Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Follow Me to France with Fred Olsen

Fred Olsen River Seine Cruise Paris Rouen Honfleur MV Balmoral

Hey Owlets,

If you've been paying attention to my Instagram recently, you may have noticed a bit of a change of scenery, in the form of an Eiffel Tower or two appearing on the grid. Last month I was sat in my pyjamas, bored and a bit sick of the post-festive slump so I started scrolling holiday sites, as you do! I wasn't planning to actually book anything, but when you see a last minute deal to visit France it's kind of hard to say no.

So two weeks ago, I packed a bag and headed for Southampton.


Fred Olsen River Seine Cruise Paris Rouen Honfleur MV Balmoral

I wasn't really sure what to expect if I'm honest. Fred Olsen's Balmoral is a big ship in it's own right, but my only other experience of a cruise ship was practically a floating city. The first evening was spent sailing to Rouen so I explored the ship, took in the scenery and excitedly called my parents at 11pm as soon as I could see France. Balmoral was so different to Royal Caribbean - if a ship could be cosy then this was definitely it.

Fred Olsen River Seine Cruise Paris Rouen Honfleur

Our first full day on board was "Becky's Grand Adventure" as my parents call it. When we docked in Rouen on Sunday morning I headed to the train station and jumped on a double decker train to Paris - I feel like you'd have to know me well to know my obsession with wanting to catch a double decker train but it's fair to say I was pretty over the moon. Paris was everything I'd ever imagined - growing up I read the "Paris Daily Photo" blog every day, so to be in the city I've always dreamed of visiting was incredible.

Fred Olsen River Seine Cruise Paris Rouen Honfleur Chanel Rue Cambon

One of the reasons I've always been obsessed with Paris is how much fashion is embedded in the city's history. Considering one of my prized possessions is a book about fashion in Paris, I couldn't help but visit Chanel's atelier while I was in the city, and I might have bought myself a little souvenir! The only issue with Paris was that on a Sunday EVERYTHING is shut, including the apartment so I didn't get to have a look round.

Fred Olsen River Seine Cruise Paris Rouen Honfleur

Being a Sunday, it was basically like Paris itself was closed, as everywhere we went we were turned away which was annoying. However, one thing you absolutely have to do when visiting Paris is see the Eiffel Tower. However, the day we visited wasn't just a Sunday but the coldest, wettest day I have ever known - I don't think I can ever use the phrase "torrential rain" in the UK again. Because of that I didn't get to go up the tower, but I did get to take a photograph that I was incredibly proud of.

That evening, we got back and I had to blow-dry my hair it was so wet! I was pretty exhausted from the long day so I went to the buffet for a quick dinner then a drink in the Lido Lounge (which in my opinion is the best place on the whole ship) before bed.

Fred Olsen River Seine Cruise Paris Rouen Honfleur MV Balmoral

The next day was a little strange - we had half a sea day before arriving in Honfleur for the afternoon/evening. I did wake up thinking "ok it's going to be cold" but the torrential rain in Paris didn't have a patch on the rain as we sailed down the river. It was strange - despite being on a big ship, it's incredibly peaceful. Being British, I donned several coats and a scarf and sat one of the deck chairs under the shelter and watched the world go by. I thought I was perhaps a little strange sitting outside in such bad weather, but I should've known that on a ship full of British people I'd be in good company, as several people wrapped up in raincoats walked by me and said good morning.

Fred Olsen River Seine Cruise Paris Rouen Honfleur

Despite the terrible weather, one of my highlights of the whole trip came from the morning of the second day. The previous day I'd met up with Rachael, the lovely PR manager, and I'd told her I was gutted that there wasn't a Captain's Reception on this cruise as it made my trip last time. So on the Monday morning I got the incredible opportunity to visit Captain Victor Stoica on the bridge. He was amazing and incredibly friendly, but it was kind of like meeting James Bond. After talking for a while he stood up and said "I'm sorry I can't stay longer, I have to drive the ship", which is the coolest excuse on the planet!

One of the things I absolutely loved about being on a smaller ship were the friends I made. When you don't have 15 floors and half a mile end-to-end to negotiate you end up meeting and getting to know the same people throughout the cruise, so having met Captain Stoica and the ship's various managers, I kept bumping into them for the rest of the cruise.

Fred Olsen River Seine Cruise Paris Rouen Honfleur

On the Monday we visited Honfleur and having looked at pictures of the town I knew it was pretty but wasn't expecting a lot. It's completely my fault for not doing more research, but it turns out that Château Gabriel (the home of Yves Saint Laurent) was a short drive away in Deauville. However, I still had a great afternoon soaking up the only four hours of sunshine that France had seen all weekend - Dad always said I take the rain with me! While it's a beautiful area, it seems a bit of a strange choice for a cruise ship to call at as it's a very French part of France. For me it wasn't a problem, but I decided to take a wander into the local supermarket and ended up rescuing one of my fellow passengers as they didn't speak a word of French, and no one in Honfleur spoke a word of English. We had a walk around the shops, then sat outside a cafe catching our first glimpse of sunshine.


Fred Olsen River Seine Cruise Paris Rouen Honfleur

That evening was our last night on board - on Royal Caribbean there'd been a kind of sad "last day of school" feeling around the ship that day, but on Balmoral it was completely different - more of a "let's make the most of it" kind of attitude. 

All of the staff were amazing throughout the cruise, but the entertainment team stole the show! Each night after they'd finished working in the theatre, they went up to the Lido Lounge and continued to entertain guests even though they weren't on the clock anymore. On the last night after most people had left, they put on the cringey music and spent most of the night teaching us to do some questionable 90s dance moves - yes, the Macarena did happen. I loved the fact that the staff were more like friends rather than being there to look after you - at one point I looked over and noticed the bar was missing a bartender. Wondering where he was, I looked up to find him doing the Cha Cha Slide, and that was pretty much the highlight of my night!



If you were going to learn one thing from my mistakes, don't drink cocktails and keep an eye on the time - or maybe it's just my logic that's a bit lacking after a cocktail. I was enjoying the party and looked at my phone thinking to myself "it's 5 to 2, so I'll go to bed in 5 minutes, and courtesy of crossing time zones it'll only be 1am so I'll still get 6 hours of sleep". It's at this point that the cheesy 90s music started playing and when I next looked at my phone it was 1:15am so I thought "oh it's fine, I'll go to bed at 2" which was technically 3am - I know, it's my own fault for being stupid, but it was a great party! The best part for me was the next morning when Nan asked how I'd slept. She said she didn't sleep so well because she said it was like someone was doing "a drum circle" at 1:30am - it's at this point that I realised her room was directly above the Lido Lounge and that "drum circle" was us doing the Macarena - I still haven't told her now!


Fred Olsen River Seine Cruise Paris Rouen Honfleur

I'll be honest, I didn't know what to expect when I stepped on board what was a tiny ship compared to Independence, but both ships are now equally winning my affection. Dad said that it's the people that make the holiday, not the surroundings and he couldn't be any more right. So thank you Fred Olsen - I knew I needed a holiday but the holiday I got was more than I ever could've imagined!

Love and Feathers, 
 The Owlet 💜 

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N.B: I paid for the cruise myself, but met Rachael the PR Manager on board who was kind enough to organise some things that made my holiday extra special!