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Fred Olsen ships go to really interesting places so we wanted to like cruising with them. The cruise we went on was a last minute booking as we needed the break and it was one of the few going from the UK to anywhere warm, and back again. We booked on a guaranteed cabin basis and a few days before sailing received the documentation which had a cabin number - but not the grade we had booked. Promptly got in touch with Fred Olsen and came back with a new cabin of the right grade, but we didn't get any documentation as there was no time. At check in Fred Olsen only had the original cabin for us - which we were not going to accept. After some time we were given our correct cabin - but as if this was a favour, rather than our right - and we boarded. The cabin was fine with lots of storage space. When we unpacked we went to get something to eat (not having eaten since the night before as we don't do breakfast) and were very surprised that there was nowhere on the ship to get any food apart from a few biscuits at 4.00 - this is the first ship we have been on where no food was available in the buffet restaurant for fairly long periods of time during the day. We were on late sitting so were quite peckish by that time! There was no real daily program for the day of embarkation so no activities - we spent the time exploring the ship, which didn't take long as it is quite small. All seemed fine - clean and well maintained, but very dated. Maintenance was an on-going activity with crew painting or replacing windows at all times of the day and night. As the sea days went on we became bored - again, a first for us on a cruise. We play bridge so went to the Improvers classes at 11.00, which were excellent, and therefore missed the one guest speaker who was a military historian. Apparently he was very interesting but the topic is a bit limiting. The only other 'speaker' was a photographer who taught photography - again, interesting if you want to learn all about photography, but limiting. In the afternoons we played bridge until about 4.30 at which point we had missed the one opportunity to get any food after lunch and before dinner. We were late arriving in Madeira for some unknown reason. The Bay of Biscay had been 'exciting' but no more than usual. We had been followed out of Southampton by Black Watch which went into Lisbon for a day and arrived in Madeira not long after we did. The ports visited were on a variety of islands with excursions offered in each one. For do-it-yourself travellers there was no transport to the towns at any of the ports visited. Given the average age of the passengers this was a surprise - the towns were some distance away for anyone with walking difficulties. Yet again, a first on a cruise for us not to have a shuttle bus available, even if not free. There was a bit of excitement during a crew drill when a lifeboat made a bid for freedom and hung nose down from the davits. That side of the ship was closed to passengers while the crew worked out how to get it back. Eventually it was lowered into the sea, scraping the side of the newly painted ship as it went, and eventually found its way onto the front of the ship. The front of the promenade deck was out of bounds for days so it couldn't be seen, except via the ships camera on TV! Generally there was a feeling of penny pinching everywhere. A cafe (with specialty teas and coffees which were not free) had been put into the Library, which became a rather noisy cafe with a few books rather than a quiet place for reading and contemplation. As a result tables for people to do jigsaws or play boardgames were not available anywhere except the Card Room, which was fine if there was no lecture/class going on or a bridge session - all of which were on the daily programme. It seemed rather odd to bother to engage a specialist to teach bridge and to conduct bridge sessions but not provide a dedicated area for them to do so. Some of the people playing games while lectures were being conducted were extremely rude and made no effort to lower their voices. I doubt if they would have talked and laughed through a lecture in any other venue of the ship - but maybe I'm wrong about that. There was a 'Specialty' restaurant available on a few nights - The Grill, with a steak and seafood menu - but in a cordoned off area of the Palms Cafe. Not very inspiring and at £20 a head somewhat expensive. Not a patch on the Specialty restaurants on other ships we have been on which are generally cheaper and in dedicated rooms with some atmosphere. We tend not to go to the Shows on cruises - just not our thing - but as there was nothing to do after 10.30 in the evenings except the Shows or a disco we did go to some of them - generally not brilliant and too many crew shows - very cheap. More penny pinching. The one thing I can praise was the food in the main restaurants - usually excellent with a good choice, both at lunch and dinner. The Palms cafe food was sometimes lukewarm and the staff not as friendly and helpful as in the main restaurants but the specialty nights such as the Indian buffet were good. Generally we were so disappointed with the experience and are very unlikely to cruise with Fred Olsen again. They have a group of very loyal passengers who seem to love everything Fred does but we are not among them.

We wanted to like Fred Olsen, but....

Balmoral Cruise Review by Jaydee22

24 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: January 2016
  • Destination: Canary Islands
  • Cabin Type: Superior Outside
Fred Olsen ships go to really interesting places so we wanted to like cruising with them. The cruise we went on was a last minute booking as we needed the break and it was one of the few going from the UK to anywhere warm, and back again. We booked on a guaranteed cabin basis and a few days before sailing received the documentation which had a cabin number - but not the grade we had booked. Promptly got in touch with Fred Olsen and came back with a new cabin of the right grade, but we didn't get any documentation as there was no time. At check in Fred Olsen only had the original cabin for us - which we were not going to accept. After some time we were given our correct cabin - but as if this was a favour, rather than our right - and we boarded. The cabin was fine with lots of storage space.

When we unpacked we went to get something to eat (not having eaten since the night before as we don't do breakfast) and were very surprised that there was nowhere on the ship to get any food apart from a few biscuits at 4.00 - this is the first ship we have been on where no food was available in the buffet restaurant for fairly long periods of time during the day. We were on late sitting so were quite peckish by that time!

There was no real daily program for the day of embarkation so no activities - we spent the time exploring the ship, which didn't take long as it is quite small. All seemed fine - clean and well maintained, but very dated. Maintenance was an on-going activity with crew painting or replacing windows at all times of the day and night. As the sea days went on we became bored - again, a first for us on a cruise. We play bridge so went to the Improvers classes at 11.00, which were excellent, and therefore missed the one guest speaker who was a military historian. Apparently he was very interesting but the topic is a bit limiting. The only other 'speaker' was a photographer who taught photography - again, interesting if you want to learn all about photography, but limiting. In the afternoons we played bridge until about 4.30 at which point we had missed the one opportunity to get any food after lunch and before dinner.

We were late arriving in Madeira for some unknown reason. The Bay of Biscay had been 'exciting' but no more than usual. We had been followed out of Southampton by Black Watch which went into Lisbon for a day and arrived in Madeira not long after we did. The ports visited were on a variety of islands with excursions offered in each one. For do-it-yourself travellers there was no transport to the towns at any of the ports visited. Given the average age of the passengers this was a surprise - the towns were some distance away for anyone with walking difficulties. Yet again, a first on a cruise for us not to have a shuttle bus available, even if not free.

There was a bit of excitement during a crew drill when a lifeboat made a bid for freedom and hung nose down from the davits. That side of the ship was closed to passengers while the crew worked out how to get it back. Eventually it was lowered into the sea, scraping the side of the newly painted ship as it went, and eventually found its way onto the front of the ship. The front of the promenade deck was out of bounds for days so it couldn't be seen, except via the ships camera on TV!

Generally there was a feeling of penny pinching everywhere. A cafe (with specialty teas and coffees which were not free) had been put into the Library, which became a rather noisy cafe with a few books rather than a quiet place for reading and contemplation. As a result tables for people to do jigsaws or play boardgames were not available anywhere except the Card Room, which was fine if there was no lecture/class going on or a bridge session - all of which were on the daily programme. It seemed rather odd to bother to engage a specialist to teach bridge and to conduct bridge sessions but not provide a dedicated area for them to do so. Some of the people playing games while lectures were being conducted were extremely rude and made no effort to lower their voices. I doubt if they would have talked and laughed through a lecture in any other venue of the ship - but maybe I'm wrong about that.

There was a 'Specialty' restaurant available on a few nights - The Grill, with a steak and seafood menu - but in a cordoned off area of the Palms Cafe. Not very inspiring and at £20 a head somewhat expensive. Not a patch on the Specialty restaurants on other ships we have been on which are generally cheaper and in dedicated rooms with some atmosphere.

We tend not to go to the Shows on cruises - just not our thing - but as there was nothing to do after 10.30 in the evenings except the Shows or a disco we did go to some of them - generally not brilliant and too many crew shows - very cheap. More penny pinching.

The one thing I can praise was the food in the main restaurants - usually excellent with a good choice, both at lunch and dinner. The Palms cafe food was sometimes lukewarm and the staff not as friendly and helpful as in the main restaurants but the specialty nights such as the Indian buffet were good.

Generally we were so disappointed with the experience and are very unlikely to cruise with Fred Olsen again. They have a group of very loyal passengers who seem to love everything Fred does but we are not among them.
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