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Review: Balmoral

Cruise - Ocean Cruise

Canadian autumn cruise

  • By SilverTraveller Dave

    4 reviews

  • Oct 2009
  • Suite
  • Regular holiday
  • Partner

132 people found this review helpful

We booked this 14 night transatlantic and Canada cruise just two weeks before sailing when I spotted an absolutely incredible offer on the Fred Olsen website – a balcony junior suite for only £1099 per person. The cabin was on was on deck 9 in an ideal location and we still can’t believe our luck! Interestingly, even though a ‘guaranteed’ offer normally means not knowing which cabin you’ll get, clicking ‘edit booking details’ in the ‘My Cruises’ section of the website revealed that we’d been allocated 9023.

We’ve cruised many times on other Fred Olsen ships but this was our first experience of Balmoral. Comparisons may be of interest to others in a similar position so I’ll return to this later, but first the voyage…

As Gold members, we were ushered straight through the busy Dover terminal and onto the ship. In our cabin we were delighted to find a ‘welcome aboard’ gift – a basket of goodies. Loyalty has its rewards!

After three days at sea we arrived in Ponta Delgada in the Azores. This is part of Portugal and Europe’s most easterly point. The islands are the tips of volcanoes and are surprisingly lush and green. We did a tour, the highlight of which was a visit to Sete Cidades, a huge crater with both blue and green lakes.

Four more sea days followed as we headed north-west towards Newfoundland. As the temperature dropped and the Atlantic grew rough we were pleased to find that Balmoral is a very stable ship. We’d never enjoyed such a luxurious cabin before so we were happy to just relax and watch the world go by.

This was our first visit to Canada and Corner Brook in Newfoundland was just how we imagined it would be. There were huge trucks and huge 4×4s, the autumn colours were spectacular, and the people were extremely friendly. Cars stopped if it even looked like we might want to cross the road!

The next stop was across the Gulf of St. Lawrence at Gaspe. From here on we were in the Quebec province where French culture and language predominate. My wife is French, so we felt quite at home – in fact we loved Gaspe so much we’ve considered emigrating there! Almost every house overlooks the bay and has stunning views of tree-covered hills.

The next day we cruised Saguenay fjord. Despite the cold and drizzle I spent almost the entire day on the balcony watching for whales. I’m not an expert on whales so I’ll simply report that I saw lots of grey ones and dozens of white ones! As the sun set we left the fjord and headed down the St. Lawrence River towards Quebec.

Quebec was to be the highlight of the cruise and we were really pleased that the rain stopped at last and the sun came out. Quebec is incredibly picturesque and we spent the entire day strolling around the old town taking hundreds of photos. Quebec is like Sydney and Cape Town in that you just walk off the ship and you’re there.

Our final day was in Montreal. However, the rain returned, we only had the morning to explore, and there’s not much of interest within walking distance of the port. But never mind, we hope to do the Montreal to Dover cruise another time.

So how does Balmoral compare to other Fred Olsen ships? Firstly, much is immediately familiar – the exceptionally friendly staff, the traditional activities and entertainment, the excellent food, and the age of the passengers! Our suite was wonderful, with loads of storage space, mini-bar, fridge, bath, and a very big balcony. Of course we sneaked a look into as many other cabins as possible (as you do) and they seemed bigger and brighter than on the other ships.

Other plus points include the excellent Observatory lounge and the spacious sundeck area. As smokers, we felt there were a reasonable number of sheltered outside areas. However, I found several aspects of the ship very disappointing: We love standing at the front of a ship as we arrive somewhere – on Balmoral there’s almost nowhere to do this, only a narrow strip of promenade deck. The entire promenade deck is narrow and cluttered – there’s certainly no room for sun loungers. Although at first sight the Neptune show lounge looks impressive we found that it isn’t big enough (although not as inadequate as Braemar’s) – it’s so frustrating to arrive for a show only to find nowhere to sit. Many people will call Balmoral a small ship; to us it seemed too big or, rather, there are too many people on it.

Finally, I felt that Balmoral lacks the charm, character and intimacy of Black Watch (our favourite) and the pre-stretched Braemar (a lovely little ship now ruined). Would we cruise on Balmoral again? Of course – providing we can get a balcony cabin at a good price!

Silver Travel Advisor recommended travel company: The Cruise Line 

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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.

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Silver Travel Advisor Recommended Partner: Fred Olsen Cruise Lines

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