The objective of this voyage, "Top-of-the-World" aboard the Prinsendam, was to get as close to the North Pol as possible without boarding a dog sled. In summary, it was a good voyage from Dover, up the coast of Norway, across to Spitzbergen and the "north pole", on to Iceland, followed by stops at Torshaven, Kirkwall, and Edinburgh before ending in Amsterdam. The total voyage was 21 days and the initial question we had was: If a little is good, is more better?
Our longest prior cruise was 18 days and when HAL made an offer for an upsell to a suite we decided to accept because the extra space might be nice on a longer voyage. It was a good decision. There were two suites in our group and we alternated for sail-away parties from the many ports. There was more than enough space to host all eight in our group with room to spare.
The Prinsendam has been described in many other posts and reviews and, for this reason, a re-hash describing the ship will be omitted. For us, she was what we expected ... classically elegant and smaller in size, which we prefer. For her age, the Prinsendam is well maintained and in quite good condition.
Service by the staff was very good. It was rendered by the vast majority willingly and cheerfully although we could tell that the staff was weary at times. They work very long hours, 7 days a week. In speaking to a number of the staff, contracts are 11 months, which is a very long time to be away from home and family.
The cuisine was also very good in the main dining room but I would not classify it as excellent. Everyones' taste varies and I can't identify any single factor that would take it that last few clicks to the top, but it is missing. The menu never repeated over the duration of 21 days. The buffet was, well, standard buffet fare ... nothing unusual or superior but neither was it sub-standard. Lido was almost always crowded and seats difficult to obtain.
The voyage had an interesting demographic: Perhaps because sales were lagging as a result of the economic situation, a special deal was offered to the citizens of Holland. They responded, and 1/3 of the passengers aboard the voyage were Dutch. Captain Albert Schoonderbeek made his daily announcements in both English and Dutch, his native language. There were also lectures presented in the Dutch language.
The destination lecturer was excellent. His presentations, well attended, were geared to "discovering your own" version of each port and not a sales pitch for ship tours.
Details of the various ports follow, minimized to keep the this review to a manageable length.
Dover: Embarkation, after the HAL transfer from Heathrow, was quite smooth and accomplished in about 15 minutes. Sail-away past the White Cliffs was a good start to the voyage ... reading Captain Albert's blog later, this was technically challenging but he carried it off easily.
Oslo: After the nice sail-in, we hopped a ferry and visited the Viking museum, which was just o.k. A bus ride from there took us to Vigelund Park, which was well worth the visit. Interesting: The statue of Vigelund, the sculptor, apeared the most beloved by the birds ... his other statues appeared "unmarked".
Lysefjord: A sightseeing sail into Stavanger and on to the Pulpit Rock ... the most spectacular fjord on the entire voyage.
Bergen: Another nice sail-in to a picturesque city, with a history of colorful wooden buildings. The ride up the funicular rail and visit to the seafood market were enjoyable.
Kristiansund: This is a quaint small town built on three islands not visited by large ships as the entrance channel is only 500 feet wide. We hopped the ferry to Grip (island), a former fishing village that now primarily used for vacation homes ... there is one commercial fisherman left. The (vacationing) kids there set up little refreshment stands, however they don't sell lemonade ... they sell cooked crab claws which were excellent. When they catch a crab, they remove one claw and return it to the sea to regenerate another claw ... renewable food source! This is a highly recommended self-excursion to an extremely picturesque village.
Honnigsvag - gateway to the North Cape: The purpose of this port is to get to Europe's northern lands end. The transfer to the North Cape is unguided but is all that is necessary. The visitor center there is extremely well done and, with the video show, presents all you need to know ... and more.
The "North Pole": We, of course, did not reach the north pole. It's a guy-thing but we made it to latitude N80-20-36 which is where the Prinsendam put her bow into the pack ice about 579 miles from the pole. Last year the Prinsendam had to travel 160 miles further north ... so much for global warming.
Longyearbyen: We did not expect a quaint village at this remote coal mining town and, therefore, were not surprised. It has to be a special breed of person that is willing to live at 78 degrees North, in the winter, in the total absence of sunlight ... however, the sun never went down while we were there. We did not see any polar bears ... just the famous polar bear warning signs.
Akureyri, Isafjord, and Reykjavik - the Icelandic triple play: Arctic landscape is beginning to look like ... well ... arctic landscape. Akureyri and Isafjord are two more quaint towns. We took the Golden Circle tour of the areas outside of Reykjavik which was excellent, especially Gulfoss falls where visitors are free to walk to the edge of the falls with no constraining railings or fences.
Torshavn, Faroe Islands: Another quaint town. We rode the municipal HO-HO buses to see the town and surrounding residential and rural areas. The price was right ... free!
Kirkwall, Orkneys: Another quaint town. We took the ship's tour to Scara Brae, an interesting small stone age village they are proud of, built about 3500 B.C. Having visited the pyramids at Giza earlier this year, I didn't think it was appropriate to mention that they were built around the same time.
Rosyth (Edinburgh): Having been to Edinburgh a couple of times, we just took the free shuttle provided by HAL into the city. We were fortunate to be there at the start of the annual Edinburgh "Fringe" Festival and enjoyed the many performances by the buskers (stret performers) on the Royal Mile.
Amsterdam: Sail-in on the north canal into the center of the city was a nice end to the voyage. The docking was quite spectacular: Captain Albert pulled the Prinsendam to within 10 yards of an island in the middle of the narrow channel and it looked like he was going to dock there. People sitting in the park, with the ship looming above them, never budged ... they must see this often because the ship was then maneuvered backwards in a 180 degree turn to a perfect docking position at the cruise terminal.
Disembarkation was the best we have experienced on any cruise. The Dutch officials board a day early to handle customs and immigrations ... we did not even have to "appear" for the process. At disembarkation one just walks off, picks-up bags, and go. A nice way to end a nice voyage.
P.S. (Parting Shots): The closing thought in answer to the initial question is, for us, that a 21 day cruise is a little past the "sweet spot" of a perfect duration. Six formal nights was excessive. We enjoyed the cruise but were ready for disembarkation.