We've just returned from a 6 night cruise to the Norwegian Fjords on the Ocean Countess with my 87 year old "cruise virgin" mother, and it has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
The boarding process at Hull was very well organised, with people ready to take your luggage and ferry you by minibus from the car park to the check-in terminal. They had staggered the check-in times according to your cabin number to try to reduce queuing times as much as they could, and provided seats in the area which my mother really appreciated.
We were only aboard for 15 minutes when they carried out the Life Boat drill, so no compulsory early start for us the next morning!
Dinner was served in 2 sittings in the main dining room, and the food was varied with plenty of choice, well presented, and always hot where appropriate. Food was also available in the buffet restaurant, The Boat House, however we found it was a bit too cool to sit out to eat, and the inside table area was a bit lacking in atmosphere.
There were 2 performances of the show each evening, and what an extensive show team there was - 6 dancers, 4 singers and a 6 piece orchestra, plus and activities team of about 7 or 8. In addition there was a pianist in the Deck 8 bar, and a keyboard player and singer in the Hamptons bar. The majority of the entertainers were Eastern European and whilst very professional, I personally found that the songs were a bit stilted because English was not the first language of the singers.
On the whole the shows were good if you like big song and dance numbers. We particularly enjoyed the UK comedy musician, Bruce Thompson, who had the whole audience laughing out loud.
Alternative entertainment, on the lines of quizzes and game shows, was found in Hamptons each night, and the Assistant Cruise Director Gareth singing "muddled melodies" (one song to the tune of another) was a personal favourite! Gareth should get a special mention for just how hard he worked - he was covering for the Cruise Director James whilst he was indisposed - and I wonder if he even had time to eat, since he was scheduled for activities constantly from 10am 'til gone midnight.
The scenery on the cruise was absolutely beautiful, and made even more so by the sunshine we were lucky enough to have for most of the trip. Mum had decided before the trip that she would probably not go ashore, as she is no longer too mobile, but because the ship docked right in town at 2 of the stops (Eidfjord and Flam) she was able to get off easily and have a little wander around the shops and cafes which were charming (and very expensive - £10 for an Irish Coffee vs £3ish on the ship).
A word of warning though, this ship only has 2 lifts, both of which are at the front of the ship, and both only go to deck 8. Therefore it can be quite difficult for the less mobile to get around, and you do need to be able to climb some stairs (especially since the lifts are out of action during Life Boat drills) if you want to go to the pool deck, piano bar, or go ashore.
The other thing that should get a special mention is the cleaning. When we arrived, we were told that there had been an outbreak of Norovirus on the previous cruise and that the company had undertaken a deep clean, and special measures to ensure that it didn't recur. They were really true to their word as every inch of that ship was cleaned and sanitised during our cruise, and every member of staff was involved - I even saw the dancers washing windows and doors down! The use of alcohol gel sanitisers was strictly enforced anywhere that many people might touch things, and all food and drink was served rather than being self-service, even in the buffet. This meant that sometimes, especially at breakfast, things were slower to be served to you than normal, but it did the job - no-one got the dreaded lurgy!
All in all, this was a very good cruise. The ship may be a little old and creaky, but she is well looked after and the staff are happy, hardworking, and helpful. There are more upmarket cruises available, but this offered brilliant value and a very relaxed way to experience some of the splendours of Scandinavia without the airports or the crowds.