This was our first post-Covid holiday abroad and, after seeing chaos at airports over the last couple of years, we were delighted to find that we could sail from Rosyth, just over an hour's drive from home. The itinerary took us up the coast of Norway before heading well into the Arctic Circle, to Svalbard.
This was only our second cruise and our first with Fred Olsen but we had heard good reviews from friends who had travelled on the Balmoral and we were not disappointed. Our cabin was extremely comfortable with plenty of storage space to keep it uncluttered. The crew were friendly, professional and extremely helpful, nothing seemed too much trouble. The ship may be older than most but is beautifully maintained to a high standard and is kept very clean. We saw it being polished, washed, varnished and painted throughout the cruise and with respect to infection control, there were hand sanitisers at every entrance to public areas while doors, door handles and even walls were washed down at least once a day. Over the 15 days we dined in all areas: the main dining rooms (Ballindalloch for dinner, Spey and Avon for lunch), the buffet area (Palm's cafe) and the two speciality restaurants Vasco and Colours & Tastes. We enjoy eating out and thought that the food was excellent throughout - a wide range of dishes to choose from to suit all tastes, beautifully cooked and presented, available throughout the day. There was also afternoon tea available, an ice-cream cafe (Scoops) and, weather permitting, a BBQ on the promenade deck. There was even a supper club for those peckish after 11pm but we did not try any of these simply because we just could not fit in any more food.
This particular cruise attracted us because it had more sea days, a chance to really explore the ship and relax. There are numerous lounges, bars and cafe areas, all very comfortable and with large windows from which to enjoy the scenery. There is a wrap around promenade deck which is great for scenic cruising or a little bit of gentle exercise (4x round = 1 mile!) and plenty of places to sit in the fresh air. There are also 2 swimming pools each surrounded by sun loungers and with a bar, complete with attentive waiters, nearby. The Neptune Lounge on deck 7 provided a tiered theatre area for enrichment talks during the day (even a church service on each Sunday) and becoming a dance floor with show stage in the evening with all activities available to watch from the comfort of your cabin if you prefer not to go out.
We were in Cabin port side, midships. The cabin is a superior ocean view with a huge picture window that lets in lots of light. We had twin beds (extremely comfortable) with a fixed chest of drawers between them. The cabin contains a dressing table with drawers (one containing a hairdryer) on one side and a mini-fridge on the other, a small table and two chairs. There is a wall-mounted tv. Loads of storage space with 2 mirrored double wardrobes, one containing a safe. A tray with coffee and tea making facilities is supplied and topped up daily. Lighting was excellent as were the blackout curtains, very handy for the midnight sun! This cabin has a bath with overhead shower and again, the bathroom has loads of storage space. We loved the fact that, as well as the cabin being cleaned daily, our beds were turned down in the evening, the curtains were drawn and lighting switched on the make the room cosy to come back to and the daily programme for the following day was left on the pillow with a chocolate, a different chocolate each night!
Took the gondola to the top of the mountain. Wonderful views and lots of paths to walk.Would have stayed and explored the paths much more if we hadn't had to be back to go on a tour. We went on a tour to Trollveggan and Trolligsten organised by our cruise ship. This was worth paying for as we would not have been able to drive the mountain road with its famous hairpin bends by ourselves. Our knowledgeable guide and our friendly driver were both excellent and the views, despite a little mist and rain, were well worth it.
Beautiful little city. We decided to sight-see by ourselves rather than go on an organised tour and it saved us a lot of money. We walked from the cruise terminal across the bridge to the Arctic Cathedral, about 15 - 20 minutes walk. There is a small fee to enter the Cathedral but well worth it, beautiful and peaceful inside. The small gift shop sells postcards and stamps - and will post these for you if write them on the spot. There are also toilet facilities here. We then walked to the gondola station, about another 10 minute walk, to head up to the viewpoint above the town. Again, well worth it with panoramic views over the islands to snow-capped mountains.
Very pretty little town. Unfortunately, as it was Sunday, almost all the shops, restaurants and cafes were closed. However the church was open and very welcoming. We were greeted in English, handed a beautiful postcard showing the outside and inside of the church with text in English and spent a very peaceful hour listening to a superb organ recital. We appreciate this might not suit many folk, especially if you have family / young children / teenagers to entertain but we thoroughly enjoyed it.
We opted for an organised tour, travelling the Atlantic Road. However , of everything we did on our cruise, this is the one that we thought was a waste of time and money. About 30 minutes is spent travelling out of town with 6km (possibly more) through the Atlantic Tunnel. We were very unlucky that our tour left before 9am in fairly thick fog so when we did arrive at the first stop, the start of the Atlantic Road, we really could not see anything. Now this is weather, totally out with the control of our tour guide and folk on a later tour had a great view of the scenery - but we had also been promised a restaurant with coffee and toilet facilities. Unfortunately the restaurant does not open until 10am (we arrived at 9.35) and there was only ONE toilet, which, while open, was totally insufficient for the SIX tour buses that lined up beside it. The stop has a nice walkway around the coastline which takes perhaps 10 minutes at a slow pace but that is about it. The return journey let us see some pretty countryside and we enjoyed the guide's commentary but the only other stop was at another toilet, for about 10 minutes, and then we headed back to the ship.
The town itself is pretty but the shops and cafes are the same as you would find in just about any city. Another factor was the short stay. We were on our tour in morning, back at the ship just before midday but had to be on board by 2,30pm which did not leave much time to explore, grab a meal etc. Personally, we felt this stop was mainly to refuel the ship and if we did it again we would use the time to relax on board instead of going out into town.
We loved this overnight stop at Longyearbyen. It is very different to anything else we had experienced. We did not go on any organised tours but contented ourselves with walking into the town both days. However you need to be aware of the safety zone, well signposted and with large posters warning of the dangers of going beyond due to the risk from polar bears! To go beyond the marked zone, you need to be on an organised tour, or with a guide, or have firearms training and carry flares and a firearm. It was a little disconcerting to see town folk walking about about with rifles slung across their back. There are some bars, restaurants and shops. The shops sell expensive but very high quality outdoor gear (with the winter temperatures here, no-one is going to waste money on cheap gear), some tourist gifts - and some sell firearms. The one thing they have in common is they are very warm inside as the town is heated by hot water and the indoor temperature everywhere seemed to be set at 25C . This is not a pretty town but it is very interesting and atmospheric and well worth a wander about.
Wonderful scenic cruising. As well as the amazing mountains and glaciers, we saw lots of wildlife with numerous sightings of fin whales, humpbacks, white-beaked dolphins, two pods of belugas and even a walrus. For the birdwatchers there were arctic terns, fulmars and cormorants to name a few but our favourites were the puffins. A brilliant day!