Just returned from a 12-night cruise aboard the Caribbean Princess, departing June 19 round-trip from Southampton, England visiting Bergen, Flaam, Hellesylt, Geiranger, Honningsvag (North Cape), Tromso, Gravdal, and Stavanger. This was our first trip to Norway and we were eager to compare it to trips to Alaska and southern Chile. For an interval of time, this trip was heavily discounted and we snapped it up. Later during the trip, this required some care in discussing the cost of the trip with fellow passengers, as many of those who booked early ended up paying 2-3 times as much as others. In this case, it did not pay to book early. Since airfare can be half the cost, you might want to look at booking the British Isle cruise beforehand, stay onboard for the Norwegian Fjords cruise, and/or stay onboard for the 7 days Scandinavian Capitals cruise that follows Norway. We had Princess handle our airfare as well and although they took us from San Francisco on a somewhat round about route (via Houston out and then Calgary return), it all went smoothly. The transfer from Heathrow to the ship at Southampton went flawlessly and we were onboard by 10AM. The return when just as well, but I am getting ahead of myself.
This was our fourth cruise with Princess and excepting the Regal Princess (no longer with Princess); the Caribbean Princess is our least favorite ship. This is not to say that our experience was not excellent, it was, but it is just that some aspects of the ship's layout were not optimum. The ship usually felt "crowded" - several passengers mentioned this. It may be that the extensive open deck areas, well suited to the Caribbean where this ship usually sails, were not suited to Norway. Even though our weather was excellent, this was Norway after all, and most passengers stayed indoors. It was sometimes difficult to find a spot to sit and read. One aspect that was disappointing was the library. We usually spend a good deal of time here. However, on the Caribbean Princess, it is almost totally given over to the computer stations for people wanting to access email and the web. (Note, that you can send a "Princess postcard" for no charge on the Internet. Ask the attendant how to do it.) The total "library" consisted of four chairs. Princess did try to accommodate the card players, board game players, and readers by opening up the "restaurants" and lounges for day use. At night, one of the two buffet cafe on top was closed for eating, but perfect for reading, card playing, small group conversations, or just plain viewing the scenery. We were upgraded twice to a double interior. Our room was spacious and comfortable, cabin service was excellent as we have come to expect from Princess.
Food was available at a variety of locations ranging from the main dining rooms to the buffets, to the very nice International Cafe (serving a variety of dishes at no extra charge), to several dining rooms available for an extra fee. Food was fairly standard. I concentrated on fish dishes, which were very good. Several at our table ordered beef and I would rate these dishes as poor. Several at our table of eight sent beef dishes back stating that they were "tough". Thus, overall the food service was not up to par for previous Princess cruises. Service, however, was excellent.
This seems in decline in quantity and quality. Something we have noticed on other cruises. Another annoying trend is that often the workshops or sessions serve as entry points designed to get you to purchase products and services. There was daily entertainment in the "Atrium" which was well attended. The entertainment in the showroom in the evening was very good including a range of comedians and musicians. The production numbers were uneven. One we had seen on two previous cruises and thus seemed dated to us, however there was a new production using a mocked up pink Cadillac that was excellent.
Shore excursions, shopping and the scenery
Norway was fantastically beautiful. It wins the prize for most waterfalls in the world. Our weather was uniformly fantastic, no rain or fog. We had worried about this trip as several reviews had complained about the rain, but we were very fortunate. Norway is an extremely expensive country and this also was true of shore excursions. I suggest you carefully select which shore excursions you pick in Norway or you could easily run up $2000-3000 in shore excursion costs. We selected four. In Hellesylt/Gelranger we chose the Mount Dalsnibba, Stryn Lake and Buldrefossen Waterfall tour, in Flaam we chose the Flaam Railway and Voss. We highly recommend these all day tours, as the scenery is fantastic and visit a variety of locations. They are long days, but excellent lunches at local restaurants were included as well as well-timed stops and photo opportunities. In Honningsvag, we took the North Cape Hall and North Cape Cliffs tour. Fortunately, we had excellent weather here and had great views to the north. Be sure to see the film in the visitor's center. The only downside of this trip was its cost. At $139 per person for what is basically a 45-minute bus ride to North Cape, the cost seemed exorbitant. Many passengers chose not to take this trip because they didn't want to pay $139 to see fog. If the weather is clear, seeing the cliffs, being able to point to the North Pole, and observing reindeer in the wild helps lessen the price sting. Our final tour was the Cruise along the Lysefjord in Stavanger. We enjoyed this trip and recommend it, although the boats were very crowded, and by this point in the trip, we had already seen much more striking scenery. The stop at the waffle house, though, was great. Be sure to visit the cobbled streets near the dock where the ship ties up for a look at many beautiful gardens. For the other stops, we simply wandered the towns. Bergen was excellent for this. Take care in signing up for a shuttle bus to town. There was no charge at Bergen, but at some of the other towns, there was a $16 round trip charge for a 1-2 mile trip. If you are able, save your money and walk to town. We actually did little shopping. As I said before, Norway is very expensive. Using the universal t-shirt comparison, a shirt you might pay $20 for anywhere else usually ran $40. A cup of coffee might run you $4-5. The majority of items included knitwear and every possible combination of trolls.
We highly recommend this trip and had a fantastic time. This trip and a fourteen-day trip to Norway are only offered once a year on Princess, or so we've been told. Our comments are mainly to prepare travellers on how expensive travel in Norway is. The scenery is magnificent, service on the Caribbean Princess was excellent, other than the food, any problems were minor, and the Norwegian people were friendly and outgoing. Crossing the Arctic Circle and entering the Land of the Midnight Sun is a true experience. Fellow passengers come from various countries and there is an equal mix of Americans and Brits. Meeting and talking with people was a real pleasure. It was one of the friendliest cruises we've been on. If you have the opportunity to take this cruise, do not hesitate to go.