Lorraine Jackson hops on board the Balmoral for an eight-night luxury cruise to some of Norway's most scenic destinations.
Sailing out of Southampton on a sunny July afternoon, there was much to take in as we watched the yachts and smaller crafts glide along the waters of the Solent. Once onboard the Balmoral, we were directed to our cabin to be reunited with our luggage, which had been collected by a porter upon arrival allowing for easier embarkation. Our cabin, whilst being small, had twin beds, tea/coffee making facilities, radio/TV, plenty of cupboard space and a neat little bathroom with hairdryer. There was also a large window to watch the world go by.
We were eager to explore what was to be our home for the next week. We located the Lounge Deck, and decided to walk the perimeter of the ship, with a sign indicating that four laps equalled one mile. There was a swimming pool and two jacuzzi’s, ample seating and close by, the pleasant Palms Café. Ascending to Deck 11, the Marquee Deck, we found similar luxuries, with a generous sun deck, relaxing sun loungers and the Marquee Bar. The interior of the ship boasted a classic, elegant style with contemporary artwork throughout. There were smart lounge areas with sofas and armchairs to relax and observe, with a library, games and internet room, central atrium with a magnificent sweeping staircase, shop and boutiques. Lifts were located at either end of the ship alongside wide staircases leading to all decks.
Our table for dinner was reserved in the stylish Ballindalloch Restaurant, where we were introduced to fellow members of our group. The menu consisted of five courses, each offering several choices and additional options for fussy palettes. The waiters were friendly and attentive throughout and there was a lively atmosphere in the spacious room, which was able to accommodate many guests over two sittings. The food and wine was first class, and the evening was topped off with a brilliant show performed by a talented entertainment crew in the crescent-shaped Neptune Lounge.
The next day was spent cruising along the eastern coast, allowing plenty of time to relax and enjoy the many facilities on offer. We took part in the ‘Traditional Afternoon Tea’ event, which was held in the Observatory Lounge on the top deck. This was a real treat and involved a nominal charge. Elegant hostesses served speciality teas and a delicious selection of cakes and sandwiches, whilst a pianist played. The panoramic views from this location were spectacular.
By the following morning, we had reached the southern tip of Norway. It was exciting to walk around the ship and take in the new sights. Our Fred. Olsen voyage took us into the heart of the fjords, cruising the Akrafjord to see the dramatic Langfoss Waterfall. After two days, we reached our first destination, Flåm, on the banks of Aurlandsfjord. Having booked a shore excursion, we were taken by coach, which climbed a series of hairpin bends to the impressive Stegastein viewing point, taking photos overlooking the fjord. We stopped at the small town of Aurland on the way back for a tour of the sights. There was a daily programme of events and activities aboard the Balmoral, which were advertised in The Daily Times. These included dance and fitness classes, quizzes, bridge, deck games, craft classes and even guest speakers. There was a well-equipped gym, hairdresser and beauty salon, providing a range of luxurious treatments.
Our next venture was in the port of Olden in the Nordfjord – a location set amongst green meadows and fast-flowing rivers – from where we boarded a bus, which took us to the Briksdal Glacier. We were taken up in small electric cars, with a 15-minute walk to the nearby area. It was an amazing spectacle. On the descent, we were treated to native hospitality in a picturesque lodge offering fabulous views of the mountains and waterfall.
During our week on Balmoral, we experienced a fantastic selection of quality food. Breakfast, lunch and dinner could be taken in either four venues, including the Spey and Avon Restaurants, which offered great views from Highland Deck 10. There was an open seat policy for breakfast and lunch, with the opportunity to dine in different locations on the ship. The casual Palms Café served tea/coffee 24 hours daily, afternoon tea and cakes, buffet meals at lunch and dinner, and even offered a late night supper club. Evening shows were varied and highly entertaining, performed after each dinner sitting in the Neptune and Lido Lounges. Formal and themed nights, which are a big part of any cruise, were great fun, with guests and crew dressing in their finest attire.
Our third port of call was in the pretty city of Bergen, known as the ‘Gateway to the Fjords.’ We had an afternoon free to explore, after taking in the sights by bus and embarking on a trip up the funicular railway. It was a short walk from the port to the Bryggen Wharf, with its colourful wooden buildings, home to shops, galleries and museums. It was easy to explore Bergen on foot, with its cobbled streets and alleyways, and its famous Fish Market erected alongside the harbour.
On our final stop we visited the attractive coastal city of Stavanger. We were taken by coach to the south of the city, passing colourful villages and farmsteads dotted amongst breathtaking lake and mountain scenery. A short rest break allowed time to purchase typical Norwegian fare, with a refreshment stop serving delicious pancakes. The return journey took us through Magma Geopark, an area of unique geology and cultural heritage. This was a wonderful trip, which further showcased the beautiful scenery of Norway. My only regret was that I hadn’t any time left to explore Stavanger.
As we departed home, there was a ‘sail away’ party. It was a lovely warm afternoon, music was playing, passengers and crew were dancing on the deck, and there was a great party atmosphere. We had enjoyed excellent hospitality throughout our Fred.Olsen cruise, and had experienced a truly wonderful and memorable destination.
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines will be offering a similar cruise package next year onboard its vessel Braemar. ‘Fred’s Favourite Fjords’ offers a seven-night stay, departing from Dover on July 11, 2015, and will cruise Lysefjord, Preikestolen, Kjerag, Karmsundet, Akrafjord and Langfoss Waterfall, calling at Skjolden, Naeroyfjord and Olden, before continuing to Nordfjord and Hornelen. Bergen will be the final stop – reaching Dover on July 18, 2015. Prices for the cruise start from £799 per person, based on an inside twin-bedded cabin. This includes all food and entertainment onboard, in addition to port taxes. Groups are welcome on all Fred. Olsen’s cruises and, depending on the size of the group, they may be eligible for a choice of added value benefits. Fred. Olsen’s bespoke groups service appeals to family and friendship groups, corporate and incentive groups and all kinds of clubs, associations and societies.
For further information on Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, visit www.fredolsencruises.com