Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines' ms Balmoral first entered service
back in 1988 as Crown Odyssey for Royal Cruise Line. Built at Jos. L.
Meyer GmbH & Co. Papenburg, she became Norwegian Crown for
Norwegian Cruise Lines in 1996 before being transferred to their
subsidiary Orient Lines in 2000, when she reverted to the name Crown
Odyssey. After a substantial refit including the addition of a
fitness centre above the bridge in 2003 she was once again known as
Norwegian Crown sailing for NCL. In August 2006 she was purchased by
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, but remained sailing for NCL under charter
until the beginning of November 2007 when Fred. Olsen took delivery,
promptly sending her off to Blohm & Voss, Hamburg for a complete
overhaul/refit including the insertion of a 30.2m midsection, adding
a number of additional cabins, public rooms & midships pool. A
further extension was added to the uppermost deck aft to accommodate
two new restaurants.
Unfortunately a few technical problems arose towards the end of the
planned refit period with the original 18th January date of departure
from Hamburg becoming 24th January. She arrived looking splendid in
Dover on 25th January. The inaugural events & functions; the
Media/Press receptions & Trade Visits had already been cancelled,
but after further sea trials on the Sunday it was announced that the
Inaugural Cruise for Fred. Olsen, originally set for 30 January 2008,
was to be cancelled. Would her 2nd scheduled cruise for 13 February
get underway? By all accounts there was still a lot of work aboard to
be completed, both with the technical & safety aspects & the
interior soft furnishings, carpets etc. With being booked as far as
Tenerife on her 2nd cruise 'South to Florida', all fingers & toes
were crossed. Balmoral sailed up & down the East Coast & down
the English Channel during the next few days, arriving in Southampton
on 4th February. There was much speculation about why she was there
& would the now Inaugural Cruise on 13th Feb depart from
Southampton or Dover. She slipped her moorings on 12 Feb, later than
scheduled, but sailed off to Dover for her Big Day.
"Schiff S. 616
Schiffswerft und Maschinenfabrik
Jos. L. Meyer GmbH & Co.
Papenburg / Ems 1988"
13th February 2008 dawned misty, murky, cold & miserable. The sun
was however shining on Dover's Cruise Terminal Two later in the day.
Embarkation did not start until 3pm & we didn't finally get
aboard until just prior to 5pm. Politely declining the assistance of
an escort we made our way down one deck & along the port hallway
to 5170. Pleasantly decorated & quite roomy. Glancing at The
Daily Times, the Lifeboat Drill had been timed for half an hour
earlier & it didn't look like we would make the departure time of
6pm either, with the view out the window of the amount of stores on
the quay still to be loaded.
An announcement was soon made to say the Drill would take place at
5.45pm & it did, but things went slowly partly due to passengers
not taking note of the requirement to state how many people were
there from their cabin when the number was called, just responding
with a 'yes' or in some cases nothing at all. First seating dinner
was delayed & departure put back until 7pm.
There was to be a firework display from the Prince of Wales Pier as
we sailed. I popped out from dinner at 7pm to watch, but we didn't
move; at least it looks like all the stores are aboard, including
piles of new deck furniture stacked on the aft deck around the pool.
Now scheduled to depart at 7.30pm. Back dining a rumble is felt;
we're off - 7.25pm - I rush out on deck to view the fireworks. It's
cold & a bit murky again, but the display was thoroughly enjoyed
by all. Balmoral blasted & we slowly sailed away slipping through
Dover Harbour's Western Entrance, Bon Voyage.
Now away from the clutches of shipyards, Classification Society &
MCA inspections Balmoral could come into her own. A quick walk around
confirms there is still much work to be done aboard, but nothing
which is detrimental to the enjoyment of a passenger's cruise, unless
one requires to wash some clothes; the launderette does not look like
it will be functional for a while yet.
The Master, Captain Martin Birkeland, a very pleasant person with a
superb dry sense of humour, leads the team with Hotel Manager Peter
Reeves, Cruise Director Anthony Borradaile & Executive Chef Ewald
Fabian. Together with the rest of the Officers & Crew they are to
be congratulated in running a lovely ship, providing the best
possible experience one can. There are no announcements apart from
the Captain's Nautical & Weather information from the Bridge at
9am & Midday. The Daily Times provides all the information
required along with the binder in each cabin. Smoking is prohibited
in all cabins & on balconies [as it is on all Fred. Olsen's
Fleet], with designated smoking areas clearly marked in some of the
bars/lounges, and on deck.
Time to Embark on a Tour of ms Balmoral Deck by Deck:-
Post Stretch ms Balmoral has 746 cabins, 1340 Passengers [double
occupancy], 471 Crew, is 218.18m long, with a beam of 28.3m, draft of
7.5m & from keel plate to top of the masthead is 60m. Her tonnage
What hits one most while wandering around initially to orientate
oneself is the stark contrast between the old and the new. The
inserted mid-section is quite evident internally from the entirely
different and up to date décor, along with the smooth unmarked
through wear & tear, white companionways & stairwell.
Norwegian Crown & Crown Odyssey remains almost untouched, bar new
carpet, in places; the Atrium, Neptune Lounge port entrance amongst
others, while elsewhere all has disappeared or been partially
refurnished, when she is then most definitely Balmoral. Art is
everywhere, love it all, none of it, or maybe only enjoy the
paintings of previous Fred. Olsen Line vessels, one can't help but
First Generation of the ship owning Olsens. Fredrik
Christian Olsen (1815 - 75), Andreas Olsen (1826 - 93) and Petter
Olsen (1821 - 99), who were based in Hvitsten near Oslo
Marina Deck 3
Medical Centre, Arts & Crafts Room, Launderette
Main Deck 6
Photo Gallery, Reception, Shore Tours, Future Cruise Sales &
Customer Relations. Ballindalloch Restaurant & Art Gallery
Lounge Deck 7
Neptune Lounge, Boutiques, Braemar Lounge, Card Room, Internet Room,
Library, Morning Light Pub, Palms Café - Aft Pool Area
Lido Deck 8
Lido Lounge, Gaming Tables, Lido Bar
Highland Deck 10
Fitness Centre, Atlantis Spa & Beauty Salon, Spey & Avon Restaurants
Marquee Deck 11
Observatory Lounge, Marquee Bar/Grill, Marquee Pool, Sun Deck
Down on Marina Deck 3 in the centre of the new mid-section is
the Arts & Craft Room. Bright & White; no windows,
tables, chairs & a kitchenette for the utensils required. Table
Tennis [maybe a bit of a low ceiling for a proper match] & a dart
board too. Tournaments were held for both. During the course of the
cruise Crafts Classes with Chris Birch included "St. Valentine's
Day Card" & "Beadwork Bracelet", while Watercolour
Classes with Eric Kay covered an "Introduction to
Watercolour", "Colour Mixing: Landscape Techniques"
& "Painting Trees & Skies". Art packs are available
Aft of the Arts & Crafts Room is the Launderette which
still in a state of construction seemed to be used more as a store
for fitters' gear at present. Although with the evidence of
previously installed plumbing lining the floor and walls, and a stack
of machines covered with sheets sitting in the middle of the room, I
am sure it will be quite a functional delight [as far as such places
can be] before too long; by Miami?
Fwd of here is the Medical Centre where one is confronted with
quite an alarming set of fees for the various services available.
Thankfully it is closed, the opening hours being "At Sea 09:00 -
10:30 17:30 - 19:00" and "In Port 08:00 - 09:30 17:30 -
19:00". There are 2 ship's doctors aboard.
The new midships stairwell, ahead of the Medical Centre, which rises
to the Marquee Pool on Deck 11 is quite plain with white walls both
top & bottom; only the occasional picture is hanging. However in
the mid level areas it is either partially or fully panelled with a
picture or two. The same carpet covers all stairwells, companionways,
some public areas & Atrium; what has become the almost standard
'Olsen Carpet' turquoise with thin swirls of colour; also in place on
their other vessels. Both the fore and aft stairwells retain the
original Tiffany style coloured glass panels, brass and glass banisters.
Aft on Main Deck 6 is the Ballindalloch Restaurant.
Spruced up with all new soft furnishings in blues, but retaining the
original look with its glass, chrome and coloured ceiling, it's the
largest of Balmoral's Main Restaurants [The Seven Seas Restaurant on
Norwegian Crown]. The menus are the same as in the Avon & Spey
and one will be allocated dining in any of the three, although the
latter two smaller venues may not be used if the passenger load does
not require it. Avon & Spey seemed to be more popular with
passengers coming to the doors trying to wangle their way in for
dinner, but with open-seating at various times there is always the
chance to sample dining in each venue whatever ones dining
allocation. There are two serving stations for breakfast/lunch
buffets. Plenty of natural light through the windows, but dark in the
central area albeit lit with a large multi-bulbed glass light
fixture, surrounded by backlit coloured glass panels. The tables are
well appointed with quality ware & plenty of room between. There
are two sittings for dinner at 6.15pm & 8.45pm. The menu choices
& standard of food are excellent. Fred. Olsen has certainly
turned the cogs up some notches in this respect. There was nothing
'not quite right'; all was well presented & delicious with
attentive service from the waiters & their assistants; no request
had to be made twice.
The dinner menus contain a selection of two or three Appetisers,
Soups [one chilled] & Salads, the option of a Cold Main Course,
four or more Hot Main Courses [& Lobster was on the menu one
evening], two Vegetarian Main Courses along with a number of
desserts, ice cream and sorbet & a selection of cheese
[vegetarian available] & biscuits with grapes & radishes.
Lighter Bites, Chef's Recommendations & Dishes suitable for
vegetarians are indicated. There are four dress codes which are
adhered to. Formal:- Dark Suit & Tie or Dinner Jacket/ Cocktail
or Evening Dress. Informal:- Jacket & Tie or Lounge Suit/ Smart
Evening Dress/Trouser Suit. Smart Casual:- Stylish leisure wear; open
neck shirts with collars/casual separates & dresses. Casual:-
Comfortable attire with a casual elegance.
At both Breakfast & Lunch there are Buffets, with a wide choice
of items, varying daily. One can also order items off menu; even mix
'n match - there is no excuse for anyone to say there is not enough
choice, quite the opposite, too much.
Outside the entrance to the Ballindalloch Restaurant, which is merely
a hallway, is the 'Wine Table'. Here one finds a daily selection of
wines chosen to compliment the evening meal along with the wine list
[which is quite extensive & reasonably priced]. Order the wine
and it is ready waiting at the table on arrival for dinner. This is
also outside the Avon & Spey Restaurants.
Moving forward we come to the 'Circus Tent', my nickname for
the first half of the hallway, which is in two quite distinct
sections, the old and the new, the dark and the bright, leading to
the lower lever Atrium & Reception. Retaining the Crown
Odyssey/Norwegian Crown décor, black shiny walls with strip
lights meeting at an apex ceiling, one finds a series of pictures of
Ballindalloch Castle, Scotland, in place of the previously displayed
The 2nd part of the hallway, after a couple of restrooms, is the Art
Gallery. White walls & ceiling, turquoise carpet, well lit
& opens out into a wider area. The walls are lined with various
pieces of art for admiring [this is not an art auction area]. At
times when passengers are passing through on the way from dining a
string trio plays here giving the area quite some atmosphere, which
otherwise can appear cold & harsh.
Into Reception; another contrast. The lower level of the two storey Atrium
which retains Balmoral's original décor, all shiny mirrored
reflecting surfaces, lights everywhere [there is no natural light],
curved staircase to the upper lever with a large Tiffany style light
at the top. The Reception Desk, Shore Tours, Photo Gallery,
Customer Relations & Future Cruise Sales Offices surround the
area. Seating for a few & the centerpiece, almost tucked away
under the staircase is the original Arnaldo Pomodoro Globe, a
small one which I felt was quite out of place with all the
reflections in its brass surface from the lights & most
noticeably the patterned carpeting. I don't think many even noticed
it, let alone gave it a 2nd glance.
Up the staircase to Lounge Deck 7; the upper level Atrium,
once again full of reflecting surfaces, surrounded by the two Boutiques,
one containing jewelry & watches etc, the other clothes,
souvenirs & sundries, & a lovely model of Balmoral by Riera
Fwd is the Neptune Lounge. For the full effect one should
enter by the port entrance past what was once described as an item to
catch one's "fancy"; a "fabulous caged peacock, made
of light-carrying fibers with ever-changing colors" & a
"worthy introduction to what awaits you inside". Time has
now moved on & Mr Peacock, whose cage is also surrounded by a
semi circle of mirrors, is rather out-dated being deemed
"awful", but in years to come he may well be in the *in*
thing again, so glad he has been left. He certainly achieved the aim
of being something of a talking point.
In what was once Theo's Bar, now the Neptune Lounge Bar there
are three large images of figureheads from previous Fred. Olsen
vessels, pictured how they are displayed today in Hvitsten, Norway.
Bataan 1947, Venus emerging from her shell from Bolette/Bollsta 1951
[this is one of two, the other being displayed aboard Fred. Olsen
Cruise Lines' ms Braemar] and Berby 1950.
The Neptune Lounge is the main entertainment and cabaret venue. A
bright room in oranges & browns, mainly good lines of sight, but
the occasional support or someone's head gets in the way. Also used
for Concerts, Passenger Events, Port Talks, Lectures from Guest
Speakers, Captain's Welcome & Farewell Cocktail Parties, Oceans
Club Get-togethers, Dancing [there are four Gentleman Dance hosts],
Church Services, Music and two Performances of the Main Show each evening.
Amongst the entertainers/lecturers on our trip were Arts Club -
Comedy Speakers Vincent Powell & Don Reid, Commander Jeff Tall
OBE RN "The Mechanical Whale" & "U - Boats in
WWI", Anthony Cooke "Let's Get Away From It All" a
light-hearted history of cruising "The Great Liners", Bill
Martin [Hit song writer] "Golden Age of Musicals", Virtuoso
Violinist Greg Scott, Variety Entertainer - Tufty Gordon, Dain
Cordean, Stacey Wylde & You - Chiung Lin. Quite a selection for
everyone - then there is the Grand Tea Dance.
Walking back past the boutiques is the Braemar Lounge to
starboard, which is really an extension to the upper level Atrium,
laminate flooring, veneered bulkheads, with seating, dark
orangey/brown to the windows, cream the other side, & acts as a
walk through, on a rather bright orangey carpet to the Morning Light
Pub & then Palms Café. No bar, but there is waiter
service. Live music too at times. The Library, Card/Internet Rooms
are to port.
Balmoral's Card Room is lined with Olsen ship pictures. Bridge
& Whist, Beginners & Improvers Classes, Duplicate Bridge &
Rubber/Chicago, Card & Board Games, take your pick. Plenty of
tables, with an appropriately patterned carpet, but it was at times packed!
Balmoral's Library/Reading/Writing Room & Internet Room
[along with the Card Room & Braemar Lounge] occupy the areas of
the Crown Club & Crown Club Casino on Norwegian Crown, midships
to port. Lovely rooms & again with many paintings and pictures
lining the walls. The Library is in the same 'circular' layout with
compass on the floor as onboard Black Watch & Boudicca, with
different wood colourings. In the centre of the Library is a large
model of an unnamed Norwegian Warship. Books are available 24hrs,
with a fair selection of foreign language ones too. CDs & DVDs
are available for loan between 4-5pm each day. The Daily Mail
"Instant" news is available at midday; please return after
use. The Internet Room has 17 terminals [no wi-fi] but the cost is
prohibitive. Access is by one's key card & charges accrue by the
amount downloaded, not by time.
Outside the entrance to the Internet Room is a lovely painting of
M.V. Balmoral 1949.
The Plaque Reads :-
" M.V. Balmoral (1949 - )
off Puffin Island, Anglesey, June 2007
Presented to Her Namesake, Jan 2008
by her friends at www.waverleyexcursions.co.uk"
Between the Library & Morning Light Pub is a hallway lined with
yet more interesting pieces of art, Erling Enger images on the aft
bulkhead with a Suchi's Bombay 2006, flanked by 2 Bhairavi Modi
pieces fwd. This area is used for playing Carpet Bowls and Golf
Now we enter the Morning Light Pub, named after Fred. Olsen's
largest sailing ship, located midships on Lounge Deck 7 between the
Palms Café & Library. Extending the full width of
Balmoral, there is a single entrance aft, with the bar to starboard
& entrance either side fwd. The focal point is a model of the
1891 built "Morning Light" along with a painting on the fwd
bulkhead of the 1st Generation of the ship owning Olsens, shown
above. The Pub is full of pictures of previous Olsen vessels &
panels between the brown benched alcoves are decorated with yet more.
The bar is open from 11:00am to 1:00am with live music at lunchtime
& throughout the evening. The pub is also used as a hospitality
meeting point for singles get-togethers; find someone to go ashore
with etc; Masons & Service Club Meetings etc.
The Palms Café [light & informal meals; alternative
dining] located aft on Lounge Deck 7. A pleasant room with a central
buffet area; 2 lines. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner are served here,
the meals sometimes being themed eg we had Italian one evening &
a Neptune Seafood Buffet one lunchtime. Self service tea & coffee
is available 6:30am - 1:00am Afternoon Tea & Late Night Snacks,
11:30pm - 00:30am [A Fish & Chip 'special' was one Late Night
Snack]. Tables are pre-laid with placemats, cutlery, napkins, glasses
etc no need to carry these about and drinks served at the table.
The aft section contains a bar with seating both inside and out, open
to the main aft pool area. A Steel Drummer played here in the
evenings. A selection of America's Cup photos adorn the walls.
The aft deck contains nice sized pool filled with sea water, heated
& chlorinated. Unfortunately it was too rough for use during our
trip with the water sloshing about once filled. Two Jacuzzis [two
more on Marquee Deck] filled with fresh water and heated to 30
°C. Plenty of seating & loungers with a view of the terraced
fantail up to the funnel. It is wonderful to sit on any of Balmoral's
aft decks just watching the sea or the goings on about. Balmoral has
a complete teak decked wrap around Promenade on this deck.
Unfortunately it is very narrow in places with no room for loungers
even at the widest points. There are some nice nooks & crannies, 'look-out'
points between the lifeboats. Forward one can look over the bow with
its mooring gear, amongst which is Balmoral's Bell. The Builder's
plaque is situated on the fwd bulkhead of the Promenade.
Up the aft ladder to Lido Deck 8 is the Lido Lounge.
With its dark blue carpeting with blue, grey & cream bucket seats
& a large dance floor this is a venue for all sorts & 2nd
Show Lounge. Concerts, Music for Dancing & Listening, Dolphin
Racing, Various Group Meets/Parties, Gaming Tables [2 port aft],
Bingo & an Evening Showtime Session [2 Presentations]. Aft is the
Lido Bar under 'glass' overlooking stern pool; a lovely area with
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