Fred. Olsen's Balmoral Readies for Caribbean Launch

February 29, 2008
The tetchy Balmoral, the newest offering from Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, now sailing its inaugural -- an Atlantic crossing between Dover and Miami -- is on schedule to arrive at the South Florida port tomorrow as planned. But to date, little has gone as planned with the debut of the 43,000-ton, 1,348-passenger ship -- it was four days late coming out of the shipyard and its original inaugural was cancelled when more technical issues were uncovered -- there are a few additional disappointments in store.

A celebratory black-tie event, intended to welcome the ship to Miami Saturday night, has been cancelled. And a planned two-night stay onboard for crossing passengers has been kyboshed as well; guests will have to debark tomorrow, instead of Monday, and spend the last two nights of their cruise in Miami hotels.

The reason: This weekend, U.S. authorities, such as Coast Guard and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Vessel Sanitation inspectors, will spend two days checking out Balmoral to make sure the ship passes all U.S. port-related tests.

These tests range from evaluating crew members during safety drills to ensuring that fridge temperatures are at proper settings.

The cruise line had hoped that the inspectors would board far earlier and spend the duration of the Atlantic crossing on their investigations. Officials opted, however, to handle the testing in Miami, which was what forced Fred. Olsen to cancel both the cruise's end -- and its black tie party.

In the meantime, Fred. Olsen has made accommodations arrangements for current passengers at Miami hotels. They'll also be provided with entertainment and meals, though a Fred. Olsen spokesman said that specifics were not available. Shore excursions will operate as planned.

Still, the ship, the former Norwegian Crown, marks a new chapter for venerable Fred. Olsen. Balmoral has undergone a massive overhaul that included not only refurbishments of public spaces but also a surgical operation in which the ship was sliced apart to make room for a new midsection. Balconies were added to staterooms, the casino was removed and a traditional pub was added.

The ship also earns another first for the line: Its maiden season of Miami-based Caribbean voyages will be marketed equally to new world and old world cruisers alike. The invasion of North Americans, for this traditional-minded, British-influenced cruise line, will no doubt create as much new energy as will the ship's newly gorgeous interiors.

Balmoral is scheduled to depart on Monday for its maiden Caribbean cruise -- and Cruise Critic will also be onboard. Read our blog-in-a-thread -- and feel to send us your questions.

--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor