Cruising with a British style on Fred. Olsen
By David G. Molyneaux, editor, The Travel Mavens
Most ships cruising out of the United States sport burger bars, pizza stands and a casino cha-chinging with slot machines; passengers from other countries are expected to blend in.
On ships operated by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, tables are turned: British styles and customs prevail, and North Americans are encouraged to fit in.
Life aboard a Fred. Olsen ship is a vacation without junk food or slots -- and without music at either pool, where I saw quite a few older passengers snoozing away their afternoons.
The Balmoral, left, and Seven Seas Navigator docked at Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos in March 2008. Photos by David Molyneaux
This is an Old World ship experience designed for people who like their days unhurried and easy-going shore excursions that don't require zipping across the jungle on ropes. At least once a week, passengers don their tuxes and long gowns for formal night, when the men who opt instead for a dark suit are in the distinct minority.
Britain-based Fred. Olsen is known for operating second-hand ships. The line turns them into quiet, comfortable, British countryhouse-style vessels with guest lectures, good food highlighted by fish and roasts of meat, and diverse itineraries, so that passengers may book two cruises in a row without visiting the same ports.
Reading away the afternoon at anchor in St. Barts
Most of the guests hit 65-plus, and the ship offers more single cabins than any other at sea.
The 1,340-passenger Balmoral was the first Fred. Olsen ship based in the United States, during the 2007-2008 winter season.
Big band sounds at sea
In the fall of 2008, Fred. Olsen came back to Miami for the season with a different ship, the 977-passenger Braemar, offering big band music.
The cruise line hopes to attract some North Americans but has no intention of changing its oh-so British product. For the Miami cruises last spring, the Balmoral added only dollops of Americanism such as ice buckets in the cabins and ice tea served in the afternoon. No bagels ... at least yet.
In its previous life, the Balmoral was first the Crown Odyssey, then the Norwegian Crown. Fred. Olsen cut the ship in half and lengthed it by 99 feet for additional public areas -- including a triple-sized library -- cabins and suites.
The result is a plethora of public areas for reading, talking, taking tea or napping in comfy chairs. The ship was full on my cruise out of Miami March 3 but seldom seemed crowded, with the exception of the outside decks around the two pools, where guests tended to save chaise lounges from early morning (despite repeated requests not to do so.)
The entire casino
The spa has saunas, a steam room and a well equipped fitness center -- rarely used on my cruise. Two gambling tables -- and two tables only -- are used for roulette and blackjack.
Eggs over easy
The main dining rooms -- three of them used for two seatings each evening -- are light and airy, and at dinner, quite elegant. The largest, Ballindalloch, seats about 500 under Tiffany glass domes.
The smaller Spey, right, and Avon have large picture windows and portholes, offering full sea views from some tables. Meals here were well presented and tasty, familiar offerings with sauces made from stock and soups made on board.
Service tended to be slow at breakfast and lunch, and the restaurants generally seemed understaffed. A buffet restaurant, Palms Cafe, opens to an outside deck where a half-dozen tables are packed tightly near the aft pool.
Fred. Olson's key contribution to the world of cruising is its accommodations designed specifically for single travelers, more than any other cruise line. On the Balmoral, 79 single cabins have one bed, because, as a spokesman for Fred. Olsen put it: "Some of our widowed passengers may not want to wake up in the morning and look across the room at an empty bed.''
The spokesman, Nigel Lingard, said that with the single cabins and double cabins shared by two friends, the number of single passengers on a Fred. Olsen cruise may be as high as 20 percent. A single cabin costs about 30 percent more than a passenger would pay for half of a double cabin. Like standard double cabins, inside and outside, these average about 160 square feet. The Balmoral employs several men who are available as dancing partners at scheduled occasions each day.
Cabins are well designed with adequate storage space in the sleeping room and bathroom. Cabins in the newer part of the ship, the middle 99 feet, are larger than the older cabins, up to 200 square feet for superior cabins and up to 430 square feet for suites. Balconies now total 121.
One of two pools on the Balmoral
The Balmoral provided a reminder that the United States and Great Britain not only are two countries separated by a common language, but also by simple customs that come into play on a cruise, especially in the dining rooms. At breakfast, for instance, North Americans eat a different style of bacon (Britain's is more hammy), different sausages (they eat bangers), and most British folks like their eggs sunny side up.
After three days of instruction, my breakfast eggs were served perfectly over easy.
This story was published in the Miami Herald March 23, 2008.
ABOUT THE BALMORAL
Length: 714 feet
Width: 93 feet
Gross tonnage: 43,537
Staterooms: 740 (121 with balconies)
Speed: 20 knots
Information: Borton Overseas 800-843- 0602.