Nearly two million British passengers went on a cruise holiday last year, with Northern Europe now more popular than the Caribbean, according to figures released by the industry body, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).
With so many now choosing to sail aboard luxury cruise ships, Andrew Wakefield took to the waves with UK-based Fred. Olsen to visit three destinations growing rapidly in popularity.
Peering hesitantly from the car window as we drive along Edinburgh’s Firth of Forth estuary on the new Queensferry Crossing my peripheral vision slowly becomes aware of a rather grand looking cruise ship anchored 200 metres below.
“That couldn’t possibly be ours could it?” I venture more out of hope than expectation as the sat nav indicates we are turning towards it and the 43,000-tonne ‘Balmoral’, the largest of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines vessels comes more sharply into focus.
The grandeur of this recently refitted ship with her 710 rooms, six restaurants and 1,350 passengers can inspire awe even among the most seasoned traveller. But despite its size we are checked in and guided to our stylish cabin within minutes.
The ship’s horn triumphantly signals the start of our voyage to Orkney, Shetland and Bergen, Norway and the fresh sea breeze gently wafting through the cabin is a real tonic to the humidity of the Midlands weather as we sail out in the North Sea under the Forth Bridge itself still agog at the magnificence of our floating home for the next five nights.
It’s time to explore the eateries aboard ‘Balmoral’ - which is named after the Scottish residence of the British Royal Family. The Scottish theme runs throughout the main dining venues – the Ballindalloch, Avon and Spey – where a sumptuous five course á la carte menu is prepared by expert chefs and served by attentive waiters as we gaze out at the now endless horizon lying before us.
We‘ve adapted quickly to the laid-back atmosphere aboard but with an excursion exploring the history of Kirkwall on the agenda our minds we are soon excitedly discussing the ancient treasures that lay in store.
Around 125,000 people a year are now visiting Orkney aboard cruise ships and we have opted to take in Skara Brae - Europe’s most complete Neolithic village - and the mysterious Ring of Brodgar stone circle and henge.
The convenience of having a bus tour collect us from the ship and having a local guide show us these fascinating ancient monuments proves to be an excellent way of easily immersing ourselves temporarily in a truly absorbing culture.
Retreating to the ship we are soon reflecting on our adventure ashore with afternoon canapés delivered to the cabin and plotting our next excursion - a walking tour of Lerwick, Shetland.
Romanian-born Captain Victor Stoica - who has been with Fred. Olsen since 2001 - is a veteran at sailing into this port which can sometimes present challenges, particularly in bad weather.
But safely ashore we are treated to walking tour of this main seaport of Shetland which has a rich history and strong Nordic connections to explore.
A new addition to the ‘Balmoral’ dining experience ‘The Poolside’ provides tonight’s barbecued surf and turf creations alongside the ship’s outdoor swimming pool. And it’s an early night for those eager to wake up early to catch a view of our two-hour cruise inside the fjords to reach Bergen - the mountainous former home of composer Edvard Grieg.
Here our Fred. Olsen-arranged tour takes us all around this ancient trading post with its UNESCO’s World Heritage listed buildings along the Bryggen. The Fløibanen funicular railway is a highlight - taking us 300 metres from the city centre to the top of the mountain of Fløyen within seconds with its stunning panoramic views.
We seem to have packed so much in and the ship has enabled to do it in style -it’s been a perfect mix of the indulgent and active and cruising back across the seas we are able to enjoy more memorable moments such as afternoon tea treats served in the Observatory Lounge. It’s not difficult to see why visitor numbers are booming when the product here has so much to offer.
* A similar cruise with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines in 2019 will be an ‘Isles of Scotland in Five Nights’ cruise on board Balmoral (L1917), departing from Rosyth on 1st August 2019. Ports of call include: cruising by The Needle; cruising by Old Man of Hoy; calling at Kirkwall for an overnight stay, and on to Lerwick, before returning to Rosyth on 6th August 2019.
Prices for this cruise start from £649 per person, based on an interior twin-bedded room, subject to availability and includes all food and entertainment on board, and port taxes.
Further details on this cruise can be found on this link: https://www.fredolsencruises.com/cruise/isles-of-scotland-in-fivenights-l1917
For further information on Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, visit the websites at www.fredolsencruises.com, or call Reservations on 0800 0355 242 (Monday – Friday, 8am – 8pm; Saturday, 9am – 5pm; Sunday, 10am – 4pm).