Just returned from my first and probably last cruise. Norway itself, the scenery, the inner passage and most of the tours were wonderful, unfortunately the cruise experience itself was not good -- particularly due to the poor condition of our 'superior' outside cabin and the fear of contracting norovirus (almost half of the passengers came down with it). In addition the only reason for us going on this cruise was to see the northern lights and we were disgusted that more was not done by the ship to assist us in this aim.
CABIN. (Superior outside, deck 5). Reasonable size. Condition poor. It may have been 'superior' 20 years ago but is decrepit and rather dingy now. Dread to think how we would have coped if we had contracted norovirus and been banged up in it for 4 days, as some folk were (you had to stay in your cabin for the length of the illness + a further 48 hours after the last symptoms occurred). Rather like living in an old run down caravan that someone else has had the sense to scrap.
NOROVIRUS. The ship blamed the passengers for bringing this on board and for spreading it. No responsibility was taken for the fact that the previous cruise had also suffered from norovirus and only a few hours were devoted to carrying out a 'deep' clean before we boarded. There was no way that sufficient time was allowed to effectively clean the ship before we boarded -- were the carpets steam cleaned and the curtains and bedspreads all washed? No. I am certain this virus was present on the ship (carried on fittings and in the ventilation system) when we boarded and this was the major cause of our outbreak.
The continual spraying of passenger hands was probably ineffective as alcohol based sprays do not work against norovirus - apparently chlorine based ones are better, but we would have been able to smell this in the spray if chlorine had been used. In addition at no time did I see any of the staff spraying their hands and the bad practice of waiters handling used crockery and cutlery and then handing out food to passengers would have caused cross contamination (no plastic gloves used). So, Fred Olsen stop blaming the victims for this awful outbreak.
NORTHERN LIGHTS. To see these was the sole reason for us booking this cruise, I quite accept that they are a natural phenomenon and no guarantees can be given but I did not expect the captain to put the smooth running of the evening meal above the passengers desire to see the lights. On the evening that we left Tromso there was apparently a brilliant display of the lights above the ship. Unfortunately we were on the late sitting for dinner and one of the last tables to be served, no announcement was made in the dining room so we completely missed seeing the lights that night. If we had been told as soon as desert had been served we could have skipped coffee and seen the display.
We finally got a good sighting of the lights on the night before we got into Kristiansund. Unfortunately we struggled to see them as all the deck lights had been left on and the crew refused to switch them off ... as the captain was asleep and no-one else had the authority to do so! Great! Fred Olsen should think a bit more about what customers want from this cruise -- it would have been quite safe to turn off the deck lights on the upper decks only and to have left them on around the stairways and lower decks -- as was done on other nights.
We also went on 2 of the 3 evening tours arranged by the cruise to search for the northern lights. I would not recommend these -- passengers were taken on approx. 4/6 overheated coaches a long distance (90 mins +) from the ship, this was not only to get away from light sources (not much of a job was made of this -- one night we were near a lot of houses and another night we were next to a busy, for Norway, road) but mainly to take us to a large field where a lot of coaches could be parked and a small amount of infrastructure such as a large tent provided and bonfires could be lit. You would be much better advised to use the local information centre and book a tour with a local guide, in a minibus. Other passengers used these and they reported a very good experience with the guide taking them to many different vantage points and really having a good knowledge of where and what to look for. They did not have to endure a long trek out of Tromso or Alta and the price was similar for the local guide as for the cruise tour.
DOG SLEDDING and ICE HOTEL tours. These I cannot praise enough. Both were excellent. I would recommend booking the dog sledding privately just so that you can go for a longer period than the cruise tour allows - also try out driving the sled yourself, it's great fun.
TOILET BLOCKAGES. Several passengers (including us) suffered from this at different times on the cruise (and no we did not flush anything we should not have done!). Not a good experience when you do not want to use the public loos in case of contracting norovirus and no one contacts you to say the problem has been fixed (the engineers work on it outside of your room); you have to ring Reception back to ask. Some passengers also suffered from very poor water pressure. One night we had no water at all for a while, we were told this had affected several other cabins. All problems you don't need when norovirus is present and you are trying to be hygienic.
So now you can see why this is likely to be my last cruise! Certainly my last one with Fred Olsen.