Ryndam cruise - 5-20-12 Fjords and North Cape ("The top of the world")
We booked this cruise for our 30th anniversary. We have never been to England or Norway before. We sailed in room 382, a class "C" outside on the lower promenade deck. The cabin is in a very convenient location. Having the promenade deck outside the window does require the closing of the curtains any time privacy is needed. On the other hand, only a few steps are required to the "Largest balcony on the ship."
We flew from Philadelphia to Heathrow Friday evening, May 18th, arriving Saturday morning. The flight went well. We were outside Heathrow and waiting for the rental car van about 1 hours and 20 minutes after arrival. We arranged a rental from National and drove straight to Dover. We dropped our luggage off at the East Lee Guest House, a B&B chosen by recommendation from Trip Advisor. We then drove up the hill to the Dover Castle and spent the remainder of the day touring the castle and grounds.
We met up with a couple from the roll call for dinner at Simkon fish & chips. Simkon was suggested by a local from the roll call and it was a bit of a disappointment.
Sunday morning breakfast at East Lee was a winner - wonderful food and service! We took the car and went to a local park along the White Cliffs, where we were able to walk a cliff trail and took some great photos of the cliffs, the castle, and the Ryndam. We wore the winter coats we had brought along for northern Norway as it was very brisk with a stiff wind!
After our walk, we drove to a local "Supercenter" and bought flowers for our stateroom along with a few needed toiletries. By now it was 10:30 so we drove to the pier and off-loaded our luggage to the waiting porters. We dropped the car off at National who quickly took us and another party back to Ryndam.
There was no wait for registration and with the swipe of our passports we were given our stateroom keys and a "Grey" boarding card. We entered the waiting area and were very impressed. The cruise terminal doesn't look like much outside; it just appears to be an old brick building. Inside, the waiting area was very nicely laid out and furnished. The terminal (terminal one) was once a railroad station, and once inside, it is easily seen that is its heritage. At 11:33 boarding began. The line seemed to move very slowly and then we realized why. The "Security screening" is after the waiting area. So, it was not the photographers holding people up, but the screening was. At about 12:05 we boarded. Grey ended up being the third group to board.
We headed straight to our stateroom to drop off our small carry on and to get the flowers into water. We found that the top hard surfaces had not been properly cleaned. Water rings and even what looked like mints (or pills?) left from the prior occupants were seen.
A borrowed pair of scissors from the front desk allowed us to cut the flower stems and get them into the vase we brought along. The flowers were very thirsty! Out stateroom steward stopped by and we pointed out the areas that needed a more thorough cleaning and they were promptly seen to.
We went to the Mariner's welcome aboard lunch in the Rotterdam dining room. DW had the salmon and I ordered the hamburger. We met a couple from Florida who commented they brought "All their warm clothes" along, and were planning to dress in layers. As the day went on, the weather turned increasingly pleasant and sunny.
The muster drill is being taken very seriously these days. The completion of the drill was delayed as a couple who were supposed to be in lifeboat 12 was instead at the lifeboat 10 station. Once that was sorted out, thinks proceeded pretty much normally.
Just before the drill, we stopped at the spa to learn that only six others had signed up for the thermal suite. We have previously enjoyed the thermal suite on Westerdam and Eurodam. We knew the "Pool" was only a smallish "Hot tub" but thought with very few people using it this may be a welcome retreat on sea days and after port visits. We signed up for the thermal suite package, and after the muster drill changed into bath attire and headed to the spa.
To our great disappointment, when we tried the pool it barely produced a bubble, and unlike the hydro-pools on the larger ships, (which are about body temperature) this one was HOT. Subtract a point from Ryndam for this non-working extra cost feature. We went and tried the two large "Hot tubs" by the main pool, and they were just a little over body temperature with strong jets. We need this for our ailments. The thermal tile chairs are nice, but by themselves not worth the charge for the thermal suite. The spa was quick to refund our charge, and we appreciate not having to fight over getting this refunded.
We returned to our room to get ready for dinner. 8:00 fixed seating was arranged at a table for 4, table 19 at a starboard window. We've never had such a great location before. Regretfully we found certain incompatibilities with our assigned table mates and after dinner spoke to Gus, the upper dining room manager. Gus was able to move us to table 45; very nearby and with the same superb wait staff. Gus also was able to relocate the other party (who really wanted a large table) after the second evening. Outstanding service! Our waiter is Tono and assistant Putu. During the course of the first dinner, Putu said he would put in a standing order for a shrimp cocktail appetizer each evening for us (it was not on the menu) and he also took my standing order for a Sprite Zero each evening.
After dinner, we proceeded to the Ocean bar to find the Neptunes had just gone on break. We found our way to the Mix where Piano man Paul was just starting up after his brief appearance at the welcome aboard show. We enjoyed Paul and stayed at the mix nearly an hour, before listening to the Neptunes for about 15 minutes, and one dance, before calling it a night. The clocks go back tonight making it past midnight. By the way, we would guess the average age on this cruise is in the 60's, yet there were still a lot of people up and about well after 11:00.
Monday May 21, 2012:
We made our way to the Lido for breakfast at about 9:30. The Omelet I ordered was a little different. Not bad, just different. I also ordered waffles which were made to order, hot and tasty. The fresh OJ was a delight as usual. DW enjoyed a plate of fruit and yogurt, and a taste or two of my waffles. We headed to the crow's nest for our 10:00 meet and greet.
About 20 or the 35 or so who signed up came to our meet and greet, as did cruise director John Mann, several of his staff, and Captain Werner Timmers. Kudos to Captain Timmers as he engaged in individual conversations with all present and obliged for photos upon request. Ryndam gains back that point thanks to the Captain.
We completely enjoyed the rest of our first sea day. The hot tubs were visited, lunch was enjoyed, a book was borrowed from the library, and in general it was a really super day. We were ready for the formal night dinner early and enjoyed a few dances in the Ocean bar. Formal dinner was excellent and we enjoyed the service from our wait staff again. After dinner we danced again for a time and attended the Captain's welcome toast. Captain Timmers is funny. After the toast we withdrew from the showroom and listened to piano man Paul McD in the Mix. Paul is very good.
Tuesday morning began with a full room service breakfast. It came right at the start of the requested time slot and was exactly as ordered. The Omelet was better than the one from the Lido. We had arranged to meet with another couple from the roll call to self-tour Oslo and met them as arranged at 8:00. We left Ryndam and in the course of less than six hours, enjoyed a visit to Vigeland Park, the Viking Ship Museum, the Polar ship Fram museum, the Norwegian maritime museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, the Nobel Peace Center, and the Ashursus fortress. We got our money's worth from the Oslo Card. We also rode on a tram, two buses, and a ferry. And, we were back on board more than a half-hour before all aboard. Whew!
Once back on Ryndam we grabbed some lunch, followed by a swim in the pool (guess I didn't mention we were enjoying temperatures in the 70's) and then time in the hot tub. We also enjoyed the Hal Cats while in the hot tub and during the first part of sail away from Oslo. Our travel guide then gave a narration during the scenic cruise out of Oslo. The best part of this was going through the "Narrows." We enjoyed some time in the Ocean Bar and also listened to the guitarist in the Mix before dinner. This is when we discovered the "Microsoft tabletops" in the mix. Maybe we are easily impressed, but we had not experienced these before and think they are cool.
Dinner was again excellent. I ordered some type of fish "To try" as well as the beef short ribs. I didn't like the fish. However, our shore excursion buddies told us they had the fish and really liked it. The short ribs simply melted in one's mouth. Desserts included two "Culinary team" items. One was very chocolate and very "Rich." After dinner we attended a comedy show from the "Crazy Welshman." We'd call that a 5 out of 10. Some seemed to love him; we thought he was "Okay."
Wednesday started with room service coffee, tea, and juice. Breakfast followed in the Lido. On a late port day (docking scheduled for 10:00) it doesn't seem a 9:00 breakfast is "Late" but hot foods were already being cooked to order. Breakfast was tasty, but it seemed to take too long to get what we wanted. We met our shore adventure friends and exited Ryndam at 10:15. A local tourist guide suggested we visit old Stavanger before our pre-booked cruise to the Lysefjord.
We were very glad for that recommendation as we truly enjoyed exploring the best preserved wooden house neighborhood in Europe. Plenty of photos were taken. We had a little time left and walked through the street market and part of the shopping district. We entered a McDonalds and confirmed the cruise director's caution about the ~$16.00 "Big Mac" meal. I also stepped into a 7-11 and found that a half-liter of Coke came out to ~$4.00. Good thing we eat on the ship!
Next we were able to "Skip the line" due to our pre-purchased tickets and board the "Rygertroll" to cruise to the Lysefjord and Pulpit Rock. The sightseeing was better than expected on a picture perfect day. We saw a Viking, Goats, Waterfalls, Caves, and of course, Pulpit Rock. We returned from the Rygertroll to the Ryndam to find "Slim pickings" for lunch. My DW found a selection of salads in the Lido and I was able to obtain a burger and fixings from the Terrace Grill. We joined some other friends from cruise critic at a table on the pool deck. Another +70 degree sunny day in Norway is getting us spoiled!
Dinner this evening was at the Pinnacle Grill, courtesy of our T/A. The food was very good. The Pinnacle offers a "Surf and turf" that is their smaller Filet with jumbo shrimp. We asked for the same thing but with their lobster tail rather than the shrimp. This was the only "No" we have heard on the cruise. Seriously, it's not like the Pinnacle lobster tail is 16 or 20 ounces. We've had it before and it's only slightly larger than what is offered in the main dining room one night. Paying extra for the Pinnacle and then refusing a request like this? Ryndam loses that point again.
After dinner we sought out the 10:28 PM sunset. At these far northern latitudes the sun takes forever to slowly sink to the horizon. While watching, we spied a pod of Orcas (killer whales). This was confirmed by the DJ in the Crow's Nest as someone caught a great photo of one on the surface.
Thursday we visited Molde, Norway. We were told this was the Ryndam's maiden call on Molde. The sail-in is spectacular. The snowcapped mountains are quite a sight. It reached an incredible 75 degrees today in Molde. Our group of six met for breakfast in the Rotterdam dining room as we had a late docking. After breakfast, we went out to the bow and enjoyed the sail in.
Upon arrival, we found the jam-packed tourist info center. The six of us joined another group of seven and chartered a 14 passenger taxi. We went to the Varden viewpoint for a great overview of Molde and the surrounding 30-some peaks. Next the driver took us to Bud, a small delightful fishing village. Finally we traveled the Atlantic Ocean road, one of the so called ten-best drives in the world. We enjoyed several photo stops as well as snapping photos while on the road. This part of the world is certainly scenic. We returned to Ryndam about 4:30 and enjoyed a snack and some beverages.
Sail away and the first few hours out of Molde were fabulous. We found a nice window table in the Ocean Bar and we sailed past Bud, where we had toured earlier in the day. Seeing the town from the sea allowed a more complete understanding of the area. It was incredible to me how close we were to the coast during this entire transit. We continued north and enjoyed various areas we had seen from the land side earlier. Shortly after dinner began, we started passing the bridges from the Ocean road, and we took note of them all, and finally passed the town of Kristiansund before dessert was completed.
After dinner we went to the showroom as a Pianist was on the bill. We're sure he was a wonderful pianist but he was not a singer, so after three numbers we left to enjoy the ~11:00 sunset from the crow's nest.
Friday was a sea day en route to Honningsvag, at the Northern tip of Norway. As the day went on the sea was increasingly active. Today was the "Two star" Mariner's lunch. This was a better lunch than we had earlier in the year on Eurodam. This was also the second formal night. The dining room had the white slipcovers over the chairs. Our wait staff is fabulous. After dinner we attended a variety show time with the two previous performers. The highlight of the evening was the Philipino crew show. We stayed up hoping to see the midnight sun but alas King Neptune had arranged a solid cloud cover for us.
Saturday morning we were awoken about 7:35 by an announcement played on the outside decks related to scenic cruising from then to Honningsvag. We quickly threw on some appropriate clothing just in time to catch some photos of Ingoy Island. This was quickly followed by our passing of Hjemsoy Island, the Gjesvaerstappan Nature Reserve (where we would later go on the Bird Safari) and finally the North Cape. This morning gave us clear viewing conditions and we could even see the North Cape monument from Ryndam.
We docked shortly after 11:00 and upon clearance, exited the ship. Our car rental keys were waiting for us at the Tourist Info center and the six of us headed over to Gjesvaer for the Bird Safari. Driving over Mageroya Island is an experience in itself. We had a small herd of reindeer pass directly in from of our vehicle. The island has little vegetation and many areas were still snow covered. As sea conditions were challenging today, our pre-reserved trip by Stappan was changed to Birdsafari AS since they had a larger boat with a sheltered cabin. We are not big "Animal lovers" but the chance to see the Polar bird species in their native habitat is not to be missed. After this two hour safari, we headed to the North Cape.
What is said about the North Cape itself is true; this is one of the premier tourist traps in the world. The entrance fee of 235 Kroner (40 some dollars) is a big rip off. How can one cruise to the North Cape and not actually go there for the photos at the monument? We have never experienced wind like that outdoors at the North Cape. It was a struggle against the ferocious wind just to reach the monument. Reach it, we did! We also watched the 15 minute movie about the North Cape, and mailed postcards to family and friends back home.
We drove the ~30 KM back to Honningsvag and topped off the fuel, 190 Kroner, before leaving the vehicle, as instructed, parked at the port with the key under the mat. We were back on Ryndam at just about 18:00 (6PM) and had a light snack from the Lido dinner offerings. We had arranged with the dining room to have two of our touring friends join us at our main seating as we knew they would miss their normal early seating dinner, so they did join us and we enjoyed a great meal together. The Ryndam left port early due to expected wind and storms later that "Night." We were off of North Cape at midnight. We were glad we were able to take clear and crisp photos this morning as we could barely make out the North Cape cliff in the foggy distance. This was our second chance to see the midnight sun but again solid cloud cover prevented it.
Sunday morning the boat was rocking and all the outside decks were closed. We had a late lido breakfast, and took a few photos of the Sub-Arctic Norwegian coast we were slowly passing. We were told wind speed on deck was in excess of 50 knots. We decided to spend some time in the hot tub as the Guitar man was to play by the pool. Even with the roof closed, it was brisk out on the pool deck. The hot tub was delightful and we stayed in about 45 minutes. Getting out was hard. The guitar man never did play; perhaps he thought the audience was insufficient? We dried off a bit and relaxed a while on the loungers "All wrapped up" in towels and our robes.
A 2:00 movie was scheduled and for the first time on a HAL ship we actually watched a movie in the theater! "My week with Marilyn" was a nice diversion. We enjoyed the pre-dinner music at the Ocean Bar, and dinner in the Rotterdam dining room. King crab legs were offered tonight and they were served with delightful drawn butter. Tonight's show we enjoyed a 50's & 60's street corner signing presented by the guys only from the ship's company. This was our last chance to see the midnight sun. Regretfully, solid cloud cover once again prevented seeing the sun.
Monday began with a late breakfast in the Rotterdam dining room. We left breakfast just in time to see the travel guy give a presentation on his various travels over the past decade or so. The sun has finally breaking through the clouds and now some blue sky is evident. It is still quite windy and only 40 degrees on deck, but the outside decks are open.
I attended a windows class on "Files, folders, and sharing" using windows 7. This was more basic than I expected but a few tips were appreciated. Today was the Indonesian Tea, something we always enjoy on HAL. We thought more people than usual attended the tea, but also that is was less ornate then those recently experienced on larger Hal ships. We went directly from the Tea to the Lido deck as a midafternoon barbeque was set up. We sampled the beef & chicken ka-bobs and they were very tasty.
Today's movie was "Sherlock Holmes, A Game of Shadows." We attended the 6:00 PM showing and the only disappointment was that no popcorn was made available. Dinner was another delightful experience although every possible seat in our server's area was filled this night; the first time we've seen that. After dinner we went to the show where a guest performer, Kuba Kawnik entertained with a Vibraphone and other unusual instruments. The seas seem to be somewhat calming however a lot of northwestern cloud cover prevented the viewing of the 11:50 sunset.
Tuesday was a port day in Alesund. We ordered a full room service breakfast. We have had every room service order filled exactly as ordered. We were ready and off the ship before 9:00. We had pre-printed walking tour guides and picked up the tour at the port. We enjoyed seeing a good deal of the very attractive and colorful buildings. We found the tourist information center who kindly provided bus schedules. From there we climbed the 400+ steps of Mount Aksla and were rewarded with marvelous views.
We returned the Ryndam for lunch in the lido (Dining room closed) and caught a bus for the Sunnmore museum, with around 50 buildings that are centuries old showing life in the Fjords in the past. One strange thing is that the bus ride out to the museum was 20 NOK each, but the return was 35. We were back on board by 3:30 for our 4:30 all aboard. After all the walking and climbing we did today the hot tubs were calling. We enjoyed them and relaxed on the pool deck.
Tonight's dinner was the least appetizing of the cruise. This worked out well as before the dessert menu was brought over Tono came bearing a cake. A few of our cruise critic friends from early seating also showed up as Tono led them in a "Happy anniversary" song. We returned to our room before show time to find the bed was made up with kissing swans inside a heart (towel design), a nice card from the Captain and crew, and a small bottle of bubbly along with a plate of petit feours. Very nicely done, Ryndam!
We went to the show but left when the lights darkened for the third song. Jackie Clune was the guest performer but we did not care for her performance.
Wednesday morning we woke to find we were anchored in Flam, Norway. Flam was a highly anticipated stop. We had arranged a group booking for the Flam railway in the afternoon with a bunch of cruise critic friends. Beforehand, most of that same group had booked the Fjord Safari, a high-speed tour through the fjords on open boats. We caught a tender at about 8:30 and obtained the train tickets. We had about an hour before reporting in to the safari, and enjoyed a delightful walk up the valley towards the actual village of Flam. The scenery in this area was the highlight of the cruise.
We suited up for the Fjord Safari and had a marvelous time. We returned and had just enough time to hop a tender back to Ryndam for a quick lunch, and then tender back to shore for our Flam Railway ride. The ride up the mountain on the Flam railway was very enjoyable. We actually had a reserved section in a coach for our group, which was unexpected but appreciated! The railway stops at a fabulous waterfall for a brief photo-op.
After the train, we briefly explored the Flam Railway museum. They have done a nice job presenting a great history of the rail line. Finally, we headed back to Ryndam for the evening. Dinner was excellent. We both had the offered Rib-eye steak, the chef's recommendation. This steak was every bit as enjoyable as the one we had in the Pinnacle a week prior. Dessert was also excellent this evening. After our very busy day in Flam, we strolled the promenade for some sail-away photos and called it a day.
Thursday we docked a little early in Bergen, Norway. We had a printed walking tour but could never find where to start it. Regardless, we greatly enjoyed walking through the old town area of Bryggen and seeing the leaning buildings. We also rode the funicular up the mountain and took lots of photos of the outstanding views. The weather was very "Un-Bergen." It started off partly cloudy but as the day went on the sun won the battle. After riding down the funicular we began a mission to spend our remaining Kroner. We eventually settled on a couple of pewter items at a shop that would gladly split the payment between what Kroner we had left with the balance on a credit card.
We walked through the park near the port on our way back to the ship. While enjoying a small rest on a park bench we had a nice conversation with a passenger on the RCCL ship that was with us in Flam and Bergen. He shared how a month prior he was on a land trip in Norway and while he greatly enjoyed it, cruising is a much more cost-effective way to see the country! We walked with him until the paths to our ships separated, and returned to Ryndam.
After dropping our shore goods in the cabin, we headed to the pool deck. Time in the hot (warm) tub helped the sore muscles. After somewhat drying off, we enjoyed the burgers offered from the grille. Tonight is the third and final formal night of the cruise. We like the opportunity to dress up but am becoming a believer that two formal nights are enough regardless if the cruise is 7 days, 13 days, or even 17 days! We enjoyed a few dances in the Ocean Bar prior to dinner. The surf and turf entrEe was very good. Of course, our wonderful wait staff was most accommodating to DW's request for two lobster tails and no Filet, as well as my own for two lobster tails with the filet.
Friday was our last sea day and the final day of the cruise. In addition, we gained an hour Thursday night so our sleeping in really didn't seem that late. We went to breakfast in the Rotterdam DR and arrived by chance at the same time as two of our cruise critic friends. We enjoyed a great breakfast together. The waiter forgot to bring our friends' bagel and lox but made it right. We were straight to the showroom for the disembarkation briefing and the crew farewell.
The briefing was much the same as usual, but the crew farewell was very well done. This is always a time of mixed emotions as on many ships the crew we interact with often become like family. At 11:00 we couldn't pass up the chance to see Captain Timmers in the Culinary Arts Center demonstrate how to make his grandmother's Dutch Apple Pie. This was an unexpected highlight of the cruise. The Captain was great with his easy interactions with the standing room only crowd. He also upon request autographed the recipe cards we were given. As an added treat, we were all provided with a small sample of this pie, which was much better than the Apple Pie available a few times during the cruise in the Lido.
We sat near the pool for the noontime hour that Glenn, the guitar singer was to perform. Other cruise critic friends joined us for the hour. Next we headed to the cabin for the job of packing. Working together, it took us just an hour to pack everything except the last minute items. Packing was certainly helped by the unlimited laundry package as everything was already neatly folded or on hangers and easy to fold for the suitcase.
One last trip to the hot tubs and relaxing on the pool deck was in order. We also had one last helping from the grille. We decided to be dinner ready by 6:00 so that we could take in today's movie "The Vow" before dinner. Popcorn was provided and the movie was just okay.
Dinner tonight was the "Master chef's around the world" menu. This take on the Master Chef's dinner is an improvement. Those on dining as you wish are not forced into a specific time slot. Around 7:00 for first seating and 9:15 for second seating they did do the march of the Baked Alaska. We had actually already enjoyed our dessert by the time of the march. We were happy to show our appreciation to our terrific wait staff and the chefs.
We said our farewells to friends made on the cruise that were seated nearby, and wandered the ship seeking a few others to bid smooth seas and fair winds to.
Saturday morning we had a full room service breakfast brought in around 6:00. We had early disembarkation as we had a 12:15 flight from Heathrow. While we booked this within the time slot "After 12:00" on Hal's instructions, we felt with the distance to Heathrow and the possibility of delays in route, that we should begin the transfer as quickly as possible. Ryndam was docked at Dover terminal two. We had embarked at terminal one. Terminal two is certainly less desirable.
Despite arriving at about 6:20, the disembarkation did not begin until 7:40. We were told the delay is that the forklifts bringing the luggage carts have to cross the path that passengers travel so until that section of the terminal was filled with luggage no one could leave. Our prearranged driver called us and let us know he was waiting. We were among the first off and were surprised to find that there was no customs or immigration check, we simply walked out of the terminal to our waiting van.
We arrived at Heathrow at about 9:50 and all went well with checking in for our flight back to the US.
An excellent cruise. Ryndam is a nice ship. In some ways it is showing a bit of wear and tear but it has a great crew. We prefer the somewhat larger HAL ships that have the hydro pool and full thermal suite. I didn't mention this in the log portion but we did find that smoke from the Casino makes its way into the Mix. As my DW is very sensitive to smoke due to some health issues, we could not linger in the mix several times we would have liked to. Our cabin was in a very convenient location, near the "Largest verandah." However, being under part of the galley we heard noises from above and also from the promenade deck outside. The rocking of the ship and perhaps the Arctic air may have offset the noise affect as it seemed we slept well for the most part. Captain Timmers is the most visible and informative captain we have yet sailed with. 4 ½ stars to Ryndam for a great Norwegian and Arctic adventure.