As it had been more than 5 years since I was on Balmoral for a short cruise, I was pleased when Fred Olsen Cruise Lines offered me the chance to spend a night onboard in Southampton. My visit was in December 2016, which explains the Christmas trees and decorations around the ship, which you can see in my video at the bottom of the page, and on my Balmoral photo album on Facebook. The other video was made in 2011, and shows me in front if the camera, when a film crew followed me around the ship. When you have read my review and watched my video, you just need to contact GoCruise with Ian on 08002922850 or 01455821770 to book your next cruise.
At 43,537 gross tonnes, Balmoral has 710 cabins and carries 1,350 passengers at normal capacity, with 510 members of crew. She originally entered service in 1988 as the Crown Odyssey, and she has also been called the Norwegian Crown. She first sailed for Fred Olsen Cruise lines in February 2008, following a major refit during which she was ‘stretched’, enabling more cabins and public rooms to be added. While Balmoral is the largest ship in the Fred Olsen fleet, she is small when compared to many of the new mega cruise liners.
Balmoral has 21 grades of accommodation to choose from, and they range from a 130 sq ft N grade single inside cabin, right up to a PS grade 430 sq ft grade Premier Suite with balcony. Fred Olsen ships are known for having more single cabins than other cruise lines, and more than 10% of the cabins on Balmoral are for single occupancy. Single doesn’t mean small though, as the majority of them are the same size as the doubles, and single passengers can choose from inside cabins, outside cabins and balcony suites.
Cabins all have a television, hair dryer and tea & coffee making facilities. They also have an ensuite bathroom, with most having a walk-in shower, but some will have a bathtub and shower over it. Some cabins have fixed twin beds, while others have the option of double beds. I can help to find the right cabin configuration for you.
The suites offer more facilities, such as a lounge area, fridge and mini-bar. Most suite grades also qualify you for the Suite Dreams benefits on most departures, which include a welcome bottle of sparkling wine, fruit basket and flowers, bathrobe, slippers, and even binoculars and world atlas for use onboard, as well as umbrellas for use ashore.
With 9 cabins specially adapted for wheelchair users, Balmoral can also cater for another 2 wheelchair users on the ship, making 12 in total. A further 4 passengers can take a wheelchair for use when going ashore, but they are stored onboard and made available to you at the gangway each time you disembark. It is important that you mention any need for a wheelchair when asking me about availability.
I spent the night in a B grade superior outside cabin on deck 6, with a picture window and a clear view. The beds were very comfortable, and there was plenty of storage space including drawers and wardrobes.
Entertainment – you will usually find that there are visiting cabaret acts, such as comedians or singers, as well as the resident musicians and team of dancers and singers.
Bars & Lounges – venues include the Neptune Lounge, Braemar Lounge, Marquee Bar, Lido Lounge, The Observatory and the Morning Light Pub, and there are also a few gaming tables.
Dancing – if you like to get on to the dance floor, there are usually a couple of dance instructors onboard. If you are travelling alone, or if your partner doesn’t like dancing, you don’t need to feel left out, as there are usually 4 dance hosts on all of the Fred Olsen ships. They are very good dancers and are more than happy to partner you on the dance floor. They also help to organise various get-togethers for single travellers during the cruise.
Other Facilities – you will find plenty to keep you busy around the ship, including the fitness centre, Atlantis Spa, 2 pools & 4 Jacuzzis, golf nets, table tennis, deck games, internet centre, card room, library, boutiques and port shop, photo gallery, shore tours office, future bookings desk and guest relations. There is also a medical centre and a launderette.
Children – there are not normally many children onboard, unless they are part of multi-generational families travelling together. However, the Little Skippers Club for the age group 5 – 11 operates during peak school holiday times, subject to minimum numbers. They will offer activities such as arts & crafts, discos, treasure hunts etc. Children under 5 can attend, as long as a parent is there to supervise them.
Breakfast – open seating is usually available from about 07.15 – 10.00 in the Ballindalloch Restaurant, offering a choice of self-service and waiter service, and with slightly longer hours in the Palms Cafe.
Lunch – open seating, again with the choice of self-service or waiter service, is usually available from about 12.00 – 14.00 in the Ballindalloch Restaurant, and with slightly longer hours in the Palms Café.
Dinner – there are two sittings each evening, which are generally at 18.15 and 20.30. These are in the Ballindalloch Restaurant and the smaller Spey Restaurant and Avon Restaurants, which are on deck 10, and you will have reserved places at the same table each night. You can also opt for open dining in the Palms Café, which offers a self-service buffet, generally from about 18.30 – 21.00.
If the weather is warm, and you enjoy Al Fresco dining, The Grill offers a selection of dishes for breakfast and lunch. On warm evenings there is the option to dine here, where there will be a premium dinner menu for a small supplement, and reservations are needed.
Afternoon Tea – complimentary afternoon tea is served each day, but for a supplementary charge (currently £7.95) you can opt for a special experience with a premium afternoon tea served in The Observatory. This is served on certain days, and reservations are needed.
Bookmark Café – if you fancy treating yourself, a visit to this venue won’t break the bank. Drinks include Americano for £1.85, a Cappuccino or Latte for £2.10 and speciality teas for just £1.85. There is also a great selection of high quality individual chocolates to choose from, which range in price from £0.55 – £0.85. The café is situated alongside the library, so is a great place to relax with a book and indulge yourself.
Drinks prices onboard are in line with, or cheaper than, many UK pubs. For example, a glass of house white wine would be £4.05, a pint of lager £3.30 and a whisky and coke around £3.60.
You can add an All Inclusive drinks package to your booking, which includes selected house wine by the glass, selected beers and selected house spirits, and soft drinks. Currently the price is £10 per person per night for most cruises, when booked in advance, which offers exceptional value, although it is more expensive on Festive Sailings and Mini Cruises. Click on the following link for more details about the Fred Olsen All Inclusive Drinks package.
Click on the following link for details of Fred Olsen’s Gin Menu, which is available in the Marquee Bar on all ships in the fleet.
Everyone is very casual during the daytime, including shorts and t-shirts, but no swimwear is allowed in the restaurants. Most evenings onboard are smart casual, with gents wearing trousers, chinos or smart dark jeans with a shirt or polo shirt. Ladies are likely to choose a trouser suit, dress or perhaps a skirt and top.
There are some formal nights, and gents are likely to wear a dark suit and tie, or even a dinner suit, while ladies might decide on a smart cocktail dress or ball gown. If you don’t want to dress formally, there is the option to dine in the Palms Cafe on those evenings.
Currency – everything onboard is priced in sterling. You register a payment card when embarking, so that your purchases onboard can be charged to you at the end of the cruise. There is no charge for using a debit card, but there is a 1.5% charge for credit cards.
Gratuities – £4 per night, for all passengers aged 12 or over, is added to your onboard account, to cover tips to your cabin and dining room stewards. If you prefer to tip directly to the crew, you can have this amount changed or removed at Guest Services.
Celebrate Onboard – you can pre-book anniversary and birthday packages which include cakes, flowers, bubbly, special photographs etc. Please note that if you are celebrating an 18th, 21st, 30th, 40th, 50th, 60th, 70th, 80th, 90th or even 100th birthday while onboard ship, you qualify for a complimentary treat, so let me know when booking. If you are celebrating a Silver, Pearl, Ruby, Golden, Emerald or Diamond Wedding Anniversary within 3 months of the date of the cruise, then you qualify for a complimentary anniversary package during the cruise. Please advise me when booking the cruise, and you would also need to provide a photocopy of your wedding certificate.
Smoking Policy – smoking is allowed onboard, but is restricted to designated outdoor deck areas, and on cabin balconies (excluding terrace balconies on ships which have them), and is strictly prohibited anywhere inside the ship. Electronic cigarettes which do not emit any vapour can be smoked in cabins, but are otherwise restricted the same as normal cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes which do give off a vapour, including a water vapour, are restricted the same as normal cigarettes.
Fred’s Enjoyment Promise – Fred Olsen Cruise Lines (FOCL) are so sure that you will enjoy a cruise with them, they make you a promise. Providing that you booked at least 12 weeks in advance for a cruise lasting 5 nights or longer, they will refund your money if you don’t like the experience. You would need to advise Guest Relations onboard within a maximum of 48 hours from the time the ship set sail that you wish to invoke the Enjoyment Promise. They would then arrange and pay for a flight and/or transport back to the UK. They will also refund the cruise cost, but not any other associated costs. This promise applies to cruises contracted with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines (including bookings made through travel agents), but not if the booking is with a package tour operator which happens to use a Fred Olsen Cruise Lines ship. For full terms and conditions ask GoCruise with Ian.
In my opinion Balmoral is a great ship for both first-time and experienced cruisers. As with the other shops in the fleet, she offers traditional small ship cruising, in comfortable surroundings, with great service from a friendly and efficient crew. She will suit most passengers, but then no ship will suit everyone, as we all like different things. I believe that there is a ship for everyone, and I always do my best to match customers with the right ship. So why not let me help you find your ideal cruise?
Braemar – at 24,344 gross tons she carries 930 passengers at normal capacity, and has 371 crew members
Boudicca – she carries 880 passengers at normal capacity, looked after by 325 crew members, and is 28,388 gross tons
Black Watch – at 28,613 gross tonnes, Black Watch carries 804 passengers at normal occupancy, looked after by 330 members of crew
Departure Ports – Fred Olsen Cruise Lines offers departures from a number of UK ports, which include Southampton, Harwich, London Tilbury, Glasgow (Greenock), Edinburgh (Rosyth), Belfast, Newcastle, Liverpool, Falmouth, Dover and Southampton. They also have a number of fly cruises and world cruise sectors, where you can embark in ports such as Tenerife, Barbados and Cape Town.
Please note that all prices mentioned are based on December 2016, and are of course subject to change at any time. For an up-to-date quotation or other information, contact GoCruise with Ian.