We had been on two cruises with Fred Olsen before, not on the Balmoral, and we had noticed a slight reduction in quality between the first and second cruise. However we felt the standard had plummeted this time as corners were visibly cut particularly with the food.
The ship hasn't been refitted for over 8 years and it showed. The smell of diesel was so strong at times you could smell it from the lounges when a great cloud of it was blown in from the door to the outside deck. The smell was constant in the pool area.
The biggest disappointment to us was the food. The standard had really dropped. For example we had "potted shrimps" which were just prawns in butter. We had tough inedible meat and disgusting fish. The desserts, with one exception, were disappointing and the cheese selection down to 3 cheeses only. Only the soups were good and we suspected that those came out of a tin. Salads were served without dressing and main courses without vegetables to speak of (although we could order extra).
On one occasion my wife had pink uncooked chicken served to her. Maybe the "norovirus" on previous trips was down to that sort of thing plus poor plumbing in the cabins (more below).
Service was often very slow in the main restaurants, we felt that the staff level seemed much lower than before. On the final night I got the wrong main dish served to me, which I realised after I'd got it and when replaced with the steak pie I'd ordered, I found the pastry wasn't cooked.
It's ridiculous to pay so much for coffee in the bars, I really think non-alcoholic drinks should be included in the fare. We are sure that the all-inclusive fare would have been very poor value as at £10 per person a night (if you book in advance) it only includes the revolting house wines although you get half-price on other drinks.
Entertainment was variable - there was a rock band and dancers which were superb - saying that as someone who's not a rock fan. However the show I went to with crew singing was boring.
One major issue for me was the Internet service which had gone from £30 paying for 24 hours of time to £41 paying for 2 hours of time.. Given how slow the service was, this time soon ran out. The only plus side was that it was usable in the cabins rather than at points throughout the ship.
We had thought that tips were included as before but they were back again for this trip unless you ask for them to be taken off.
We liked Madeira, La Palma and Lisbon but not so much the other places in the Canaries. We opted to just get off the ship and wander round rather than the excursions which seemed massively overpriced.
Afraid that Fred won't be seeing us back again unless he really gets his act together again drastically.
The cabin was ridiculously cramped for what we believed was "superior". Hate to be in an inferior one. The cabin creaked crazily at night and kept us awake. It was often far too cold and the thin bedclothes were no help. We couldn't discover how to work the heating if it worked at all. There was no extractor in the bathroom. The TV didn't work, not that we wanted to use it, but still. The mains plugs were all different from what the website said and we'd experienced before, they were nearly all US-style. There was far too little drawer space.
We are sure that there is something seriously wrong with the plumbing; they had to shut down the water twice, albeit during the small hours. We noticed at times a severe smell from the toilet and from the soakaway drain adjacent to the toilet. We are sure that some of the "Norovirus" problems which they have had could well be attributable to this.
Walk through town centre, not as nice as Funchal
Enjoyable walk through town centre.