I had cruised the Vision of the Seas about three years ago and had written an extensive review, so I will not dwell a lot about the ship. This itinerary for the Vision was quite intriguing but despite much research we had a great deal of difficulty finding information about each port, highlights and details of how to get around. Many of the posted reviews were lacking in detail, so in my review I have tried to give others more of the port details to help your future fjords' sailing. VOS is a Vision class ship that will be going to dry dock next year; the ship does show some wear and tear and the rooms badly need upgrading. The service is top notch and entertainment is average to good; food tends to be average with a couple of nights excellent and a couple of nights below average. On this particular sailing, there was about a total of 210 passengers from the US & UK, so it was quite interesting to note all the announcements in different languages and so many people speaking in other languages. The captain, one of only 4 female captains in the world, was fabulous and always visible, keeping passengers informed of the different local sights we were passing. In addition, the cruise director noticed the popularity of Karaoke and put it on all but one night to include two nights featuring a live band as the backup for the Karaoke singers. The only disappointment was the Arctic Circle crossing celebration, as it seemed to be very unorganized and was held in a location that if you were not in the front you could not see any of the antics. Overall a wonderful time. I chose to do "My Time Dining" which is the only way to go and proved to be very convenient, boarding in Copenhagen could not be any easier - just make sure you know which pier the ship is docked; for this cruise the ship was at Fergehavn Nord, the local bus(#26) will drop you off at the dock entrance about an easy 10 minute walk to check-in. Now on to the amazing ports:
Day #1; at sea, got to love these at sea days to relax.
Day #2 Alesund:
Lovely town, we lucked out with a beautiful sunny day of about 68 degrees. As you leave the ship, you are handed a map of the town by tourist "ambassadors" who are on the streets near the harbor, and there is also a tourist office about a 5 minute walk from the dock. To get to the center of town from the dock - simply walk along the channel right in front of the ship, to the main harbor. There is an ATM in the 'mall' in the city center if you need cash. My wife and I decided to first walk to the Aksla Mountain with the Fjellstua viewpoint on top, walking up the path with the 418 steps. The path/steps are zig-zag, and not difficult a climb, although it is a medium fitness level of activity. After climbing the steps, we went back to Charter@62.no (a business on the water, also in the city center, where you can get active tours/excursions or rent bikes and kayaks). We rented bikes and then headed off to the Sunnmere Museum, which is a history of Alesund and its people from the Stone Age to the 1900s. 45 minutes later, after taking one wrong turn, we arrived at the Museum. Entrance to the museum was about 80 NOK pp (about $13 USD). Sunnmere is an outdoor museum of cabins and boats that have been well-preserved and/or restored; it is also an activity center/park with some hiking and boat rentals available. After walking around, grabbing a bite to eat, seeing the Viking ship and boat collection, we headed on over to the "Borgund Stave" Church which is the most popular place for weddings in the area. It was actually located near one of the hiking trails of Sunnmore; we must have seen at least 3 brides in the short 30 minutes we were there. We then biked back to Alesund and around the city center for a brief look at the town (very busy with pedestrians!) and then biked to the small red lighthouse at the harbor entrance before returning our bikes and walking back to the ship. Norwegian
Day #3 crossing the Arctic Circle - celebrations started at 2:00pm, and one activity was to get your nose 'painted' blue with glitter (I got mine done) and get your certificate certifying the crossing. Cute and fun activity.
Day #4 Honnigsvag and North Cape:
A tender port but due to low winds and calm seas we docked on a lovely sunny 65 degree day. After much research, we chose to do a ship's excursion in spite of our stance of trying to avoid ship excursions - the private excursion was identical in price and proved not only to be a hassle in arranging, but we were advised by the locals to go with the ship since bad weather is more likely than not in Norway and the ship would wait for us if we were with the ship's excursion vs private. Like cattle, we were loaded onto one of the many buses and began what I thought would be a standard touristy trip, only to be amazed with the unbelievable scenery along the way to North Cape. The trip took approximately an hour, including a quick stop at a local Sami area for pictures of the culture, native dress and reindeer which were roaming around the hills eating and gazing at the tourists. When we arrived at North Cape, we were told that we could take 'ANY" ship excursion bus back into town, allowing for about an hour and a half at North Cape. The day was picture perfect but very windy at the top of the world! In spite of our expectations and all our research that this would be a dreaded tourist trap, the whole experience totally blew us away - the view and feeling of 'having arrived' at the northern most town is hard to describe. There are a number of view/lookout points, and the underground chapel, lounge (where many weddings are held!) and "kings view" are stunning. The museum and souvenir gift shop were nicely done, and we did the touristy thing and mailed postcards to our family from the top of the world. Back in Honningsvag, we walked around while waiting for our reservation time at the "Artico Ice Bar" which we arranged on our own. The bar is located 300 meters from the pier and very easy to find. Make sure you have a reserved time as entrance is limited! The inside of the Ice Bar is very nicely done out of local ice from lakes, broken down each year and rebuilt again, making each year a unique design. After crawling through the igloo and 'sledding' around inside the ice bar, we still had enough time to explore the small town before returning to the ship. The town even though small has some interesting sights to include the only building surviving the Nazi burning of the entire town. The whole day was absolutely a one of a kind experience!
Day #5 Tromso:
As the ship sails into Tromso...we can't see more than a foot in front of our face! Fog surrounds us and we are concerned that we won't see much... But the captain promised us that the fog would lift as we head into port. Tromso is a relatively large town and you dock at the pier on the outskirts of the town. The ship has a shuttle (cost $12R/T) that will take you to the middle of downtown and very close to the tourist information. The plan was to see the Arctic Cathedral first by taking the local bus, but after waiting 20 minutes, our group of 8 decided to split two taxis (cost was 25 NOK pp, cheaper than the bus by 1 NOK). We arrived at the Arctic Cathedral in about 5 minutes before many of the crowds and buses. Following our picture taking which included some great shots of the bridge disappearing into the fog not totally lifted yet (you must cross this long bridge with a pedestrian walkway to get to the cathedral), we begin walking to the Mount Flaya cable car entrance which is about a 15 minute leisurely walk through a residential neighborhood. By the time we arrived at the cable car entrance, the fog had totally burned off and the view is beginning to be all that was promised and more. The lines for getting on the cable car were not too long and about 10 minutes later, we were in a cable car that took us up to 421 meters above sea level, to Storsteinen on Mount Flaya; trip takes four minutes. At the top you get a magnificent view of Tromso; watching planes taking off from the local airport was an unexpected treat. Back down at the entrance to the cable car, part of our group decided to walk across the bridge while some of us eventually catch the bus. Back in the center of town, we grab a bite to eat and then enjoy some street music as we walk around, wind up at the local library (a very cool looking building) where we enjoy free internet and wifi, and end our day watching some fishermen catch fish at the dock. Lovely town with much to see, buy and enjoy.
Day #6 & 7; fun sea days I love it.
Day #8 Geiranger:
A picture of Geiranger is usually posted for every Norwegian Fjords cruise; in real life it is identical in beauty and magnificence. You tender on arrival in Geiranger which is a small village (permanent population of less than 300); the tender to the dock was only 4-5 minutes at the most. Immediately where the tenders drop passengers there are a few souvenir shops and the ever useful Tourist Information Office where we got information about the local bus, a map and were able to use the internet for free. We opted for the local bus up to the Dalsnibba viewpoint (same as the ship excursion but half the price); the bus ride up to Dalsnibba was more of the incredible scenery in Norway -- fjords, mountains, waterfalls, lakes, glaciers that take your breath away. Trip up was about an hour, stopping for picture taking once along the way. We had 20 -- 30 minutes at the top viewpoint where there is also a souvenir shop. Back in town, we hit the souvenir shops again and did a little more exploring, stopping at the general store before returning to the ship. Sailing back out to sea, we passed the Seven Sisters, Bridal Veil and the Suitor Waterfall and made sure we were in the Champagne Lounge on board ship in order to get some more amazing pictures -- we totally understand why Geiranger is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site!
Day #9 Olden:
Ship docks in a lovely setting in a very small town. Briksdalen Glacier is the main attraction but is 45 minutes away by bus. Wanting to do something unusual, my wife had arranged for our group to paddle out among the icebergs on the Briksdalen Glacier Lake, which is at the tongue of the Briksdalen arm of the biggest glacier in Europe (Jostedal Glacier). We had a beautiful and amazing ride in a small van up to the Briksdalen Adventure Park area where there is a nice souvenir shop and facilities and if you have a large enough group and pre-arrange it, you can do things like Viking bowling, archery, axe throwing, climbing towers. However, we had chosen paddling in the lake and so our group began our nice hike up to the tongue of the Glacier. Hike was medium activity level along a decent path -- about 3km; we passed several areas of waterfalls and whitewater before arriving at our destination with our guide. However, on arrival, we were told that due to high winds, we would not be able to paddle on the lake. We were all disappointed but agreed that the winds were excessive; although our guide was very informative about the glacier, he did not charge for the activity since we weren't able to paddle. We did tip at our own discretion. Cost for the transportation was 250 NOK pp; our contact for this was: firstname.lastname@example.org; 47+90 13 8308. Back in Olden by 1pm, we decided to rent bikes and bike around the town of Olden. Brilliant decision with very decent bikes and bike paths! Evidently, there were some good sales being held at a local store, but by the time we got back to the center of town, we discovered the main shop with the great bargains had already closed -- very early! Another amazing little town in Norway!
Day #10 Bergen:
The ship can dock at various locations around the pier, so be prepared to a walk. We were scheduled to do a GPS hike at Mt. Ulriken, taking a local bus and a cable car in order to get there. However, due to the rain, we decided against this activity and headed into town with some friends along the Skoltegrunskaien Pier/waterfront. About a 15 minute walk brought us to the Fish Market area, at which point we looked for our vendor to see if we could just do the GPS sightseeing in town but couldn't find the office for Bergen Base Camp (www.bergenbasecamp.com; email@example.com). We did find the Tourist Information office, but it was very crowded (Bergen is the 2nd largest city in Norway) so we wandered through the fish market, admiring the different offerings and were stunned by the stratospheric prices. We then decided to head on over to the Funicular Station (about 150 meters from the Fish Market), hoping that by the time we got tickets (80 NOK pp) and got up to the Mt. Floyen viewpoint, the rain would have let up and the fog would be gone. Line was not as long as anticipated -- probably due to the weather and lack of visibility -- and we were up on top before noon. The ride up was actually a little different in that we passed through several tunnels that went under various roads in town before beginning the main part of the 'climb' up to the top. At the viewpoint, we walked around a bit; one of our group went a little further into the nicely wooded area and discovered that there were rope 'bridges' to walk along, very large wood sculptures of trolls and other 'creatures', large rocks painted as trolls... and with the fog and mist, it all had a very magical and fairy tale quality to it -- great photo op! After about 20 minutes of wandering we had decided to go back down the funicular when all of a sudden, the rain stopped, the fog lifted and we had the most amazing view of Bergen! Everything we had hoped for! Back in town, we wandered through the various shops and discovered Hakonshallen and Rosenkrantz Tower, part of Bergen's fortifications, and Bryggen, which is the site of an old Hanseatic wharf and merchants' buildings. The old timber originals of the merchant buildings were destroyed by fire in 1702 but rebuilt (typical Norwegian history -- can't be trusted with fire!). Most of the buildings are now tourist souvenir shops these days, although there are a few left that are just historical and / or museums. Since this was our final port, we did do some shopping, trying to spend whatever NOK we had left.
Day #11; at sea and reliving the memories!