Cruise - Expedition Cruise
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For the first time we use a ‘Meet and Greet’ service at the dock and it worked a treat. Go to designated area where they unload your luggage and take it to the ship. Hand over keys, receive receipt and that is it. The waiting area to board the ship is a tented area and on a hot day as it was the temperature inside rises quickly. After what seems an eternity our boarding number is called and we are through security and onto the ship where the air conditioning is most welcome. Cabin 6003 on Fred Olsen’s flagship Balmoral is a superior outside on Main Deck, starboard side, towards the front of the ship. Very spacious with a large picture window giving unobstructed views. Lots of hanging and drawer space, certainly more than we will need for our 8 days on board. The bathroom, tiled in blue and white has bath tub/shower as well as usual basin and toilet. The days of the small bottles of various toiletries are long gone, replaced by dispensers of hair and body wash in the shower and hand wash by the basin. A hair dryer is standard. The cabin of 165sq. ft. painted in white and cream with two tone grey patterned carpet comes furnished with two single beds, dressing table unit, flat screen television and that most important to some, kettle with cups and packets of tea bags and coffee. Set in the drawer unit between the beds are the controls for the music channels. Finished with pale blue, white and beige striped curtains and matching bed spreads the cabin is light and bright. Electrical sockets are both European 2 pin as well as an American 2 prong.
5pm and time to go out into the warm sunshine for sail away. A tug pulls us clear of our mooring and assists with turning the ship towards the sea. This completed it is 3 long blasts from the ships whistle as we say goodbye to the UK and start our journey down Southampton Water following other cruise ships, Independence of the Seas and Oceana. Dropping off the pilot we gather speed and head for our first port of call, Flam, Norway.
Dinner is at 8.30pm but first it is time for a drink in the Observatory Lounge situated at the front of the ship on deck 11. Beautiful views as we sail on a smooth blue sea with the setting sun behind us. For dinner we have been allocated table 105 which is usually the Captains table in the main dining room, Ballindalloch, on deck 6. Joined by our table companions, introductions finished with, time to select from the menu and eat. A very tasty starter of Ham coated with melted Gorgonzola followed by a Yellow Pea soup and the English dish of the day, Liver, Onions and fresh vegetables. The desert of Pistachio ice cream was wonderful. What did I wash it all down with? Regular readers will already know the answer, Time flies by and it is only when we see the waiters laying the vacant tables for breakfast that we realise it is time to leave. Saying goodnight we make our way back to the cabin to try those beds.
Code Bravo, Code Bravo, Code Bravo, galley deck 10 comes over the intercom system. I immediately recognise this as calling the fire crews to the given location. By now I am wide awake. However it is only a short time later that the announcement of All Code Bravo teams, Stand Down. Emergency over. The captain comes on to tell the passengers there had been a fire in the galley on deck 10, that it was extinguished immediately and there is nothing to worry about. Relief, back to sleep. Waking later I can see it is foggy and this is confirmed by the regular sounding of our ships whistle. Going on deck I can hear the whistles of other ships in the area which is a somewhat eerie experience. Time for breakfast and the queue outside the Ballindalloch is huge due to the Spey and Avon restaurants being out of action because of the fire so we make our way to the Palms Cafe on deck 7 where surprisingly we have no difficulty in finding a table. An elderly couple join us who are taking their first cruise and who are delighted with the high standard of service, food and entertainment. Listening to them took me back to memories of my first cruise in the 90’s which started me on my cruising journey.
Breakfast finished we go to Marquee Deck, the top deck, where there is a swimming pool, jacuzzis, large sunbathing area and bars. Despite it being foggy the air is warm and whilst the sun is not visible it’s warm rays can be felt. Laying on a sun lounger I drift into sleep until being woken by Her Who Shall Be Obeyed (HWSBO) and told it is lunch time. With all restaurants back in action we head for the Ballindalloch and a table with 4 other passengers. A starter of Smoked Salmon, Prawns and various meats works well. With a desert of fresh fruit and jelly I am fortified now until dinner so back to the lounger for a few more hours. Tonight is the first formal night so it is off to the ironing room with dress shirt. Pre-dinner drinks are again taken in the Observatory Lounge with our fellow table companions before transferring to the Neptune Lounge for the Captains Cocktail Party. Captain Stoica welcomes us all aboard and introduces his senior officers whilst waiters keep up supplied with canopies and drinks. Time to make our way to dinner and another 5 course meal. Tonight I decide on the fish filled with a crab purée which is delicious. Mango ice cream makes a great desert and yes, it was Rose wine. Once again we are the last to leave the restaurant and make our way back to the cabin via the Neptune Lounge where a lady instrumentalist is playing to a packed house.
Morning comes with sun streaming through the window and time for a trip to the shower that despite the tiny shower head emits a really powerful jet. Breakfast is taken in the Palms Cafe where I decide that fresh fruit is a good idea. Melon, Mango, Pineapple, Pear and Peaches make a great start to the day washed down with hot strong coffee. The Captain then announces that we have a medical emergency that will take about an hour to deal with. The ship heaves to and the Alesund Lifeboat attends the ship to carry out the evacuation. Within the hour we are on our way again making our way towards the Akrafjord. With clearing skies a sun lounger is calling for the rest of the morning. Lunch time arrives and we head for the Palms Cafe for a light healthy lunch. The Madras Curry smells good so it has to be tried and turns out to be excellent, a second helping is called for. So much for the light lunch. The ship is now heading towards the Akrafjord at the end of which will be Langfoss Waterfall the highest waterfall in the world. Passing small hamlets and houses on the water’s edge the high cliffs become closer narrowing the ships passage until reaching the end and Langfoss Waterfall comes into view. Towering above us a cascade of white foamy water racing and bouncing down the rock face into the fjord 612 meters below. As the captain turns the ship all that can be heard is the sound of clicking cameras and video recorders. A spectacular view that once seen will never be forgotten. It is now time to set our course for Flam our first port of call. Today we are having tea in the Observatory Lounge. This is an added extra at £6.95 per person and I am about to find out if it is worth it. Shown to our table that already sports a cake stand laden with Smoked Salmon, Cucumber and Prawn finger sandwiches on the lower level whilst the centre has tea cakes of Strawberries and cream, Chocolate Éclairs and other delights. The top level is for the Scons or should that be Scones? Which goes on first the cream or the jam? Everyone I asked had a different opinion. A choice of teas served by white gloved waitresses everything was complete even to a pianist playing in the background. Yes it was worth it. Time now for a visit to the ironing room.
Every evening the dinner menu lists an English dish and tonight it is Shepard’s Pie a dish I am somewhat partial to. An enquiry of how it is served brings the reply that it is served in scoops so I ask for two. Obviously something has got lost in translation as our waiter delivers two large dishes of it much to the amusement of my fellow table companions who fall about laughing. I know if I don’t eat it all I will receive an enormous amount of stick from the wife so I make the most of it and start eating. Finally I finish it all and am now known as ‘Alan 2 Dishes’, charming!!. After dinner we go and see the comedian Lloyd Davies in the Neptune Lounge who has the audience laughing without any crude or smutty jokes. Well done Lloyd you certainly had me laughing. Time for bed as we are on tour in the morning.
The light is pouring through the window and we are already at anchor when I awake. Today we are on the tour ‘Cultural Aurland’. First stop is a viewing area that is accessed after driving up narrow roads with hairpin bends. The coach driver is a marvel to manage this large coach on these roads. Finally we arrive and the view is spectacular. A walkway that extends out from the cliff top offers magnificent views but not for anyone who suffers from Vertigo. There is also a toilet which has the same views which can be a little off putting. Back to the coach we retrace our steps to the little town of Aurland where first stop is the Aurland shoe factory which turns out to be a fairly small workshop producing ‘Loafer’ style shoes from which we are told the original American ‘Penny Loafer’ was designed. Then onto the glass shop and finally the little church where a funeral had just taken place. Arriving back at the ship it was once more time to visit the ironing room. Pre-dinner drinks tonight are in the form of a ‘Balcony Party’ laid on by two of our table companions.
After last night’s fiasco I decided to keep this evening simple so ordered the Prime Steak which really was very good. 10pm however sees three of us from the table heading for the Morning Light Lounge for the evening quiz which tonight is on the 50’s/60’s Rock and Roll. My era so I am looking forward to it. My era so I am looking forward to it. We get 17 out of 20 but not enough to win. Lost out on Chuck Berry’s first hit, Little Richards real name and the year that Buddy Holly had a hit with Peggy Sue. We were one year out, correct answer was 1957. Back to the table just in time for coffee. Again we are out of the dining room so late that it is time for bed. This is becoming a habit.
Next day we are on tour from the port of Olden. After a quick healthy breakfast of fruit it is time to attend the Neptune Lounge and get checked in for our tour. Again we are anchored in the fjord as Celebrity Eclipse has taken the only mooring. Finally tendered ashore we wait in line for the tour bus. Whilst waiting it is an opportunity to see what other means for sightseeing there are. A small road train will take you around the old town and it lasts for about 45 minutes and costs about £10 depending on the exchange rate. There is also a Hop On/ Hop Off bus that include a visit to one of the glaciers. Finally we board our coach and first stop is the Kjenndal Glacier. The sight that greets us is breath taking, a huge glacier of white and electric blue, surrounded by waterfalls which cascade down the cliff faces to the raging river below and onwards into the lake. I take some pictures but none can do justice to the real thing. Back on the coach and the short trip to our lunch stop at Nesdal where we are plied with Waffles topped with jam and cream. Next a boat trip along the Lovatnet Lake passing high cliffs, waterfalls and small hamlets that nestle on the shore of the lake. An hour later sees us arriving at Sande where our coach waits to take us back to Olden Pier and the tender trip back to Balmoral. Today the beauty we have seen is some of the best we have ever witnessed anywhere in the world. Once back on board it is a quick tea before preparing for tonight which is ‘British Night’. We sail at 5pm and cruise along Nordfjord towards the North Sea and our next port of call, Bergan.
The following morning the skies are dark and it looks like rain. Assembling in the Neptune Lounge for our tour most people are wearing or carrying waterproof jackets. Our tour number is called and we leave the ship, yes it is raining, and walk quickly to our waiting coach. Once on board our guide tells us that Bergen is one of the wettest cities in Europe with over 200mm of rain and an average of 265 rainy days a year. We make our way to the funicular railway that is to take us up Mt. Floien passing through several of the 952 tunnels that enable roads to pass under the mountains of Norway. The trip on the railway to the summit takes just under 4 minutes and on arrival the rain has become torrential spoiling what would be panoramic views over the city and surrounding areas. One man has purchased half a pint of beer at the little cafe and has been relieved of £8 for the experience. Returning to ground level we board the coach and continue on out tour of Bergen seeing the various sights including the famous opera house and a new venue shaped as a grand piano and named after Norway’s famous composer Grieg. I never knew he was only 4’ 11 and wrote his famous Concerto at the age of 23. Returning to the ship it is still raining so time to visit the Palms Cafe for some tea. That evening we dine in the Palms Cafe where they are featuring a Chinese Evening and very good it was to. The food was excellent with the waiters and waitresses dressed in Chinese costume. This was followed by a visit to the Neptune Lounge where the Balmoral show company were performing songs from various musicals. Time for bed ready for our last port of call, Stavanger.
The sun is shining as we arrive in Stavanger, a contrast to the last few days. Breakfast over we again gather in the Neptune Lounge ready for our tour to be called which today is ‘Stavanger and Countryside’. Coach number 6 is called so leaving the ship we make our way to a lovely new coach that is going to transport us around the area. Our guide today has a wicked sense of humour and keeps us laughing. The country side here is a contrast to that of the Fjords with a flat landscape and fields of crops and cattle. We visit a boulder field with boulders the size of houses, pass lakes and rivers with small rapids causing falls and foaming of the water. An early lunch is taken at a tourist area that has animals, grass thatched cottages and one of the largest souvenir shops we have encountered. In a large cave transformed into a restaurant area we sample Norwegian Waffles with jam and cream. An hour later we are on our way again passing through the beautiful countryside on our way back down to the ship for an early afternoon sailing. Once on board it is time for sustenance in the Spey Restaurant followed by an afternoon on a lounger in the sun. Tonight is a formal night and our table has arranged Champagne pre dinner drinks in the Observatory Lounge. This is followed by the Captains Farewell Cocktail Party and dinner. The Head Chef informs us that over the last 7 days the 1260 passengers have been looked after by 91 people working in them galley. That we the passengers have consumed 730 kilos of Beef, 1,415 kilos of poultry products, 418 kilos of Lamb, 2,296 kilos of seafood, 15,750 eggs. The Rack of Lamb that I have is delicious. After dinner we visit the Neptune Lounge for the ‘Crew Show’ where the crew deliver the entertainment. It’s amazing the amount of talent amongst the crew by way of Thai dancers, singers and the stars of the show who turned out to be the ‘Boys from the Engine-room’ who put on an amazing dance act dressed in such a way as the take on the form of Ken Dodd’s ‘Diddy People’. Soon it is over and time for bed ready for our last day.
After the beautiful weather of yesterday it is hoped we will have the same today but it is not to be. High winds and rain mean the packing is completed early. The morning drifts by as we gently sway our way through the North Sea towards the English Channel and Southampton. All that is left is dinner tonight and home tomorrow morning.
Has it been a good cruise? This was my first visit to Norway and the Fjords. Prior to going I like many others looked up the itinerary and viewed pictures and videos but none of this can prepare you for the beauty of it all in reality. Glaciers and high peaks whose melting snow and ice become waterfalls that thunder to the rocks and fjords below. Cliffs that rise so high as to stop the sunlight unless the sun is overhead. The weather was not kind to us and it rained most days but this did not detract from the beauty of the area, an area that I will happily visit again. As for the ship, Balmoral is a comfortable ship that continues the tradition of good food and service that I and thousands of others have come to accept as the norm from Fred Olsen. The small bottles of toiletries may have gone from the bathroom but the quality of food has remained. Mealtimes were a time to enjoy knowing that whatever the selection of dishes you would not be disappointed. Entertainment in the Neptune Lounge was of good quality complemented by first class speciality acts like comedian Lloyd Davies and instrumentalist Suzanne Godfrey. The Lido lounge with songs and musicals from talented musicians and singers, a pianist in the Observatory Lounge, and a stringed trio in the Morning Light pub. The list is endless ensuring that all passengers tastes are catered for. Fred Olsen has a huge following of loyal customers and it is easy to see why.
181 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