Fred Olsen Balmoral Norovirus : My Experience
I have been on about 30 cruises, some of which have been on ships affected by a norovirus gastroenteritis breakout before. On my recent Fred Olsen Balmoral Fjords cruise we experienced one. It is frustrating as everyone who understands the issue knows, it was most likely brought on by passengers on embarkation. Guests who have either not declared their symptoms in the questionnaire on check-in or (if you are being generous) only started to get their symptoms from their infection on land after boarding.
The Balmoral arrived in Southampton without having any problem before we all boarded.
My experience on the ship was that Fred Olsen followed the process of educating guests about the risks, and how to prevent it. It started at the safety briefing by the Captain before our departure, and was followed up with specific literature in our cabins. They also did not allow self-service in the buffet to help prevent it on our first day. There were crew stationed at every restaurant with hand gel to make we used it before dining, and it was placed in all of the public rooms. There were staff stationed at the Captain’s reception and when we entered the theatre too.
However, once it started on the ship it did seem to be pretty virulent, and even people I knew who were trying to follow good practice of regular hand washing and gel usage did seem to succumb. I had an upset stomach for one day. The ship reacted with determination and quickly. They clamped down even harder in the self-service areas, even ensuring no passenger could self-serve drinks. It was stressed that if you had any symptoms you must stay in your cabin and call reception. The medical centre would then follow up before the Doctor himself visited guests affected in their cabin with medication and to check temperature. There were calls throughout the day from Guest Relations to check if you needed anything, a special room service menu with suitable food and bottles of water were sent to keep people hydrated. The room cleaning staff changed bed linen frequently, did extra room disinfecting and all the items from rooms affected were placed in special bags (presumably to be cleaned separately). The crew, even the theatre company of dancers, were very visible and about all day and evening constantly disinfecting surfaces.
The people on the ship seemed to take it in their stride, and even with humour. Obviously there was great disappointment and frustration about the outbreak, but there was almost a sense of camaraderie! I think most people understand that this issue was not driven by Fred Olsen being unclean or not diligent.
I feel Fred Olsen handled the situation in an honest, diligent and responsible way. They were very upfront about the situation and their plans. As mentioned, I have been on ships affected before and while this did seem to be a pretty strong outbreak I do not know how many were affected. In my view, the line worked hard to bring it under control and made the right decision to shorten our trip by a day to give them time to fully clean the ship and take added steps to eradicate it.
Of course it did affect the overall enjoyment of my trip, but the concern and care they put into dealing with it and ensuring people were compensated for the lost day and other incentives was the right and responsible decision. I look forward to getting back onto a Fred Olsen ship and enjoying an uninterrupted cruise again soon.
You can read more about my trip at tipsfortravellers.com/FredOlsen
Here are two contrasting news stories about the Balmoral problem you may also be interested in reading:
- MailOnline (“Passengers struck down by ‘horror’ vomiting bug on Norwegian Fjords cruise vow never to go again ‘even if they paid us’“) with a negative and sensational approach. This uses some of my pictures from the ship as I make them available under Creatiev Commons Attribution Licence.
- A story about Louise Jew (“Hagley woman among hundreds hit with cruise ship stomach bug“) who was part of the press trip I was on.
I was on the cruise that followed on from this I believe. We (the passengers) were notified prior to embarkation that an outbreak had occurred on the previous cruise but that they had ended this early in order to give the entire vessel a “deep clean”. The measures mentioned remained in place for our 13 night cruise and I feel Fred Olsen did what they thought they needed to do to prevent any further outbreak however these measures did not turn out to have been as effective as they could have been. From fairly early on and throughout the cruise many passengers were going down with this vomiting / diarrhea virus. Again at the end of the cruise passengers were compensated somewhat for the inconvenience and loss of facilities during our cruise but I feel that cruise lines need to bite the bullet to ensure the measures taken eradicate the problem first go even if this means curtailing, postponing or even cancelling a cruise- particularly where as in this case many of their passengers were elderly, frail and vulnerable. For those of us a little younger and stronger it is an unpleasant episode that blights your particular holiday for some it could become their final one.
It’s utter tripe to say that passengers were responsible. That might have been the case many-many cruises past, but rest assured that this Olsen outfit do quick turn rounds, try to disguise the fact that the last lot of passengers were all affected (and infected) and the ship is in fact a cesspit of enteric risks. Not just random virus outbreaks, but also from poor food and dirty cabins. I have personal and auditable photographic experience of this plus the witness support of other affected and very disillusioned passengers (March 2015). Olsen is just a money grabber who cares nothing for the welfare of his customers. My complaints made in writing directly to the chief exec of the comopany were met by dismissive and arrogant denials. The latest court judgement completely exposes the utter negligence and disregard for passenger comfort of this disfunctional line. Our cruise was a disaster and not in anyway enjoyable. When we got back to Dover and got off as fast as we could we were aware that the ship (Braemar) was then on its way to Harwich within 5 hours of docking that morning, to pick up another set of unsuspecting lambs to the slaughter. The ship should have been dry-docked and sanitised for a week! All Olsen ships should be withdrawn from service, the directors taken to task and the business closed down.