After an early start from home and two train changes I arrived at Southampton airport for my Flybe flight to Amsterdam. After a very short flight we arrived in Amsterdam airport, one of the biggest airports I have ever experienced. It was there that I met the rest of my group who were joining the Balmoral for our four-night cruise back to Southampton.
A coach transfer took us to our ship in central Amsterdam, where our fellow cruisers were. They had sailed from Southampton up to Norway, before heading back to the UK via Amsterdam and Antwerp. The embarkation was smooth and we were on board very quickly, with our luggage arriving promptly to our Balcony Junior Suite.
Having never cruised with Fred. Olsen before I was very impressed with the size of the cabin. Our balcony, with a sun bed and two chairs provided a welcome breath of fresh air and we had great views over Amsterdam. The cabin had tea and coffee making facilities with a fruit basket, and biscuits replenished daily plus ample wardrobe space in the cabin for two people.
After welcome drinks in the Observatory Lounge we sat down at half past eight for the second dinner sitting in the Ballindalloch restaurant. Five courses later and I was beginning to see why so many of our customers love Fred Olsen cruises. The following morning we had the ‘Explore Amsterdam & Dutch gin tasting’ excursion with a wonderful canal cruise through the city passing Ann Frank’s house, canal side bars and boutiques and beautiful scenery. It was a fabulous excursion.
I even managed to find time to visit the flower market and purchase some tulip bulbs, which will bring back lovely memories when they bloom next spring. Fred Olsen cruise lines produce a Daily Times on board their ships, containing all the information needed to have a happy and safe cruise aboard the Balmoral. It had tour information, medical advice, opening times, bars & restaurants and information on daily events on board. During our cruise we were treated to craft classes, beginners dance class, and even an introduction to sign language! Waking up the following day, we had arrived in Antwerp. After a business session in the morning we did a tour of Antwerp and chocolate tasting. Rubens, who lived and worked in the city, still has works of art on display in the cathedral and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. With chocolate shops and Belgian beer widely available, Antwerp has something for all tastes. I really enjoyed Antwerp and would dearly like to return.
Traditional afternoon tea, back on board the Balmoral, was the highlight for Sunday afternoon. The sumptuous affair with white glove service, delicately cut sandwiches, pretty cakes and speciality teas was worth every penny of the £6.95 cost. A delightful string quartet played soothing music in the background to help set the scene. Homeward bound to Southampton, we arrived bright and early in the morning. Disembarking was efficient and hassle free and we were on dry land by half past eight.