Ryndam Cruise Review by Everglades: Norwegian fjord getaway
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Norwegian fjord getaway
My wife and I wanted to escape the heat of South Florida and take a relaxing scenic cruise- and certainly a week cruising the Norwegian fjords on HAL's Ryndam fit the bill perfectly.
We flew to London a day before the cruise and stayed at the Bailey's Millenium Hotel in Kensington. We've been there before, and we enjoy the English charm of the place, with quirky hallways and elevators and it's great location across the street from the tube station at Gloucester Road which is normally a straight shot from Heathrow on the Piccadilly Line. Two warnings however: 1) the facade of the hotel is covered by scaffolding as they renovate it (although we weren't bothered by any noise at all), and 2) the aforementioned tube station is also undergoing renovations until December, 2014. This meant that while the District and Circle lines are operating normally, you can't get off the Piccadilly Line at Gloucester Road. You can get off one stop beforehand at Earl's Court and walk 15 minutes More (we did this since it was a nice day and rolling our two suitcases along the sidewalks was quite doable), catch a taxi, or transfer to the District Line at Earl's Court (or at several stops beforehand) and then get off at Gloucester Road. The next day we we caught HAL's transfer bus at the Green Bus Terminal near Victoria Station for the 2 hour ride to Dover. This was very easy to do since our hotel was only 10 minutes away from the bus terminal, and we were met by a HAL rep before we could even get out of the taxi (£5 fare). Dover embarkation was wonderfully easy- baggage handlers took the luggage off the bus (no tips) and twenty minutes later we were walking onto the ship. Bags arrived soon thereafter, and we were set for our cruise. This was the sort of thing we've come to expect from HAL, and they didn't disappoint.
The cruise for us was just a nice boat ride through the fjords. The little ports are fun to walk around, do a little shopping, have a brewsky...but the draw is the scenery of Norway as it glides by. We only did one shore excursion, the Waterfalls and Waffles at Eidfjord, and that was very scenic despite the rainy weather. For rest of the towns, Bergen, Geiranger, and Alesund, we just walked around by ourselves. This was very enjoyable for us, particularly Bergen, where there are historical sites, outdoor cafes, an interesting wharf area, and plenty of shopping opportunities. After the cruise, we hired White Cliffs GeoTours (Les and Simone Richmond) to drive around the cliffs, tour Canterbury Cathedral, visit Winston Churchill's Chartwell home in Westerham, and ultimately return us to our hotel in London. More on these sites below.
The Ryndam was quintessential HAL: great customer service, tasteful decor, easy-listening music on the pool deck, excellent food in the MDR and at the Pinnacle Grill, interesting table mates (we took pot luck by requesting a table for 4 and were rewarded by a great couple from Australia), and decent entertainment for a ship of its size (1200 passengers max). Less
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Cabin review: 118
The "Spa Verandah" category is just marketing hype. It's a normal verandah room, with the addition of 2 yoga mats (which we found under the bed on our last night as we hauled out the suitcases), an iPod docking station, and a "counter-top water feature" which we never did find, although they tossed in 3 mineral waters and two regular waters, which was just fine and probably more useful. The cabin was fine, and we made a lot of use of the verandah when the weather was not too cold or rainy. As always with HAL, we would prefer 2 chaise lounges outside instead of the 1 plus a chair, but that's a small thing.
Port and Shore Excursions
We opted to just walk around Bergen by ourselves, which is very easy to do. The picturesque wharf area has many interesting shops and cafes, while the fish market displays that day's catch. The line to ride the funicular train to the top of a nearby peak was too long for us to wait. If this is a must for you, consider a paid tour where priority boarding is included. There is plenty of history around also, including the Rosenkrantz Tower and surrounding buildings. You can walk the grounds for free, but there is a fee for admittance to the tower itself (~$10).
After the cruise, we had arranged with White Cliffs GeoTour, owners Les and Simone Richmond, https://sites.google.com/site/whitecliffsgeotours, to see the cliffs of Dover, tour Canterbury Cathedral, visit Winston Churchill's Chartwell home over in Westerham, and then return to our London Hotel. Les and sidekick Jo met us at the pier with no problems, and we were off. We spent an hour looking at the cliffs, a couple of hours walking through the cathedral, and three hours touring Chartwell (including lunch at the visitor's center). Even though this was a long day (it's about an hour's drive from Canterbury to Chartwell, and then another 2 hours back to London) each stop was well worth it. Les had it all figured out and we enjoyed his company thoroughly. We would certainly recommend White Cliff GeoTour.
The highlight for us was Chartwell. Having read the great man's biography, we really enjoyed all the historical memorabilia in the house, as well as his famous gardens and ponds. The grounds are beautiful and it made for a nice finish to our vacation.