At 1.00pm exactly we left the house and set off through the light lunchtime traffic for the Port of Tyne, Newcastle, as once again we are setting off on a cruise, this time on the Balmoral, a lovely ship of the Fred Olsen fleet on which we’ve had three previous fantastic cruises. Despite the weather having experienced record-breaking temperatures in the last couple of weeks (when we’ve been stuck at work!), the skies were cloudy today and we hoped the rain would keep away.
We left the car at Howdon Sewage Treatment Works (!!). Trevor works at Northumbrian Water and was therefore able to leave the car in the staff car park for the nine-day duration of the cruise, instead of paying the 12 quid a day to park at the Port of Tyne. Our pre-booked Blue Line taxi arrived on the dot of 1.30pm, and it was only a five-minute ride to the cruise terminal. As we alighted from the taxi, our cases were whisked away to be loaded on to the ship separately, and we made our way inside the terminal. We are doing this cruise with some friends of ours, Gill and Carl Richardson, and we spotted them straightaway in the queue.
We were directed to the queue for Deck 6 passengers, and it didn’t take long to check in and receive our cruise cards. Then it was onto the shuttle bus for the short ride along the dockside to the gangplank of the Balmoral. We were on the ship less than an hour after leaving home. 😊
As this is our fourth time on Balmoral, everything was very familiar and we had no problem finding cabin 6009. It’s an amazing coincidence because on our last cruise on the Azamara Quest in May, we were also in cabin 6009. This time we had a very pleasant outside cabin with a large picture window, decorated in muted shades of pale grey and blue. There was a double bed under the window, two bedside cabinets, a chair, a large dressing table and chair and plenty of drawer and wardrobe space. Our bathroom contained a bathtub with a shower over it. We knew we’d have a very comfortable nine nights on board, and we were so excited to be back! 😊
Dumping our bags in the cabin, we hotfooted it up to the Marquee Deck for a cold beer. Although it was intermittently cloudy it was still quite warm, so we enjoyed our beers outside then wandered down to the Palms Café, where we spotted Gill and Carl who were enjoying a light lunch.
In addition to Gill and Carl, there were another two couples on the ship who we know; Ron and Kath Wright who are in the same walking club as us (Crook and Weardale Ramblers) and John and Linda Thornton, who we met on a cruise on the Black Watch in 2013 and with whom we’ve stayed in touch since. It was great to see them again.
After enjoying some cold meats and salad for lunch and partaking of another drink, we decided to go back to our cabin and see if our cases had arrived. Indeed they had, so we spent some time unpacking and hanging up our clothes neatly. We also spotted our Oceans Club gift; a nice insulated cool bag with a shoulder strap and plenty of pockets inside and out. It was navy blue with the word “OCEANS” on it in white. Passengers who are in the Gold grade or above (Platinum and Diamond) always receive an Oceans Club gift when we board. Trevor and I are in Gold and so far, we’ve had a pair of insulated mugs, goody bags with gourmet snacks, crisps, nuts, chocolate etc, a 2019 diary and pen, and now a cool bag which I’m sure will come in useful. 😊
We were sailing fairly early this time – 4.30pm. We therefore went up to the pool deck to join the live band and the sailaway party, where they were selling rum punch and other cocktails. By now the sun had decided to make an appearance, so we enjoyed our cold drinks and listened to the lively music as the Balmoral made her way sedately down the Tyne towards the North Sea. Our voyage had begun. 😊
Around half-past five we returned to cabin 6009 to get washed and changed for dinner. We have been allocated table #78 in the Ballindalloch Restaurant and, looking at the floor plan of the restaurant we were pleased to see we were by a window.
Tonight the dress code was smart-casual, so I just wore a red and black dress with nude-coloured crystal studded sling-back shoes, and for once my hair was behaving itself and didn’t look too bad. I’ve recently had my hair cut short, in what they call a “choppy” style, after wearing it in a chin-length bob for 20 years, and I’m totally regretting it. I can’t wait for it to grow again!
In the restaurant we met up with Gill and Carl and another very pleasant couple, Barry and Bev, who are on the table next to us. The meal was as delicious as ever, and Gill and Carl said that their first impressions of the Balmoral and Fred Olsen were pretty favourable. We were pleased, because we were the ones who recommended this cruise to them! 😊
After dinner we made our way along to the Neptune Lounge to get a good seat for tonight’s performance by the Balmoral Show Company, called “Musical Jukebox”. But before the show they had 30 minutes or so of ballroom dancing to the excellent ship’s orchestra. Trevor and I got up to do the square tango (badly!) but it was the only dance we (sort of!) knew before it was time for the show, which featured a lot of chart hits that had made their way to the West End. It was high-energy, all singing all dancing show, and we enjoyed it a lot.
We finished the evening by going to the Observatory to take part in the quiz at 10 o’clock. We were looking out for John and Linda, who were part of our quiz team on the Black Watch six years ago, but there was no sign of them. We therefore formed a team with Gill and Carl, but only got 9/15. The winners scored 14/15.
Afterwards we were joined by Ron and Kath, and we stayed for a few cocktails and enjoyed the conversation until well after midnight. Then we returned to 6009 and settled down for the evening. I was asleep almost immediately as the Balmoral glided across the North Sea, en route to the North Sea Canal and our first port of call, the inimitable Amsterdam.