29 Southampton to Europe - British Isles & Western Fred. Olsen Balmoral Cruise Reviews

There were lots of good things about this cruise. Embarkation and disembarkation were wonderfully swift and painless. there was no pressured up-selling, such as we'd experienced on other, more high-profile cruise lines. The food was ... Read More
There were lots of good things about this cruise. Embarkation and disembarkation were wonderfully swift and painless. there was no pressured up-selling, such as we'd experienced on other, more high-profile cruise lines. The food was good, even for a vegetarian like me; the drink prices on the Balmoral are far cheaper than on other cruise lines; the coffee bar is superb, with prices much cheaper and quality and service immeasurably better than on Celebrity, with whom we'd cruised three months before. Special offers on the chocolates, too, if you bought a coffee package! The staff were, for the most part, friendly and efficient; the entertainments were above average, with the comedian, the memory man and the classical pianist all superb; the ship was comfortable without being showy; and the range of destinations on this Christmas market cruise was ambitious, if not wholly successful. The only real problem we had - but it was a biggie - was noise in our cabin, 4135. I think we must have been over an engine or something related that was noisy when the ship was at sea. We complained but got nowhere for some while (paradoxically, the few unhelpful staff seem to be allocated to guest relations!) and I learnt an important lesson. Go to the top! When I got access to her, Laura, the Guest relations manager, was brilliant. As soon as she could, she allocated us to a quiet cabin. Having never had this problem on a cruise before, we had never appreciated how a noisy cabin can, by stopping you sleeping, wreck an otherwise excellent cruise. Laura turned our cruise around and it's because of her that we've booked another cruise on this ship - but NOT in cabin 4135! Looks like this review will not give me option to comment on destinations, so Ii will do so here. Copenhagen, Oslo and Hamburg were tremendous destinations with brilliant stuff to see and wonderful Christmas atmosphere at the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen and at Hamurg. We did good ship-organised trips at Copenhagen and Oslo. My only moan would be the perennial one of not enough time. I would have traded the other two destinations for more time at these three. Of those other two, Warnemunde/Rostock was OK though not special but Bruges was a total disaster - churning with crowds, a very ordinary Christmas market and, I felt, a major health and safety risk, especially with the horse and carts cutting corners and forcing pedestrian parties ever more tightly onto the pavements. I did not feel safe there. The two less good ship ships that we did were at these less impressive destinations. The Kiel canal transit was beautiful. Read Less
Sail Date November 2019
Chose cruise to visit cities not yet visited in Spain. Because three destinations were cancelled we still have not seen some of them. We were told of bad weather but did not experience much. Seemed premature to cancel two stops. Otherwise ... Read More
Chose cruise to visit cities not yet visited in Spain. Because three destinations were cancelled we still have not seen some of them. We were told of bad weather but did not experience much. Seemed premature to cancel two stops. Otherwise cruise was just as good as previously especially the food! Entertainment with a singer and comedian very good but ships company only average I would say. The breakfasts were good apart from the very well done streaky bacon which wouldn't stay on your fork. The waiters were very attentive. Lunch on the last day was very special with loads of seafood including lobsters and jumbo prawns.As last two stops were cancelled we had five continuous days at sea which got rather boring as the weather got colder as we got nearer home. I did have a good book thank goodness. Got fed up watching tv in cabin and saw some truly weird films! Only seven out of ten for this one Read Less
Sail Date November 2019
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 chose the cruise for the Christmas Markets in Europe. The Balmoral crew had made a splendid effort to make the ship festive. Lovely decorations throughout.There were beautifully made gingerbread houses in some spots on the ship. A ... Read More
We chose the cruise for the Christmas Markets in Europe. The Balmoral crew had made a splendid effort to make the ship festive. Lovely decorations throughout.There were beautifully made gingerbread houses in some spots on the ship. A lovely festive dinner and very good entertainers and speakers. Enjoyed the orchestra, piano player, string quartet and guitarist, talks and quizzes. Formal nights with lovely food but good food throughout the trip. Lots of work goes on to make a voyage successful, but the crew including those we don't see are very discreet. Because of being December with unpredictable weather and fog the itinerary had to be altered but as we had been to Germany and Denmark on another Fred Olsen cruise we had been fortunate to see the Rivers and Kiel Canal in good weather ad daylight. Others may have been disappointed, but it is winter. The Christmas markets were amazing. The Tivoli Gardens at Christmas with 'snow' looked wonderful. The shopping streets in Copenhagen were full of people and lights. A lovely experience. Hamburg had a Father Christmas flying overhead on zip wires at the Christmas market. There were sprinkles of snow. Bremen is a lovely town, our third visit. Read Less
Sail Date December 2018
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
Like many contributers to these forums, my wife and I discovered "Cruising" over 30 years ago and embarked ( sorry for the Pun ) on an adventure which included 1,2 and even 3 cruises a year, trying every different cruise line we ... Read More
Like many contributers to these forums, my wife and I discovered "Cruising" over 30 years ago and embarked ( sorry for the Pun ) on an adventure which included 1,2 and even 3 cruises a year, trying every different cruise line we could find offering the most exciting destinations available. Then again with "time" we started to "hone" our requirements for a holiday avoiding "Long Haul Flights", the new exciting massive Liners with over 4000 + passengers, neither did we want to tackle the "Wall of Death", "Tower of Doom" or slide down a tube full of water from one end of the Ship to the other !!! So we started to look for smaller ships more in keeping with the pair of "Old Farts" we were turning into. That's when we discovered Fred Olsen some 6 years ago and proceded to have some wonderful holidays on the Balmoral ( 1350 cruisers ) and couldn't find fault with anything on board, although I did have to give up the"Bingo" as I found it too exciting especially with my "Dickie Ticker". Then "illness" set in and I had over 2 years of vascular disease in both legs, and some 5 Operation later our wonderful National Health got my as fit as they could and with much reduced "mobility" I was ready to return to cruising last August ' 17., and chose the smaller "Braemar" ( now repostioned to Southampton ) on a 9 day French River trip to get us back in the swing of things. Now I fully appreciate "cruisers" are fiercely loyal to their choice of cruise line/ship and Fred O is no different, so you may understand I was gob-smacked when I discovered the enormous lowering of quality on the Braemar with regards to Food and Drink on offer. This is something I had read about which other Cruisers had indicated from their observations that "Cut-backs" were apparent across the entire Industry. So, there was the wife and I thinking our cruising days were numbered when i saw our favourite Balmoral was back for 5 day trip to Belgium and Holland ( Tulips & Chocolate ). and with 2 friends we embarked. I have to say that whils't there were signs of the dreaded cuts in Staff ( you could easily wait 45 mins for a drink to be served in the Lounges ) my other fears were allayed and the Food and Drink were O.K. With such a short trip there's not too much I can say except when we did the Keukenhof Tulip Festival in Amsterdam with Fred O., we didn't know that the festival is only open for some 6 weeks and we went on a Sunday the first day it was open !. When we arrived their must have been 600 Coaches a !000 Cars and 500 Camper vans already on site, and we parked a good 1 1/2 miles from the gates..... how I walked it was a miracle !!, we later found out their was over 6000 in the park including half the Japanese Nation. Us Men shared a taxi in Antwerp round the Town and ended up in a local bar, whils't the Ladies went to the Chocolate Shop/ Factorytrip, then got caught up in a 2 hour traffic jam getting back to the Ship...........my mate and I were devistated without them. Read Less
Sail Date April 2018
The food was excellent, the staff were friendly and helpful (as well as efficient) - but why is Wi-Fi so horribly expensive? and £50 each for a coach excursion is exorbitant ... On the other hand, embarkation and disembarkation were ... Read More
The food was excellent, the staff were friendly and helpful (as well as efficient) - but why is Wi-Fi so horribly expensive? and £50 each for a coach excursion is exorbitant ... On the other hand, embarkation and disembarkation were faultless ... There was very little 'mental stimulation' available - Quizzes and Bingo do not really take the place of a good talk by an enthusiastic expert - and the Port Talks were dire; reading text from a Wikipedia article is not what is needed. [Very personal opinion] Avoid (if you can) being seated at the rear of the Thistle Restaurant - the vibration when the ship switched to operating on two props (rather than the usual four) shook the cutlery off the tables, and made conversation almost impossible. I think we should have been informed that the email service via AOL is frequently not available - if you're normally an AOL user, make sure before you go that you have email access via another provider Read Less
Sail Date April 2018
I was brought up to say nothing, if I couldn't say something good about someone or something. So I will not have much to say about this ship. Built 28 years ago by the German builders Meyer Werft as one of the most luxurious ships of ... Read More
I was brought up to say nothing, if I couldn't say something good about someone or something. So I will not have much to say about this ship. Built 28 years ago by the German builders Meyer Werft as one of the most luxurious ships of its day. It certainly is not that now.. It was very early in the year to travel north. Too early. The daylight hours are very limited. The weather is often very poor. As indeed it was. That does make a difference. We had chosen a Junior Suite. A rather too grand description for a standard balcony cabin. Pleasant enough. Except the bathroom. No soap. Just two bottles with plungers which sent out a thin stream of coloured fluid. The bath would have disgraced the average budget hotel. The bathtaps were bent so that water sprayed onto the floor. The mirrored cabinets doors showed rust and opened when the ship rolled. Which it did. The most irritating: a notice on the swimming pool towels, that they were to be returned, used, to the cabin. If not, a £10 charge added to your account. The room was looked after adequately by the stewardess whom, after the first day, I never saw again. She may have been overworked. The ship's public rooms are quite without any character. On one deck, they stretch between the buffet restaurant and the showlounge, itself plain, with shallowly tiered seating, with higher buckets seats placed in front of the bench seats. The entertainment in this undistinguished room was unremarkable. A comedian. A singer. A dance duo. In between these, the ship's singer/dancer group. They certainly worted hard. But nothing new. Nothing innovative. There were three speakers, who gave talks. One of them, splattered with little jokes. Not good. Certainly not enlightening. The dining. We asked through our agents, for a table for six or eight. We were assigned a table for four. Our fellow diners, committed Fred Olsen cruisers. They explained at length how pleased they were that a steward had recognised them and was to show them his personal pictures. We were pleased for them. The assigned restaurant, set on one side of the ship, was very noisy. One of the two redeeming features of this otherwise less than run of the mill voyage: the buffet. On the whole good food and good service. In the restaurants service we found patchy sometimes downright bad. But the buffet seemed to have an entity nof its own. Pleasant, never too crowded, cheerful staff. The best of this ship. Outside was a good teak deck. But it was cluttered with stored chairs, so walking was often single file. Perhaps there was nowhere else to put them. Perhaps that was why the unbendable lounger on our balcony could not be removed - it blocked half of it. It was a nuisance. Shore excursions were expensive. But we found them well organised by the tour operators. Fred Olsen prides itself on having a very high repeat booking level. I cannot understand why. This is a tired old ship with less than good service. I was told by a guest relations manager that it is due for a £50 million refit later this year. Not much of a compensation for those of us travelling on it until then. The other good thing: the captain. The weather was bad sometimes very bad. We had Force 11 winds. On the way back from Bergen he reduced speed to 5 knots which made us eight hours late into Southampton. That takes courage I think. Would we travel on a Fred Olsen ship again? No. The worst thing for me: my wife feels that it was a waste of money. I feel very bad about that. Read Less
Sail Date January 2017
We chose this cruise because we wanted to enjoy the experience of the arctic in winter from the comfort of a cruise ship and hoped to see snow covered, breathtaking scenery and the northern lights. We also wanted to eat well, have a ... Read More
We chose this cruise because we wanted to enjoy the experience of the arctic in winter from the comfort of a cruise ship and hoped to see snow covered, breathtaking scenery and the northern lights. We also wanted to eat well, have a comfortable cabin, socialise with like minded folk and to be entertained. Sounds a lot to ask for... but we were paying £270 a day plus excursions, plus drinks, plus a "gratuities charge" of another £8 a day on top.... we thought that our expectations should be met. Embarkation was good.... we walked straight in. The only frustration was that photographers had blocked the entire corridor and were forcing everyone to wait while they took snaps. Really annoying when we were keen to get on board and find a loo after a long journey. Really sad for those with medical conditions and mobility problems as well. Just gave the impression of no consideratioin. The food was generally good but not as good as on previous cruises and we did feel that it had gone down over the years. Highlights were a sirloin steak cooked to perfection and a rack of lamb. Waiters were pleasant but were rushed with little time to talk. We found that the house wine was ghastly, overprice stuff.... smelling of drank tar, disinfectant and drains. It tasted better.... but not much. For their age and quality.... other wines were seriously overpriced and were more expensive than we would pay in a gastro-pub in the London area or a four star hotel with a couple of stars in the home counties.. Our cabin was clean and fresh but our stewardess was a bit surly and seems to be rushed off her feet. We found other passengers friendly, sociable and we made some really good friends. Despite storm after storm, very rough seas and a force 11 gale... we did see the northern lights on four nights. We had good sightings for several hours on two of those nights and were able to take good pictures. We also saw amazing landscapes but not as much snow as we would have liked. Speakers on board varied from the brilliance of a Norwegian specialist who was amazingly entertaining to the monotonously slow monotone of a port speaker and the condescending efforts of a photographer who was living in the distant pre-digital past and who was still advising people to tape a magnifying glass to the front of their cameras to take close-up photos. Shore excursions were good but really expensive. We could easily do some of the same things for free or for a fraction of the excursion cost. The ship's show company were excellent, Elaine Grey, the Scottish soprano. was wonderful, the inappropriately named "comedian" Micky Zany attempted to browbeat the audience who were unresponsive to his "jokes" He accused the audience of having no sense of humour! Epic Moves, styled as a comedy dance act, weren't funny. Their quick change routine was tacky.... like something from the era of black and white telly... and the bloke's invitation to women in the audience to help to undress him... made him more like a male stripper than a sophisticated dancer. Embarrassing. The really sour note came on our last evening when the professional show was replaced by bits and bobs cobbled together by the cruise director... it all ended with him on stage in his vest and underpants, and a mini tutu which hid nothing... dropping ping pong balls two at a time. It was nasty, embarrassing and condescending. He would have been arrested had he tried the same stunt in a local park! Fred Olsen used to put on a spectacular show on the final evening of a cruise to send passengers away with a fell good factor that they had been privileged to enjoy a luxury cruise... on this occasion our finally impression was that the Balmoral was attempting to ape a tawdry, cheap, nasty, second-rate 1970s holiday camp. Read Less
Sail Date January 2017
We chose this cruise as it was advertised as an Irish Christmas Markets Cruise.Unfortunately there were NO Christmas Markets.Even after submitting an E-Mail to Fred Olsen with a copy from the Office of Tourism for Ireland stating that ... Read More
We chose this cruise as it was advertised as an Irish Christmas Markets Cruise.Unfortunately there were NO Christmas Markets.Even after submitting an E-Mail to Fred Olsen with a copy from the Office of Tourism for Ireland stating that there were no Christmas Markets in Dublin the company will still not accept their advertising was wrong and apologise! Apart from the lack of advertised Christmas Markets the cruise was average.The food was reasonable although I did not like being shepherded to a table at breakfast when we wished to sit elsewhere.The entertainment was good especially the comedienne who was brilliant and throughout his act made numerous references to the lack of Christmas Markets.This was the first cruise I had been on where the passengers had to pay for a shuttle bus into the town centre and the organisation for this was ludicrous!! with the queue going up and down the corridors, we eventually returned our tickets and walked into town.This was my first experience of Fred Olsen Cruises and will certainly be my last!!. Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
Calling this cruise Irish Markets was a joke. First stop Falmouth which I must admit I enjoyed very much lovely day & very quaint shops. Next stop Dublin not a Christmas stall in sight oh yes one. Our last stop Cobh for Cork very ... Read More
Calling this cruise Irish Markets was a joke. First stop Falmouth which I must admit I enjoyed very much lovely day & very quaint shops. Next stop Dublin not a Christmas stall in sight oh yes one. Our last stop Cobh for Cork very disappointing Christmas market consisted of fruit & veg & meat stalls oh yes & one chocolate stall so how they can call this Irish Christmas market cruise beggars believe. My cabin steward was one of the most unfriendly one's I have ever come across I have been on quite a few cruises & normally they are lovely friendly & cannot do enough for you. My friend & I were on a table with 5 other super friendly ladies our waiter was the worse I have ever come across everything we asked for took for ever to come at one point we got up & got our own wine as we had waited 25 mins for a refill but to flip the coin he had far to many tables to wait on. I would definitely have second thoughts about sailing with Fred Olsen again Read Less
Sail Date December 2016
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
‘Easter Ireland’ on board Balmoral was our second cruise with Fred Olsen (last year’s ‘Round Britain’ cruise on Braemar was the first) and our ninth cruise to date. We came back a second time because the ‘value for money ... Read More
‘Easter Ireland’ on board Balmoral was our second cruise with Fred Olsen (last year’s ‘Round Britain’ cruise on Braemar was the first) and our ninth cruise to date. We came back a second time because the ‘value for money proposition’ is unbeatable. It’s interesting to read two very recent reviews of this same Cruise which are so divergent. The top-end suite-guests could not be more complimentary; the outside-cabin guests were to my mind unreasonable. We always travel pretty near the bottom-end – but we enjoy the same food, entertainment and facilities as those who pay top-dollar. Our ‘superior inside’ cabin (£384 each – yes, just £384 for seven days transportation to new destinations, food that only the most churlish would dare to criticise and entertainment that we thought some of the best to date on a cruise) must represent excellent value. Our cabin was fully adequate – and it should be noted that there were some even less expensive deals available closer to the time of sailing. The message seems clear to me; tough it out and wait for the prices to drop if you want the very best deals! For those who book early and pay a lot more, you need to accept that some of your fellow-passengers may not be quite to your liking (not everyone purports to be, or can afford, ‘Titanic First Class’) - but ‘you pays your money and take your choice’! A few general observations: (1) The Captain’s decision clearly, but not delaying Easter Sunday’s departure from Southampton when storm-force winds were known to be likely seemed a little odd; the cynic in me says that the Captain must necessarily run his ship as a business which needs to generate a decent profit each trip and it cost him nothing (other than discomfort for the passengers) to be at sea, whereas delaying departure would have cost the company a considerable amount of money in additional port-fees. As it happens, we still arrived late at Belfast, so a delayed departure from Southampton with a rather ‘pacier’ trip once the winds abated would have been of little overall consequence (except again in terms of cost, as more fuel would be expended if the ship sailed faster). (2) It was very nice on the Braemar last year to see table-cloths in the Palms Café at all times. Balmoral’s rather more utilitarian tables were a small sign of evident cost-cutting. (3) Other cruise lines’ Captains and Senior Officers are regularly seen around their Ship; other than at the ‘Cocktail Parties’, they were rarely, if ever, seen on Balmoral. Fred Olsen and/or Balmoral should think about this as passengers like the opportunity to interact with the Crew (even if it is only a quick ‘Good Morning’). (4) All credit to the resident Showtime Team; the ten members worked very hard and put on three very good shows. (5) Future guest should think about organising their own shore-tours. We sourced on-line a really excellent ‘Giant’s Causeway’ trip at Belfast for just £35 each (as against Fred’s £72 – although this did include an unwanted lunch). Whilst broadly following the same agenda, we also experienced a tour of Belfast (in the failing light) which, as part of living history, included the Falls & Shankill Road areas. To the best of my knowledge Fred’s trip did not. I’m sure this is just one example of equivalent/better value can be obtained elsewhere. In overall summary, another enjoyable week with Fred Olsen. We will be back! Read Less
Sail Date March 2016
I must start by telling readers that I am usually pretty shirt if people start moaning about perceived trivial service faults while on holiday, especially on a cruise where so much can go wrong but is usually so right. On this occasion I ... Read More
I must start by telling readers that I am usually pretty shirt if people start moaning about perceived trivial service faults while on holiday, especially on a cruise where so much can go wrong but is usually so right. On this occasion I am forced to change my position radically. I shan't bother Fred Olsen again and the following explains why. Friends, upon whose judgement previous experience had lead me on rely and who had sailed with Fred several times in the past latterly in 2012, spoke so warmly of both line and ship that I booked with confident expectations. I anticipated a lovely experience at least akin to my handful or so of previous cruises with P&O over the past 10 years. Alas disappointment was to be my reward. You board with no ships map so stand lost in the reception area not knowing where to go. After a time a member of staff approached me and directed me to my cabin. The room was pleasant enough but as I explored I found: Large bottle of water-£1.50! No fridge No shower cap, shampoo, body lotion or soap tablet (just liquid). Mattress...not to my personal liking. Dinner in the Ballindalloch restaurant on the first night was OK but not memorable. And tepid. Following a nightmare night due to Storm Katie through which we sailed in gale force winds (later recorded on the 'cruise log' as being force 6!), as a result of which most on board hardly slept at all we eventually rose for breakfast the next morning. Shambolic! Waiters rushing everywhere, looking stressed. No sugar, milk, butter/spreads or preserves on the table. I sat and waited for some 5 minutes for my order to be taken. Nothing. I eventually managed to flag down a waiter who simply said "buffet madam" and indicated the direction. I asked for tea. He disappeared. So I found the buffet scrum and helped myself. The eggs had languished for too long on the hot plate and had set. The fruit was all from a tin. The cereals dispensed from machines which crush everything. The bacon tasted of chemical treatment and had long since been a stranger to the pan. You could get no toast at the table until you got lucky with the scuttling Toast Waiter and then you had to find and flag down the One with the Butter/marmalade. Tea/coffee took an age then you had to keep watching for the Man with the Milk, or the Waiter who could get you a Fork/teaspoon/butter knife - in some cases even a cup and saucer. A complete, shambolic nightmare of a meal spent mostly trying to achieve some sort of service instead of enjoying a conversation with fellow passengers, all of whom were struggling with the same issues. It seems that the clear table policy was an exercise to avoid Noro virus. Why then were we all forced to get our own food requiring every passenger to handle every serving utensil at the buffet rather than have it plated and delivered by the staff who we assume we're Noro-free? I don't take lunch, but understood from many conversations with similarly shell-shocked travellers that it was the same mess as at breakfast. Let's get positive. The Balmoral, once you have a map which was finally located in the 'welcome in board' pack, is easy to navigate and all public areas easy to locate. They were pleasant and the staff extremely attentive. I'd have liked to have finish one drink before being asked if I would like another but perhaps they are on commission, hence their persistence. Dinner on night two. The starters were very beautiful, 'nouvelle cuisine' sized offerings. The soup, for which I opted, was pleasant - but tepid. The main course was a perfectly cooked Filet Mignon, quite possibly the nicest I have been served in many a long day, accompanied by delectable spinach in a gorgeous sauce and a small portion of fondant potato. It was all tepid, but tasty. I shan't bore you further except to say that the main course of dinner each night was definitely the stand-out of the cruise food. Breakfast, in every restaurant (I didn't try the Cafe which was a self-service buffet), even after it seemed that their precautions against Noro virus eased to permit milk, sugar butter and preserves back on the table, remained a shambles every morning. I also found that if you could get a waiter you could order and omelette, fish, or my choice of poached eggs which I ordered with bacon. The eggs arrived on a plate swimming in water with the rim of the plate smeared greasily round with a hint of previous use suggested by a hint of dried egg yolk... No bacon. Notwithstanding, assuming it was a one-off glitch but no. The second time I tried the bacon did too, thus making the watery bath greasy. The smears and finger marks on the rim remained as before. The entertainment was, with one exception very good. The musical shows put on by the in-house troupe were outstanding. (P & O please note. Your Headliners are becoming entirely predictable and missable). There was an extremely versatile and entertaining musician in the Morning Light bar and a very pleasant Trio elsewhere whose gentle, well balanced repertoire was ideal music to listen to or as a background for a pleasant chat. The magician was excellent. The 'comedian' an embarrassment. I know, humour is personal. Well, this one managed to entertain only a small handful of the audience the rest of whom were somewhere between bored and down-right embarrassed at his ineptitude. The excursions were excellent. We were after all in Ireland and the tour guides, and often drivers too, were uniformly entertaining as well as informative. The port talks were only available pre-recorded on the in-house TV. The 'presenter' was abysmal. We were encouraged to see see the 'murials' on the walls in Belfast. I am sure as I made myself re-listen twice to be certain. He tripped, stammered, and coughed his monotonous and unenthusiastic way through painfully unexciting scripts. Oh, and there was no TV channel guide in the cabin and when you could find a programme other than a film or Fred Olsen promotion channel it was of out of date Australian television programmes. Why? One last warning to all O2 mobile users. On enquiry at Guest Services as to why it might be that I could not send or receive on my mobile phone shortly after departureI was advised that FO had signed a contract with a new mobile network service provider at the beginning of the year and that the new company did not currently have a contract with O2. Heaven help any passenger leaving home with a pressing need to keep in touch. You can't until you are within range of land. I am so truly sorry that this, my first cruise blog should be so negative but I have tried to be honest, accurate and unexaggerated in this report. I hope never to have such a negative experience ever again. Read Less
Sail Date March 2016
For our Wedding Anniversary we decided to do something special and choose the Fred Olsen cruise "Easter Ireland" and booked a Premier Suite. We could not fault anything (perhaps apart from some of the weather - not in Fred ... Read More
For our Wedding Anniversary we decided to do something special and choose the Fred Olsen cruise "Easter Ireland" and booked a Premier Suite. We could not fault anything (perhaps apart from some of the weather - not in Fred Olsen's control!). As it was our 40th Anniversary we were given the complimentary anniversary package of sparkling wine, flowers, cake, card, portrait photo and gift. During the cruise it was also my birthday so we were slightly embarrassed when a cake was brought to our table on the Friday for my birthday together with the table staff serenading me and the next day another cake and serenade for our anniversary. The staff were superb and could not do enough for us. We asked if the anniversary cake could be packaged to take home to share with family and they made a special box for it and wrapped it with ribbon. The staff soon learned our names and we were often called "Sir, John and Madam, Jennifer". The food was superb both in choice, presentation and cooking. Most evenings we only managed three of the five courses due to the quantity. The ports of call were Belfast, Dublin (two days) and Cobn. All of which were interesting and we went independently rather than take the organised tours. We are not night owls and in Dublin managed to find a pub (Oliver St. John Gogerty) which had live Irish music during the afternoon. The evening shows were very good but I much preferred the live music from the string trio and pianist/singer in the small lounges. Read Less
Sail Date March 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
I have just returned from a 60s party cruise on the Balmoral, sailing with 3 friends. Having enjoyed many amazing cruises with Cunard, NCL and others, I returned to Fred Olsen after a three year break. My initial impression was not ... Read More
I have just returned from a 60s party cruise on the Balmoral, sailing with 3 friends. Having enjoyed many amazing cruises with Cunard, NCL and others, I returned to Fred Olsen after a three year break. My initial impression was not great of the atrium, as it lacked the glitz and finish of the larger, new ships. We were then shown to our inside cabins, which were spacious but not 'modern'. Despite first impressions, I quickly remembered why Fred is so special. The greetings we had from staff were genuine and friendly; waiting staff remembered our preferred drinks from the very first order; the lounges and meeting spaces were comfortable and well designed; and we weren't bombarded with pushy staff selling drinks/ photographs/ tours/ spa. On arrival at the Palms buffet, the buffet had been decimated by the hungry arrivals (I have experienced this on plenty of other cruise lines). However, after this initial experience we all found the food to be hot, plentiful and tasty. There was not the choice of the big ships (no pizza stations; no bbqs; less extensive salad and pudding choice), but in all honesty, the food choice was ample and we certainly did not starve! At every meal time, we managed to secure seats quickly and were served very professionally. Nothing was too much trouble for the waiting staff and the food was hot and tasty (if sometimes erring on the 'comfort' side, rather than the cuisine side). We were booked on a sixties party cruise and the Balmoral certainly delivered for its target audience of mature british guests. As a forty year old, the headline acts were not to my taste (the headline was The Searchers). The comedy was old hat. However both acts went down a storm with the older passengers. My friends and I found plenty to entertain ourselves on the dance floor and a family 50s/ Rock n roll band. Whilst not the most sophisticated of entertainment, reindeer racing, line dancing, ballroom dancing and other activities were hosted well and good fun. What our stateroom lacked in modern finish, it made up for in cleanliness, comfort and space. The beds were extremely comfortable and good nights sleep was had by all. Our cabin steward Kristine was excellent - available but unobtrusive. We enjoyed an overnight in Antwerp. The balmoral could not have been docked in a more convenient location for the Christmas markets and historic city. Fred olsen makes it easy for guests to visit ashore independently, as well as their own excursions. Antwerp was great for chocolate shopping. If we had more time we would have visited Ghent or Brussels, but we only had two half days in port. We paid an amazingly low price for this cruise and could not have been happier with the whole package. Having cruised with the higher end cruise companies, I would say that Fred Compares well with its own unique charms. If you are after glitz and glamour and 'hyacinth bucket' bragging rights, then Fred will not be for you. However if you are after comfort, charm and genuine hospitality, please consider Fred. I certainly will again. Read Less
Sail Date December 2015
We went on a mini cruise and were upgraded. However the bathroom in the cabin was awful cracked tiles and vanity units. Don't what we would have had if we weren't upgraded!! The door of the cabin had to be checked when we left ... Read More
We went on a mini cruise and were upgraded. However the bathroom in the cabin was awful cracked tiles and vanity units. Don't what we would have had if we weren't upgraded!! The door of the cabin had to be checked when we left the cabin as it did not close properly. Every morning there was noise outside our cabin I think they were cleaning the outside of the Ship!! Could this not have been done before we boarded. The chamber maid acme in to do our room while we were getting ready for dinner which was strange. The staff were friendly and food good but the Ship needs a major overhaul. Our luggage should have been taken off and put together as we were travelling in a group. However my cases were lost for a while and were scuffed and dirty when found (annoying because they are new). Read Less
Sail Date December 2015
This is an old, dated ship that is in dire need of updating. The décor is a mix between a 70's social club and a care home and the smell in some of the corridors is nauseating. We were only on board for 3 nights but had to move room ... Read More
This is an old, dated ship that is in dire need of updating. The décor is a mix between a 70's social club and a care home and the smell in some of the corridors is nauseating. We were only on board for 3 nights but had to move room each night due to cabin problems. The staff watched us move and didn't offer any help and indeed, for the last move, our old room was cleared before we had a chance to fully pack meaning we are still missing some of our belongings. There were what appeared to be blood stains on the carpet in our 2nd room and one of the mattresses in the final room was covered in dubious smelling stains, although the staff did eventually replace this with a cleaner mattress although it took some lengthy conversations with the surly and often hostile staff on reception to achieve this). The food served was mediocre and no match for other cruises we had sailed on. Service in the restaurants (we dined in the Avon/Spey) was generally very good but there were some exceptions and plates were cleared before all guests at the table had finished their meal - indeed it was best to keep hold of your plate even before you had finished to make certain it wasn't whipped when you were not looking. Drinks were a reasonable price but service in the lounges was exceptionally slow, even at times when they were not busy. On an evening there was very little opportunity to escape the pub singers and quizzes and to experience a quiet drink and we regularly found ourselves moving table to escape raucous groups and screeching. Overall we booked this cruise with an open mind as we had heard some very positive things about the company. However we were extremely disappointed in the whole experience and will never contemplate a Fred Olsen Cruise again. There are much better operators out there for the same price and who offer far superior ships, better rooms, dining and overall experience. Read Less
Sail Date December 2015
Changed cabin after 1st night due to vibration and noise (deck 4) Changed ports of call due to bad weather, visited Santander instead of Sans Sebastian informed quicly and given the chance to book on new tours. New cabin great, both ... Read More
Changed cabin after 1st night due to vibration and noise (deck 4) Changed ports of call due to bad weather, visited Santander instead of Sans Sebastian informed quicly and given the chance to book on new tours. New cabin great, both cabins really clean; reception staff very helpful. Excellent staff and wonderful crew, good food; buffet kept open for us when the coach was late back from tour. Booked again for October 16 but on deck 6 this time Good value for money, shops on board needed to be better, shows were as expected. Welsh male choir on board very entertaining. Great visit to Bilbao very informative tour guide needed more time. In france stopped at La Rochelle and visited Courban Castle great tour informative but wanted time in the shops to buy souveniers. Great day exploring Santander on our own. Very clean city, found the bank! Travelled there and back by Eavesway coaches excellent Read Less
Sail Date August 2015
Embarkation was well organised and worked smoothly. The lifeboat muster was the most thorough that we have ever attended. All previous musters had ended in the muster station with a practice donning of the life jacket, but this time we ... Read More
Embarkation was well organised and worked smoothly. The lifeboat muster was the most thorough that we have ever attended. All previous musters had ended in the muster station with a practice donning of the life jacket, but this time we also practiced walking the route to the lifeboat embarkation point. The cabin was clean and comfortable, but with a torn carpet it was due for a bit of TLC. The ports of call were interesting to visit, and the Captain’s decision to miss out Horta because of weather conditions had a silver lining in that we had an extra day in Funchal when we were the only ship in port. The town, cable cars and attractions were quiet, unlike the following day (the originally scheduled day) when there were several large ships in port with the consequent crowds ashore. The food was generally good, but choice was more limited than on other cruise lines we have used. At dinner, main courses arrived completely plated, so there was no choice of vegetables. One evening the beef stew was just beef, gravy, and a few carrots cooked with the meat. There were no other vegetables on offer. Others must have complained because the headwaiter came round the tables asking if there had been a problem with the beef dish. In the Palms, the fruit salad seemed to be little else than melon, and the game was hunting the grape. I managed to find a strawberry on one occasion. Drinks were reasonably priced, and passengers on the all inclusive drinks deal had value for money. The crew, with the exceptions mentioned later, were friendly, courteous and efficient. The entertainment was very good. The resident show company were excellent, and the cabaret acts maintained the standard. There were several very interesting speakers on board, and there were consistently good audiences at their talks. There was a good range of activities on sea days. The ship seemed to be very clean, and passengers were constantly reminded to wash their hands and use the sanitiser dispensers found everywhere on the ship. However, at the welcome cocktail party I was given a drink in a pre-lipsticked glass, and at dinner one evening the table had been laid with a fork with food residue from a previous use. One began to wonder how well standards were being adhered to behind the scenes. Unfortunately, we were disappointed with several aspects of Fred Olsen’s service. The first was the lack of shuttle buses in Lisbon. Passengers were told it was an easy 15-minute 1.5km walk into Lisbon. 6kph is a brisk walking pace, which given the hot weather and the age profile of the passengers, is not an easy walk. It's the speed I do on a treadmill when I want to do some moderate cardio vascular exercise. Try it. Also, I would have liked to use my energy exploring Lisbon, not getting to and back from the city. The suggestion from the cruise director that passengers could use the local buses didn't seem to be taken up by many. I suppose they thought they'd be joining a queue of several hundred at the bus stop. Two things made the lack of shuttle buses additionally annoying. Firstly, P&O had provided them for their passengers on Adonia, which was actually moored nearer to the city than Balmoral. Secondly, Fred Olsen had provided them in Funchal a couple of days earlier, even though the distance was less than that in Lisbon. When my wife asked at reception why Fred Olsen had not provided buses as had P&O, the only answer she could get was that it was only 1.5km. The logic behind their decision whether or not to provide shuttles escapes me. The second problem was in Leixoes. A large number of passengers had departed on tours within a very short space of time. Many of the tours included a visit to a port wine producer where there was the opportunity to buy wine. The consequence was several hundred people with bottles of wine arriving back at the ship virtually all at the same time resulting in an exceptionally long queue to board the ship. I timed how long it was from when we joined the queue on the quayside until we passed through security on the ship. It was 42 minutes. As we went up the gangplank passengers were photographing the queue, which by then stretched beyond the stern of the ship, the gangway being level with the forward stairwell. On entering the ship we were then made to queue again to have wine bottles taken from us, and this further delayed the boarding procedure. There were a lot of very angry people. I assumed, naively as it turned out, that there would be an apology in the daily news bulletin, but there was no mention. I asked at the tours desk why they didn’t think it was appropriate to apologise to the passengers who had had to queue for so long in high 70s heat on the quayside. I was asked if there had been any problem on the tour. No, the tour was very good. They said that they only dealt with problems occurring on the actual tour, and that what had happened on the quayside was not Fred Olsen’s responsibility. I asked why so many people had been sent on tours at the same time, and the answer was that they had to take the times offered by the tour operator. If that was so, I suggested that they should have realized that all those passengers would return at the same time and that they should have been better prepared by providing a second gangplank. Unfortunately, it was a waste of time trying to discuss it, as the only response they would make was that it was not Fred Olsen’s fault. I think Fred Olsen were extremely fortunate that the queue was in the shade of the new terminal building. The temperature was in the high seventies, and if passengers had been forced to queue in direct sun having had nothing to drink for nearly five hours except any water they had taken with them, I think it more than likely they would have been dealing with collapsed passengers. The final piece of nonsense was that after having been forced to queue to have our wine taken off us, it was returned to the cabin the following day, two days before the end of the cruise. What was the point of all that? We’ve been on similar tours with other cruise lines and not had to hand over the odd bottle brought back onboard after a tour. The attitude of crew with whom I raised these issues was extremely poor, and the response seemed to be one of “So what?” They need to take a serious look at their passenger relations ethos. Disembarkation went smoothly and we were driving out of Southampton at 9am. Needless to say, we’ll never set foot on another Fred Olsen ship. I’m sure that won’t bother Fred as they have a loyal following that is happy with what they offer, but there’s much better available elsewhere.   Read Less
Sail Date October 2014
My wife and I have just returned from a cruise of Christmas markets aboard the Balmoral and we were very sadly disappointed with our experience. We are seasoned travellers and cruisers and this was our first experienced with Fred Olsen. We ... Read More
My wife and I have just returned from a cruise of Christmas markets aboard the Balmoral and we were very sadly disappointed with our experience. We are seasoned travellers and cruisers and this was our first experienced with Fred Olsen. We were expecting a great cruise but our initial experiences with some of your crew soon put a stop to that and it all went downhill from there. 1. When we booked our cruise through an agency we requested for late dining (which was stated on the confirmation letter from our travel agent and on boarding the ship we were informed that we were given early dining. We proceeded to the restaurant to request a change in our dining time and there was a long queue plus a sign stating that because the ship was full, both early and late dining was full therefore giving the impression it was not possible to change ones dining time. While in the queue we spoke to a couple who were given late dining (they had requested early dining) and we agreed to swap. While in the queue we were watching the people ahead of us requesting a change in their dining times and we noticed it was possible to change your dining time. When we spoke to the restaurant staff about swapping our dining time we were informed that there would be a charge of £32 per couple (i.e. £64) just to swap the dining times over (we have never experienced anything like this before on any cruise ship we have been on). We requested to speak with head of food and beverages and on listening to our feedback he stated that he had no power to just swap our dining arrangements only if we both paid our £32 each. On principle we would not do this. Please note: his customer interface skills had much to be desired. The couple with whom we wanted to swap had requested early dining based on medical grounds (the lady was recovering from cancer) – i.e. she need to take medication early evening after a meal and the late dining was too late. On informing the head of food and beverages about her needs his was response was for the couple to either pay the £32 or eat up stairs in the anytime restaurant. He did not give the impression of any sympathy but just kept smiling with throughout the period. I believe he needs serious training in customer relationship. 2. On speaking to other passengers in the dining queue and others throughout the week (specifically those who were on the anchor deal) we got the same feedback - everybody was given the opposite dining time to what they requested. Now in my mind this seems very much like a scam – i.e. if you give people opposite dining time to what they want but then give them the opportunity to change for £32 (please convince me otherwise). Some people will change and pay because they are on holiday and they just what to enjoy themselves and a peaceful life but many will not change on principle. While in the queue (to change my dining time) I was observing those who changed their dining times and paid their £32 and everybody was so surprised that there was a charge and they were not pleased to par your charge. This is the first time on any cruise ship I have been on when I’ve been charged to change my dining time. Please note: we did meet one person who DID get their dining times swapped for free because they had special influences. 3. Disgusted with our encounter with your food and beverage manager we went to see your Guest Relations. After about 30 minute wait we spoke to your guest relations officer and she took down our details and said that because we were on the anchor deal (along with another 900 passengers) we had to pay to change our dining time and this rule was fixed by the company and is non-negotiable. She politely said she would send off an e mail to head office and come back to us shortly with a response. Throughout the whole cruise we did not receive any feedback or contact from your guest relations. The chasing for feedback came from my wife and me. To me your guest relations officer is redundant is because all she can do is refer the situation to head office and wait for a response. 4. Whatever deal a passenger has for a cruise is irrelevant to your ship staff – we should all be treated equally. Because we were on the anchor deal we were felt as though were being treated as Second class passengers. Please note: We were informed by your guest relations that over 900 of the passengers were on the anchor deal - that is more than three quarters of the passengers. 5. We came on the ship to get some rest and a good night’s sleep - we came off the ship more tired. Throughout the whole cruise we did not get one proper nights’ sleep and this was due to the noise and vibrations of the engines. We live near a major motorway (M1) and are used to the constant traffic noise and when the ship’s the engines are giving off a constant drone we were able to sleep but we were frequently awoken in the mid of night with loud engine noise and extreme vibrations. This you can appreciate upsets your sleep pattern. This happened every night plus when the ship was coming into port (early hours of the morning) the noise vibrations would go on for what seemed ages and it felt as though the ship was falling apart. Hence the lack of sleep. We have cruised on many other ships (also aft and on low decks) and never experienced the noise we heard while on the Balmoral. One night (I think it was about 2 hours after we had left Zeebrugge) I was in my cabin and I experienced very loud engine noise and vibrations. I wondered why because we out at sea. On looking out of my cabin window I saw a ship passing in the opposite direction which appeared to be only meters away. While you in your cabin at night one would expect a drone of the engine which we could sleep through but it seemed that on most nights in the early hours (while at sea) there was frequent vibrations and much increased engine noise which woke both my wife and myself therefore for most of the cruise we had disturbed nights and hence not much sleep.   7. Due to your staff not changing our dining time we had to eat (most evenings) in the anytime dining area and here we experienced food running out and not being replaced. 8. Fred Olson Guest relations said that they would be contacting the travel agency with whom I booked and discuss the booking arrangements. I have just spoken with the travel agent and to date there has been no request from Fred Olsen.   Read Less
Sail Date December 2013
We booked our 3rd cruise on the Balmoral as a double special birthday treat. We had always wanted to see the parts of the UK this cruise was going to, the Scottish Western Isles, Orkney Islands, Northern Ireland, Dublin and Guernsey. We ... Read More
We booked our 3rd cruise on the Balmoral as a double special birthday treat. We had always wanted to see the parts of the UK this cruise was going to, the Scottish Western Isles, Orkney Islands, Northern Ireland, Dublin and Guernsey. We were exceptionally lucky with the best weather of the year. We booked late and could only get a cabin on deck 5 but decided to go anyway and wait listed ourselves for a balcony cabin which came up for us around 3 weeks before the cruise. It was even better as it was cabin we have had before and really like at the rear of the ship on deck 9. Everything on this cruise went according to schedule and although there were many ports with only tender access this was not a problem for us but was for some guests, but they did know this before they booked it is made quite clear! The weather was glorious and everywhere we visited was a delight, we didn't take tours in Dublin but just went into the city as we have holidayed there before and neither did we tour in Guernsey as we used to live there. The tours we did take in Mull, Orkney, Stornaway and Belfast (to Giants Causeway) were all well run and had excellent and above average guides they all ran on time and gave a full view of the place visited with lots of extra stories from our guides that seemed to have put a huge effort into their particular tour. The food on Balmoral is always excellent and not rushed, we always try to get into the Spey dining room but don't miss the Indian and Chinese night in the Palms cafe and this time we also tried the Spanish night all were first class and can be highly recommended. The entertainment was excellent as usual in particular the comedian Bob Webb was hilarious and had a full house for both sittings I hope we find him again on another cruise. Our cabin was kept spotlessly clean and this time because of the wonderful weather we were able to make full use of our balcony. There are a great deal of older people on this cruise line, we find this a bonus as they are polite and quiet and easy to talk to should you find yourselves on a table with them. We are not exactly spring chickens ourselves of course! We didn't quite get what we asked for in the dining table, we asked for a 6 and got a 4 but needn't have worried as we got along really well with our table companions. We are booked again on this ship for Christmas 2014 and I would do another one even sooner if we could. We love the Fred Olsen experience and would highly recommend it. Read Less
Sail Date July 2013
This review will be quite detailed and is only my opinion but, as I'm a bit of a compulsive note taker, I have recorded information on the ship and ports which may be useful to others so here goes........... Background This was our ... Read More
This review will be quite detailed and is only my opinion but, as I'm a bit of a compulsive note taker, I have recorded information on the ship and ports which may be useful to others so here goes........... Background This was our first Fred Olsen cruise but our 30th ocean cruise...... can you tell we like cruising? My husband and I are in our mid 60s and I have some mobility problems. My husband and I are from the Midlands in the UK and we chose this cruise because it was very reasonably priced and fitted in with our holiday dates. Travel arrangements We travelled down by car from our home on the day before the cruise and stayed at the Premier Inn Central in Basingstoke which is roughly 30 miles from the dock in Southampton. I booked this hotel well in advance and got a room at a very reasonable rate (£36). The hotel is conveniently situated about 1mile from the town centre and within a leisure park with cinema and chain restaurants. Car Parking We pre-booked car parking with 'Cruise Parking' which is situated a 20 minute mini bus drive from the port area. The cost once again, was reasonable, especially compared to the port 'on site' car parks. The whole process was very straight forward. We drove into the site, handed over our keys and transferred our cases onto the mini bus trailer. From drop off to arriving at the port terminal took no more than 30 minutes. On arrival back in port we saw a representative from the company standing right outside the customs clearance area and he directed us to a waiting coach. Once again, it was approximately 30 minutes from getting out of customs to getting into our car. We will certainly use this company when cruising from Southampton. Boarding Unlike many other cruise lines, it is not worth arriving early at the terminus as the ship did not start boarding until just after 2.00p.m. We had been given 2.30p.m. as our embarkation time and we actually got on board at 2.45p.m. - Check-in was fairly quick -- about 20 minutes from arriving at the terminal (cases were whisked away) to completing the security checks and sitting down in the lounge. - There is a magazine stand just outside the departure lounge with many free travel and concept magazines. - There is plenty of seating inside the departure lounge together with toilet and snack facilities. - There was a stand advertising 'silver service afternoon tea' at £6.50pp. The same food is available without charge in the Palms Buffet. - Passengers are given a boarding number and groups of 20 are called to go through. This prevented a mad rush to get on board. - Once on board we were directed, not shown, to our cabin. Balmoral - the ship. My husband and I actually sailed on this ship in 2005 when it belonged to NCL and was Norwegian Crown. When it was sold to Fred Olsen the ship was stretched to add extra cabins and some new facilities. It was good to see that some of the original features still remained and we recognised the dining room, rear pool and buffet area. Balmoral is 43,500 tonnes with 1,300 passengers and 500 crew so a relatively small ship in comparison with many of today's liners. I felt it was geared towards the more mature passenger and had a definite British ambiance although there were a few guests from other countries on board and, as it was half term for many UK schools, there were over 50 children who appeared to be well catered for by the designated crew members. Muster Drill This took place immediately prior to sail away and the muster stations were all indoors. We took our life jackets, listened to the safety talk and then were asked to put on our life jackets. Dining options Palms Buffet - Food is not available 24 hours in the buffet. - The set times for breakfast 07.00 -- 09.30 Lunch 12.00 -- 14.30 Afternoon tea 15.30 -- 16.30 Dinner 18.30 -- 21.00 - IMHO the food was generally good with a fair variety of hot and cold dishes. - I did like the fact that the tables were set with a flower decoration, table mats, fabric serviettes, side plates and the correct amount of cutlery. Dining rooms - Evening Dining is traditional set times and tables -- early sitting is 6.15p.m. and late sitting is 8.30p.m. - Breakfast and Lunch servings are open seating in all 3 main dining rooms. Breakfast 08.00 -- 10.00 and Lunch 12.00 -- 14.00 - There are 3 dining rooms -- the largest, Ballindalloch Restaurant, is on deck 6 and the 2 smaller ones, Avon and Spey, are on deck 10. - There are several tables for 2 available. - I found the service to be efficient without being intrusive. - The menus were varied and always included a 'British traditional favourite'. - Food quality varied but I never had a bad meal. There are no speciality restaurants. Entertainment - There is no casino but there were a couple of Roulette and Black Jack tables available in the evening in one corner of the Lido Bar on deck 8. - The 'Morning Light Pub' was the main bar with comfortable seats and musical entertainment in the evenings. - There is a large Library with comfortable chairs, a good selection of books available to borrow, British news paper each lunch time and quizzes, crosswords and Sudoku challenges each day.- There is an internet room with computers but we didn't use it so I can't provide any information. - There were a few shops selling jewellery, clothes, cosmetics, alcohol, cigarettes and general items etc. - The Marquee lounge and the Observatory lounge on deck 11 provided quiet areas with good views. - The Neptune Lounge on deck 7 was the main show lounge and had sofas, swivel chairs and small tables. There was a fairly large dance floor which rose up to form a stage for the shows. My DH and I are keen ballroom dancers and we were in heaven.....there was ballroom and sequence dancing every evening and there were dance hosts (4 gentlemen and 1 lady) for people who needed a dance partner. - There were 3 production shows which I thought were among the best I have ever seen on a ship, a comedian who had most of the audience laughing (me included), a singing magician who, in my opinion, was poor and a terrific 'crew talent' show......definitely the best I have seen afloat. - There were 2 formal evenings where probably 70% of the passengers wore formal/semi-formal clothes plus a 'tropical' night and a 'rock and roll' night where approximately 30% of passenger dressed up. - There was a Captain's welcome and a Captain's farewell reception with free drinks and canapes. - There were quizzes, lectures, recitals, card competitions, craft classes, cookery demonstrations, dance lessons etc on sea days. Launderettes Wow!.......I know it is a bit strange to get excited about launderettes but, with creased clothes, modern airline baggage weight restrictions and longer cruises, I find the launderette particularly useful and the 2 on Balmoral are the best I have come across on cruise ships. - There are 2 launderettes -- 1 on deck 3 and 1 on deck 9. - They are both quite spacious rooms and fitted out in a similar pattern. - Each room has 8 front loading washing machines and 8 driers. - Deck 9 has 2 irons and deck 3 has 3 irons. - A wash costs £2 (tokens available from the reception desk) and that includes detergent which is automatically dispensed onto the clothes at the push of a button as the wash cycle starts. - Driers and irons are free. Remember to empty the water condenser at the top left corner of the drier to make drying more efficient. - If the washer door has been closed on an empty machine, there is a yellow tag to pull down on the left corner of the washing machine. - Opening hours are from 08.00 to 23.00 Cabin 5218A inside superior (deck 5 mid-ship) We were pleasantly surprised with the size, layout and comfort of the cabin. We knew when we booked this grade of cabin that the beds would be arranged in an 'L' shape so were quite happy with that. - I found the bed to be reasonably comfortable and the pillows were soft and fluffy which I like. - I found the duvet to be on the heavy side but my DH thought it was a perfect weight....everyone to their own! - I loved the fact that there was a kettle with coffee and tea sachets provided along with sugar, sweetener and milk cartons. It was lovely to have our early morning cuppa and I really don't know why the American cruise lines do not offer this facility on all their ships. - There was ample storage with plenty of drawers and hanging space in the wardrobes. - There was a bucket style chair and small glass table along with a large dressing table. - The safe was in the wardrobe and you input your own number. - The cabin had very good lighting which could be varied to make it darker or lighter. - There is a flat screen TV with BBC news, Sky news and sports channel, a film channel, bridge cam and interactive options -- pay films and access to your OB account. - There are plenty of plug sockets but they are US/European style. I brought an adapter and 4gang extension and this worked well. - I thought the bathroom was a reasonable size compared to our experiences with standard cabins on other cruise lines. - The best thing is the largish shower stall which had ½ glass wall/ ½ shower curtain so NO sticking curtain. The shower power was good and hot water was plentiful. - Toiletries were basic but reasonable quality -- liquid soap on the counter and liquid body wash in the shower. You could request things like shower caps, solid soap etc. - Towels and wash cloths were changed on request. Ports and ships tours. Our ports of call were -- La Rochelle, Getxo (for Bilbao), Aviles and La Coruna We had already visited all the ports except for Aviles. We decided to do 1 ship's tour and that was to Ile de Re just outside La Rochelle. We chose this one because a French friend holidays there regularly and we wanted to see the places he talked about. We also chose this one because it did not have 'compulsory walking' (Fred Olsen's description of their tours contains this information) and I have some mobility problems. - A set of port maps was left in each cabin during our 1st sea day. I thought this was a nice touch. - Ship's tours departed from the Neptune lounge. - All ports were industrial areas La Rochelle The dock is approximately 5 miles from the centre of La Rochelle and is a controlled area. - There was a free shuttle bus to the dock gates but there is nothing to see there and it is a very long walk from there into the town. - There is a small terminal building with a shop, toilets and tourist information desk. - FO ran a shuttle bus into the centre of La Rochelle for £10pp with unlimited transfers. These run from the car park outside the terminal building - The town is easily walkable with some pretty streets, an interesting small harbour area, outdoor cafes and many shops. Unfortunately, many things were closed or opened late as it was the end of the holiday season. - The Ile de Re tour was quite interesting. We saw the best of what was on offer including the Monastery ruins and some pretty fishing villages - La Flotte, Sainte-Marie-de-Re and Saint-Martin-de-Re were the most notable. There was 45 minutes free time in Saint-Martin-de-Re which was definitely not enough to explore the quaint streets and pretty harbour. Getxo and Bilbao Getxo is a thriving suburb of Bilbao and has its own charm. - Again it is an industrial port area so, although you could walk out of the port, it was a long way to the town centre. - There is a small terminal building with a shop, toilets and tourist information desk. - There were maps available in there. - FO ran unlimited return shuttle buses into the centre of Getxo for £5pp. The bus stopped 100 metres from the metro station where there are frequent trains into Bilbao. - There is a very nice beach just at the edge of the port. - There is a shopping complex just outside the port. - Getxo centre has cafes and shops. - There are some beautiful and imposing villas along the coast road. We had been to Bilbao twice before when I was more mobile and we had seen the main attractions already -- the Guggenheim Museum, the river front promenade and the Old Town -- so we decided not to do a ship's tour but to get the metro and then make our mind up what to do when we got into town. The metro was easy to use: - Ticket machines have an option to have information displayed in English. - It was €3.20pp return for the 20 minute journey. - We decided to get off at 'Abando' station which was nearest to the Old Town and was a short walk across the river. After coffees and a croissant at a pavement cafe (€3.50 which we thought was extremely good value) we caught the tram (€1.40pp single journey) along the river front to the Guggenheim Museum where we got off and sat in the sun in the park area for a while just enjoying the sunshine and people watching. - We caught the metro back from the San Marmes station We had a lovely few hours for a very reasonable price. Aviles Aviles was a revelation and turned out to be, by far, our favourite port. The old town area was very attractive with some most unusual cafes, little food shops and fabulous arcades. This is a relatively new destination and, I believe that Balmoral was the first cruise ship to use the port earlier in the year. There is a lot of building work going on to extend the dock area. - You cannot walk directly from the ship so there was a free shuttle bus to terminus at the edge of the old town. - The terminus is just a tent with a few chairs and tourist information. - It is quite a long walk from the drop off to the town as you have to cross the river and the railway line by bridge first. - There is a very helpful Tourist Information centre at the beginning of the street which takes you to the Town Hall square. - The streets which radiate from the square are all quaint and there are some beautiful buildings, speciality food shops and gardens. - The newer town is to the right of the old town and has a nice food market and a shopping Mall. - We had beautiful weather and enjoyed sitting out in a cafe and people watching. La Coruna Unfortunately, the weather changed as we got to La Coruna and it became cold and overcast with torrential rain showers. It was also November 1st which is a national holiday in Spain the vast majority of shops and many restaurants were closed. These 2 factors combined to make it a disappointing port for many passengers. Fortunately we had visited La Coruna before and remember it in better weather and as a bustling shopping centre. - The ship docks in walking distance of the town centre. - There is a small terminal building with a shop, toilets and tourist information desk. - 2 minutes from the terminal building is a huge shopping mall with cinema, restaurants and upper market shops. - There are lovely walks around the promontory and a beautiful beach at the other side of the peninsula which can be reached by walking about ½mile through the town centre. - The Old Town has a large Town Hall square with many cafes and restaurants. It's approximately 10 minutes walk from the ship. And finally We were so impressed with the Fred Olsen product as a value for money option that we have booked 2 more cruises with them. Balmoral was not the glitziest or most modern ship we have been on but she was one of the friendliest and had many things that we really enjoyed. Read Less
Sail Date October 2012
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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