My husband and I are experienced cruisers, having sailed 11 times to such ports as Alaska, Hawaii, Panama Canal, Caribbean and Mexico. This was our first cruise in Europe and we were a little concerned about finding our way from London to Dover, for embarkation. We need not have worried - all went quite well. We flew into London, took a bus from Healthrow to Victoria Station, and had pre-arranged for a B&B close to Vic Station. We walked it within 10 minutes. I recommendRick Steve's book on London to get details on survival there. It should be noted that if you want a quick tour of London, plan two days. One day was not enough as we were so tired when we arrived...We took a "hop on-hop off" bus tour but my husband slept through the entire thing, which is not a surprise considering we had been traveling for 24 hours. I would recommend the Red Tour Bus, not the Golden Tour. Red busses are plentiful and pick you up often. Golden left us stranded for long periods of time, and More
one bus passed right by our stop. To Dover: We arranged for a National Express bus from London to Dover on Friday afternoon. Another important note: Make those plans via internet - We were told it's difficult to get a bus out of London on a Friday PM - tickets sell out fast. So we were set. Bus was great. Again, got a B&B in Dover. I highly recommend Mason Deaux Bed and Breakfast, which was a five minute walk from the bus station. GORGEOUS place and we found it to be very reasonably priced. The owners, Di and Barry, were so helpful.
On to the ship: We called for a taxi at 10 am May 4 and headed to the cruise ship terminal, which is in an old railway station and very nice. We got there way too early, waited about an hour, and were #'s 2 and 3 to board the ship.
We were on the Collector's Voyage - 14 Day Norse Legends and Viking Sagas Cruise. We had a Veranda Suite and it was amazing! The veranda was so large and private...and it was so awesome to lay in bed and watch the scenery roll by.
Bergen - A short walk to town and Bryggen, the shopping area in the wharf region. McDonald's has free Wifi. Don't miss the brand new fish and flower market right on the wharf. We took the Fantopf Stave Church and Greig Music Trip - both were wonderful. The concert at the Greig estate was especially beautiful and such a lovely setting for the concert hall.
Flam - We tendered in. Yes, there are exhaust fumes but that's life. If you want the tender to move, you must put up with the fumes. This was a cute little town to walk. We took the 3-1/2 hour Flam Railway tour and it was lovely. Stopped at a waterfall, which was a goofy stop - not a nice place to gather around, we stood on the platform of the station and caught a glimpse of the waterfall. There will be more waterfalls to come - I would not recommend getting off the train for this. However, the stop at the hotel for waffles, jam and coffee is not to be missed. A lovely stop. This was a beautiful trip and you get to see breathtaking scenery up in the mountain and go through 20 some tunnels.
Alesund - We took the Alesund Aquarium Tour - interesting but not fantastic. The best part of this tour was the area outside the building with the beautiful views on the water. I was told if you sat right outside the back door, close to the check out registers, you could access their Wifi! Didn't bring my laptop so didn't get to take advantage of this. After this visit we drove up into Mt Askala and what a view! Also got a nice drive through the area. Alesund is a gorgeous fishing harbor and the art nouveau architecture is unusual.....you'll enjoy any trip that gets you up into the elevations for photography.
Eidefjord - we took the tour called Waterfalls and Waffles - were treated to a wonderful drive into the mountain, following a river, into a mountain plateau. . . the views were breathtaking. Once more we were treated to a stop at a lodge where we were served waffles with strawberry sauce and cream. YUM! We hopped back on our bus and made several other beautiful stops, including one at the Sysen Dam - a gorgeous point for photos. Take your Christmas card photo here! There was snow on the ground and it was chilly. Stopped at one more waterfall viewing spot and were able to check out a coffee shop/lodge there for a bathroom break and mocha latte.
**After the first week the cruise returned to Dover, England. About 40% of the passengers left the cruise, and the rest of us stayed on for the second week. We had the day to explore Dover, and did - stopped at a McD's for Wifi.
Oslo - Norway's capitol city - this is a big city folks! We walked about 10 minutes to the train station which was like a small shopping center - McD's for Wifi,, flower market, etc....We took the Hadeland Glassverks tour - which is located in their own private little village setting. We went into the factory and watched the demonstrations, then had our choice of shops to browse: bakery, china shop, glass shop, factory outlet shop, etc. Things were costly. Our second stop was the Viking Ship Museum - very, very nice.
Kristiansand - We walked to city center and browsed through a shopping center. Walked the area and enjoyed the views. Browsed through a fish market. Lots of restaurants in this area and it's easy to find your way around.
Found a large grocery store and bought my brown Norwegian goat cheese, and my lingonberry jam here. Norwegian people are helpful, kind and polite. The people we spoke to for directions or information were just lovely. We stopped at Kristiansand Cathedral and took photos. There is a little community of small, brightly painted houses that are several hundred years old and they are fun to see. No excursion this day.
Stavanger - This is one cool port! It's easy to get around and everything was within 15 minutes walk of the port. Just get off the ship and walk to the end of the pier. . . there it is. If you like to shop, this is your place!! There were tents and kiosks set up in an open area in front of the Breiavartnet 12th Century Cathedral, which you can tour, for a price. Next to this open area is a fruit and veg/flower market - nice to browse. Beyond that is a large open air shopping center that goes on for blocks. There is everything high end, intermediate, and even a Goodwill in that area!. There was a McD's for Wifi.
Past all the shopping and up in the upper tier over the port, is Old Stavanger - this is a preserved neighborhood of more than 180 early 19th century white wooden homes that have been preserved and overlook the marina. The streets are cobblestone and it is adorable and such fun to walk. Do it! Take your camera. The Norwegian Canning Museum is in this area.
Ulvik - last stop! This tiny little hamlet of 1,000 people was so beautiful. It was surrounded by mountains, glaciers and a lovely and peaceful little stop. I tendered over and walked the little town with no fear of becoming lost. . . toured The Church of Ulvik, which was beautiful and quaint. Later in the day we took the Osa Mountain Trip tour. We drove around the Osa area and then explored up into the mountain and in the Espland Valley. We saw waterfalls, sheep, a reindeer, and Fjord horses! We drove hairpin turns and ended up overlooking Ulvik, the fjord and our ship.
The reason I've gone into great detail regarding our excursions is because when I was planning this cruise, there was nothing for me to refer to -- perhaps this will help someone if they need to plan a similar cruise.
Regarding the ship, it was lovely, clean, orderly, beautiful antiques and display items, nice artwork, tremendous service. I counted two babies on this cruise..... We were definitely an older group. I was told 60 % of us were from England and the rest from other places, such as Australia and USA. Our dining steward did a fantastic job, and the food was amazing in the first seating upper dining room, with a 6:00 dining time. We had a table for eight and we all got along famously....it was a very pleasant 14 evenings of dining together. Our room steward was such a sweet and kind man, considering these guys have recently been given additional rooms and responsibility. They work hard, and we gave them an additional tip because we felt they deserved it for their hard work and efforts. Regarding the Lido, disorganization reigned. We would save a table and split, looking for our breakfast. We never got to eat at the same time as one of us always was searching for something, or waiting for our food to be cooked. It seemed also that the dining areas were so jammed it was hard to find a place to sit. Lunch was much better but that's probably because most of the time people were off the ship and on excursions. We played the Newlywed game one night and won a bottle of champagne. . . . then arranged to dine at the Pinnacle one night and dropped off the champagne early so they could chill it and serve it to us with dinner. It was very nice.
One distinct different between a Caribbean or Mexican cruise, and a European cruise, is they don't put that big push on shopping off the ship at International Diamonds etc. It was such a welcome relief to not have that constant yammering about shopping.
We highly recommend this Norwegian cruise. Don't know how often it will be offered, but it was a lovely way to see the country and I would love to do it again, in the Northern area of Norway. Less