Balmoral Cruise Review by tring
- Sail Date: May 2015
- Destination: Norwegian Fjords
We were surprised at our inside cabin as it was bigger than we expected, well laid out and with lots of storage space. The ship had been refurbished a few months earlier and everything was in very good condition. Likewise the rest of the ship pleased us, as it was well presented throughout.
The first day, which was at sea, went well and we settled in nicely. Port talks were given and could be seen on the cabin TV. Our cabin stewardess, Wilhelmina, was excellent and we had nothing but smiles and efficiency from her, even though we were fairly late leaving our cabin at times. Likewise our restaurant waiter Bobby and his assistant, Prie, in the Avon restaurant were also excellent and very friendly and the food was also very good. The self service restaurant was big, but there was not much view as the windows looked out onto prom deck and some of the view was obstructed. It was worse than need be as the curtains were never drawn back fully, which was a shame. The meal times, were quite limited, lunch only available form 12.00 – 2.30pm for instance and breakfast finished at 10.00am. This was quite problematic at times.
Unusually, we had chosen second sitting for this cruise as there was scenic cruising on the itinerary. We do not regularly go to the shows, but as Fred has started having the shows before second dinner instead of after, we did not attend any, as it was too early for us. We did use the observatory lounge quite a lot and bar service was very good. We took the drinks package and the drinks were of a quite decent quality, even the wines which we had found to be of very poor quality on a previous cruise. We did not purchase any excursions on this cruise.
The Captain had warned us there could be some rough seas and he later announced that we would not be able to get into Stavanger the following afternoon, but would go straight on to Bergen arriving late afternoon, instead of the next morning. The sea was a bit bumpy as we passed through the storm overnight but was OK the next day, only catching up with us the first evening in Bergen.
The second morning, as we were travelling to Bergen the relaxing cruise turned into a very stressful time. The Captain announced on that morning that there was a gastro enteritis outbreak and that the usual procedures for this would be adopted and we were regularly reminded to wash hands etc. We went into Bergen later that day and took the funicular up the hill, only to find we were asked to wait a while before we got into it as someone had been ill and it had to be cleared up. The real severity of the outbreak became apparent when we went into the restaurant that evening and saw that at least 25% of people were missing from the restaurant, and probably more than that. As I was eating my sweet, someone vomited on a table very near me. At that stage everyone nearby walked out of the restaurant and this left me feeling very wary every time I went to eat for the rest of the cruise. There were obvious signs of ill people in a lot of cabins as the ‘do not disturb’ signs were left out all day, room service trays were left in the corridor in big plastic bags and dirty linens and waste were left in bags in the corridor. Even if we asked no one would tell us how many people were ill and even now Fred will not disclose numbers, but presuming it was on a rolling basis, a large number of people must have been infected. It has to be said though that the staff took their extra duties without complaint, although they were obviously very hard worked at this stage.
On the third night of what should have been an 8 night cruise we had a letter to say that the cruise needed to be curtailed because of the infection rate. We would still go to Flam the next day and they would do scenic cruising then, omit Olden the next day and stop at Stavanger instead, hence restoring the call we had missed. We would then arrive back in Southampton one day early, making the cruise 7 nights instead of 8. The scenic cruising originally scheduled on the return journey was also missed.
We were never actually told directly that it was norovirus, although one letter did refer to the infection, then in the next sentence went on to say things about norovirus, so it seemed to imply that was the problem. However a news article on this site, (accessible from the news tab above), and dated 11th May, says, ‘a Fred. Olsen spokesperson said the line had a sample tested and it had come back negative for Norovirus’. Also, as we were disembarking, a member of the port staff said, ‘I believe that it is not thought to be norovirus’. I did not think that was the case myself as the normally busy ship on the first day, suddenly became a very quiet ship after that. Fred has been reported as saying that someone was sick on the first day and that she had brought the virus on board. As a biologist, I must say that one person being ill on day one and a very large proportion of people being ill almost 2 days later is not my understanding of epidemiology, especially as people whom we knew were ill did not seem to pass it on to their cabin companions.
Although the staff were working hard through the problems, I do not think the company dealt with it well in all ways. A member of staff told me one night that she had been sick that morning. If she was a passenger, she would have had to stay in her cabin for 48 hours after symptoms subsided, yet she was in the public areas of the ship, dealing with passengers. Also the antibacterial hand gels (which do nothing to viruses) were still being used and I only saw two containers of antimicrobial foam that would be effective against viruses.
We managed to get back to Southampton without suffering with the infection, but feeling very stressed after the whole experience. We docked at 10.00am in Southampton, so normal disembarkation would have been after midday. We were thankful that as we had a long journey ahead we were given priority disembarkation, so we did not need to stay in a hotel on the way home. Disembarkation was straight forward for us, as we left the ship just after we had to be out of our cabins, which was at 11am.
We just want to put the whole experience behind us and are not looking to gain financially but for the record I would like to clarify a couple of points that have been mentioned in the press. The one day’s refund given to passengers on this cruise was actually for the one day’s cruise that we did not get as we returned a day early. Also the vouchers given as a goodwill gesture, were for a few specific cruises, most of which are from embarkation ports which many people would find difficult to reach. There were also other restrictions on the use of the vouchers.
We can see a lot of advantage with Fred, given the unusual ports visited and other reasons as well, so I would like to see Fred get this sorted. If not, they will lose our custom as well as that of many other people.
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Port & Shore Excursion Reviews
BergenWe arrived in port late afternoon and stayed until late afternoon the next day. On arrival we went to the tourist office and purchased a one day Bergen card for 200Kr (£20) each and this was very good value as it gave us half price on the funicular and Greig's house, free entry to a couple of art galleries, free travel on the buses to and from the port and a tram to Grieg's house.View All 638 Bergen Cruise Port Reviews
We went up the funicular the first evening, which gave good views and we strolled around a bit on the footpaths up there. The next day we caught a bus from the port to the town and then took a 20 minute tram ride to the nearest stop to Grieg's house. It was about a 20 minute pleasant walk from there to Grieg's house. The house was extremely interesting with a display about his life, a video, his composing hut and grave as well as the house itself. The location was by the edge of a fjord which was lovely. We were really pleased we went here independently as the house was almost empty at the time and we had plenty of time to see everything and the staff were very good at giving extra information about him and his family. This was a much better experience than going with a tour group and the only thing we missed was a very short concert of his work.
I had looked into travelling to Greig's house before we left home, so we had full details of the tram times and route as well as the walk from the tram to the house. There is a website which gives the opening hours for the house and other museums/galleries as well, so we knew what we could do during different times of our visit.
We returned to the centre of Bergen and still had time to visit a couple of art galleries before returning to the port by bus in plenty of time for our sail out, which was very pleasant.
View Cruise Critic's Bergen Cruise Port Review
FlamWe have been to Flam before and went on the train then, so we just walked up the valley for a while, then returned and strolled a little on the footpaths by the large hotel near the port.View All 227 Flam Cruise Port Reviews
It was a really pleasant walk up the valley and we were almost alone there in very beautiful, quiet surroundings. The footpaths near the hotel just went uphill a little with a slightly different view of the fjord.
We stayed on deck for 2.5 hours after we sailed out of the port as it took that long to sail most of the way out of the fjord and it was most impressive. Luckily we sailed a little way up Naeroyfjord and back soon after we left Flam, which was extremely impressive, with very steep sides. This extra scenic cruising is something Fred Olsen often do and is the main reason we chose this cruise.
View Cruise Critic's Flam Cruise Port Review
StavangerWe went to the Canning Museum and the Maritime Museum, which can be visited on a combined ticket. They were both interesting and a good way to get away from the showery, windy day outside. After that the weather brightened up so we had a coffee at Burger King. The coffee was very cheap for Norway (I think about 25 Kr) and we could sit on bench type seats outside in the sun.View All 273 Stavanger Cruise Port Reviews
Then we walked away from the harbour, to the left hand side of the lake and walked uphill a bit where there was a lovely wooden church and a lot of wooden houses, but the area was not full of tourists which was lovely. We then headed back towards the harbour which was a pleasant walk. At one stage we had walked off the map we were given as we got off the ship, but a kind Norwegian gentleman pointed us in the right direction.
View Cruise Critic's Stavanger Cruise Port Review