Balmoral - Belgium & France
Due to being incredibly stressed and fed up with medical people STILL not fixing my back, as well as constantly banging my head against a brick wall during umpteen appointments over the preceeding months, I decided I needed a break so booked a Latesaver outside twin cabin on Balmoral just before midnight on the 11th May 2012.  The cruise was only three nights from the 26th-29th May to the usual haunts on Zeebrugge and Le Havre, but I wasn't going for the ports.  Black Watch, nine days after my mum's funeral in 2010 had worked wonders so I was hoping for the same.  The cabin, at £338.00 was several hundred less than a single and I'd be allocated it on arrival.  One strange thing though.  From February 2011 whenever I tried to put in my Oceans Club number, it didn't recognise it and my previous points disappeared. So I didn't put it in when I booked, only for it then to reappear complete with points!  And the weirdest thing of all was my past Boudicca Cruise was now saying "Departs: Southampton, UK on Thursday 12 Jun 2008, Returns: **Not available** on Friday 11 May 2012".  One quick phone call to Fred Olsen in the morning sorted it all.  My e-ticket was issued on the 14th and I was allocated Superior Twin B8038 on Lido Deck.  By the 23rd, no luggage labels had arrived so Fred Olsen put some in the post as well as the other general stuff I hadn't received.

The 26th arrived.  In with us was Celebrity Eclipse in City and Caribbean Princess in Ocean.  We were in Mayflower, where we would return as well.  This was the first time I had set foot onboard since January 2011 when I went with my friend, the late Steve Read, in a journalistic capacity (we also boarded Black Watch) so I hoped I wouldn't be swamped with memories.  I caught the usual ferry over and Hotspur was running, which is always great but more so on a lovely day.  Rather annoyingly, as we neared Caribbean Princess, the fuel barge, Whitonia decided to pull out and get in the shot.
I got a taxi to the terminal since it was one hell of a walk then went to check in.  It was really fast and then it was through security and wait.  My boarding number was 48 while those requiring assistance and Gold Oceans members having priority.  As I went to get something to drink, my name was called.  Turns out I'd left my passport at the check in deck - oops!  I'm too young for senior moments!!!!  So I rejoined the queue for snacks. £2.80 for a 250ml bottle of orange juice and packet of crisps????  You're having a laugh, mush!  As I waited I got chatting to a lady called Maureen Hunt, who, it turned out, had a mutual Facebook friend.  We talked about various things, including her foray to Greenland and Iceland around the same time I'd been and how they couldn't get into some Greenland ports due to the weather too, plus missed an iceberg.  I think she said her ship was Boudicca, though it may have been Black Watch.  She had priority boarding as a Gold member so left me to it.  My set of numbers were called at 1.55pm and it was good to get aboard and find my cabin.  It was actually a very nice room, and the obstructed view wasn't that bad and only US sockets.  The step to the bathroom was incredibly high though.  There was a music control on the fixed bedside table which played through the ceiling speaker and in the bathroom.  My stewardess was a very cheerful girl called Tata.
Then I went to the Palms Cafe for their afternoon tea, which had changed a lot since my first Fred Olsen cruise almost four years earlier.  You queued up and were given some sort of sandwich (choice of two, neither of which looked very appealing) and cake, sat down and were offered tea or coffee.  After I finished that I went out onto the deck for some photos as I explored.
Muster was at 3.45pm and tata came to make sure everyone was out of their cabins.  My muster station was the card room one deck below and they crossed off names before letting you in.  Maureen Hunt was in there too, so I sat on the floor.  Some people didn't turn up but I bet they weren't kicked off the ship.  Excellent policy Holland America Line/Seabourn have.  I didn't hear the eight bells at all.  When I'd been on Boudicca and Black Watch, they rang them twice and it was deafening.  It droned on and on and on but it's important no matter how many times you've been before.  Then up for sailaway!  Both we and Eclipse were down for 4.30pm while Caribbean Princess was 5pm.  The car carrier, Grande Scandinavia was half an hour late so once she was safely away, and we were singling up, Eclipse slipped out!  We weren't that far behind, thank goodness, but the Princess didn't go until around 5.40pm.  Despite appearances, it was pretty windy and as the crew member hosed the deck, we got wet.
Back in to detangle my hair and at that time I had no idea what had happened to Caribbean Princess.  I ordered a sandwich and orange juice from room service to keep me going until dinner.  The room service menu on Fred Olsen is pretty sparse but at least you can have a soft drink instead of tea or coffee with it.  I watched Eclipse speed away from us on the webcam then got forty winks.

There was a long queue outside the Ballindalloch Restaurant for second sitting.  Has no one heard of pacing themselves?  They won't get fed any quicker, unless they're on a table for two.  I was on table 95, right by the entrance so easy to find.  They squeezed seven on these when really it should be six.  The cutlery was squashed up under the main plates as they tried to fit everything on the table.  My table companions were Irene and Joyce, part of a dancing group from Derbyshire.  Joyce was pretty elderly, and had lost her husband and daughter.  Ann and Aileen were Scottish sisters but Ann lived near Lyndhurst.  There was also a Scouse mum whose name I've forgotten and lives on the Isle of Wight and her daughter Eileen from Torquay.  It was a pleasant evening, although Irene didn't say much.  Micky Zany, the comedian in the Neptune Lounge, didn't ring a bell, so I went to bed.

Morning was a port I'd been to nine times since 2007 - Zeebrugge!  Ah, my home from home and the one I'd visited the most, but only left the dock area twice.  This time though, we'd be berthing in 103 instead of 702-705 so something different!  It had been originally Ostende but it needed dredging or something.  Eclipse was already there, having arrived for 7am and would be sailing at 3pm.  I'd had a rotten night thanks to rock hard pillows.  After breakfast in the Palm Cafe, I popped out on deck for our arrival.


© Patricia Dempsey 26th-29th May 2012
Not to be reproduced without permission