May 17-29, 2017. Two places to visit on my bucket list were Norway and Scotland, so when I saw this HAL cruise to both places, I was sold. This was my first cruise on the Zuiderdam and I was very pleased. The itinerary was round-trip ... Read More
May 17-29, 2017. Two places to visit on my bucket list were Norway and Scotland, so when I saw this HAL cruise to both places, I was sold. This was my first cruise on the Zuiderdam and I was very pleased. The itinerary was round-trip Copenhagen, with ports every day of the 12 night cruise except the last day. Ports included Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavanger, Flam, Bergen, Lerwick (Shetland Islands), Portree (Isle of Skye), Invergorden (Inverness), South Queensferry (Edinburgh), and Newcastle on Tyne (England).
Copenhagen: We arrived early in Copenhagen in order to recover from jet lag and to see the city. Glad we did. We had an overnight flight arriving on Sunday the 14th in the afternoon. I flew from Sacramento to Chicago (4 hours), had a 5 hour layover, and then a 9 hour flight. Upon arrival, we decided to take a cab instead of trying to figure out the excellent public transportation options. All cabs accept credit cards. It cost about $40 for the cab ride to our hotel, which was The Admiral Hotel next to Amelianborg Palace. I had purchased a Copenhagen Card on line (www.copenhagencard.com) before we left for 89 Euros for a 72-hour adult card. You receive a voucher which you print out and exchange for the card when you get there. The time starts the first time you use it. You can also buy them for 24, 48 or 120 hours. This card was a wonderful purchase. It gives you "free" passage on all buses, trains and the metro, a free canal cruise (note specific location where valid), free admission to all public museums and the Tivoli Gardens. We didn't sit down to figure out if we saved money, but the convenience was well worth it. We neglected to exchange the paper voucher I had printed out for the card at the airport, and so had to scurry to the Central Tourist Information location (right across from Tivoli Gardens and the Central Train Station) to get there before it closed at 4:00 (it was Sunday). Not sure where to get it at the airport, but that would have been a better place. We used it to take a canal tour; take the bus to Tivoli Gardens and admission to TG; bus back to Christianborg Palace; admission to Palace residence and guided tour; bus to Danish National Gallery and admission to same; admission to Rosenborg Castle; bus back to our hotel; admission to Amelianborg Palace Museum. There is so much more we could have used it for, but that was all we had time and energy to do. It was so easy to use - just show to bus drivers and admission persons. The Tourist information office folks were very nice and helpful and spoke excellent English.
We had heard prices in Copenhagen are high so we were prepared for that. Some good finds for food: Irish Pub on corner of canal on corner of Nyhavn and Holbersgade (excellent hamburger and fries and a beer); Joe and the Juice on Skt. Anne Plads between Amaliegade and Bredgade (saw the Crown Prince having coffee there one morning); and Kompasset (great smorresbord - open faced sandwiches, and selection of aquavits). We loved our hotel - The Admiral - great view of the water and comfortable room with giant timbers and wood paneling.
Then on to the ship on Wednesday. Embarkation was easy - usual line to get to counter for check in, but it was smooth sailing and there were a lot of people there to check folks in so it went quickly.
We sailed away on time, and the captain gave 3 long blasts of the ship horn. He did this leaving every port, which I loved. It was like saying, "so long for now. Thanks for the visit and we'll be back soon!"
Our cabin was the usual clean and well-maintained Holland cabin - Room 6153 - Veranda balcony cabin at the aft starboard side of the ship (near the back on the right hand side). We liked the location as it was out of the main anything - very quiet. Our cabin stewards were excellent, and unobtrusive - cleaning our room magically while we were gone each morning, doing the evening turn-down while we dined.
Oslo - Hop On/Hop Off (HOHO) is right outside the ship. Takes credit cards. Has a good route to all major sight seeing seeing spots. We skipped the Vigeland sculpture park but heard it was terrific. Stopped at Folkemuseum, an outdoor set up of farm houses, old church, old school and little village with an indoor exhibit about the Sami population (formerly known as Laplanders). Got back on and next stop was Viking Ship Museum with 2.5 old Viking vessels and various Viking artifacts and history. We skipped the next stop which was 3 more museums - Kon Tiki, Fram and Norwegian Maritime museums. Heard from others that these were very good stops. Rode the HOHO around again to Opera House and climbed to top (design of building is to allow public to walk on its sloping roof). Then walked back to ship through Akershus Fortress which is right across street from cruise port.
Kristiansand: took little sightseeing train right at tender drop-off through town to get overview and orientation. Got off at city center. Walked down central pedestrian mall. Wonderful bakeries /coffee shops on nearly every corner. Very small town, easily walkable. Went to fortress - nothing much to see there. Walked through town and stopped at beautiful shop for home goods and beautiful yarns and sewing/knitting supplies. Went through fish market ("Fiskebrygga") that is right next to tender drop off pick up place. Amazing array of fresh fish and seafood. Ate at Pieder Ro restaurant in fish market complex and had a delicious fish soup with beer. Very nice restaurant with indoor or patio dining. Good little ice cream shop frequented by the locals is just across from it.
Stavanger: took HAL excursion of fjord cruise up to place to see Pulpit Rock. Fjord boat was large and comfortable and a good tour guide joined us to narrate what we were seeing. Fjord boat is moored right next to our ship. Beautiful scenery all the way up the fjord. Stopped for waffles and coffee/tea on way back. Got back to ship with plenty of time to walk through the old town of quaint houses and a few shops along cobblestone lanes right above our ship. Then walked through local farmers market/craft fair about a block from ship, and ventured up another street lined with a variety of pubs, shops and restaurants. Stopped for a beer at pub with good wi-fi.
Flam: took HAL excursion of train ride to spot that had hotel that served waffles and coffee, tea. Stopped on way at waterfall. Hotel stop was about 1.5 hours, giving time to walk around and take pictures of mountains and valley below. In Flam, just wandered around enjoying scenery and nice park along the river and fjord near the ship. Met folks who rented little electric green car near hotel and drove up the mountain. They said they had a blast, with provided GPS and narration that came with car.
Bergen: short walk from ship to town, but we opted for a HOHO tour that included ticket to funicular. It was a competing company to Red HOHo buses with smaller blue vehicles. We were advised to go to funicular first as lines can be very long. Good advice, as we were able to skip first long line for ticket purchases and get in second long line for entrance. Line moved quickly and it was well organized. Up at top, spectacular views of city, plus restrooms and places to eat, as well as hiking trails. We opted for restaurant to have waffles and coffee, use facilities and wi-fi. When we went back down about an hour later, lines were down the block. Visited the Hanseatic Museum, quite interesting look at German merchant operations and living facilities. At that time of day we could only buy a ticket that included admission to that museum plus two others with shuttle in between. We walked to second one and skipped third as it was on far side of town. Then we went to the open air fish market set up along the pier across from the Hanseatic Museum. Multiple stalls selling fresh fish, dried fish, whale and reindeer sausage and dried meats like jerkey. Bought sandwich at one of stalls, very fresh, fish is right off the boats. Then walked up the street into the city center to a pedestrian mall near museums and Central Park that has a large lake with fountain in the center. Caught HOHO bus again to finish the tour. Funicular lines were even longer with both lines stretching down the block. Finished the tour and went back to the ship. The fortress is right near the ship, but we decided we had enough of fortresses. Wonderful sail away with ship horn blasting both as we left dock and as we sailed under suspension bridge.
Lerwick, Shetland Islands: took HAL excursion with panorama tour of Lerwick and out across island to Scalloway. Excellent museum with castle right next door. Thouroughly enjoyed our tour guide who was funny and informative. Bought book, Shetland Bus, about British/Norwegian collaboration against Nazis in Norway during WWII, that was based in Scalloway. Very good read. Stopped to visit Shetland ponies and chat with breeder. Back in town with plenty of time to meander through village, stopping for a bit of shopping. Bought hand knit mittens made from local wool, and goat milk soaps hand made by local woman. Had lunch at tiny restaurant called The Fort, right below Fort Charlotte. Recommended by locals as best fish and chips. It was excellent food. Has both a take-away counter and tiny cafe. Get the small (1 large piece of fish), or split the large (2 large pieces of fish), as the pieces of Haddock were enormous with a generous portion of fries. Heard from others that the local museum was surprisingly good for such a small community.
Portree: took HAL excursion to Tallisker Whiskey Distillery and island tour. Tender drop off point was at base of cliff with narrow short steep road up to the town center. Buses for excursions had to come in one or two at a time, load and go back up hill before next buses can come down, so a bit of slow process. But we got on our bus with a fairly small group and headed out across the town out to another part of the coast to the whiskey distillery. Fascinating tour, in very high demand, so they stick scrupulously to the schedule. Folks coming in at about 10:00 had to wait until 12:30 for the next tour, and by the end of our time, I believe the wait was until about 3:30. Toured the country side then, which is beautiful. It was foggy so we couldn't see the mountains, but others on different excursions hit it at better times and said they were spectacular. Returned to town, and wandered through a few shops, including a nice little bookstore with good selection of books about the islands, Scotland, and local authors. Had some good ice cream and went back to the tenders for return to the ship.
Invergordon/Inverness: took HAL excursion re "Monsters, Lochs, etc.". We wanted to see the Highlands, and this provided a nice drive through the countryside to Loch Ness and the museum/castle. We only had a relatively brief time here, which meant we were hustling to see the short film, then hot foot it down to the castle ruins, take a quick peek and climb up some steps for views of the Loch, then back down for the arduous climb back up to the museum/gift store, and the climb back up the hill to the bus. Then we waited about half an hour due in part to someone being late getting back to the bus. We next drove back to Inverness and did a short panorama tour before stopping at a lovely hotel for a surprisingly nice lunch, given there were 2-3 other tour buses at the same time. After lunch we drove out to Culloden Moor battle site for a 15 minute stop to see the field where the most significant battle of Scottish history took place. There's a museum but we did not have time to visit it. Then on to Calder Castle which is still being lived in. We had more than enough time there to look through the rooms of the castle, and meander through the grounds and gardens. It was quite warm the day we were there, which apparently was unusual, because our bus lacked air conditioning and was like a sauna inside. I think the heat zapped our energy, as we stood outside near our bus for about 20 minutes waiting to leave. Heard from others that they spent a beautiful day in Inverness on their own, with plenty of things to see and do.
South Queensferry/Edinburgh: This is another tender port, with the ship anchored in the Firth of Forth. It is some distance from Edinburgh so you have to find transportation into the city if that is your destination. The ship did not offer a shuttle bus service. We intended to find a cab when we got off the ship, but instead, as we walked off the tender pier, there is a local shuttle bus service that costs £5 each way into the city center. You can buy round trip or one way. It leaves about every 30 minutes and takes about 30 minutes. Its drop off and pick up spot is across the street from Charlotte Square. It turns out that the HOHO bus has a stop right next to the pick up place, although we didn't know that. Last shuttle back to the ship is at 5:00. Although we were told that the drop off point is only a 5-minute walk to the Waverly Bridge pick up spot for the HOHO bus lines (there are three different routes of buses), it was more like 20 minutes. It was quite warm the day we were there, and there were masses of people at the HOHO spot, and traffic in the city was quite congested. We had pre-purchased tickets that afforded access to all three lines, and included admission to Britannia, Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. Holyrood was closed the day we were there, as Princess Anne was visiting that day. With tickets in hand we avoided the long line at the ticket booth and got on the bus line to Britannia (town of Leith) just as it was leaving. Britannia has an excellent tour, with hand held audio devices included in the admission. After that tour we got back on HOHO and took it to the base of the hill for the Castle. Stopped for a bite of lunch at a place called Cafe on the Mound, which was decent and had wi-fi. Then we hoofed it up a very steep hill to the castle. The audio guides here were an extra cost, as was the printed guide. Maps were few and far between and it did not appear the audio numbers were in any particular order, which frustrated us as we tried to go in sequence. There are also free guided tours every 15 minutes, which we opted to skip. There are several museums, each seemingly focused on a different military outfit. If you like military history and paraphernalia you will enjoy this. It was a bit much for me however. The residential part was pretty bland in my opinion. Some folks later said they thought the castle was the highlight of Edinburgh but for me, I thought it was very overrated. To each his own, I guess. It didn't help that it was mobbed with tourists sticking their selfie sticks all over the place, and it was incredibly hot and I was on the verge of heat stroke. By 4:00 we thought we should make our way back to the shuttle stop, and it took us about 45 minutes of very fast walking to get there. The bus left promptly at 5:00, leaving one poor passenger outside waiting for his wife to show up at their designated meeting spot. Back at the tender pick up place, we went across the street for some ice cream, and then back onto the tenders to return to the ship.
Newcastle on Tyne: this is another port where the ship is docked some distance from the city of Newcastle. As we left the ship, there is a tent with tourist information and free walking maps for the City of Newcastle. There is a free shuttle bus into Tynemouth that drops you off at the Metro station. There was a flea market going on at the station with all kinds of things for sale. We bought our pass for the Metro (lots of friendly help from Metro employees showing us how to purchase tickets and use the Metro). Trains come about every 15 minutes and it's about a 30 minute train ride into the city center. We got off at Monument stop, and searched for the HOHO bus stop. It was supposed to be there at 10:50 (that's the earliest pick up time of the day for that stop), so we got in line with the few others. More folks got in line, but formed a new direction, so after about 20 minutes there was basically a mob waiting with no line whatsoever. Finally the bus pulled up 20 minutes late and it was already completely full and would not take on more passengers. So after that frustrating waste of time we decided to take a walk and stumbled upon Grainger Market. This is a huge indoor market with vendor stalls selling everything imaginable. Produce, meats, cheeses, deli items, cafes, antiques, clothing, vacuum cleaners, etc. We bought some sharp English cheddar, then found a booth with Spanish products where we bought Manchego Iberian cheese and Iberian Ham from Acorn-fed pigs, a top delicacy in Spain. The merchant threw in a small bottle of Spanish wine for free. We then wandered around outside, but didn't really know what else to look for in terms of sights, so wandered back up to Monument Square. There was quite a crowd and we only learned later that there was a demonstration going on. That and the recent Manchester bombing might explain the police with their machine guns patrolling the area. Being blissfully ignorant, we stopped and listened for awhile to an awesome street band and then went back to the Metro to return to the ship. At the Tynemouth metro station, we wandered through the stalls, picked up a delicious hot chicken mushroom pasty, some local heather honey and Scottish Tablet (a delicious, sweet soft semi fudge like confection), and a couple of used paper back books by a Scottish author which is the basis of the popular BBC Scotland series called Shetland (I'm a huge fan). Then back on the very crowded shuttle to the ship.
Last day of cruise was our first sea day, and I think we were all relieved to have a free day. Lots of activities on board. We enjoyed a talk about the sun and why there are places with 24 hours of daylight/nighttime (spoiler alert: it's due to the tilt of the earth's axis). Then Mariner luncheon and greet the captain and staff, and afternoon Q and A with the captain and cruise director. Then to cramming -er- packing our bags.
Speaking of on board activities, we enjoyed the evening shows, and the Zuiderdam dancers and singers put on some of the best shows at sea I've seen. Very talented, and staging was exceptional. Guest artists were also good. We had skipped their individual shows but the last night all three came back and performed again.
I highly recommend this cruise. Read Less