This is a review of the September 6, 2013 sailing, round-trip Copehagen to Norway and the Fjords. We are Josie and Al, semi-retired Realtors from Houston, TX. This was somewhere around our twelfth cruise together in the six years we've been married ... at our age, who's counting? It's likely to be a bit lengthy, so please bear with me. I'll break down the review into components ...
PRE-CRUISE: We arrived in Copenhagen two days prior to the cruise to take in a bit of the city ... well worth it, although be prepared for sticker shock. Scandinavia is among the most expensive places in the world to live ... $27 hamburgers, $53 admission to a movie, and so on. We were forewarned, but were still taken aback. We did both "hop-on, hop-off" tours ... land and canals ... both worth every penny. Do them. We stayed at Wakeup Copenhagen, a "budget" ($170/nt.) hotel ... very new, very clean, very Danish (minimal, but every inch utilized). Google it to see what I mean. Credit cards are widely accepted, and we didn't need to obtain Danish or Norwegian currency ... but be aware that PINs are widely used there, and not every individual can operate the machines to convert to signatures. Debit cards work fine ... but we preferred our Capital One card, since there's no foreign conversion charge. Let the merchants (even taxi drivers) know in advance that you'll be using a credit card with signature. It may be a hassle once in a while, but eventually they'll get it.
EMBARKATION: As easy as it comes ... didn't even have to use the preferred boarding line. We arrived about three hours before sailaway, and were aboard in less than fifteen minutes. The embarkation point is on Deck One, which eliminates that long, uphill hike necessary to board other ships. The cruise was not a sellout, but there were no upgrades available ... apparently there were a number of interior staterooms available, and given that the scenery is the primary attraction, it's understandable. We numbered around 2000 passengers of about fifty nationalities ... met some really great people from all over.
THE SHIP: In a word, tired. Launched in 1998, just before the advent of the mega-ships, it underwent a minor facelift in 2010, but remains essentially the same as when originally placed in service. I'm not going to say much more, since a major drydock is scheduled in a few days. My only questions is why it took so long, since it's the first of its namesake-class ships, and apparently the last to be refurbished.
THE CREW: Overall outstanding. The Master of the vessel is one of the five female captains in the entire cruise industry, and as far as I know, the only one working for a major line. Capt. Lis. is of Danish/Japanese origin, and both personable and accessible. We looked forward to her daily announcements. Our stateroom attendant, Alfredo, was as good as we've ever had, and all other personnel were exceptional ... just a great bunch of people. However (and there always is one), I have no idea how the Cruise Director (Topi) and the Activities Director (Patrick) ever ascended to their ranks. Both are immature, not very professional, and seem to enjoy each other's company more than attending to the passengers. They're by far the worst we've ever encountered. Thankfully our contact was peripheral, and had no real effect on our enjoyment of the cruise.
FOOD AND DINING: This is our first experience with Royal Caribbean's new menu ... and it's a dramatic improvement, both in terms of quality and variety. There are at least a half-dozen "always available" selections ... and while the beef dishes will never win any tenderness awards, they at least had some flavor, unlike those on previous menus. It seemed a bit odd that escargot was served every evening, accompanied by a notice that availability may be limited due to a worldwide shortage ... go figure. Lobster lovers be forewarned ... it's off the menu permanently. But before you call and cancel your reservation, the large shrimp which replaces them are outstanding (we liked them better). Service was prompt and professional ... no complaints whatsoever.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the Windjammer (buffet) selections. Essentially it's cafeteria food, and sometimes not even that. If you stick with the salads, you'll be fine. But if your a carnivore, you'll be disappointed ... hamburgers were cremated and swimming in grease, hand-carved meats were dry and overcooked, all fish (obviously frozen) was just plain awful, and most of the accompanying vegetables were soggy, save for the potatoes. Desserts and baked goods, however, were excellent. All of this is particularly significant since it was the only lunch option on port days ... and there were five. There is definitely much room for improvement.
ENTERTAINMENT: We didn't expect very much in the way of entertainment. We're not particular fans of cruise ship production numbers, and didn't stay to see the ends of any. They were the usual "Broadway" and "Disco" routines ... and the fact that one of the singers was continually off-key didn't make it any more pleasant. There were two guest performers ... Kurt "Somebody" (I actually forgot his last name ... that's how memorable he was), a mime/juggler/comedian, and the surprise of the week, Los Pampas Gauchos ... one of the most entertaining performances we've ever seen on a ship. Look them up.
THE ITINERARY: This is what we came for, and it was all we expected. We learned much of Norwegian culture and history dating back to the Iron Age in Kristiansand, Alesund and Stavanger ... but the highlights by far were the ports of Geiranger and Bergen. The former is a village of 220 year-round residents (that's not a typo), but 5000 daily visitors during the season. The approach and departure are among the most scenic in the world, and the trip up the mountains provides incredible panoramas of untouched beauty. By contrast, Bergen is Norway's second-largest city. It's beautifully located, and our trip to the home of composer Eduard Grieg (along with an accompanying concert in a theater that's beyond description) was an unexpected pleasure. This is a port-intensive itinerary ... only one sea day ... but it's definitely necessary.
DEPARTURE: It was just as easy as boarding ... in fact, we ran ten minutes ahead of schedule. We stayed another night in Copenhagen before heading home, and did a bit more sightseeing (it's a fascinating city, and everyone speaks English). Our flight home was uneventful, despite having to endure Customs at Dulles International Airport in DC, and making our connection to Houston with about twenty minutes to spare.
CONCLUSION: This trip was on our to-do list for quite some time ... and we're thrilled that we were finally able to get there. Bring your camera and be prepared to be blown away.