MS Borealis Tour: A Review of the Fred Olsen Cruise Ship

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Take a peek inside Fred Olsen Cruise Line’s Borealis, which spends some of its time cruising the fjords of Norway in the summer and the high north in the winter.

Cruising around Norway has never been more popular. There were a record number of cruise ship port calls in 2022 and 2023 is set to be a bumper year too.

There are many options for sailing along the Norwegian coastline, including summer fjords trips and of course, the Norwegian coastal voyage. But there are other options too, including in the cold of the winter.

I recently took a two-week trip on Fred Olsen's Borealis from Liverpool to Northern Norway on a winter northern lights cruise. As you’ll see in my other article and video about the trip, we succeeded in finding the lights!

But I know many of you planning a Fred Olsen cruise are keen to find out more about the ship itself, so that’s what I’ll focus on in this article.

Watch a tour of the Borealis

First things first, I know many of you prefer videos. If that's you, check out this full ship tour video.

I hope you enjoyed the video. It was a lot of fun putting it together! For more detail on the Borealis including lots of photographs, read on.

Introducing the MS Borealis

Together with its sister ship the Bolette, the Borealis is relatively new to the Fred Olsen fleet but it’s not a new vessel. Far from it, in fact.

Fred Olsen recently bought the two ships from Holland America Line. Under its former name the Rotterdam, the Borealis had sailed for Holland America Line for 22 years. It took its maiden voyage at the end of 1997.

Fred Olsen Borealis in port at Alta, Norway.
Borealis docked in Alta.

It has a passenger capacity of 1,360 with space for up to 662 crew. On my trip we were only at about 60% passenger capacity, although there were approximately 500 crew onboard.

So how would it be sailing in 2023 on a ship built in the 1990s? Come on board and I’ll show you around.

Cabins on the Borealis

I’ll start with the most important factor on any cruise ship – the cabins. And yes, Fred Olsen do call a cabin a cabin and not a stateroom or other fancy name.

Ocean view cabin

I was in one of the more basic cabins on board. It was an ocean view cabin towards the front of deck one. I had twin portholes but most ocean view cabins have a larger window.

Ocean View cabin on the Borealis cruise ship.
Ocean View cabin with portholes. Most have a larger window.

I’ll do a full tour of my cabin in a separate article and video. If you are interested in a full review, keep an eye out for that.

Because the ship wasn’t full, I was able to take a look at some of the other cabin grades – my thanks to the future cruise team for their help with this.

Balcony suite

There are a series of terrace cabins on deck 3 which open out directly onto the promenade. Higher up, you’ll find the balcony suites.

Lounge area in a Balcony Suite on the Borealis.
Lounge area in a Balcony Suite on the Borealis.

These share a lot in common with the ocean view cabins but they do feature a larger bed, a more comfortable seating area and as the name suggests, a balcony.

Even in the winter, the view from the balcony can make this upgrade worthwhile, although you’ll need to be wearing warm clothes!

Premier suite

I also got to see an example of a Premier Suite, something I doubt I would ever be able to afford myself on a cruise! As you can see the room, bathroom and balcony are all much more spacious in a premier suite.

Premier Suite on the Borealis.
Premier Suite on the Borealis.

Suites also come with the ‘Suite Dreams' package which incudes priority check-in, a bottle of bubbly, daily fruit and canapés, and a few other bits and pieces.

If I had booked a Premier Suite, I am pretty sure I would want to make the most of this balcony space even in the short days of the Norwegian winter. There is a lot of room out here and the view speaks for itself.

Large balcony on the Premier Suite.
Large balcony on the Premier Suite.

Now that’s enough about the cabins, let’s take a look at the rest of the ship. The ship has 10 decks and they are named as well as numbered.

Promenade Deck 3

Deck 3 is the promenade deck, named because of the covered promenade that you can walk around and around and around. Three laps of the promenade deck is about one mile and I saw a lot of people throughout the cruise clocking up their steps this way.

Promenade deck 3 on the Borealis.
Promenade deck 3 on the Borealis.

The covered promenade was especially beneficial on this cruise to the north of Norway in January as it really helped protect you from the wind while still being able to enjoy the views.


Covering decks 3 to 5, the atrium is built around this wonderful clock tower. It’s here you’ll find guest services as well as the excursion desk.

Clock tower at the Borealis atrium.
Clock tower at the Borealis atrium.

Main Deck 4

Decks 4 and 5 are really the beating heart of the ship, as it’s here you find the Neptune Lounge theatre, the main restaurant and many of the shops, bars and lounges.

View from the stage in the Neptune Lounge theatre.
View from the stage in the Neptune Lounge theatre.

Neptune Lounge

he Neptune Lounge on Deck 4 hosted many lectures and all the evening shows. It’s also where people meet for excursions when in port.

Evening event at the Neptune Lounge from the balcony.
Evening event at the Neptune Lounge from the balcony.

While there is no bar inside the lounge, table service is offered before the evening performances. There is also seating space up on the balcony which you access from deck 5.

Main restaurants

At the other end of the ship are the main restaurants, named Aurora and Borealis. This is perhaps the largest single space on the ship and one of the few places outside the theatre where you see a lot of people in the same place at once.

Main restaurants on the Fred Olsen Borealis cruise ship.
Main restaurants Aurora and Borealis.

There are two set times for dinner and you’ll sit on the same table each evening. There are also two performances in the theatre each evening, timed to coincide with the end of each dinner service.


Between the theatre and the restaurants on deck 4 and 5 are a whole lot of interesting nooks and crannies to explore, along with a lot of artwork.

Auditorium on the Borealis.
Auditorium on the Borealis.

Starting with deck 4, there is the auditorium. Slightly hidden away, the auditorium hosted cookery demonstrations, film screenings, smaller talks and even ukulele lessons throughout the cruise.

Colours & Tastes

Deck 4 is also home to one of the speciality restaurants, Colours and Tastes. This Asian fusion restaurant comes at an extra charge but having eaten here I would say it is well worth it.

Colours and Tastes on the Borealis.
Colours and Tastes.

The menu changed several times during the cruise so you could feasibly come here more than once if you wanted to pay.

On my trip, the ship was about 60% full and there were usually tables available in both the speciality restaurants. Even so it’s a good idea to book these early.

Lounge Deck 5

Deck 5 is the Lounge Deck and very aptly named. It’s here you’ll find many of the most comfortable bars and lounges.

Morning Light pub and lounge.
Morning Light pub and lounge.

Much of the deck is taken up by the Morning Light Pub & Lounge, the main lounge on the ship and one that played host to trivia, bingo and other games throughout the trip.

You’ll notice from pictures that it’s very quiet, but that’s because I chose the quietest possible times to take photos.

The busiest times on deck 5 were right before dinner and the evening shows. It was usually absolutely fine to get a seat in whichever lounge you wanted.

Oriental Tea Room on the Borealis.
Oriental Tea Room on the Borealis.

The piano bar was popular later in the evening when a pianist would provide the entertainment, while the Oriental Tea Room was an elegant, quieter spot that held occasional tea tastings. Table service is offered from the bars in all these lounges.

My preferred spot was the Ocean Bar. While it was rarely as quiet as you see here, I did find it a peaceful spot for most of the journey during the daytimes, especially if you could grab a window table. During the evening, there was also live music and dancing here.

Ocean Bar on the Borealis.
Ocean Bar on the Borealis.

Regular bridge teaching sessions and competitions took place in the Bolette card room, while a well-stocked library was on offer although the opening hours were limited.

Finally on deck 5 is the Bookmark Cafe, another favourite spot of mine. While tea and coffee was always free from the buffet restaurant, Bookmark served premium teas and coffees at an additional charge. There were also plenty of chocolates on offer for those with a sweet tooth.

Highland Deck 6

Deck 6 is mostly cabins but there was this wonderful outside space at the front, which turned into a real hidden gem on our trip.

View from forward on deck 6.
View from forward on deck 6.

The reason? It was directly below the bridge, so when we were sailing at night it was one of the darkest spots on the ship. That meant it was ideal for spotting the northern lights.

Bridge Deck 7

Deck 7 is also mostly cabins but it is also home to the Bridge, which I was fortunate to get to visit to interview the captain for an episode of the Life in Norway Show.

The Bridge is usually off-limits to passengers and so I thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity of being allowed a look. It's a very quiet, professional place and just as elsewhere on the ship, there was a mix of nationalities at work.

Lido Deck 8

Deck 8 is the Lido deck and as with many other cruise ships, it’s here you’ll find the swimming area and buffet restaurant.

Pool on the Borealis.
The pool area on deck 8 has a retractable roof.

The swimming pool was used more than I had expected although it was closed at times due to occasional rough seas. It was January in Norway after all.

This area has a retractable roof which I imagine gives it a completely different feel when sailing elsewhere in the world especially during the summer.

Buffet restaurant

The buffet restaurant known as The View is where I ate most of my meals. At the time of my cruise it was not self-service but it was simple enough to ask for what you wanted, and there was rarely a wait at any point.

Display of desserts at the buffet.
Display of desserts at the buffet.

In addition to the three standard mealtimes, the buffet was also open for afternoon tea and for a late night supper club – this was perfect for a quick bite and cup of tea after watching the northern lights out on deck.

Inclusive afternoon tea in the buffet restaurant.
Inclusive afternoon tea in the buffet restaurant.

There were only a couple of times where seating was difficult to find, such as breakfast immediately before excursions began, but there were always crew on hand to help you find a seat. I only had to share a table with others two or three times over the whole two week period.


In one corner of the buffet restaurant you’ll find the other speciality restaurant, Vasco.

Meal starters at Vasco
Starter platter at the Goan restaurant Vasco.

Vasco specialises in Goan cuisine and I think I enjoyed my meal here more than any other meal I had on board.

Spa and fitness centre

After the buffet it seems an appropriate time to take a look at the spa and fitness centre! While I didn’t use the facility on my trip, I did get the opportunity to take a quick look around.

Borealis fitness centre.
Borealis fitness centre.

Inside you’ll find a hair salon, a well-equipped fitness centre with plenty of space for classes and weight training, the thermal suite and various treatment rooms. Crew from the spa also held educational sessions in the auditorium throughout the trip.

Deck 8 aft

At the back of deck 8 behind the buffet is this large outdoor deck. I guess this was once another pool deck when the ship was in Holland America but has since been turned into a garden area.

Outdoor space on deck 8.
Outdoor space on deck 8.

This was a popular place to be during the daytime for scenic cruising and of course, at night looking for the northern lights. There is an outside bar here and a smoking area.

Sports Deck 9

Deck 9 is the sports deck although very few sports took place here due to it being a winter cruise in Norway!

Once again though this was a popular spot for scenic cruising during the daytime and northern lights hunting when the night fell.

Northern lights from deck 9 of the MS Borealis.
Fantastic northern lights from deck 9.

It was windy up here but it was well worth the time spent out in the cold. We got some of our best sightings of the northern lights from out here.

Observation lounge

Also on Deck 9 is the observation lounge. This is typically one of my favourite spots on any ship. As with others, the Borealis observation lounge wraps around the front of the ship providing a wonderful view of the scenery during the daytime.

Dancing in the Observation Lounge.
Dancing in the Observation Lounge on deck 9.

The lounge was also a popular spot for live music, drinking and dancing during the evenings, while I used it as a place to warm up in between my times out on deck hunting for the lights!

Art studio

The art studio is a little hidden away at the other end of deck 9 just above the buffet. In this quiet room there is plenty of space for taking part in the various arts and crafts classes offered on the cruise.

Art studio on deck 9.
Art studio on deck 9.

I found that although the sessions just lasted one hour or so, people came early and stayed until they were finished.

Sun Deck 10

Last but definitely not least is the sun deck, accessible via stairs from deck 9. There was no sun on our cruise so this became the venue for stargazing sessions, and once again, we enjoyed seeing the northern lights from up here.

The deck was often closed due to poor weather but I would guess on a summer cruise this would be a busy part of the ship.

Stargazing session on deck 10.
Stargazing session on deck 10.

In summary

The ship is dated and it does show it in parts, although Fred Olsen have done a good job with refurbishment. If you're taking a cruise because of the destination, the Borealis might suit you well.

If the ship is part of the experience for you and you prefer a modern resort-style ship like the Norwegian Prima, then you might find the Borealis a little too old-fashioned for your tastes.

For me, I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the Borealis. I would be very interested in seeing how the experience is when scenic cruising along the fjords in the summer, for example.

I hope you enjoyed this quick tour of the Fred Olsen Borealis. Don’t forget to check out my review of the cruise itself, including how we hunted for the northern lights and my advice to those of you considering a winter northern lights cruise to northern Norway.

Have you taken a cruise on the Fred Olsen Borealis? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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