Cruise review: A not-so-merry Christmas

As experienced cruisers, James and Liya Dennison know a thing or two about life at sea. But, like many other couples with far-flung families, they decided to try out a Christmas and New Year cruise. They chose a holiday to the Canaries and Madeira on Fred. Olsen’s flagship Balmoral. Here are their impressions, as told to Robin Mead.

“We were really excited about cruising at Christmas, but overall we were disappointed about what we got for our money. For a start, special cruises like ours are never discounted so it was relatively expensive. And when we arrived at Southampton to board the ship, there was something of a logjam because of the number of ships in port. It took us an hour and a half to get on board.

“Our inside cabin was OK, and we were pleased to find that it included a bath. We had deliberately booked a cheaper inside cabin on the grounds that there would not be much to see outdoors during the short winter days. Balmoral had just been refurbished so everything was relatively fresh and new. Except for the swimming pool that is. They were still working on that throughout our cruise and we got a shipboard credit of £150 as compensation.

“After queuing to get on the ship we found that we had to get used to queues. We regularly waited in line for the restaurant and the shows. Food in the main restaurant was generally not very good, and we were particularly disappointed with Christmas dinner which seemed tasteless. Still, it wasn’t as bad as the day that the ship had a curry lunch menu: that was horrible. Luckily we were able to top up with food by going to the late-night buffet.

“The crew were marvellous, and there were Christmas decorations all over the ship. But we didn’t think much of the lectures or the evening shows, although there was a very good comedian one night. In fact the best evening show was probably the traditional Crew Show towards the end of the voyage. There was some good music on board, but it would have been nice to have music of some kind in the lobby.

“We tried out most of the other shipboard facilities, and found the entire cruise very relaxing. Liya was particularly pleased with the Thai massage she got in the spa – superbly done and excellent value for money.

“We loved all the ports of call, but tended to do our own thing rather than join expensive excursions. Balmoral moored off Funchal for Madeira’s traditional and world famous New Year’s Eve firework display, which was terrific. But we couldn’t help thinking that places like Sydney and London put on even better displays these days.

“We got some sort of flu bug on the last day of the cruise, which has perhaps coloured our views. Right now we never want to go cruising again, but we will probably come round to looking at the brochures again eventually. The one thing we will never do again is a Christmas cruise.”

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