Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

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Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

Post by Gill W » 31 Mar 2018, 17:01

Balmoral L1804 – 10th March 2018 to 24th March 2018 – In Search of the Northern Lights.

This is a review of our recent cruise on Fred Olsen’s Balmoral. It was our first cruise with Fred, having previously cruised mostly with P&O.

PART ONE

We were given a 2pm boarding time, with a suggested car arrival time of 1.30pm. We adhered to this timing. The cruise departed from City Cruise Terminal and car parking was with ABP Parking ( not CPS). On arrival at the terminal, our cases were taken from us, then my husband took the car to the car check in area, while I waited with our hand luggage. When he had dealt with the formalities, he rejoined me, and we went to check in for the cruise. There was only a short queue for security, then a short queue before we were called to a check in desk. There was no health questionnaire – they just asked the health questions instead. They took the photo from our passport, which also saved a bit of time. We were given a numbered boarding card each, and we went through to the lounge, expecting to wait for a while, but they said there was no need to wait, and we boarded immediately. We were onboard just after 2pm, and it seemed quick and efficient.

We had heard that Fred doesn’t serve food on boarding, so we made sure we’d had something to eat when we stopped at Rownhams Services. Therefore I was quite surprised to see that there was food being served in the Palms buffet, and they had set up a buffet in the adjacent Morning Light pub.

A muster drill was held before sailing. We didn’t have to take our life jackets, but there was a roll call.

Our cabin was described as a superior ocean view cabin, on deck 6, in a quiet location. The beds were fixed singles, but I don’t mind that, as it meant there was more central floor space. The cabin was perfectly functional rather than stylish. There was adequate hanging space for two weeks, and lots of drawers. There was a large safe and a small fridge. A kettle and tea and coffee was provided. There were several plug sockets, a mixture of US and European style. Prior to cruising, I wasn’t sure what the electrical arrangements were, so I took all of my US and European adaptors, which meant we could use multiple plugs at the same time, which was a bonus for charging devices. There was a good flat screen TV, with a reasonable range of programmes and films. You could also check your onboard account on screen, and there was a live feed to the Belvedere Lounge, so you could see talks and shows in your cabin.

I noticed one of the drawers was coming apart at the joints – I did manage to put it back together, but overall the room could have done with a bit of TLC. During the holiday, the light on the door lock occasionally flashed amber. We did report this, and to be honest, I’m not sure if they ever looked at it. The amber light flashed amber intermittently over the entire two weeks and in the end we stopped worrying about it, as it didn’t stop us entering or leaving our cabin.

Balmoral is a small to medium sized ship, with capacity for 1340 passengers. The ship has recently had a refit, and the public areas are looking very chipper. There are many nice bar areas. I particularly liked the Bookmark Cafe for hot chocolate and the Lido Bar, which overlooks the back of the ship. But there was also The Observatory (Crows Nest equivalent), The Marquee Bar (partially outside, so would be very nice in warm weather), the Morning Light Pub and the Lido Lounge. There was one main show lounge, the Neptune Lounge. The stage was used for dancing before shows, and then they’d raise the stage for the show.

There was one quite small buffet restaurant called the Palms and three dining rooms (the larger Ballindalloch and the smaller Avon and Spey). There were two select dining options The Grill (£20pp) and Poolside Dining, which was £15.

There were hand gel machines situated prominently all over the ship. They were keen to promote hygiene - indeed, the captain reminded us to wash, wash, wash each day during his daily broadcast. I’d mention that Captain Lars was a bit of a legend, very visible, very passenger focused and had another catchphrase, ‘It is what it is’, which everyone was saying by the end of the cruise.
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Re: Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

Post by Gill W » 31 Mar 2018, 17:02

PART TWO

We were allocated a table for two in the Ballindalloch Restaurant. We were really pleased with our table, as it was a proper table for two, not one that is immediately adjacent to another table.

As with P & O we were served by a waiter and an assistant. Sometimes service was a bit slow, but as we weren’t in a rush this didn’t matter. They also dealt with the drinks, as there was no separate wine waiter. They poured the wine, and any other drink request was phoned through to a bar, and brought in by a bar waiter.

Overall I think the standard of food at dinner was good both in quality and choice. I need to keep my salt intake lower than the average person, and I was delighted with the chilled fruit soups they had as a starter each day. There were always available items, such as grilled chicken, grilled fish of the day, omelette or a pasta dish. I had grilled chicken a couple of times, but apart from that, there were always things on the main menu that I really fancied.

We went to the Grill twice. The first time (on my birthday) I had the most beautiful steak, and it was well worth the £20 additional charge. Our second visit was on Fred ( more about that later) and I had the steak again, as it was so delicious.

The poolside dining option was £15pp in the evening. The menu didn’t particularly appeal, but in warm climates I think it’d be a nice option to try,

For breakfast and lunch we alternated between the three main dining rooms. There was a buffet in each of the dining rooms for both breakfast and lunch, or you could chose from the menu and the waiter would bring you your food. The buffet wasn’t extensive, but it there was a reasonable choice. I like my meals buffet style at breakfast and lunch to help me monitor my diet, so I was really happy to have the convenience of the buffet with the comfort of the main dining room. I’ve read that people find it a bit confusing, but I thought it was pretty good.

For some reason, they didn’t seem to have baked potatoes at lunch time, and by the end of the two weeks I was craving a jacket spud! A Grab and Go option would be a nice addition to the choices available. Fred doesn’t seem to have the green bean fixation that P&O have – but they are keen on asparagus!

I was in the Grill the night of my birthday, so I missed the waiters singing me ‘Happy Birthday’, accompanied by guitar and tambourine – but I was delighted to find a birthday cake in my cabin that evening. That was a good room snack over the next few days.

When we booked, we opted for the all inclusive drinks package, at £10 per person per day. (This has recently gone up to £15). Drinks included were 3 white wines, 3 red wines, 3 roses, a cava, various branded beers and lagers, house spirits, Pepsi, lemonade, mixers and fruit juices. If you wanted anything not on the all inclusive list, you paid half price for it. At £10 per day we just about broke even, and we drank a lot more than we would normally. Half way through the cruise we had an alcohol free day, to have a break from the booze. We probably would have spent a bit more, but for the last two days we were ill (one of those colds that go round cruises ships at this time of year) so kept to soft drinks. I liked the all inclusive option, as you could have your drink without worrying about the cost. I think the new price of £15 is still ok – on a warm weather cruise I would drink quite a bit of cola and lemonade, instead of taking a bottle of tap water with me when I sit in the sun. However, my husband told me that the house gin wasn’t a patch on Bombay Sapphire.
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Re: Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

Post by Gill W » 31 Mar 2018, 17:03

PART THREE

The dress code for the 14 days was 3 formals, one red, white and blue theme night and the rest were smart casual. Adherence to the formal dress code ran at about 99% - but people not conforming to the dress code were still allowed in the dining room – including a bloke in a hoodie one night!

We weren’t quite sure what to expect from the red white and blue night. We understood it was a British theme night, but we weren’t sure how much people got into it. So, my husband took a Union Jack tie, and I wore a blue dress with a white shawl, and wore a Union Jack bracelet. In the event, we fitted in nicely, there were all sorts of combinations of red white and blue clothing, plus Union Jack shawls, scarves, dresses, waistcoats and suits. Before the British themed show that night, there was a patriotic sing along in the Neptune Lounge, which was a bit of fun. (They didn’t have 500 Miles, which is my favourite bit of the Great British Sailaway on P&O)

I enjoyed the entertainment. The Balmoral Show Company were excellent, and the shows were very good indeed. Apparently, each time a new show company comes on board, they bring a new show with them, so this means that there’s a good rotation of shows. The shows weren’t stuck in WW2 – there were songs from all eras, including songs from the last couple of years. All the shows were accompanied by the band, not like the backing tracks you get on P&O these days

There were three cabaret acts, who were with us for the whole cruise, instead of being flown in and out like they do with P & O. They did their own individual shows, then after that, they did double bills. As a co-incidence, we saw the comedian on Columbus last September, so the ’turns’ get around.

There was crew show which was very popular, especially the local dancing performed by crew members from the Far East.

Our cruise director was Nick Cosslett, who looked like a cross between Richard Osman and Hugh Grant. He was very good, and not in your face like some of them can be. The entertainment team was larger than what you get on P & O these days, and seem to do much more actual entertaining – most of them did at least one singing slot in one of the bars, and they all were involved in the variety show on the last night (including what they would do if they weren’t at sea, always good for a laugh).

There was also live music in the various bars throughout the ship in the evenings, so there was always something to listen to.

There were also the usual day time activities, lectures and port lectures. The port lecturer was what I call old school - he gave proper info about the ports and suggestions for those going ashore independently – not just a sales pitch for the tours. In fact, he was a retired school teacher.

The only thing I would have liked would have been a few films. On P&O I enjoy catching up with recent films.
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Re: Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

Post by Gill W » 31 Mar 2018, 17:04

PART FOUR

Apart from Bergen, all the ports were new to me. The first week, we had glorious weather, and Trondheim and Tromso were particular highlights, with blue skies and bright sun. We also enjoyed the scenic cruising to its best advantage. As the weather was so clear, we saw the Northern Lights from the ship on two nights (including my birthday). It wasn’t the bright green you see in photos, but more of a milky white, but we saw lots of strands dancing across the sky, including the ‘curtaining’ effect.

The weather was more cloudy for the second week, with periodic snow. We spent two days in Alta, and saw the Northern Lights Cathedral and went on an excursion to the Ice Hotel. We also went out in the evening to see the Northern Lights. But with the cloudy sky, sightings were few and far between. However, it was quite memorable to be standing around in a snowy field with about 200 people, waiting for something to happen. I felt like we were waiting for an alien mother ship to land!

Our next ports were Narvik and Andalsnes, where were wandered around the towns and visited local museums. Our final port of call was Bergen, where, for the first time, we got the decent berth and could walk to the Bryggen. In the afternoon we did an outing to Grieg’s House, but the weather was really bad with wet snow, so it wasn’t the best excursion that we’d ever done. Although I did enjoy the short concert in a purpose built auditorium, with a snowy view over the lake.

To sum up, we had a very good time on this cruise. It didn’t feel as commercialised as P & O do these days - less corporate, and I felt the passengers were treated as passengers, rather than cash cows (which I feel is sometimes the case on P&O). I think this is a traditional cruise line, but not old fashioned.

Will I cruise with Fred again? Yes, as we booked another cruise with Fred while we were on board, sailing on 29th March 2020. We will be on little Boudicca, sailing from Dover. This is part of the Four Freds in Funchal event, and is a 19 day cruise, including the Cape Verde Islands which will be new for us. By booking on board with got a 10% discount, and as newbies to Fred, we only had to pay £100 deposit. Notwithstanding this, it’s not a cheap cruise, especially for one that’s not a bucket list cruise. However, my husband was keen to book, so I went along with it – I just hope that in two years time I’ll think the price is good value!)

As a thank you for booking another cruise on board, they gave us a complimentary meal in The Grill, which I thought was a nice touch, so I felt they appreciated our custom.

Overall, a thumbs up from me – 8.5 out of 10.
Gill

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Re: Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

Post by GillD46 » 31 Mar 2018, 21:01

An very interesting read Gill, thank you. We met a couple at an Oceania promotional afternoon recently and they told us quite a bit about Fred, most of which tallied with what you have written.

I must admit the World Cruise on Black Watch starting in November next year, looked really interesting, and an extremely good price, but the size of the ship is what concerned us.

But never say never.
Last edited by GillD46 on 31 Mar 2018, 21:01, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

Post by Whynd1 » 01 Apr 2018, 08:10

Thank you Gill for an excellent report.

It's interesting the point you make that Fred seems to value you as a passenger ,rather than the current ethos at P and O.
At the loyalty lunch our table was hosted by the reception manager and he was saying that for every £100 they spend on a small ship they only get £150 back in return but on the larger ships it's £200.
I am seriously making efforts to research other cruise lines.

Happy Easter to everyone
Lindsey

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Re: Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

Post by Jan Rosser » 01 Apr 2018, 08:36

Thanks for posting your report Gill - always interesting to read about an alternative to P&O and you obviously enjoyed it if you booked another cruise. I think with all the changes going on in the cruise industry and bigger and bigger ships coming along it's important to look at the alternatives. I shall add Fred to my list of "may be's".
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Re: Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

Post by barney » 01 Apr 2018, 10:41

Excellent review, thanks Gill

With the advent of bigger and bigger ships, it gives food for thought

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Re: Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

Post by Manoverboard » 01 Apr 2018, 10:53

Thanks for the succinct report Gill ... your thoughts pretty well match those of our own, albeit ours was on Braemar.

As an aside, their £15 charge for drinks was advertised recently for the shorter cruises but the £10 was still retained for the longer ones. When does the change come into force do you happen to know ?

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Re: Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

Post by cruisin_duo » 01 Apr 2018, 12:06

Thank you for posting your review. Always useful to hear about other cruise lines.

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Re: Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

Post by Gill W » 01 Apr 2018, 15:20

GillD46 wrote:
31 Mar 2018, 21:01
An very interesting read Gill, thank you. We met a couple at an Oceania promotional afternoon recently and they told us quite a bit about Fred, most of which tallied with what you have written.

I must admit the World Cruise on Black Watch starting in November next year, looked really interesting, and an extremely good price, but the size of the ship is what concerned us.

But never say never.
That Black Watch world cruise looks really interesting, especially with being in Sydney on New Years Eve. Although I'm beginning to like to smaller ships more and more, but, like you say, its a long time to be on a smaller ship. But, the itinerary is great.
Manoverboard wrote:
01 Apr 2018, 10:53
Thanks for the succinct report Gill ... your thoughts pretty well match those of our own, albeit ours was on Braemar.

As an aside, their £15 charge for drinks was advertised recently for the shorter cruises but the £10 was still retained for the longer ones. When does the change come into force do you happen to know ?

:wave:
According to the website, the £15 drinks package is the current price, and for short (1 -4 days) cruises, the price is now a whopping £34 per person, per night. I think £15 is still just about worth it, but I doubt I could drink £34 worth in a day!
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Re: Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

Post by Gill W » 01 Apr 2018, 15:26

cruisin_duo wrote:
01 Apr 2018, 12:06
Thank you for posting your review. Always useful to hear about other cruise lines.
Jan Rosser wrote:
01 Apr 2018, 08:36
Thanks for posting your report Gill - always interesting to read about an alternative to P&O and you obviously enjoyed it if you booked another cruise. I think with all the changes going on in the cruise industry and bigger and bigger ships coming along it's important to look at the alternatives. I shall add Fred to my list of "may be's".
barney wrote:
01 Apr 2018, 10:41
Excellent review, thanks Gill

With the advent of bigger and bigger ships, it gives food for thought
We are increasingly becoming driven by the itineraries, looking for ports we haven't been to before. The bigger ships go to the same places, so we welcome the chance to see different places on the slightly smaller ships. Going forward to the early 20's, I think we'll be likely to be doing Fred's longer European cruises, that visit the smaller ports
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Re: Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

Post by Gill W » 01 Apr 2018, 15:32

Whynd1 wrote:
01 Apr 2018, 08:10
Thank you Gill for an excellent report.

It's interesting the point you make that Fred seems to value you as a passenger ,rather than the current ethos at P and O.
At the loyalty lunch our table was hosted by the reception manager and he was saying that for every £100 they spend on a small ship they only get £150 back in return but on the larger ships it's £200.
I am seriously making efforts to research other cruise lines.

Happy Easter to everyone
Lindsey
Happy Easter!

I've noticed on P & O that there's always flyers posted in the cabin door, trying to get to you to spend more and more. There was nothing like that on Fred. In fact I think they were the opposite, they were so low key about 'upselling', it would have been possible to have been on board and not realise there was a spa, or select dining.

On Aurora, in September, we will pass the milestone of having spent a year of our lives on P & O ships. I still like P & O and feel at home there.... but we've increasingly become aware that there are so many more things out there to try.
Gill

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Re: Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

Post by Kenmo1 » 01 Apr 2018, 16:47

That was an extremely interesting review, Gill, and a very helpful insight into another cruise line worth considering.

Maureen.


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Re: Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

Post by Whynd1 » 02 Apr 2018, 09:26

We were told at lunch by the reception manager that when Oriana was in Alta a few weeks ago the weather temp was - 26 degrees. The cold burst some of the water pipes on board, froze the gangway electrics and it was so cold the staff were unable to stand at the gangways.
Such joy

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Re: Balmoral 10/3/18 to 24/3/18 In Search of the Northern Lights

Post by Manoverboard » 02 Apr 2018, 13:32

£34 per person per night is deffo achievable :lol: but NOT for every night of a cruise :(

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