Balmoral - Belgium & France
There was a gorgeous sight from my obstructed view!  Since Zeebrugge was usually my exploring port, I headed off to get some of the rooms and decks only too many people decided to stay onboard and enjoy the sun.  I never understood why people can't wait to top up their sunburn but each to their own.  I'll stay pale and wrinkle free!  Now here, not only were Fred Olsen charging a fiver for the shuttle (which you had to book in advance and be given a number), but they said you MUST take your passport with you.  Not one of the previous nine times I've been to Zeebrugge or even when I was in Antwerp on Black Watch did you need it.  Well this wasn't my first call of the year so I'd see what the other cruise lines said.
Then it was time to venture onto the dock for the usual photos and hope I wouldn't be yelled at.  You just never knew in Zeebrugge whether you would be or not.  I actually liked this berth.  Despite the partially-filled in railway line, it was more even than the usual berth.
Lunch and I decided to try the Ballindalloch Restaurant and wish I hadn't.  The waiters acted with complete disinterest, and acted like they were there under sufferance.  When one came over eventually to take my order, I asked what the ice creams were.  He didn't answer and, as he walked away, asked if I wanted dessert.  I repeated ice cream, him them asking which flavour so I asked again what they had and he didn't answer so I ended up saying any.  As Eclipse was leaving two hours before us, I went on deck to wait.  The wind had come up a bit so it was a bit nippy but it didn't deter the people below flashing the flesh.  One woman was yakking away in the hot tub, holding court, and you could hear her from where I was on a higher deck.  She was still at it when I left.  As Eclipse was chucking the ropes and parping three times, a flotilla of small boats entered the port while, as she sailed, a few pleasure craft waited.  I wish they did that here!
And now the fun!  I went for sailaway and noticed a crowd watching something intently on the dock, so I went to have a look.  Below, the crew were making a complete hash of loading whatever it was while on the bow they were a bit nervous of all the photographs and video.  Once it was eventually loaded with just the gangway to go, a rather officious security officer called Hari Kandel appeared, demanding everyone move without saying why.  When passengers naturally asked why, he was very rude in his replies, ordering everyone to go.  After someone appeared on the bridge wing to claim it was too dangerous, I pointed out it wasn't when they offloaded the gangway in the morning since there were plenty of people watching.  Suddenly the obnoxious one claimed it was Captain's orders as he herded us like cattle to the side.  Once it was done and he was still being unpleasant, a passenger demanded his name and he then claimed it was orders from the head of security.  The entire incident was completely uncalled for.  Because they hadn't secured the gangway properly, one of the crew on the bow asked everyone to move, politely explaining what they had to do.  Why couldn't the security guard do likewise, thus preventing the delays he caused?  Manners cost nothing.  Or, better still, they rope off the area.  Idiots!
It was formal night and the Captain's booze up - only he couldn't be arsed turning up, the excuse being sailing from Zeebrugge despite the pilot being dropped long ago.  P&O do the same.  So we got the hotel manager or someone who droned on about nothing in particular in the same enthusaistic tone as the cruise director, Joanna Haley.  It really was no wonder the ship had no atmosphere whatsoever when a party cruise should.  After dinner my table mates and I (except Joyce who went to bed and Irene who didn't turn up) went to the Beatles Experience in the Neptune Lounge.  Only 'John' and 'Paul' were from the group, the other two stand ins for those on holiday.  It was a good show and a fun way to end a rubbish day.

I'd got into bed when my dad's delayed texts came through saying AIDAmar was about to be passed by us!  She was still nearby so I threw some clothes on and went to the starboard side.  I just managed to get her before we hit a fog patch, which covered her completely.  I'd been talking to a crew member who used to work on Ventura.  Then it was a few more photos and back to bed.

Another early start as I wanted to get the rooms before hoards of people filled them.  I started at 6am and was done by the time Palms Cafe opened at 7am.  Here was where I started to get a bit emotional as I remembered Steve Read, because we'd spent quite a bit of time in the foyer and Lido Bar filming and talking with Rachael from Fred Olsen, and Balmoral had been the first time he'd stepped on a Fred Olsen ship.  I'd been okay until reaching those two rooms.  Meanwhile, as we made the approach to Le Havre, we had a hot-lipped stalker!

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