This was the first time on a cruise, and the cruise was more a means to an end (ie seeing the Northern Lights!) rather than us wanting to go on a cruise. But we went into it with an open mind. Overall, the ship was ok, staff were really lovely and helpful, but I don't think we're cruise people.
The weather was really bad (gale force 8/9, 10m high waves) for a few days on the outleg and a few days on the return leg. The crew did a magnificent job to just keep working and smiling whilst the rest of us were feeling sick and falling about the restaurant! The bad weather meant we missed Alesund and Molde however this couldn't be helped. The only thing I would say is that I think this could have been communicated sooner, and more details of the weather forecast given over the tannoy so we would know when the bad weather was due to end.
The ship itself was ok, bit dated in places, but overall no complaints. It was cleaned regularly and the staff did an excellent job in this. There was regular entertain laid on, however we felt this catered for an older clientele (bingo, bean bag bowls) and it was actually quite difficult to get away from the entertainment at times as there wasn't that much space on the common areas of the ship. It would have been better if we could have sat out on deck, but that was a no go with the weather.
The food was to a good standard. We missed the gala nights (due to the bad weather and illness) but the normal restaurant nights were very quickly served and very accommodating. The lunches and afternoon tea in the bistro were good, however the amount of people and lack of manners displayed by some of our fellow cruisers spoilt the occasion (for example, pinching scones off other peoples plates!).
The best thing we had was a champagne breakfast in bed and private dining in the card room for our anniversary (we paid for the celebration package). This was well worth it, with a full bottle of champagne and a chance to dine alone and be waited on hand and foot.
We saw the Northern Lights on around 5 occasions - the best being in Alta when we went on the tour. We got into the routine of going out on deck after dinner (after getting changed into our warm weather gear) and standing out there for a couple of hours. This provided us with the best viewings and meant we actually saw the lights develop from the grey to the green which was great. The cruise director did announce any lights to the rest of the ship, but a lot of the time by the time people had come out on deck, they had faded again.
A few points about the ports of call:
- Amsterdam - 20 mins walk to the centre, only there for half a day so didn't do a lot
- Svolvaer - small place, went on the organised boat trip which was great, but freezing. Got some lovely views of sea eagles
- Narvik - went to the polar zoo. There are only a few animals there (5/6) and we were only there for a couple of hours, but the trip there on the bus went through some magnificent scenario which added to the trip.
- Tromso - gorgeous little city. Shuttle bus laid on to the centre. We walked over the bridge, to the cathedral, and up the cable car for some magnificent view and waist high snow! Easy to do on your own.
- Alta - went dog sledding which was amazing, really enjoyed it. Alta itself is very small, so I would recommend doing a ship tour or organising something yourself. Trip out at night was great, however this is obviously northern light dependent.
- Bergen - docks in the centre so easy to go into town. The day was cloudy, but we went up the funicular anyway and had a lovely walk around the mountain at the top, with a nice lunch at the restaurant.
- dress code not that formal so don't worry about it.
- sea sickness tablets are available from reception (I didn't know about this for the first few days)
- coffee was not great at the coffee station. I stuck to fruit teas. Would be worth taking your own instant and making that instead. Alcohol was reasonably priced.
- we ordered a wine package, which included bottled water which we had in the room and was worth it, as the tap water wasn't great
- the tv did have some british classic on it which was good, and different films every day, however I would have taken a laptop/DVDs if I'd known how little there was to do on the ship if you didn't like the organised activities
- if you want to take photos of the lights, you definitely need a SLR camera and decent tripod. And be prepared to stand in the cold for hours.
Overall, we did have a really enjoyable cruise and have some great memories, especially of the northern lights and dog sledding. It was a great way of seeing a lot of Norway without the stress or hassle of arranging our own travel/excursions.