THE CRUISE: A 15-night cruise from Dover to Spitzbergen, with stops at Narvik, Honningsvag (North Cape), Longyeararbyen, Ny Alesund, Tronso and Bergen. We cruised the inside passage along the coast of Norway seeing glaciers and the never-to-be-forgotten Troll fjord. The local knowledge the ship’s captain, Olav Sovdsnes, shared with us twice a day was both enjoyable and informative.
CABINS: We stayed in a superior suite, which was very comfortable, although perhaps not quite as large as we expected. Twin beds pushed together with separate duvets, plenty of wardrobe and drawer space, a good-sized bathroom with two sinks, a large shower and separate toilet. The balcony, with two chairs and a lounger, gave us a private viewing of the spectacular scenery. We had tea- and coffee-making facilities, a well-stocked mini-bar, 24-hour room service, flat-screen TV, and fresh fruit and canapes were provided daily. We were welcomed with a bottle of sparkling wine.
DINING: The ship offers a wide choice of eating places. The main restaurant, Ballindalloch, features the Captain’s Table. The more intimate Avon and Spay restaurants offer à la carte dining and two dinner sittings and the informal self-service Palms Cafe served tea and coffee 24 hours a day. Cuisine throughout the cruise was of an excellent quality with a very wide choice and all dietary requirements were well-catered for. For a special treat, afternoon tea with speciality teas and warm scones is served by white-gloved waiters in the Observatory Lounge above the bridge.
LOUNGES AND BARS: These range from the Lido Bar, which features entertainment every night, to the Observatory Lounge with a piano player. This area becomes a night club after 11pm. The Marquee Bar, near the pool, is the place to try the cocktail of the day and the Morning Light Pub is the venue for great music to sing along to. Drinks were very reasonable and beer is the same price as pubs at home.
ENTERTAINMENT: There really was something for everyone including the Balmoral Orchestra and a very enthusiastic group of dancers and singers. One of the highlights was the crew show with dancers in traditional costumes from Thailand and the Philippines.
SPORTS, ACTIVITIES AND EXCURSIONS: Balmoral has two heated swimming pools, Jacuzzis, a spa and a gym where you can burn some calories while enjoying the views. Excursions are many and varied with a port speaker giving advice and an enhancement speaker presenting an interesting and fascinating tour at each port of call. Days at sea were full of activities, lessons in all types of dancing, deck games, craft classes, bridge and quizzes. Other activities included specialist lecturers talking about a range of interesting topics that included 'The Sinking of The Titanic' and 'Viking Sagas'. There was something to suit everyone, including passengers travelling on their own.
VERDICT: My wife and I both thought Fred. Olsen got it just right. The ship's staff were very helpful and friendly and the ambience onboard suited us perfectly. The ship’s captain was very approachable and enthusiastic. We can’t wait to sail again!
First Launched: Refitted 2008
Length/Tonnage: 3218.8 metres/43,537 tonnes