Review: Borealis cruise ship

Editors rating:

Borealis cruise ship facts

  • 1,353 guests
  • 642 crew
  • 1997 launched
  • 2021 refurbished

How good is the Fred. Olsen Cruise Line? We explain the pros and cons of a voyage on one of their new cruise ships, Borealis.

Review: Borealis cruise ship

Editors rating:
By Published On: 23 Jun 2024

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We think Borealis is and enjoyable, premium quality cruise ship. What’s more it has some distinctly British sensibilities. The Borealis cruise ship also has a good main dining room and lots of space to call your own.

However, there are things worth knowing about Borealis, like the cost of beverages; the quality of alternate dining; and how your room choice can change the cruise experience.


  • Well-priced voyages.
  • Enjoyable main restaurant.
  • Lots of space.


  • Underwhelming specialty dining.
  • Almost everything on board costs extra.

Editors note: The currency on Borealis is Pounds Sterling (not US dollars).

Borealis cruise ship FAQs

According to the deck plan issued in 2024 there are 1,353 passengers on the Borealis cruise ship (standard occupancy).

The Borealis cruise ship was refurbished in 2021 when it was acquired by the Fred. Olsen line.

Today there is just one swimming pool on Borealis. It is on the Lido Deck, midship. There used to be a second aft-facing pool as well, however ongoing maintenance issues meant it was closed and repurposed as a sun deck.

Gratuities are not included on a Borealis cruise. Gratuities are typically charged to your shipboard account at the end of your voyage.

Self-service tea and coffee is included on the Borealis cruise ship. Water is also free for some room categories. All other drinks cost extra.

Borealis spends most of the year sailing around the British Ilses and Northern Europe. Although it sometimes visits the Caribbean and Portugal too. Borealis occasionally makes Grand Voyages to South America and the Antarctic.

Our review ratings

Service efficiency
Problem solving
Language skills

Borealis deck plan

The Borealis deck plan is somewhat difficult to get around. There are a total of 10 passenger decks, the highest of which is deck 10.

  • Reception: Deck 4
  • Accommodation: Decks 1 to 7
  • Main dining room: Deck 4
  • Theatre: Deck 4
  • Observation lounge: Deck 9

About the Borealis cruise ship

Borealis is a Rotterdam-class cruise ship originally built for Holland America Line in 1997. It is one of four almost identical vessels that was commissioned by HAL. However, it was subsequently modified; most notably with the removal of the aft-facing swimming pool which was prone to leaking.

The Times Square staircase on the Borealis cruise ship.
The elegant Times Square on Borealis.

In 2020 the Fred. Olsen Line purchased the vessel, renaming it Borealis. Indeed, it is ideal for the line’s popular Nordic scenic-cruise voyages. 

The Borealis is 237 m. / 777 ft. long with room for 1,353-guests (standard occupancy). It was made-over and refurbished in 2021, although this is most noticeable in the public areas.

Food on Borealis

The food on the Borealis cruise ship can be good, but on occasion also underwhelming. There are five dining venues to choose from, so it goes without saying that some are better than others.

The Aurora & Borealis Restaurant on Borealis.
The two-tiered main dining room on Borealis.

We rate the two-tiered, main dining room as the best restaurant on Borealis. On sea days you can enjoy Poached Salmon & Rocket Salad or antipasto for lunch. At dinner there is Lemon Sole with Capers & Meunière or Slow Cooked Pork Belly, as well as delicious Cheesecake. It’s worth noting that the main dining room was also preferred by most guests.

An antipasto plate served in the Borealis Restaurant.
Antipasto as served in the Borealis Restaurant.

The Asian-inspired Colours and Tastes is one of two specialty restaurants. It has main courses like Spice Paste Marinated Cod, as well as desserts including Mango & Lychee Mille-feuille. 

The other specialty venue is Vasco. It has a Goan-inspired menu, with a set starter of Mackerel Croquettes, Goan Sausage, Squid and Mushrooms. For main course we tried the Goan Chicken Curry. 

A mixed starter served in the Vasco restaurant on the Borealis cruise ship.
A mixed starter served in Vasco.

Sadly, it has to be said that neither specialty restaurant on Borealis was noteworthy. Indeed, they were not popular with fellow guests. It’s also worth noting that dining in those venues incurs an additional charge.

On the other hand, The View buffet restaurant was popular. Perched high on Deck 8 it has great ocean vistas, as well as a tempting array of food. However, on our voyage The View suffered from a somewhat unpleasant stale aroma at times.

On the Lido Deck you can enjoy burgers, sandwiches and salads at the The Poolside cafe. Downstairs on Deck 5 the Bookmark Cafe has sweet treats and speciality coffees – for an extra charge.

Nightlife on Borealis

We thought the nightlife on the Borealis cruise ship was surprisingly enjoyable. The Ocean Bar serves nice pre-dinner cocktails. Down the hall there’s the Morning Light Pub which has sport on the big screen. Around the corner is the stylish Piano Bar; it was especially popular after dinner. 

Two female cast members perform on the Borealis cruise ship.
The shows in the Neptune Lounge are mostly good.

There is more live entertainment in the Neptune Lounge where you can catch a show on most evenings. Indeed, the cast productions were surpassingly good, with versatile and talented performers.

Up on Deck 9 you can see the house band perform in The Observatory bar. On our voyage they developed quite a following.

Rooms & suites

Most guests on the Borealis cruise ship stay in cozy cabins. The least expensive of these are Inside Cabins which do not have a window. Ocean View Cabins have either a port hole or picture window. 

A Terrace Cabin on the Borealis cruise ship.
Terrace Cabins are small, but have access to the Promenade Deck.

On the other hand, Terrace Cabins benefit from having direct access to the teak Promenade Deck. 

A Balcony Suite on the Borealis cruise ship.
A Balcony Suite; these are bigger and have a private veranda.

Borealis also has a range of suites to choose from. We stayed in a Balcony Suite and appreciated the extra space, not to mention the private veranda. 

A Premier Suite on the Borealis cruise ship.
Premier Suites are like a Junior Suite in a hotel.

However, there are also bigger suites like the spacious Premier Suite. It has a magnificent teak terrace with outdoor furniture.

The veranda in a Premier Suite on the Borealis Cruise ship.
A highlight of the Premier Suite is the extra-large veranda.

If you do choose a suite on Borealis you’ll also enjoy perks like priority boarding, a welcome bottle of sparkling wine, free in-suite water, afternoon canapés and a fruit basket. 

Fitness & recreation

The Borealis cruise ship has a relatively good range of fitness and recreation options. There is a gym which has a great view. There are also yoga, pilates, stretch and circuit classes. Borealis has a swimming pool with a retractable roof that is open in fine weather; and hot tubs for relaxing.

The swimming pool on the Borealis cruise ship.
The swimming pool roof can be retracted in fine weather.

On the open decks you can play shuffleboard or walk on the midship track. The teak Promenade Deck is a great place to enjoy the ocean breeze and Borealis also has a full-service salon and spa.

Borealis activities

Your days on Borealis are filled with activities, including some very British traditions like afternoon tea; this is served in The Observatory lounge but it does cost extra.

Sweet treats served at afternoon tea in The Observatory on Borealis.
Sweet treats served at afternoon tea in The Observatory on Borealis.

An impressive selection of cha is also available for purchase in the Oriental Tea Room

The Oriental Tea Room on board the Borealis cruise ship.
The ornate Oriental Tea Room serves gourmet teas.

There is a Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party on the Borealis cruise ship, not to mention regular Sail Away Parties. There are expert lectures and cooking demonstrations in the Auditorium. The entertainment team host trivia as well as dance, drama and music classes; there are craft classes too. If you enjoy bridge there is an elegant Card Room. The Games Room has chess, Scrabble, Monopoly, et al. On the open decks there is shuffleboard, quoits and table tennis.

The Botanical Room on the Borealis cruise ship.
The Botanical Room is a tranquil place to read.

The Botanical Room is a popular reading lounge, and around the corner you can find the Library too. There’s a Boutique and Jewellery Shop on board; and even a Florist.

It’s worth noting that Borealis has get togethers for members of the Women’s Institute and Solo Travellers.

Shore excursions

The shore excursions on Borealis tend toward group tours rather than bespoke cultural immersions. For instance, on our Borealis voyage the shore excursions included panoramic bus trips, walking tours, a visit to a turtle rehabilitation centre and wine tasting.

That said, there were some Overland Tours that seemed more interesting, like a three-night stay at Leopard Mountain Safari Lodge in South Africa. 

It’s worth noting that all shore excursions on Borealis cost extra. The least expensive shore excursion cost GBP 45, although they were more typically priced around GBP 100.

Borealis inclusions

Your Borealis cruise ship fare is minimally inclusive. In fact, it only includes standard shipboard activities and meals in the non-specialty restaurants. 

Almost everything else comes at an additional charge. Dining in the speciality restaurants costs extra. Drinks also cost extra (with the exception of self-service tea and coffee). Gratuities cost extra too. Even use of the self-service laundry costs extra.

On the other hand, a shuttle service to and from the port is often complimentary.

It’s worth noting that a drinks package is available for purchase. This includes a selection of house wines, a sparkling wine and beers, as well as a limited range of spirits and the cocktail of the day. 

The drinks package costs GBP 24.99 per person, per night (GBP 35 per person, per night on voyages of five nights or less). By contrast, most wines cost GBP 6 per glass, while spirits cost GBP 4.

Borealis dress code

The dress code on Borealis is casual and relaxed. During the day guests like to wear shorts and a T-shirt or polo shirt in warmer climes, or a pair of light-weight trousers and a sweater or jacket in cooler locales. It’s worth noting that the cruise line does not permit swimwear or loungewear in any of the restaurants.

Evenings on Borealis are usually smart casual. So men wear a polo shirt or a regular shirt, with trousers or dark jeans. While ladies wear a shirt or blouse, with a skirt or trousers.

Cruises of five nights or more will have at least one Formal Evening. These formal evenings require men to dress in a dinner jacket, or dark suit and tie. Ladies should wear dresses, gowns, evening suits or a sparkly top with smart trousers or a skirt.

Fellow guests

Most guests on the Borealis cruise ship come from the UK, although there are frequently Americans and Australians on board too. 

It’s fair to say most of the guests are active retirees, ranging in age from 60 to 80-years old. Indeed, we do not recommend Borealis for families with young children. 

Review conclusion

Fred. Olsen’s Borealis has pros and cons. We did enjoy dining in the main restaurant; and the ship never felt crowded; also the British sensibilities were comforting.

However the food elsewhere on board was underwhelming; and beverages and gratuities cost extra. On the whole we think Borealis can offer a good cruise holiday experience, however it may not meet everyone’s expectations. 

The author sailed as a guest of Cruise Traveller.

About the Author: Jason Kerr

Jason is the founder and Managing Editor of The Luxury Cruise Review. He has a passion for travel, a weakness for espresso coffee and a love of Greek cuisine.

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