What a great trip this was. The weather didn't cooperate half the time but when it did, it was beautiful.
I think my number one tip for anyone going on this cruise is to relax. There is plenty to do right in the ports- including private tour operators right at the dock selling excursions. The only place I would recommend having something pre-planned is Geiranger, and even there you could book some things on the dock.
Holland is an easy city to get around- there's a train station in the airport that you can easily get on to get to your hotel in the city center. We rented a car and with the GPS it was very easy to navigate. We drove around little cities outside of Amsterdam for a couple of days. Then at the end of our trip we added a day in Amsterdam.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, Schiphol the day before we flew back to the states. Highly recommend this place. It's brand new, continental breakfast included and I got the room for 99E on-line which is very inexpensive! They have a shuttle to the airport for 7,5Euro pp; and they're also walking distance to the train. We took the train into Amsterdam from there which took about 20 minutes. Walk around and check out the Red Light District- during the day, not at night! The Flower Market is fun & easy to get to, and the little cheese shops there have lots of samples. Get your tickets to Anne Frank's house on line before heading out- this saved us about an hour and a half in line. It's worth it to see, read her diary first if you can. You can get hop on-hop off canal boat tickets for the day and you can also rent the pedal boats for an hour. I wouldn't book them for longer than that as they're pretty tiring- but fun.
Brugges Belgium, it was pouring & windy, with periods of sun. Beautiful city. We took a taxi in- very easy right there at the port. 50 Euro for 4 of us. (each way, which was still cheaper than using ship's transfers). The chocolate/sweet shops are wonderful, they all give you samples. We thought Galler was the best of the best. We climbed to the top of the Belfry, well worth the climb to see the bells and views from the top. We also went into the Church of the Blood & explored the shops. We would have liked more time but the wind & rain really started whipping so we found a taxi and headed back.
Le Havre- we prebooked a car with Eurocar before we left the states. It was a Sunday but they agreed to have a car at the port for us and we should check in with them right there at the port between 8-9. The man arrived at 8:30am and it was easy to check in and get our car right there. We had been to Paris before, so we chose to drive to Mont St Michel. I'd read some comments from people advising against the drive because it was too far. I'm glad we didn't listen. Traffic was extremely light- being a Sunday- and the drive was pretty. It was also expensive as there were quite a few tolls- including a new really cool bridge that cost 5.2 Euro to cross- each way. So make sure you have lots of Euro coins on hand if you do this. It took us about 2 hours and 20 minutes with stops at little stores along the way. When you come around the corner and see Mont St Michel- it's breathtaking! Like a fairytale. You park in a lot and take a shuttle or walk about 20-30 minutes to the Mont. Take the steps all the way to the top and enjoy the views & the food. The little pancake shops are wonderful!
Stavanger Norway- We'd planned to climb Pulpit Rock but with the rain it was very slick so we just walked around and explored the port. Norway is expensive. I mean really, really expensive. We wanted an authentic lunch- so we found a restaurant on the water. I had fish soup, my husband had cod with fingerling potatoes, my sons had seafood pasta and salmon; we had 2 cokes and 2 waters and the bill came to $150. We were glad we did it, it was delicious but after that we ate on the ship.
Alesund Norway- very pretty port. We walked to Mount Askla- easy walk and then up the 350+ steps. The steps are strenuous but people of all ages did it. The views were gorgeous. People also took the bus and taxis up if they weren't able to walk it. We then caught a taxi to Sugarlump (Sukkertoppen) mountain and hiked it. It cost about 15 Euro to taxi there. This was a very fun hike- but DIRTY & slick. Take an old pair of shoes and wear clothes that can get muddy. We loved it but that kind of hiking isn't for everyone.
Geiranger Norway- in my opinion the most breathtakingly beautiful port. My guys went kayaking and had a wonderful time. It's paddling for 3 straight hours, and had blisters when they were done. I went to a goat farm through a ships excursion & I LOVED it. The drive was beautiful and the farm was a lot of fun. You learn a lot about Geiranger & the surrounding areas from the guide and get to see vistas that you just can't see if you stay in Geiranger. The "town" is tiny, there isn't a lot to do if you choose to not do an excursion; but there are some neat shops and restaurants to explore right there.
Flam Norway- another beautiful small port town. We booked the train through the ship. We chose the train and hiking excursion. In my opinion the train by itself would be a little boring if that's all you did. The scenery is beautiful, of course but the hiking added in really made the excursion great for us. We went to a little hotel where we got sandwiches and juice boxes. The hike is about 9 kilometers and is mostly downhill- some very steep downhills. They keep the pace a little slow- slower than we would have liked at times but it was very pretty; and such beauty! Waterfalls everywhere you look, and you come upon a little farm with goats laying around that you can pet.
Bergen Norway- We went exploring on our own here. They have a free shuttle that takes you into town. Our favorite place here was the fish market. They cook your seafood to order and accept any kind of currency. We had shrimp, cod, salmon, salad, etc. It was expensive but not as bad as our first meal in Norway. And it was delicious. We walked over to Mt. Floien and took the funicular up. The line was pretty long early on so we went back later and it was much shorter. Bergen is easily navigated walking around easy to do without an excursion.
Around the ship- I really enjoyed all of the dance classes they offered- Thriller (Michael Jackson); Bollywood, Salsa, belly dancing, line dancing. Thriller, bollywood & belly dancing were 3 parts and at the end you present them in the centrum with the staff. Fun!
We thought the food was overall pretty good; Chop's was a great meal but $30pp seemed steep as a cover charge.
The service that we had was excellent. Everyone was very friendly and helpful.
The only complaint I have is the smell in our room. Our toilets clogged every single day. One night we woke up at 3am to a horrible smell in our room. I went into the bathroom and the entire floor was flooded from the drain in the floor. Urine, etc. Maintenance came in every day to unclog, clean, scrub, etc and nothing helped. It was awful. I feel bad for whoever got that room after we left as it seemed like nothing could be done to change it. They said that someone in another room was flushing things down their toilet and clogging it but it seemed like more than that. They gave us a $75 credit on our account "for our trouble" which seemed strange. I could smell the odor in some of our clothes when we got home. Yuck.
I hope this helps with planning for others. Like I said before, relax & don't get too caught up in planning. Take Euro & Norwegian Kroner with you if you can get some from your bank.