One of the Best!
This was a "last minute booking" cruise - as we had just sailed 28 days on the Grand in April/May and had just gotten home when we saw a flash promotion that we just could not pass up. This was our 57th cruise on Princess, and 14th on the Grand. It was a cruise that was high on our bucket list and it turned out to be one of the best!
We used Princess EzAir, flew on Delta using the same routing as we had in April and as it did then - everything went smoothly. The only "problem" was that we arrived too late to do the Treasure Hunt and get our cards stamped so did not participate in the draw at sailaway. Actually we were unpacking during sailaway and a bit exhausted so got glimpses of sailing out of the harbor from the bridge cam on TV.
We like the Grand. Maybe because we have sailed on her so many times before and become very familiar with the layout, maybe because it seems to be the most stable ship in the fleet (much less rock and roll than others), or maybe because of the many wonderful memories that are rekindled from our past sailings. But for sure it has to do with the familiar smiling faces as we see staff members we have sailed with before - it feels like we are coming home again.
The Itinerary and Ports
We picked this itinerary because it was high on our bucket list and the price was opportune. We rarely sail during the summer in favor of enjoying the many pleasures of Michigan's west coast in prime season, but the timing worked out and we just couldn't say no.
The first port was Stavanger where we started with the ship's tour Cruise Along Lysefjord. It proved to be accurately described as "one of the most beautiful fjords in Norway" and was a great start to enjoying Norway's natural beauty. After cruising the fjord there was a stop for waffles and coffee - a delightful surprise. Back in Stavanger we walked through the town (we docked right in town) and had many photo ops. Next time we'll do the museums.
Next port was Gravdal, a tender port. We took the ship's tour Nusfjord & Lofotr Viking Museum. Nusfjord is one of the oldest and best preserved fishing villages in Norway where we learned a lot about rorbus (fisherman's cabins) and stockfish (dried cod). It was a beautiful setting and very interesting. Next was the Viking Museum which was basically a reconstruction of a Viking chieftain's house - actually a large lodge where many lived. It was interesting but a little rushed, not enough time to walk down and see the Viking ship moored in the fjord.
Longyearbyen (on the island of Spitsbergen), the northernmost city in the world, was our next stop. There was only one ship's tour offered here but you could purchase shuttle tickets for the trip to town - about a mile or so away. We chose to walk into town as did many others. It is amazing to imagine actually living there, especially through the long dark winter. It is stark - no trees, just homes and small shops, a university and a museum. We wandered into the museum and also visited a few shops - featured items for purchase were stuffed polar bears of all sizes as there are more polar bears than people on Spitsbergen. We saw a reindeer but no polar bears other than the stuffed variety. This was the only stop where we needed caps and gloves and multiple layers of clothing - it was really cold. It was a really unique place.
Next was Honningsvag, the port for the North Cape which is the northernmost point of Europe. We began our stay with a walk around the very picturesque town where many of the Sami people had set up shops or tables on the street to sell their crafts - all kinds of things reindeer from hides to caps to horns to bone letter openers (we passed on those). Our ship tour - North Cape Christmas & Winterhouse - left at noon. Our first stop was a small fishing village where we saw stockfish close up, then visited the northernmost art gallery (Gallery East of the Sun) where we bought an art piece - a reindeer couple overlooking the magnificent Norwegian landscape. Then off to a great viewing area to see a herd of reindeer as well as the North Cape visitor center in the distance. Last stop was the Christmas house which turned out to be just a place that sold mostly Christmas decorations, nothing too memorable there except it is in the northernmost fishing village in the world. (As you might imagine, there were a lot of "northernmost" things on this cruise.)
Tromso was next, along with the worst weather of the entire cruise - a cold and rainy start to the stay. We took the shuttle to town, took photos of some of the interesting sights, and just wandered around checking out some of the shops. We passed on buying anything at the fish shop but did buy some cloud berry jam which is unique to the area and rather delicious. Due to the weather and a developing head cold we shuttled back to the ship and had a warm and dry afternoon reading...
And then came what turned out to be the highlight of the trip, sailing up Storfjord first to Hellesylt where some passengers got off to start tours, and then continuing on through some of the most spectacular scenery in Geiranger Fjord to the village of Geiranger. Words can't adequately describe this place so I'd suggest you google Geiranger and Geiranger Fjord and check out the pictures - absolutely beautiful. We tendered to town and walked around, first went up the hill to some great overlooks for photos of the ships in the harbor, then pictures of the large waterfall (big enough to create its own rainbow) that goes through the town, then down to the camp ground along the shores with hundreds of campers there. It was a beautiful warm and sunny day - would have been a great time and place to camp and kayak!
The last port was Bergen, the second largest city in Norway. We did the ship's tour Bryggen with Schotstuene and Gamie Bergen Museums. It was one of those "see the highlights and get some basics of historical significance tours" - enjoyable and educational, and an appropriate way to wrap up our sightseeing in Norway. We would have liked to spend more time exploring the city itself but all aboard time was 1:30 so that will have to wait until next time.
We had a mini suite way forward on the starboard side, D115. Our balcony did not get much use due to the cold weather but was great to hop out and take pictures coming into harbor early in the morning. But then there were those couple warm afternoons when the sun was on the balcony and it looked so inviting - and it was! Even though the cabin was far forward the seas were mostly calm throughout the entire voyage so no bouncing around.
The Food and Service
We enjoyed the Michelangelo last cruise so headed there the first night and found many staff members we knew from before - and they took excellent care of us for this voyage as well. There were a few new items on the menu we hadn't seen before that became new favorites. One of the things we like about Princess is that the food in the dining room is typically very good to excellent. The Horizon Court was as it always is, a buffet with many choices with a few really good items but mostly basic. Even though it was typically very crowded at normal eating times (breakfast and lunch for us) we always could find a seat inside - eating outside on deck was not an attractive option on this cool to cold weather itinerary! Did not do Sabatini's or the Crown Grill this time but did enjoy the International Cafe and Alfredo's Pizzeria on multiple occasions.
Entertainment was similar to that on our cruise on the Grand a month ago, varied both in style and quality. The production shows were good as always, even though we have seen them many times before they are still enjoyable. Overall the most memorable show was the International Crew Show where crew members showed their skills - and they were fantastic! In fact the ship staff members were much better than many of the paid performers. The really good paid performers were Siobhan Phillips (an unbelievable voice and extremely funny as well) and the MacDonald Brothers. But the comedians and magician and ventriloquist were no where near as good as those we usually see on Princess.
Disembarkation was quick and easy, and we took Princess transportation to Heathrow and arrived in plenty of time for our flight.
This was a great itinerary with absolutely magnificent scenery. It was similar in some ways to cruising in Alaska without a major emphasis on getting close to glaciers but more scenic. Sailing up the fjord to Gieranger reminded us of Milford Sound in New Zealand. The starkness of Longyearbyen has a beauty all its own. We were blessed with great weather, cool but mostly sunny which we were told was not the norm. So this cruise will remain on our bucket list to do again!