The Fred Olsen Balmoral is a classic cruise ship often used to give tourists a close-up of the spectacular Norwegian coastline. Here's what to expect onboard.
Cruising to Norway has never been more popular. It's certainly not for everyone, but a ship is a wonderful way to experience the very best of Norwegian nature.
Of course, there are many options to see Norway on a cruise ship. Many people think of a Hurtigruten coastal voyage, but that's not the only option. You can also sail directly from the U.K. or Germany with traditional cruise lines.
One of those lines that departs regularly from Britain to Norway is Fred Olsen Cruise Lines. Regular readers will know I speak about life in Norway to guests travelling with Fred Olsen.
Previously, I travelled on the Borealis for a winter northern lights hunt, and then did a similar journey on the Bolette. This time, it was time for me to “complete the set” and join the oldest ship in the fleet, the Balmoral.
Watch a tour of the Balmoral
First things first, I know many of you prefer videos. If that's you, check out this full ship tour video before scrolling down.
If you enjoyed the video, read on for more details a lot more photographs from inside and outside the ship.
Introducing the Fred Olsen Balmoral
Before the cruise, my biggest concerns with the Balmoral compared to the other Fred Olsen ships were its age and its size.
While the small size of the Balmoral meant we could enjoy much better scenic cruising opportunities than on bigger ships that sail on Norway cruises, I was worried it would be too small to keep me occupied on a relatively long cruise.
I also wondered how much the ship would show its age, considering it was built in 1988. It has sailed with a few other cruise lines and was even chopped in half and extended as it joined the Fred Olsen fleet!
So, what would it be like cruising on a 35 year old vessel? Come on board and I’ll show you around.
Balmoral's outside deck space
I usually start a ship tour with the cabins, but not this time. Hands down my favourite feature of the Balmoral is the outside deck space, in particular this tapered aft section of the ship.
This design provides lots of different spaces over decks 7 to 11 to enjoy wonderful views throughout the cruise.
Deck 7 is also the promenade deck and while the promenade isn’t as wide as the other ships in the fleet, you could still walk around the entire ship.
That’s something I did time and time again throughout the cruise. The promenade also offered great spots for scenic cruising and wildlife watching. The onboard ORCA team were camped out at the front of the promenade deck for much of the cruise, together with keen photographers.
The front of the ship sometimes got a little crowded but there were many other good vantage points on the ship for all the scenic cruising on the itinerary.
The back of the promenade opens up into this larger outdoor deck with a swimming pool and hot tubs, both popular even on chilly mornings.
This area also played host to the occasional grill as part of the buffet restaurant when weather allowed, and a sailaway party as we left Honningsvåg, which went ahead despite the plunging temperatures.
Some bar seating on deck 8 and outdoor seating for the deck 10 restaurants were also a feature of this wonderful space at the aft of the ship.
Up on deck 11, there was even more outdoor space, including a vast terrace towards the back which had room for deck games and plenty of space to enjoy the scenery.
It was often less crowded up here than down on the promenade deck. Deck 11 also features another outdoor swimming pool, another pair of hot tubs, and plenty of deckchairs.
I’m taking this ship again for a northern lights cruise next year and I already know I’ll be spending a lot of time up here.
Cabins on the Balmoral
Despite being physically smaller than the other ships in the fleet, the Balmoral still holds a similar amount of people. There can be up to 1,325 passengers spread over 710 cabins. Let’s talk a look at some of them.
Our cabin 8036 was in the front-middle section on the port side of deck 8. It was setup with twin beds, and has a restricted view over one of the lifeboats that was fixed above the promenade deck. While the view is restricted, it still lets in plenty of light and provides views during scenic cruising.
One word of warning, this was a midnight sun cruise to Svalbard during which the sun did not set at all for several days, so be prepared if you’re sailing on the Balmoral or any ship during the Northern European summer. Bring an eye mask! We did, and we both slept well most nights.
With two people sharing this cabin there is plenty of storage space, enough hangers for our shirts although I did bring a couple extra just in case, and lots of drawer and cupboard space.
The bathroom is a good size for a cruise ship and I never had a problem with water or the plumbing. I drank the water from the bathroom tap every day and it was absolutely fine. And there’s even a bath, something which is increasingly rare on a cruise ship, especially in a standard cabin. Not all cabins feature a bath, though.
A few details about the cabin: the TV only functions once you’ve watched the safety video. There are TV channels, movies, the bridge camera, and you can check your onboard account on here too, as well as watch a live stream from the Neptune Lounge where most shows and talks take place.
In the cabin there is a mini-fridge, a small kettle with tea and coffee replenished daily, and UK, EU and USB power points, albeit only on the desk and not by the beds. That’s one of the disadvantages of sailing on an older ship but honestly it was never much of an issue for us.
Thanks to the future cruise team I was also able to take a look at one of the Balmoral’s Premier Suites, number 1003.
s you can see this grade of cabin offers much more space including a large double bed, desk and working area, a separate dining and lounge area and this impressive balcony space featuring an outside seating area and deckchairs.
You will of course pay considerably more for such a suite, but if you have the money then why not. You would certainly get good value out of a balcony on a scenic cruising packed itinerary.
On the first day I visited one of the self-serve laundry and ironing rooms, but later in the cruise I also took advantage of the housekeeping service for laundry.
Now, let’s take a look around the rest of the ship, which differs in layout considerably from the other Fred Olsen ships.
The lower decks are mostly cabins. Deck 3 is usually used for gangway access, and it’s also home to the medical center and the arts and crafts room. I know a darts tournament did take place here, but most of the actual arts and crafts activities took place elsewhere, so it wouldn’t surprise me if this room gets repurposed in the future.
Deck 6 is the main deck and it’s here you’ll find the atrium with the guest services and excursion deck. The bottom of the atrium doubles as the Oriental Tea Room, and there was often seating available here.
There is also a small shop with snacks, toiletries and Fred Olsen merchandise. Farther down the corridor past the photo gallery and small flower shop is the Balmoral’s main restaurant, the Ballindalloch.
The Ballindalloch is open for breakfast and lunch with open seating as well as the fixed seating dinners, which are offered over two sittings.
At both breakfast and lunch there’s a small buffet available as well as an a la carte menu, which I think is a good, flexible way to operate a restaurant when a lot of people are going to head off on port excursions, for example.
As I mentioned earlier, one corner of the Ballindalloch is repurposed during the late morning and afternoon as the destination for arts and crafts classes. These classes are popular and the room is much better suited for the activity thanks to the extra space and the natural light.
Deck 7 known as the Lounge Deck is where I spent much of my time on board.
At the front of the ship, the Neptune Lounge hosts the daytime talks and the evening shows as you would expect, but it’s also the venue for dance classes and evening dance sessions between the shows.
It’s more of a show lounge rather than a fixed theatre as on the other ships, and I actually prefer the flexibility this offers. There’s also a bar at the back of the lounge, and this offers table service before the shows.
The central part of deck 7 is dedicated to lounge space, although there are a few small shops and boutiques here, selling mainly clothing and jewellery, as well as the future cruises desk.
The Bookmark Cafe is a popular spot on the ship throughout the day, and especially during the evenings when live music from the string trio was often on the daily schedule.
The cafe serves premium coffees and teas along with a selection of chocolates and cakes that aren’t available anywhere else on the ship. As the name suggests, the Bookmark Cafe is also home to a free library of fiction and non-fiction titles.
Heading back along deck 7 you’ll come to the Morning Light Pub. As this is located next to the buffet and just one deck above the main restaurant, it is a good place for a pre-dinner drink, during which times a live pianist performs here.
There is a good selection of beer beyond the draught selection, my personal favourite being Adnam’s Ghost Ship brewed in Suffolk, where the Fred Olsen HQ is based.
That's a nice touch, as is the maritime theme throughout the pub. Finally, the pub’s indoor shuffleboard table got some good use throughout the cruise.
Towards the end of our cruise, the whole length of the lounge deck from the entrance to the Neptune Lounge right down to the Morning Light pub played host to the Summer Fayre, with games aplenty, all to raise money for the RNLI.
Just off this main stretch, the card room is a spacious area used for bridge lessons and tournaments, but also other activities including ukelele lessons.
Palms Cafe is the Balmoral’s buffet restaurant. Although relatively small, there is usually no problem to get a seat as the buffet hosts do seat you when you arrive, although if you travelling alone or as a couple, you might be asked to share.
The buffet is open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and a late night supper club, all included in your cruise fare. There’s a staffed station to toast breads in the morning and serve soup in the evenings, and another one from which you can order eggs and omelettes in the morning, and freshly cooked dishes such as stir frys or a carvery in the evenings.
The buffet also has a self-service tea and coffee station, which is open 24/7. Desserts were always available, including a vegan option and usually a sugar free option too.
We often ate here at the buffet for breakfast as it’s so much quicker and the food is often similar to what’s on offer in the main dining room anyway. Plus, I would occasionally pop in just to pick up a dessert. We were on holiday, after all!
Something which is easy to miss is the ice cream bar at the back of the buffet. During the evenings, this area becomes Goan restaurant Vasco, one of the two speciality restaurants onboard the Balmoral.
Although most food onboard is included, I do highly recommend both specialty restaurants especially as they cost just Ten Pounds if you book before you sail. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, if you go to Vasco you have to go hungry!
Lido Deck 8
The Lido Lounge is the Balmoral’s secondary performance space and this is used to host everything from dance lessons to evening concerts and even trivia contests.
Our cabin was just a minute or two’s walk from this lounge so we often caught the house band Funky Blue in here during the evenings.
The lounge continues through to the Lido Bar and bar service is available in the lounge, bar area and at the tables outside overlooking the pools.
To one side of the Lido bar is Colours & Tastes, the other speciality restaurant on Balmoral. The brightly coloured decor perfectly sets the scene for the brightly coloured menu in this Asian fusion restaurant. Another recommendation from me.
Highland Deck 10
Deck 10 is mostly premium and balcony cabins, but the front of the deck is home to the fitness centre and spa. This is on the small side but it wasn’t a problem to get on a piece of equipment even early in the morning.
I didn’t visit the spa but I took a very quick look through the door! As always, there were special offers advertised in the daily programs on port days.
Towards the back of Deck 10 are two more small restaurants, Avon and Spey. These a la carte restaurants are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and because of their shape they offer a lot of window seating.
As I mentioned earlier, these restaurants have an outdoor terrace overlooking the back of the ship, which seemed especially popular at breakfast time.
Marquee Deck 11
Finally, we reach the very top of the Balmoral. I’ve already shown the large outdoor deck here complete with swimming pool and hot tubs, but there’s also the Observatory.
Always a favourite of mine on any ship, this front-facing observation lounge offers wonderful views, most notably when we were sailing towards the glaciers of Svalbard.
We could often be found here next to the wacky carpet and artwork perusing the drinks menu and ordering a couple of tasty mocktails from the Observatory bar.
The Observatory was also another venue on the ship that featured regular live music.
Between the outdoor deck and the Observatory is the Marquee Bar. This poolside bar is part inside and part outside and so a relaxing place to enjoy a drink with some fresh air, whatever the weather.
I hope you enjoyed this tour of the Fred Olsen Balmoral. Parts of the ship are showing their age and the physical design is a bit dated, but there is plenty to like about this ship too.
If you’re considering a trip to Norway on the Balmoral, I’m sure you’re going to have a great time. Thanks for reading.