We traveled with Vantage on the Grand Norwegian Coastal Voyage September 1 15, 2011. Our ship was the MS Nordlys which was severely damaged by fire the day after we departed the ship. Two crew members were tragically killed during the blaze. What a sad memory at the end of a wonderful adventure. We have traveled with Vantage in the past. In 2007 we did Imperial Russian Waterways, Moscow and St. Petersburg with Vantage and had a wonderful experience.
FLIGHTS Since we live near Boston, we expected to travel direct to Europe from Boston. Such was not the case. Vantage arranged for us to travel to Dulles, Copenhagen, and Bergen. This added to our travel time, especially on our return. We will never again come through Dulles from Europe with hopes of making an on time connection. Copenhagen is a very large and busy airport and the walk to our connecting flight was very long. Anyone with the slightest problem walking should ask for help. A Vantage rep met us in Dulles at the start of the trip to be sure we were all set with boarding passes, etc. It was a nice touch.
WEATHER - We traveled September 1 15. The temperatures were in the 50s and 60s during the day and probably down to the high 40s at night. Our first few days in Bergen were very rainy. We were told this was very normal. It became sunnier as we traveled north. Sturdy shoes, umbrellas, and water repellant wind breakers were best. Appropriate layering for wind, on deck, rain, and varying temperatures kept us plenty warm and dry.
THE HOTEL - We arrived at the Bergen airport right on time and were met by Eva Stiegler, our Vantage Program Manager. She was brought up in Bergen. Her English was flawless. Our luggage was whisked away to the bus, we exchanged some money and off we went. The Radisson Blu Norge Hotel was perfectly situated close to everything. Our luggage was unloaded from the bus for us and delivered to our rooms. The rooms were clean and bright and a good size with desk and easy chair, 2 single beds, a coffee maker and iron and ironing board. The furniture was a little dated but well cared for. Free wifi was available. Breakfast was a large buffet with all kinds of choices from meats and cheeses to an egg station to fruits, cereals, juices and coffee and tea. Delicious. We had dinner in the hotel with our group of 49. The menu was preset white asparagus soup, chicken with mushroom, and apple cake with ice cream and coffee also a free glass of beverage, wine, soda, etc. Throughout the trip, Eva would arrange for any diet accommodation from allergies to likes and dislikes. The only down side to the hotel location was the large amount of street noise into the early morning hours. Eva distributed earplugs to us so we could sleep. Evidently there are nightclubs nearby and both their music and customers extend to outside. We were so tired that nothing would have disturbed our sleep but when up, we did hear the noise and Im sure some people are disturbed by the it.
BERGEN - Bergen is a wonderful city. We wish we had planned the pre-extension here. Not only is the city beautiful, but there is so much more to see than we originally thought. The funicular, fish market, and countless historic buildings and museums could easily use several days.
THE SHIP - The Nordlys far exceeded our expectations. It was beautifully maintained and all the public rooms were lovely. The dcor had lots of brass colored metal, Norwegian art and tasteful colors.
The dining room was large. At dinner we had an area reserved for Vantage so we didnt have to struggle to find a place to sit. Large windows gave a great view as we sailed along. Linen tablecloths gave an air of formality to the room and made meals a special occasion.
Our room was small but very efficient. It was a category U cabin on deck 6. Our traveling companions were on deck 5 which was the promenade deck. They wish they did not have passengers walking outside their cabin. The cabins themselves were identical. The 2 single beds were perpendicular to each other and one made a sofa during the day and the other folded up against the wall. The beds were comfortable. The cover was a duvet. There were 2 wool blankets in the closet - great for sitting on deck. There was sufficient closet space. There were about a dozen hangers but we always bring extras. The closet rods go front to back in rather than left to right which may finding things slightly more difficult. The bathroom is small. I thought the shower was much smaller than on large cruise ships and the floor was always wet. Heat in the bathroom was in the floor so it helped the water evaporate. There are no facecloths and bars of soap are not provided. There is a dispenser of liquid soap at the sink and a combo of liquid soap/shampoo/conditioner in the shower. There is a hair dryer in the bathroom. I would suggest bringing your own soap, shampoo, and conditioner.
It was chilly on deck. There were chairs and lounge chairs for sitting. A small area on each side was protected by glass and was heated. One side was reserved for smokers.
There are plenty of public rooms with great windows. On the top deck there was entertainment in the bar every evening. We had 2 talented female musicians from Bulgaria who sange and played keyboard, violin and saxophone.
There was no wireless internet service available on the Nordlys. There were 3 computers for passenger use which was so slow we were not charged to use it. I believe this varies by ship.
There were 2 washers and 2 dryers available. It cost about $4.00 to do a load of wash including the soap which was automatically dispensed by the washer. The dryers were free.
The staff was wonderful and friendly.
FOOD AND DRINK The food was very good. Breakfast and lunch were always buffet. Breakfast included coffee, tea, juices, fruits, cereals, meats, cheeses, hard or soft boiled eggs, bacon or sausage, all kinds of bread, fish, and a hot special daily fried eggs, pancakes, etc. Lunch always included a soup which was delicious, salads, meats, fish, stone crabs, cray fish, mussels, shrimp, cheeses, fruit, and one or two hot entrees. Dessert had many fancy jellos, fruit, cakes and fruit and custard sauces. Dinner was a set menu posted daily. Most nights the main course was fish. Eva made arrangements for anyone who had special likes or dislikes or allergies to be accommodated. We had arctic char, salmon, pollack, reindeer, chicken, and cod. One evening there was a seafood buffet which included cold water lobster, king crab, salmon, scallops, shrimp, and a multitude of other choices. Sauces and vegetables were also very tasty. Small boiled potatoes were often served. Desserts were fine not amazing and included cakes, puddings, and ice cream. Dinner coffee was served in one of the forward observation rooms. This made it easier for the crew to get ready for the second serving of dinner. There was a full wine and drink menu on the table at lunch and dinner. Drinks were very expensive. Except during meals there was a charge for coffee. A coffee deal is offered. For about $40 you can buy a coffee cup which is refillable in the coffee shop whenever you want it. We each bought one but I thought the coffee was deplorable and seldom drank it although it could also be used for tea. Eva took us to liquor stores to buy wine which we kept in our rooms. We werent supposed to bring our own wine into the dining room or public spaces but we usually filed our coffee cups with wine and walked into the dining rooms. A box of wine in the state liquor stores cost about $80. Sometimes at lunch we would put some crackers and cheese into a plastic baggie and save it for cocktail hour in the afternoon.
VANTAGE AND THE TRIP As I said before our Program Manager Eve was wonderful. At the beginning of the trip she talked about what to expect and about the optional tours offered by the ship. We went to the midnight concert at the Arctic Cathedral in Tromso and the Sea Eagle tour. We love both. I cant speak to any of the others. However, Eva did provide previous passenger ratings so we had some idea of which ones were enjoyed most. She gave us talks on Norwegian history, life in Norway, trolls, and the Norse Gods. She gave us tastes of Norwegian pastry, candy, Aquavitt and chocolate. She showed us movies about heavy water, the Amundsen expedition to the South Pole, Max Manus (Norwegian WW II resistor) and Cool and Crazy. She arranged a pizza party on our last night in Bergen. Every town we visited we had a walk of the area. Her knowledge of each town and its history was amazing. She offered us her computer if we needed to make contact back home. Wireless was available to her. I cant go into every town and tour we had but they were all great. I loved Trondheim. The tour to the North Kapp was amazing. We were luck enough to have perfect weather and could see forever! The tour to the Rokenes Farm in Harstad was memorable. Enroute we stopped at an ancient chapel and had a moment of silence in honor of 9/11 (we were there on that day.). We even saw some Northern lights. They were minimal and very pale in color but even a hint of them was more than we expected. The ship celebrated our crossing of the Arctic Circle and the Trollfjord with fun events. In between town and stops the scenery was lovely either the sun shining on the fjords and villages or the rain and clouds hanging over the tree and mountain tops and glaciers. It was all lovely. We toured with an amazing group of travelers. There wasnt any one of us who complained. We all liked each other and helped those who needed assistance. Wed do the trip again in a minute!