We stayed in the Travelodge, Cobalt Business Park before our embarkation from Newcastle, which was a fairly new hotel. It was really good with the room, hotel and staff being excellent, so I would definitely recommend that as somewhere to stay pre-cruise. We stayed three nights, taking the opportunity to go on a boat ride to The Farne Isles one day with Serenity, which again I would recommend as we saw loads of birds, including Puffins. We were a short drive to the port, though sadly that did not go so well. We were parking at the port so were directed to an area to wait for our covid tests, at first feeling pleased that there were only about eight cars ahead of us, however it took about 40 minutes for us to be tested whilst we watched the completely inefficient staff leisurely staff amble about slowly, getting hardly anything done! We were then directed to the car park and instructed to stay in our car and not unpack luggage until our results came through. The results took another 35 minutes to appear, when we were eventually allowed to give our luggage to the car park staff and walk to the terminal, which was not far away. At least the check in procedure was fairly swift.
We did have problems with our cabin, which I will mention later. The cruise over all was not to the standard we have previously experienced on Fred, but the ports were good and that is why we cruise. We ate in the Avon Restaurant, late sitting, as our allocated dining and that was fairly good, with both our waiters and the food being good most of the time. We do not like fixed dining as neither early or late sitting is what we would want every night, so we ate in the self service a number of nights which was OK in that there was usually something we enjoyed eating, though the surroundings are uninspiring and not appealing like the self service restaurants on the other Fred ships, past and present. If you like eating raw meat, you may wish to dine in Vasco or Colours and Tastes. My husband ordered the chicken in Vasco and when he cut into a piece, there was blood visible so that was returned, only for him to be supplied with a replacement very quickly, which again was decidedly pink! They senior staff (Bar and Restaurant Manager and Exec Chef) were most apologetic, admitting we should not have been served chicken like that, but we decided to go to the self service, rather than risk a third attempt that night! A few days later we went to Colours and Tastes and waited an incredibly long time for the main courses, only to be amazed that we were served what was beef that just looked totally raw apart from a very small strip around the edge. The member of staff said it was medium rare, but we dispute that it was even cooked to that level. Again the senior staff agreed that what we had been served should not have been like that and we did wait for a replacement, which was in fact very good, but again a long wait, in fact the full meal took about three hours that night. We were not charged for either of those meals, though the experience did not mean we could have a pleasant meal at an early time, which had been our intention. Whilst the starters in Vasco were similar to the other ships, we found the other food in Colours and Tastes to be quite different and not to be as good as what we had eaten on the other ships a number of times. We are are fairly sure we had been asked how we liked the beef cooked on the other ships, yet there is an insistence on Balmoral that it comes medium rare, though we had not even been told that. We did hear some latecomers ordering beef when we were waiting for our second version and they were told that it comes medium rare (no other option given). We ate lunch in the deck ten restaurants on a few sea days, which was again good and went to the self service at breakfast time and other lunch times as it was open a bit later than the other restaurants.
We do not tend to go to the entertainments often, though we did enjoy two shows with more modern music and a couple of evenings when a very good classical guitarist performed in the Neptune. We also went to the crew show as our cabin stewardess was a Thai dancer and that was excellent as always. We spent some evenings in the observation bar, particularly liking the trio, who are always good. The pianist there was fine in the early evening, but we soon departed when she started "singing" later at night as her voice was both loud and not pleasant. The morning light musician was not up the the standard of other musicians we have come across in those venues, being rather loud and unrefined. We did not spend time in The Lido Lounge, which was extremely dark and dingy at all times - they even drew the curtains early evening, yet it was summer in a northerly location, so was clear daylight outside. We also did not like the band playing there particularly (Stattus).
Cabin to the rear of deck 5 under the restaurant. The beds were very uncomfortable and the pillows incredibly soft, so did not give any support for my head. I eventually learned to overcome that by using the cushions as pillows. The cabin had an L shaped configuration which was ridiculous as plenty of room to have the beds side by side, which is far more convenient and means both beds have access to bedside tables. There was noise when the ship was coming into port in the mornings and occasionally at other times due to the propellers, though not a massive noise as a fair distance from the back of the ship and so it was possible to get some sleep after that most days. We had been moved from 4109 which suffered from even more noise that appeared to come from a staff area below. That cabin had a lot of noise after 7.30 am there were constant bangs which continued for a couple of hours. The noise was not helped by the fact the non hanging storage in the wardrobes was all drawers with no shelves at all which meant that you could constantly hear drawers being banged shut. We were assured that the cabin we moved to did not have anyone next to us on the wardrobe side, so at least that noise was not a problem there.
This was a lovely town and an easy one to walk around and we had a great meal whilst there.
Great port and we enjoyed our day there. We also had a meal ashore, that was very good.
Enjoyed the day. We visited the museum of Helsinki as well as strolling around.
We went into the fortress which was very interesting, then went for a stroll further into the city.