Cruise - Ocean Cruise
Day Visit to Balmoral
134 people found this review helpful
The sun was shining as the train pulled out of Waterloo and made its way through the suburbs of South London but as it gathered speed and headed south west the sun disappeared and dark clouds began to fill the sky. Rain began to splatter on the windows and observing the passing landscape became difficult as the rain intensified. On arrival at Southampton Central the rain eased just long enough for me to make a dash to a waiting taxi. Just in time, as within seconds it was tipping down again. By the time I arrived at the City Cruise Terminal it was was unrelenting. Not a good start to visit a cruise ship that I had never been on before. On getting out of the taxi I had my first view of Balmoral with her white superstructure and bright red funnel back dropped by dark clouds and pouring rain.
Balmoral was built in 1988 by Meyer Werft in Germany at a cost of $178 Million for Royal Cruise Line. Her original name was Crown Odyssey but on being sold to Norwegian Cruise Lines she was renamed Norwegian Crown. She was then purchased by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines in 2007 who gave her a major refit including the insertion of a new 99ft mid section which gave her a tonnage of over 43,000 tonnes. Balmoral as she had been renamed then entered service in January 2008. At 715 feet long and just over 92 feet wide Balmoral is the largest ship in the Fred Olsen fleet.
I walked up the covered walkway with the sound of the rain hammering on the roof. Eventually I arrived at the embarkation point onto Balmoral. The security was very welcoming and all dressed in smart uniforms. My pass was quickly scanned and I stepped forward into the lower level of the Atrium. Suddenly the rain went to the back of my mind as I took in the beautiful Atrium that surrounded me. A vision of sparkling glass, shining brass and polished mirrors. Also on this level were the Shore Excursions Desk, Reception, Customer Relations Office and Photo Gallery. My host then led us towards the lifts where we entered and ascended to the highest deck on the ship.
This is the highest deck on the ship and houses the Marquee Bar and the Observatory Lounge. The latter offers fantastic views over the bow and sides of the ship. With gold emblems on the royal blue carpet, matching blue chairs and large sloping windows this is the place to be in the evenings for meetings friends. The rear of this area houses the Marquee Bar which is a contrast as it is done out in light pastel colours with comfortable wicker chairs. There is an exit through glass doors out to the open deck where there are tables and chairs for sitting whilst having a drink. Behind these is a swimming pool, 2 Jacuzzi’s and a large sun bathing area. The rain was still lashing down and the deck was awash so this intrepid soul decided that discretion was the better part of valour and remained in the dry. Behind the pool and the funnel at the stern on this deck are the golf nets.
This has to be the deck where most people would enjoy spending time as it houses the best cabins, the nicest restaurants, beauty salon, treatment rooms as well as the gymnasium for those who feel energetic.
I visited one of the Premier Suites. 430 sq. ft. This is somewhere the most discerning passenger would have no complaints. They are spacious, light and extremely well appointed. On entering and to the side is the dressing area with full length mirror and lots of drawers and hanging space. Hanging on the rail waiting for the new guests were 2 pristine white bath robes. The bathroom is fitted out in marble with a full size bath and top quality toiletries. The sleeping area had a Queen sized bed with proper dressing table and chair. On entering the living area everything looked so perfect. The glass topped table and chairs, the settee and arm chairs together with the desk unit and large flat screen television on the wall above. Add to this the light colours of everything to give an impression of spaciousness. The balcony is large enough to cope with table, 4 chairs and sun loungers and certainly large enough to entertain guests for evening cocktails whilst watching the sea drift by as you make your way from one destination to another.
Also on this deck are situated the Spey and Avon restaurants and these without doubt are two of the nicest restaurants that I have been in on any cruise ship. They are not only situated high up on the ship but have huge floor to ceiling picture windows that make them so light and airy, giving fantastic views and a wonderful contemporary feel. Most of the tables are set for 2, 4 and 6 places and there is lots of space between them. I would be more than happy to spend my cruise dining in one of these. Both reminded me of some of the modern, very upmarket restaurants in London.
Next stop was a Superior Balcony Cabin. 190 sq. ft. These very comfortable cabins have twin beds with a unit in between that houses the controls for lights etc. that enables you to operate them without getting out of bed. The cabin area has again lots of hanging space and drawers together with a large dressing table on which is a flat screen television. There are 2 arm chairs for relaxing and a balcony with chairs. The bathroom again has a full size bath and the wash basin area is fitted out in marble.
Also on this deck are various other types of cabin but due to time constraints I did not have time to visit them but will do so on a future visit. 3 of these cabins are inside cabins that have been especially adapted for people with disabilities.
This deck houses a variety of balconies, outside view and inside cabins together with 6 more cabins that have been specially adapted for disabled persons. 2 of these are 200 sq. ft Junior Balcony Suites.
At the stern of the ship are the Lido Lounge and the Lido Bar. This is a small show lounge with comfortable seating. There is a dance floor for those who like to ‘Trip the Boards’, this is the place to be seen in the evenings. The bar itself is quite elegant with its mirrored back drop and swivel stools in wood and chrome. Also in this area are the gaming tables which unlike some cruise ships consist of just a few tables. Personally, I found it a pleasant change not to be confronted with an array of noisy slot machines with flashing lights resembling a Las Vegas casino taking up a large area of the deck. From the bar area are views over the aft pool, 2 Jacuzzi’s, to the stern and sea beyond.
Most passengers will spend a lot of time on this deck as it is home to the Aft Pool and Jacuzzi’s, Palms Café, Morning Light Pub, Library, Internet Lounge, Braemar Lounge, Card Room, Boutiques and the Neptune Lounge.
The Aft Pool with its Jacuzzi’s is surrounded by a beautiful teak deck with lots of sun bathing space. However, not today, it was deserted in the pouring rain.
The Palms Café like the other dining venues on the ship is very nicely decorated. Unlike the buffet areas of some ships, it boasted wooden topped tables with matching chairs giving an impression of comfort instead of a cafeteria that some do.
The Morning Light Pub was my type of venue. A large wrap round bar with comfy stools. This is the place I could while away a few hours chatting and enjoying a pint. Away from the bar area are large comfortable chairs and settees. The walls are decorated with pictures of ships from a bygone age. The glass windows again are adorned with ships painted onto the glass. In the centre, on a table is a glass encased model ship reminding you of when ships were still primitive without engines, and just sails for power.
The library is a wonderful area with illuminated wooden glass fronted book cases. The selection of books puts many other cruise ships to shame. There are books for all tastes. I would like to have spent much longer in the library but alas time was running out and there was so much more that I wanted to see. There are works of art and models everywhere. One of my favourites was an old ‘Man of War’ Galleon. Beautifully made and looking resplendent in its glass case for all to see and admire.
This deck forms the upper level of the Atrium that is enhanced by the boutiques that are on two sides of it. The boutiques sell all the clothes and accessories of the famous designer houses. At the time of my visit the shops were closed as is normal when a ship is in port so I did not have time to browse their wares. That with hindsight is perhaps a good thing as I may have found something that I really liked and which would have seriously damaged the bank balance.
There was now just time enough to visit the main show theatre before lunch. The theatre is named the Neptune lounge and is situated at the bow of the ship. In many ships theatres seating is in long rows as in theatres on shore. This one however it set out with small tables, swivel arm chairs and settee style seating. Far more friendly and intimate. The support pillars are quite thin allowing good sight lines from almost any part of the lounge. The tables were all laid out with cup and saucers with the explanation that the passengers boarding that afternoon often wanted a cup of tea or coffee and this was the place to come. What a wonderful thought. This is all about knowing your passengers and their needs.
The visit was fast coming to an end and it was time for a buffet lunch in the main Ballindalloch Restaurant which has tables of varying sizes accommodating between 4 and 8 passengers. Seated at a table for 8 the chairs were extremely comfortable with wooden arms. The table well laid out with the cutlery shining against pristine white table cloths. The waiters were friendly and quietly efficient. Nothing appeared to be too much trouble for them. The food was of an excellent standard. The salad buffet was most impressive with dishes of Smoked Salmon, Gravadlax, Roast Beef, Pate, Cheeses and much more. Most impressive was the Vegetable Salad topped with Caviar. There were a wonderful selection of hot dishes and vegetables. The desert buffet was enough to satisfy the most discerning food critic. As we finished lunch we reflected on what we had seen in the last 2 hours.
As I have already stated this was my first visit to one of Fred Olsen’s ships. I had often wondered what it was that made people come back time after time. Fred Olsen’s have an army of loyal travellers who would not dream of going on a cruise with anyone else. A friend of mine is one of them. The ships are neither the newest nor the biggest. Neither do they have the amenities of the large mega cruise liners so they must have something else. Well actually, yes they do. They offer a cruise style that appeal to the British and their way of life. The cabins, comfortable and well appointed with bath tubs in many of them instead of the often small shower cubicles. Tables in dining areas that are well spaced and not crammed so close together that it is difficult to pass. Comfortable chairs that have arms and which are well upholstered. Food that is as good as any ship I have been on. The Spey and Avon dining areas that are an absolute joy. A library that will satisfy the needs of all. This ship is in pristine condition and exuded a quality that impressed me. Everywhere I went was clean and sparkling and the ship has a good passenger/space ratio. I can now understand why Fred Olsen has such a loyal following and perhaps one day I will become one of them. Would I cruise on this ship? Yes most certainly, and I look forward to the day that I do.
134 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.
Silver Travel Advisor Recommended Partner: Fred Olsen Cruise Lines