Having travelled north to Newcastle the previous day, I woke on the morning of 3 May, to find a very pleasant sunny, cloudless sky, although the temperature was little cool.
Our visit was to commence unusually early and we met at the Port of Tyne Cruise Terminal at 8:50am, where we were greeted by our hostess for the day, Rebecca, who is the on board Future Cruise Sales Manager – the person to see during a cruise when you have decided to cruise with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines again and want to take advantage of any special deals that she can provide, only if booked with her, whilst on board.
Our visit group consisted of just eight people, a very low number when compared to other ship visits we have secured and attended. This visit was intended to further promote the Group Cruise, on this ship, sailing from Southampton on 13 December 2018 for 8 nights. There was a fee for the visit which was refundable to anyone who booked a Fred. Olsen cruise subsequent to the visit. Somewhat unsurprisingly this combination of factors did not ignite the enthusiasm of Silver Travellers residing in north-east England.
The low turnout actually proved to be a great advantage to our visit group. We were the only visitors to Balmoral on the day and having an early start enabled us to undertake a very pleasant, informative, slow-paced tour of Balmoral, expertly and enthusiastically led by Rebecca. We were able to ask many questions whilst viewing the public rooms, open deck spaces, and a sample of different cabin accommodations.
Balmoral had undergone a substantial dry dock refit as recently as December 2017, and I noticed several tasteful updates to the decor, especially in the main show lounge ‘Neptune Lounge’. On my previous sailing, some two years previously, this lounge was furnished in a deep red/orange tone, with rather tired seats in many places. Now there are much brighter beige/brown, yellow tones with rows of seating that are alternately theatre style seats, then individual rotating seats with small tables between. Although sightlines to the dance floor remain unfriendly at first glance, Fred. Olsen has retained the rising floor, which presents shows at an elevation of some three feet, aligned to the main stage. Thus, everyone in the Neptune Lounge has a good view of dancing feet or whatever a Fred. Olsen production show entails.
Some cabins have also been refurbished and we were shown a small sample of some of the many different grades of cabin available throughout all of Fred. Olsen’s four ships. Inside, no view cabins; outside cabins with porthole or window; balcony cabins; and the Owners Suite were viewed during our tour.
We saw the main Ballindalloch Restaurant and both smaller restaurants, Avon and Spey – which are situated on a high deck aft on Balmoral and afford some great views through floor to ceiling windows. All three of these restaurants have the same dinner menu so it is really a matter of preference – which needs to be mentioned when booking a cruise – if you like the busy large restaurant, or a smaller, quieter ambience with enhanced views. Balmoral also has a buffet restaurant, an extra cost The Grill and extra cost Poolside, both of the latter being available for dinner.
Other public areas are the Lido Lounge, where secondary level entertainment takes place during day and evening, Morning Light Pub (a traditional British favourite) and Bookmark Cafe, which is a quiet lounge/coffee bar/library space and sells some rather gorgeous individual handmade chocolates. There are boutiques for retail therapy, and the Neptune Bar, and Marquee Bar which serve the Neptune Lounge and Observatory – forward facing lounge on Deck 11.
Our tour of Balmoral concluded in Observatory where we were served light refreshments of a soft drink and some finger sandwiches. We were able to ask more questions of Rebecca and chat amongst ourselves for nearly an hour, before it was time to disembark Balmoral at 12pm.
Our party of eight thoroughly enjoyed our time on Balmoral and in Rebecca’s company and express our thanks to Fred. Olsen for enabling us to visit. It would have been nice to have more Silver Travellers join us but, then again, we may not have had the same leisurely experience, if they had.
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