The Balmoral, operated by Fred. Olsen Cruises, brings British tradition to American cruise customers
By Marcia R. Levin
Mix time-honored British tradition with state-of-the-art maritime construction and 21st century design trends and you’ve a glimpse of the new 1,340-passenger, 43,000-ton Balmoral, recently introduced to the American market by Fred. Olsen Cruises. Balmoral sailed its maiden voyage from Dover, England in February 2008 before offering a series of four Miami-based Caribbean cruises last winter.
The former Norwegian Crown was stretched and completely refitted at a Blohm + Voss Repair GmbH, Hamburg. The ship was cut in two and a 99-foot mid-section inserted, extending the vessel to 714 feet. Additional — and very spacious — public areas and more cabins and suites were created in the new section.
Included were cabins created for the single traveler, a policy Fred. Olsen offers on its five ships.
Balmoral is the largest ship in the line, but like her smaller sisters, the décor throughout public rooms and staterooms is that of an elegant English country home. Specifically the Braemar Lounge with its comfy chairs and settees and lovely warm carpeting in shades of gold, rose, and warm greens, designed to attract those who want to sit and read, catch a quick 40 winks or enjoy a pint with old or new friends.
Balmoral is not a sedentary ship, though. She offers a golf program, quoits and bowls plus a steady schedule of entertainment from daytime enrichment programs to nightly productions, and musical entertainment.
Prices thoughout the ship are in British Pound Sterling.
Fred. Olsen has been around for five generations and is a major player in small ship cruising in European waters. While other vessels in the fleet have visited U.S. ports prior to February 2008, the four 10-day cruises sailing alternately to the Eastern and Western Caribbean were the first to sail from and return to a U.S. port.
The company, founded in the 19th century by three Olsen brothers: Frederik Christian, Andreas and Petter. Their portraits can be found in the large traditional English Pub on Deck 7, dubbed the Morning Light Pub in honor of the largest fully rigged vessel own by the family. A model of the sailing ship, and a variety of nautical memorabilia, are found in the pub along with dark wood paneling and leather-covered barstools.
What’s a Norwegian company projecting a strong traditionally British image doing sailing from a U.S. port? Seeking customers who look for a smaller vessel offering a gracious and friendly atmosphere.
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ marketing director Nigel Lingard says “Basing a ship in Miami has given us a great opportunity to introduce the special Fred. Olsen style of cruising to the U.S. customer. Our on-board atmosphere is quite unique; rather akin to a Country Club weekend, where passengers and staff bond together, often forming long-lasting friendships. For mature travelers who enjoy an easy-going social life combined with a dash of cultural activities, plus ever-changing itineraries featuring unusual destinations, we believe our cruises can build up a wide appeal in North America.”
Now into the fifth generation of the family, four of the ships are based in the United Kingdom offering itineraries throughout Europe. Kate Wooldridge, international sale manager, says “We are very pleased to be able to offer such an interesting and varied program for Balmoral’s first year. We have everything from a mini-cruise to round the world, a choice of departure ports and a hurge range of itineraries which we are sure will appeal to US cruise passengers.
Behind Closed Doors
Standard staterooms, while approximately 165 square feet, offer more drawer and closet space than many cabins and/or junior suites twice the size on newer vessels. Consider an amazing 20 storage drawers with loads of closet space to spare. Brand new bedding — including a truly luxe duvet — is wonderful, but the amount of storage space absolutely boggles the mind.
Salmon done absolutely perfectly with the right amount of a lobster beurre butter sauce and seasoned magnificently. Served with gaufrette potatoes and steamed veggies it compares superbly with $30-a- head gourmet/alternative restaurants on other vessels. The ship’s three restaurants, Ballindalloch, Spey and Avon (the first is the name of a famed Scottish home, the Spey and Avon are named for two rivers in Scotland.)
Meet You There
At the Observatory Lounge on Deck 11, the ship’s most popular gathering place in late afternoon and before dinner. Decorated in sea-and-sun shades of blue and yellow, the views are glorious during the day. A variety of musical presentations (a classical pianist at 4pm or a sultry blues singer with pre-dinner cocktails) make it a great auditory as well as visual experience.
Marquee Bar on Deck 11 is a small out-of-the-way quiet spot where guests can enjoy their favorite beverage and keep an eye on the pool deck, sun and fun devotees or the ever-changing sea.
Name your tune and name your room. Balmoral offers evening showtimes that may include a production-type Elvis program, a string trio, dance music under the stars, piano classics, folk and country performers — almost simultaneously. On my sailing the music of Buddy Morrow and the Dorsey 7 Band enthralled enthusiasts for the big band sound at several performances in a couple of rooms doubling as showrooms. Expect a comic or two, a major quiz or one of two tables in the miniscule casino offering both blackjack and roulette.
The cruise line itself. Long popular in the UK and throughout Europe, North Americans now can choose from this genteel line which to some is reminiscent of upscale 700+ passengers ships with a more laidback atmosphere. Fred. Olsen Cruises is a player for those seeking smaller vessels and varied itineraries.
Don’t miss a piece of brass sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodora, located just off the front desk on Deck Six. This unusual globe whose outside is a perfect geometric, features an interior of dense, jagged clusters. Called Sphera con Sphera, the globe represents a world whose smooth, outside skin covers the myriad complexities contained therein. Pomodora’s sculptures are found in museums throughout the world.