11 Day Baltic Cruise
Fred Olsen's - Balmoral
July 26 - August 8 2010
By - Teedam

Balmoral

 

Boarding

We'd been given a check-in time of 3.20 with closure at 3.30! Thought that a little close so got to the port about 2.15 but after queuing through security and to get boarding passes it was almost 3.15 by the time all remaining passengers in the lounge were called. (The good part about this was that Deck 3 were the last called to disembark on the last day which meant we had an extra hour + on board) Boarding Balmoral

 

First impressions:

 

Welcoming staff and clear directions to our cabin on Deck 3 (lowest). We did not get an upgrade but were happy with the Port-side 3006 with 2 port-holes. These subsequently gave us some good photo opportunities. Only half of deck 3 (Marina) used for passengers the other cabins being for staff.

 

Cabin:

F grade - lowest outside. L-arranged twin beds gave a spacious feel, with one under portholes; desk & 2 armchairs made it comfortable enough for the time we spent there.
Storage plenty - wardrobes - 2 full length / 2 2/3 with 4 drawers below plus dresser with 2 x 4, one bedside 3 drawers (top is control panel for lights, music etc). More than enough for our trip (12 nights) and I think it would even be OK for a world cruise. There are 2 Laundromats on board (decks 3 & 9) as well as cabin service.
Baggage was taken straight from the coach (we'd parked out of town & used a shuttle to port) & was in cabin when we go there although several people were still trying to trace their bags at reception after early dinner.

 

Lifts (elevators) there are only 4 on the whole ship - at the stern they do not even go to all floors when most dining is, they serve only Decks 4 - 10. Deck 7 has the Neptune Lounge - used as meeting point for excursions outside which there are 2 lifts to go down to decks 3 & 4 to exit. Given the high number of people needing these at once it was a slow process disembarking. We were lucky in that our cabin was just around the corner and we waited there to be called.

 

Mirrors - most disconcerting that wherever one looks in public places seem to be mirrors & the reflections are often not complimentary! For example in the lift doors we see ourselves larger than life - not ideal when considering concerns of weight gain on a ship. I noticed that I was even more dumpy / wider than when I left the cabin, where the wardrobe doors are mirrored.
Along the corridors of Deck 6 (reception, Art Gallery, Main Dining room) there are black mirrors and in the dining room, many small mirrors like bricks on the walls & partitions.  The latter were probably intended to make the space look larger but in fact reflections of people caused the appearance of crowding. Mirrors also on ceiling of lounges!


Lifeboat Muster

 

Dining:

 

Only one self-service cafe (Palm) and 3 dining rooms (dinner sittings allocated; first 6.15, second at 8.30) Breakfast and lunch were open seating and times of meal service varied according to the day's program. Generally breakfast available somewhere (including cabin) from 7 - 10 am, lunch from noon till 2.30. We ordered this for 7 one day when we wanted to get out as soon as possible. It arrived exactly on time and was just what we needed.


In Cabin Breakfast
In Cabin Breakfast

 

If you arrived from a shore visit after 2.30 you could either order a sandwich in the cabin or wait for sandwich and cakes in Palm Cafe at 3.30. Likewise in the evening, if you did not go to allocated sitting, buffet was available until 9.30 pm but from then until late supper (11.30) nothing. Most of the time this was fine and probably a healthy option but I did have a couple of times when I fancied a snack and it was the wrong time.

Water - we were advised not to drink the tap water but could buy bottles of water in our cabins at £1.50 for 1.5 litres. As I drink a lot this would have been very expensive so we boiled the kettle and when cool poured it into the bottles. Tea, coffee & milk sachets were provided in the cabin as well as available 24 hours in a corner of the Palm Cafe.

 

Food:

 

I thought the quality was good and there was plenty of choice at all meals. The general consensus by most people I spoke with was that the food was excellent although one night folk who had chicken said it was tough as though it had been boiled too quickly.


Breakfast in restaurants had a buffet but if asked staff would bring what you chose and from the kitchen you could have eggs cooked in any style or fish such as smoked haddock, kippers. The buffets in all dining areas had a full range of juices as well as water and even champagne for anyone who wanted to make Buck's Fizz. A wide range of fruit, cold meats & fish, cereals, and cakes / pastries as well as all that you could imagine on the hotplate.

 

Lunch again a buffet available in all restaurants and a menu for dishes from the kitchen. This tended to be just one soup, one starter, salad, main & dessert but the buffet served a huge variety of all dishes.

 

Afternoon Tea - available everyday in the Palms Cafe; consisted of 3 savoury options such as filled croissants or bagels and an assortment of cakes and fruit. Scones with jam and cream were always served. For a special traditional afternoon tea with white gloved service there were 4 occasions in the Observatory Lounge (Deck 11) but this was charged at £5.95 per person. Cheap compared to shore prices in England but I thought special teas are included on most cruise lines as part of the experience.

 

Dinner - the dining rooms were the best for this although I did go to the Asian buffet in Palm Cafe one evening.

Always a couple of soups, starters, salads then at least 5 main courses plus fish of the day, chicken, omelette if you did not fancy any of those. Desserts - 3 to choose from as well as diabetic & gluten free options and ice-creams / sorbets if you felt too full. J

With the focus on the British market there was always a `British dish of the Day` such as Toad in the Hole (sausages in a Yorkshire Batter), Fisherman's Pie (fish and seafood under a mashed potato topping), Steak and Kidney pie (in a pastry crust).

Toad in the Hole
Toad in the Hole


Waiter service was good for most people and our staff were particularly fun - relaxed and chatty as well as efficient.

 

Gala Buffet

This seemed quite a small affair compared to my one previous experience on HAL. That said, at the end of the evening only about a quarter of the food had been eaten and it seemed a terrible waste, especially as a Philippine crew member agreed with me that there are many people in the world without even the basics - his village being one group of them. It was held close to the end of the cruise so that too may have a bearing on the amount of waste. I thought the ice & butter sculptures could have been more relevant to the cruise destination but maybe they never are?

 

Eiffel Tower Butter sculpture Ice Sculpture

 

Entertainment:

 

For me this was the strength of the Balmoral experience. It was most definitely targeted at a British audience. Activities arranged on sea days varied from classes in dance, card-games and mahjong to quizzes and deck games as well as talks on subjects relevant to places visited. I am sure there was something to suit everyone's taste although my mother would have liked to do arts and crafts and none were on offer during our trip.

There were so many things going on that it was only possible to sample a few. I learned some ballroom dance and was then able to dance with the hosts available to partner `singles` when music was played in the lounges. I also listened a lot to Patrick Patton (keyboard & singer) as he played numbers I love from the 60s to 80s music, and The Laurie Taylor Band.

The 10 members of the Balmoral Show Company were excellent and their productions as high a standard as West End shows. They were supported by the Balmoral Orchestra and a singer who performed in between shows.

Guest entertainers were also extremely good - a comedian and a singer who clearly knew their audience and played to it. There was also a violinist and classical pianist on board but I did not go to any of their concerts; those who did thought them `brilliant`. Performers in lounges throughout the ship were all very good when I heard them and ranged from keyboard players / singers (solo) to a string trio and a music & song band. It really was a case of deciding what mood I felt and going along to a bar to enjoy it.

As well as 3 formal evenings there were 2 themed nights; Country & Western and a British night when we were invited to dress in red, white and blue and to have a `Singalong` with traditional British songs.