The three off us signed up for the 7 night Norwegian Cruise. We are all 46+ . I enjoy cruising because it is an opportunity to visit different cities without packing and unpacking. The ship and ship's activities are of lesser importance to me. Two of us really enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, boating and biking while the third of our group prefers the city tours. I did not do much homework before booking this cruise. My first indication that this would be "more looking" and "less doing"' vacation came when I went to book shore excursions. There were not a lot of 'activities" to choose from. The vibe of this cruise was definitely for an older crowd. Going in September after school started meant few kids.
Our first stop was Kristiansand. We arrived Sun morning and of course it being Sunday all the stores were closed. The weather was overcast as well. My friends and I along with 2,000 other people walked up and down the streets of this town looking in windows and taking pictures of the old style houses. There was not much else to do. For shore excursions in Kristiansand we were offered Setesdal Mineral Park, Scenic Drive to Vest Agder Open Air Museum, Historical Walk at Odderoya and a typical Norwegian Forest Walk. We chose the Mineral Park. It was nice to get out of the city and see the country. The tour leader gave us some good history on the region. We had the opportunity to learn about the activities that the locals enjoy (white water rafting, hiking and other outdoor activities - wish these were offered..). The mineral park was interesting - a huge private collection of minerals from the region and a smaller collection from the rest of the world.
Our second stop was Stavanger. Regrettably it was raining when we arrived. We disembarked and walked around the town for a couple of hours. The town was pretty white wooden houses with red slate roofs - but again not much to do. We visited a fort...looked in shops.....We had booked the Leyesfjord (sp?) boat tour for the afternoon. I was really excited about this one since we had not seen a fjord yet. We boarded the boat and traveled about 1.5 hrs up the fjord. If the weather had been nice I am sure this would have been an excellent excursion. A few other hardy souls and I stayed on the observation deck getting rained on. The guide did a good job offering up a description of what we could NOT see due to fog. The rest of the folks stayed below in the boat. My companions said they had a hard time staying awake in the warm/crowded interior.
Our third stop was Alesund. At least it was not raining but it was overcast - I have a picture of a fog bank where our guide assured us below was our ship ?. The choices of shore excursions were Alesund City walking tour, Saga Islands and Atlantic Sea Park and Alesund highlights. My friends and I chose the Saga Island tour. We started off at the aquarium. It was billed as one of the largest in the region. It was pretty pedestrian compared to other's I have visited. They focused on local fish and since they were recycling water back to the sea the visibility was not great in the tanks. There was a large tank where a diver did a feeding display that was entertaining. They had penguins outside, a turtle display, several smaller tanks with rays and other fish and a room of stuffed creatures. The tour then continued to the various Saga islands through some of the longest tunnels in the world. Our guide again gave good commentary on the region and showed us some interesting houses with "grass roofs". We stopped at a lighthouse for a bit - the climb to the top was not difficult unless you were tall. Two from our bus hit their heads pretty hard... The views from the top of the lighthouse were pretty. Our final stop was a really old church that can trace its existence back to the 1100's. A local lady gave us some history of the church and we were free to walk around and take pictures. The tour was 4.5 hours which did not leave a lot of time to explore the town.
The next stop was Geiranger. It was cloudy when we arrived but we could see the sun breaking through. The view is amazing. At night the boat is actually traveling up a fjord and when the sun comes up you are docked at the end. The town is very small. Only 250 people live there year round. They had 4 or 5 "'tourist" type stores that offered a chance to buy the requisite tee shirt and other tourist junk. Something most of the other cities were lacking. This was the one stop that offered multiple interesting shore excursions. Too bad we could only choose one. We had Geiranger highlights, Fascinating Geiranger, Sky to Fjord downhill bike tour, Hike to Storster waterfall, Herdalster mountain farm, RIB Boat on Geirangerfjord and Kayak on Geirangerfjord. One of my friends and I chose the bike tour. The other friend did a local hop on/hop off bus. This one shore excursion saved the trip. We were taken by coach to the top of a mountain then we peddled/coasted down the very narrow road - stopping 5 or 6 times to take photos. The only negative was the road was narrow and well-traveled by tour busses. We had two guys wipe out on the bikes and my friend narrowly avoided getting plowed by a bus. I took 3 times more pictures in Geiranger than on the rest of the trip - it was that beautiful. We pulled out of Geiranger in the evening. Everyone was on deck drinking in the beautiful scenery.
Our last stop was Bergen. My friend from Sweden warned me it always rains in Bergen - so we were prepared. Luckily while overcast the weather held. The shore excursions were Bergen City and Troldhaugen concert, Bryggen wharf and its history, Bergen Highlights and Bergen Panoramic. We did not pick an excursion. We investigated the hop on/off bus but realized we had already walked 50% of the route before we got to the office. There was a good mix of stores along the wharf area that sold tourist junk as well as art and other local products. We walked and shopped for several hours and then made our way to the funicular. The view from the top was nice.
The final day was at sea. It was too chilly to sit outside for long so we found places in the solarium. One of my friends and I had sailed on the Vision of the Seas to Alaska in 2008. The boat had not changed much. It is going into dry-dock in December for a major overall - that said I found the ship to be in pretty decent shape. The common areas were kept clean and free from debris. We managed to get upgraded from a Jr Suite to a real suite with 2 bedrooms and a balcony. This upgrade gave us a pass to the Diamond club in the evening - free drinks and snacks. We needed this pass because we had booked the second dinner seating. I prefer dining late - but 8:45 is pushing my limit. The first dining was 6:00 pm which is too early. The food in the dining room was good - just the right portion size. I ate dinner in the dining room every night. The buffet was a madhouse. I struggled to find something I liked there for lunch the days we were on the ship. A hamburger or hot dog in the solarium was a good alternative to the masses of people queued up at the feeding trough.
In summary while I enjoyed my vacation this cruise cannot compare with Alaska or Hawaii for spectacular scenery and especially lacks activity based shore excursions. Other people we met seemed really happy with the towns so I presume they appeal to a certain sort of traveler. I will do my homework next time before booking a cruise.