move cabins I was told ALL cabins on the ship were taken and it would be impossible. We had our dinner, fish on the menu. I went to reception again because the smell in the cabin was horrible. I also asked again about the bed configuration. A different receptionist suggested I look at 2 other cabins. I was told all beds were single in the old part of the ship and couldn't be put any other way. She said this had caused a lot of problems and FO knew about this so shouldn't promise queen beds. We moved from 8076 to 8075. 8073 was also empty. The shower room was wheelchair adapted, probably designed by a non user because once inside in his wheelchair my husband had great difficulty reaching the door to close it. Our choice of cabin was limited as we needed a wheelchair adapted one. Our partial sea view was in fact ALL lifeboat. Our waiters on table 16, in the main restaurant, were excellent and we shared the table with 4 lovely people. The food was superb and we were spoilt for choice. We ate dinner there and went to the Spey or Avon for lunch. Palms was very busy and noisy a bit like a canteen. It also had less choice and was cramped around the buffet area. The pool area on 7 was very crowded. We tried it once but wheelchair access was actually dangerous so didn't go again. The ramp was too steep. It had to go over 2 steps and it is impossible for a wheelchair user to maneuver the chair up and open a heavy door at the same time. Even with me pushing it was near impossible as you go up a ramp to a door that opens out sending you back down again. The pool area on deck 11 was also packed on sea days. It was very noisy near the funnel and there were notices around saying watch out for soot. If you didn't have a towel on a lounger by 8am you didn't get one! Some shade would have been welcome. Some of the entertainment was good while some wasn't. We enjoyed the jazz in the Lido but can't say the same about the guy and his organ in the 'pub'. If you sat at the back of the theatre you could hear the music from the pub at the same time. The ship's theatre company were average though we enjoyed the 'songs from the shows' 2 of the girls and one guy had very good voices the others were average. We also enjoyed the staff concert. The 'Latin/Carnival' show was awful with lots of screeching. We only saw one comedian who was very funny, his quiche joke still makes me laugh! The disco was lovely in the Observatory lounge but there were only about half a dozen people using it. We enjoyed all of the ports of call but missed a stop at Key West because of a 12 hr delay at Roatan, Honduras due to failure of an auxiliary engine. This was the stop I was most looking forward to. Also that evening we were told fresh water was running low! The ship has increased its size to 1300 passengers but has the same engines, water tank and only 4 lifts. Braemar has 4 lifts for 800 passengers. Also you can tell when you are going from the old to the new part of the ship. The same decor throughout would help. The new part is lovely. Our flight home was 9.30pm so were taken to Bayside shopping Mall for 5 hrs! That was even too much for me and we got very bored. The male 'disabled' toilets at the Mall weren't big enough to accommodate a wheelchair and my husband had to take the wheels off his to get in, unbelievable! I wonder if FO have checked this out? We had a good time on our 2nd FO cruise but will look for another operator next time or go on one of their unstretched ships. Read Less
Sail Date March 2008
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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