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Excuse me if I’m nervous but it’s my first time


OK I admit it and I apologise. Cruising is not elitist, boring and expensive; and please can I go again? Like Scrooge I have seen the error of my ways, but unlike him it didn’t take three ghosts and one night, but one cruise ship – Fred Olsen’s Balmoral - nine nights and a highly professional crew of 550 to look after me. For years I’ve always accepted that I would not enjoy cruising and therefore endured delayed flights; lost luggage; screaming children; dubious hotels, hire cars and foreigners who seemed intent on murdering you, all in the name of “enjoying myself.” Why then would cruising be any different?  


By modern standards Balmoral is a reasonably small ship at 43,537 tonnes she has eleven decks; 744 cabins accommodating 1340 guests; five restaurants; three lounges; two bars; two swimming pools; four Jacuzzis; shops; casino tables; a library and internet centre.

Her cabins are configured to twenty-one different specifications ranging from the Premier Suite on the Upper Deck to the Single Inside Cabin on the lower decks, so finding one to suit you and your budget shouldn’t be a problem. My cabin, a Superior Outside Cabin on deck 8, was 165 sq ft in size equipped with two very comfortable single beds, a large picture window, desk, bath/shower, safe and interactive television. Power is supplied at 220v and European two pin adapters are required. Built in audio equipment giving a range of musical tastes makes the ambiance feel just right and is very conducive to making just lying on the bed and relaxing seem an ideal way to spend your time at sea. If that’s what you want to do then nobody will stop you, but you will miss out on the non-stop entertainment which takes place all over the ship.


As Fred Olsen caters mainly for the older English clientele (average age of their guests being 67) the lectures and demonstrations tend to be more on the sedate side. Although for those looking for more active pursuits keep fit and dancing classes supplement the more traditional deck quoits and golf. Regretfully, there doesn’t seem to be a climbing wall on board (much to the regret of a couple I spoke to. She was 78, he was 82 and were bemoaning the fact that there weren’t more adventurous activities available). Then there’s always the fully equipped gym to work off the additional pounds which seem unavoidable with the superb meals and choices designed to tempt you. During the evening there is superb entertainment, with a different show every night in the Neptune and Lido Lounges. Fred Olsen run a number of specially themed Vista cruises each with a specific theme – watercolour painting; photography; dance; wine; food and drink to name but a few- which run in addition to the normal activities. Each led by an expert in that field.


The crew evening on the penultimate night is definitely a “must not be missed” and the engineering room staff’s Crazy Frog Dance is almost worth the whole cost of the cruise on its own!  Another not to be missed is the Grand Gala Buffet where the catering staff of 93 excel themselves with culinary creations which could easily grace many of the world’s top hotels.  


For more normal eating Balmoral boasts four restaurants, Ballindalloch, on the main deck, the smaller Avon and Spay restaurants on deck 10, all offering the same menus, and the Palms Court Café offering an alternative menu in the evening. There are two sittings for you to choose from, prior to boarding and you will be allocated a table for dinner. Breakfast and lunch are on an open seating basis in any of the restaurants. This gives you the opportunity to meet even more of your fellow travellers. The food on offer is of such an excellent standard choosing becomes a very difficult but pleasant task, with normally at least four choices on the menu. With morning and afternoon coffee served with sandwiches pastries etc served in the Marquee and Palms Café it is possible to get something to eat most of the day – hot drinks available all day!  


For most cruisers the highlight of the trip is the variety of ports to be visited. If you don’t like one stop you can virtually guarantee there will be another along shortly for you to experience. Our cruise called in at Lisbon; Vigo; La Coruna and Bilboa, with each stop preceded with a lecture onboard to give one a flavour of the area. There was no pressure to join one of the organised trips once in port, but for first timers like me it would have meant missing out on so much of the local flavour. From Lisbon a coach trip with a local guide took us to Sintra (adored by Lord Byron) and Cascais (a quaint Portuguese fishing village with an English square); from Vigo a visit to Soutomaior Castle (an imposing Galician Castle with stunning views) and a winery ( I never realised you could get so many different wines from one grape!); from La Coruna (where Sir John Moore led a gallant retreat at the start of the Napoleonic Peninsula Wars) Santiago de Compostela (along with Jerusalem and Rome one of the three most sacred pilgrimages for Christians, and simply breath-taking); and from Bilbao a visit to the Guggenheim Museum ( a must for modern art lovers). With each stop having a choice of five different tours the hard part is trying to decide which one to join. I didn’t realise just how much you could miss on a one stop holiday.  


Cruising might not be to everybody’s taste, but it is too easy to dismiss it without trying it. To do so would be to miss out on a holiday which might not be the holiday of a lifetime, but will certainly give you memories to last a lifetime. Try it you might like it.


John Gore


more information at www.fredolsencruises.com


John takes his first cruise and he chose Fred Olsen's Balmoral

John Gore writing for ....


which is part of the ...

Ashford Advertiser Media Group with regional papers across Kent with regular holiday & travel sections in all editions

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