MS Balmoral is pride of the fleet

IT'S their newest and biggest ship and the pride of the Ipswich-based Fred Olsen Cruise Lines' fleet.

James Marston

IT'S their newest and biggest ship and the pride of the Ipswich-based Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines' fleet.

Given exclusive access, JAMES MARSTON went behind the scenes aboard MS Balmoral.

IT takes a little while to get your bearings aboard Balmoral.

Named after the Royal family's Scottish estate and larger than the Ipswich-based cruise line's existing ships, the 43,537 ton Balmoral is compact enough to offer an intimate, homely atmosphere.

Nevertheless with eleven decks, three restaurants, a theatre, a fitness centre, a pub, a library, several bars, and even a launderette there's a lot to take in.

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With 738 cabins, 1,400 passengers, and a crew of 471, at any one time Balmoral has a sizeable population.

But cruising is far more than a floating hotel - it has to be self contained - when you're at sea you can't just pop out to the shops if you forget something - there are nearly two thousand people that need feeding and looking after.

There needs to be entertainments and things to do, the food has got to be top notch, the staff have to be ready to serve and help, the wine and champagne can't run out and the ship has got to get to the next port of call on time.

In overall charge of the Balmoral is it's Norwegian captain Trond Lippestad.

His office and quarters, on deck nine is next to the ship's navigational nerve centre - the bridge.

Trond said: “I've been on board for two months. My responsibility is for the safe navigation, operation and security of the ship. I keep an eye on the hotel side of things too.

“I'm like the foreman of the whole ship and all departments report to me.”

At sea since 1993 Trond, like many of the staff aboard Balmoral, have been seduced by the sea.

He said: “There are no bad sides to this job. Everyday is different and we are in a different port every morning.”

Trond has also captained of the cruise line's other ships the Black Watch, Boudicca and Braemar. He said his favourite places are the Carribean and Vancouver in Canada.

He added: “We work two months on and two months off. It is a very interesting job and you get to go to amazing places. There is no typical day. Today I was up at 6am as we were met by a pilot which makes sure we arrive safely in port. I shall work on administration and go ashore this afternoon to be back on duty in the evening. I also tour the ship to inspect each department and be seen by the crew and passengers.

“If we can make all the ports and have nice weather it is usually a successful cruise.”

But cruising isn't just about getting to port - for many the overall experience of being aboard is the best bit of the holiday.

Aboard the Balmoral the ship's entertainment includes a number of bands, performers, dancers, lecturers and hosts.

Jo Hudson is the ship's cruise director.

She said: “I'm in charge of the entertainment on board and run the Daily Times - a ship wide newspaper listing all the events and attractions on board.

“So it's my job to make sure there's lots going on. I have to make sure port days run smoothly and that passengers have the right information about the port of call. I also help clear the ship when passengers go aboard.

The 30-year old began her career as a dancer, today she does much of the compere work needed to introduce each act.

She said: “There are about 30 entertainers and every evening has to be different. I worked in cabaret myself on cruise ships. I like getting to know the guests and seeing familiar faces.

“The Balmoral is a beautiful ship. We always have entertainment playing in the lounges. It's a long day and I am on duty most of the day and night but it's a lot of fun.”

Going ashore is a military operation. Getting 1,400 people off the ship either by tender or by walking over the gangplank is no simple task.

Passengers are assembled in the ship's theatre, the Neptune lounge - and directed to leave at timed intervals.

A day or so before there will be a talk describing the port and what's on offer to passengers - this time the next port is Lisbon.

Aboard the Balmoral former journalist Jayne Bridges is the ship's port lecturer.

She said: “We have to give accurate information to the passengers, help the go ashore, tell them about the excursions and the history of the port and some of the highlights.”

Enthusiastic and knowledgeable Jayne is determined to make sure the ship's guests get the most out of their visit.

She added: “Some passengers are quiet elderly and they need to know where's safe and where they can go. I answer any questions people might have and go ashore with them.”

No holiday is complete without food and drink and it is the luxury of having everything prepared for you that is often a highlight of being away from home.

The ship's kitchen provides three meals a day for two thousand staff and passengers - that getting close to 6,000 meals a day.

Deck two is the preserve of the ships staff and off limits to passengers.

It is here that store keeper Marcus Caesar keeps the ship supplied.

Huge fridges and freezers and cold and dry rooms contain the food and ingredients needed to make sure everyone is fed.

In charge of a team of four, Marcus said: “My job is stock control and storage and most of the time I'm down here out of sight. I've been on Balmoral for about a month.”

In the ship's drinks store there are cases and cases of wines, creates off vodka is piled next to crates of gin and whiskey.

Marcus said: “We use a lot of whiskey and gin and brandy, and tons of soft drinks. We get through about 200 bottles of champagne on each cruise.”

In the dry stores there are cereals and jams from floor to ceiling, the large walk in freezer is full of seafood and ice creams, the fruit and vegetable fridge has crates of bananas and lemons staked on top of each other. It's a fascinating sight.

In charge of the ship's six bars is Ditas Basiro.

She said: “We serve about 2,000 drinks a day. I've been with Fred. Olsen since 1992 and I know a lot of the passengers and many return again and again.

“I supervise 46 bar staff and make sure the bars run smoothly. It's a good job and we are like a big family. Every department helps each other out.”

The restaurant might be an oasis of calm but in the kitchen is one of the ship's busiest and most high pressured environments.

Executive chef Dirk Helsing is in charge of the ship's three main restaurant kitchens, and the galley's 101 staff including 20 assistant chefs and 20 kitchen porters. The galley also provides food for the multi-national crew.

He said: “The menu is international but also English influenced. All the menus are worked out before each cruise and we pick up provisions at the port of embarkation.”

Providing breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner every day either served in buffet's across the ship or in the restaurants the kitchen is constantly open and busy.

Dirk added: “The kitchen is almost 24 hours, we have to do everything here ourselves and each morning the baker prepares all the bread.”

The ship's main restaurant is presided over by maitre d' Chito Valenzuela, like many of the ship's staff he is from the Philippines.

He said the staff had been brought together from ship's across the Fred.Olsen fleet.

He added: “It's exciting to be on a new ship and it's a big job and hard work. We've started from scratch and had to order everything we've needed.”

In charge of overseeing the restaurant Chito also works out where guests sit and enforces the ship's dress code.

He said: “It has to be worked out in advance and I'm working on the next cruise. You have to be diplomatic and every day is a challenge.”

- Have you been aboard the Balmoral? What were your impressions? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

A typical Balmoral Menu:-

Asparagus Fricassée

Green asparagus fricassée presented warm in a puff pastry basket.

Chilled Strawberry Soup

Chilled strawberry soup flavoured with Champagne.

Corn Fed Chicken Suprème

A corn fed breast of chicken presented in a creamy mushroom sauce, served with red cabbage, green peas and duchesse potatoes filled with tomato concasse.

Chocolate and Cappuccino Mousse Cake

Layers of chocolate sponge and cappuccino mousse, served with apricot purée and cherries.

Did you know?

The Balmoral is 218 metres long and 28m in the beam. She has a top speed of 20 knots.

A typical cruise uses:-

Beef: 1,622 kg

Milk: 3,800 litres

Cream: 1,760 litres

Potatoes: 3,000 kg

Fresh Fruit: 4,650 kg

Fish: 3,659 kg

Lamb: 448 kg

Chicken: 1,164 kg

Cheese: 350 kg

Vegetables: 8,750 kg

Ice Cream: 1,850 litres

Bottles of wine: 980 bottles