This review includes information on our June 18 Midnight Sun, Spitsbergen & Summer Solstice cruise on the Pacific Princess. We combined this cruise with the Pacific Princess’ May 31, 2018, Fire & Ice Explorer transatlantic cruise; I have written a separate review for that cruise (www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=626614).
CRUISE ITINERARY: MIDNIGHT SUN, SPITSBERGEN & SUMMER SOLSTICE (16 DAYS)
Dover, England; Stavanger, Norway; Flåm, Norway; Ålesund, Norway; Trondheim, Norway; Honningsvåg (North Cape), Norway; Longyearbyen (Spitsbergen), Norway; Tromsø, Norway; Geiranger, Norway; Bergen, Norway; Dover, England
We had previously visited all of these ports, except Ålesund and Longyearbyen, on other cruises. Our reviews of those ports can be found in these cruise reviews:
Stavanger, Flåm, Trondheim, Honningsvåg, Tromsø, Geiranger, Bergen: www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=69933
John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our late sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or national flag. On this itinerary, I would not need to acquire any flags.
We enjoy both cruises and land tours; often our trips combine the two. We have cruised to or toured all seven continents, primarily in the Americas and Europe. On our trips, we prefer nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, forts, castles and anything else we can legally climb up on for a good view.
We are Elite members of Princess' Captain's Circle loyalty program, with over 50 cruises on Princess. We have also sailed with Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Costa, Viking River and Commodore.
ABOUT THE REVIEW
Other reviews give extensive information on the ship, cabins, food etc. Our reviews are not like that; they are primarily a journal of what we did in the various ports, including web links to tourist information sites and maps. In general, we prefer DIY port tours, private tours with other Cruise Critic roll call members, or shared public tours. However, we will take a Princess tour when the logistics or cost make that a better option. Tour operator contact information is included in each port review.
REVIEW OF THE CRUISE
MON, 06/18/18 DOVER, ENGLAND 6AM – 5PM
After our tour of Canterbury (see my review of the transatlantic trip), we returned on the train to Dover and walked back to the ship and our new cabin. We had booked a category BY obstructed balcony guarantee stateroom and, four days before the cruise, were assigned exactly what we had booked. This cabin is slightly smaller than the BB cabin upgrade that we enjoyed on the previous leg and part of the view is slightly blocked by the ship’s superstructure.
Our new cabin steward was Ju, from China. We only have a few special requirements for our cabin steward: robes to use in the cabin and a steady supply of laundry bags and of bar soap for the shower. Ju and our previous steward, Ivana (they are roommates), had moved our belongings to the new cabin while we were touring Canterbury. As promised, Room Service had already delivered a minibar setup according to our specifications; I only had to call to request some wine glasses, which were delivered promptly. There was no note in the cabin about delays in laundry service due to the number of Elite passengers; our laundry was generally returned by the next day.
We had thought that we would be exempt from the Passenger Safety Drill. However, the total length of our two legs exceeds 30 days, so we were required to attend again. Later in the afternoon, we put our clothes back into our drawers and rearranged our hanging items. All settled in again!
Tonight we planned to use the “two-for-one offer at a specialty restaurant on embarkation” coupon (from the previous cruise) at the Sterling Steakhouse. We were going to make a reservation, but the Restaurant Manager, Snezana from Serbia, said it would not be necessary; we could even choose our favorite waiter, Anastasia from the Ukraine. Indeed, we had the restaurant entirely to ourselves for most of our dinner until another couple arrived. I found this a little odd because a perk for suite passengers is a complimentary dinner in a specialty restaurant on embarkation night. However, the Pacific Princess only has 10 suites and maybe the others wanted to eat later in the evening. Anyway, we greatly enjoyed the filet mignon with Simi Landslide Cabernet.
When we returned to the cabin after dinner, we found two more coupon books with the two-for-one offer. The coupons are valid until the end of 2018, so maybe we can use them on our fall cruise.
TUE, 06/19/18 AT SEA
Our normal sea day schedule consists of waking up, showering and getting dressed, finding a spot to read that gets us out of Ju’s way so she can make up the cabin, having a slice (or two) of pizza for lunch, relaxing and reading on our balcony (when it’s warm enough), enjoying an afternoon drink or ice cream, going to a show, having dinner and reading until it is time for a good night’s sleep. Occasionally we vary that busy program by attending a port or enrichment lecture, watching a movie, going for a walk or participating in some other activity.
Our enrichment lecturer was Mike Raick, a carryover from the previous cruise, who lectures on “Pop Culture.” This morning’s talk was a repeat, so we did not attend; most of his lectures would be new for this cruise. Later we went to a combined port talk on Stavanger and Flåm by the destination lecturer, Deb Fraioli (another carryover).
Tonight was the first of three formal nights and the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Party and Champagne Waterfall was held between the two dinner sittings. Captain Andrea Spinardi helped the Assistant Maitre d’ Roberto to start the waterfall; the Captain is so tall, his head almost touched the ceiling. None of the other passengers seemed eager to pour champagne, so I decided to do it for once.
We usually prefer Anytime Dining but that is not available on the Pacific Princess. Instead, we selected second seating (7:45 p.m.), which is later than we really like to eat but would accommodate the late port times on this itinerary. Because, we were on the previous cruise, we had preference in table assignment. We were able to get our same 4-top (as a table for two) and our same excellent Waiter, Tiwari (Tee) from India. Our previous Junior Waiter had finished her contract, so Tee’s new assistant was Risa from Japan. The menus for this cruise were labeled “British Isles—Baltic Cuisine”, which worried us at first. However, they are basically the same menus as the last cruise with a few rearrangements and additions. Tonight’s dinner was roast leg of lamb with Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
WED, 06/20/18 STAVANGER, NORWAY 7AM – 5PM
Stavanger is Norway's third largest city but the tourist area is very small (www.stavanger-guide.no/maps/maps_english/city.pdf). The ship docked on the east side of the Vågen, along Skagenkaien, within easy walking distance of most sights. The Viking Sky was also in port on the other side of the Vågen. Perhaps because this was our first port call in Norway, all passengers were required to take their passports ashore to be given a cursory examination by the local authorities.
When we were in Stavanger in 2010, we took a shared public cruise (rodne.no/en/fjordcruise/lysefjord-pulpit-rock/) through the stunning Lysefjord to see Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen). This is a large rock shaped like a pulpit (naturally) that towers 1,982 feet (604 meters) above the fjord; there is an 82×82 foot (25×25 meter) plateau on top of the rock. We would have preferred to hike to the top of Pulpit Rock for the great view. However, the necessary ferry and bus rides, not to mention the hike itself, require about 8 hours and we were only in port for 9 hours. On this cruise, we were scheduled to be in port a bit longer and the ship offered an 8-hour “Pulpit Rock Hike.” Although the price of this tour ($169.95 pp) vastly exceeds the cost of a DIY hike, we decided it was worth the extra money to have the ship wait for us in case of unexpected delays with the ferry/bus.
Preikestolen is considered a medium/difficult hike. Although the round-trip distance is only 4.5 miles (8 km), there is an elevation gain of around 1,000 feet (305 meters) and some sections are quite steep and rocky. John and I had been concerned that not enough people would book this tour and it would be canceled. We were astounded that 39 other people were confident enough to attempt it.
Our guide (Katerina) met us at the ship and we piled onto a bus for the short ride and wait for the 8:30 a.m. ferry to Tau. The bus drove onto the ferry; the passengers could disembark and spend the 30-minute ride in the ferry’s lounge (free WIFI!). A few minutes before the ferry arrived in Tau, we reboarded the bus and then drove to the Preikestolen Fjellstue (mountain chalet) at 900 ft (274 m) elevation.
We picked up box lunches (included) at the chalet and had time for a bathroom break before starting off at 9:30 a.m. The hike to the plateau usually takes about two hours but each of us could go at his/her own pace; Katerina would follow up the rear. The trail is well-signed, with red Ts painted on the rocks and white distance markers every 50 meters. We were told to start down by noon to be back at the bus by 2:00 p.m.; otherwise we might miss the 3:00 p.m. ferry.
This is one of Norway's most famous and popular mountain hikes; over 300,000 hikers made the trek in 2017. Of course, the outstanding views along the way are part of its appeal. However, the route also passes over several interesting types of terrain: forest, bogs, grassy areas, large granite outcroppings, boulder fields. After making the hike, it is easy to understand why it is so popular. We would recommend it to anyone who loves hiking and has the stamina for it.
Even though it was still early in the day, there were a good number of people at the trail head. John and I put out the extra effort to get ahead of the crowd and enjoy a more private experience with the trail. We had found several descriptions of the route on the Internet (www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/norway/rogaland/preikestolen-trail-pulpit-rock?u=i, english.preikestolenfjellstue.no/preikestolen/, www.visitnorway.com/places-to-go/fjord-norway/ryfylke/the-lysefjord-area/safety-first-preikestolen-summer-hike/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwodrXBRCzARIsAIU59TKk3gM9xdFlsdfR3Qr_FBATqOjIe8tTTmXFa2vjB9KtG09gIwO53p4aAoVZEALw_wcB) and knew that there were three difficult sections, with the most strenuous being near the end when we would have to climb over a saddle in the mountains. There is also a bad spot where the trail leads down a 10-ft (3 m) sloping rock with only narrow footholds. Katerina had told us that Sherpas come to Norway each year to help improve the trails; this is one spot that could definitely use some work!
It rained lightly throughout the hike and was very windy when we reached the plateau. We were the first ones in our group to reach the goal, in 1:35 hours, although another couple was close behind. We had thought the plateau would be wall-to-wall people but it was still relatively empty. The spectacular fjord views made the effort to get here worthwhile. However, we decided that we would not enjoy eating our lunch here in the wind and rain so, after about 20 minutes spent taking photos, we headed back down. We encountered the rest of our group at various points along the way; Katerina said that only one person had decided to turn back.
We made it back down in 1:50 hours; we needed longer to take extra care on the slippery rocks. I was so glad that we had brought our collapsible hiking poles because there were a couple of places where I might have fallen without having mine for balance. As it was, our group ended up with four casualties from falls; three were relatively minor cuts and scrapes but one woman bruised her shin badly and had some swelling and bleeding.
John and I were back at the parking area by 1:30 p.m and found a sheltered bench to sit and consume our box lunch (ham and cheese sandwich, apple, chocolate bar, bottle of water). While we were eating, the rain got heavier and when the last of our group straggled back, they were thoroughly drenched. We were all glad to get on the bus where it was warm and dry! We returned to the ship at 3:45 p.m., ready for some rest and ibuprofen.
The before-dinner entertainment was a Cabaret Showtime with Diane Cousins, “Wales First Lady of Comedy & Song.” Princess thought there would be more UK than US citizens on this cruise and thus had booked more UK-oriented talent (and considered making the late seating dinner even later). However, there were even more passengers from the US on this voyage than on the previous one, which had 80% from the US. For dinner tonight we chose sole Colbert with a nice Hartford Court Russian River Valley Chardonnay.
THU, 06/21/18 FLÅM, NORWAY 8AM – 5PM (LAST TENDER 4:15PM)
Today was the summer solstice. Despite “Summer Solstice” being part of the name of this cruise, the day was not recognized in any way whatsoever.
Flåm (www.visitflam.com/globalassets/kart/20160615_flam-map_lr.pdf) is a tiny ferry port on the Aurlandfjord, a branch of the world's longest fjord, the Sognefjord. On our 2010 visit, the Ocean Princess docked right in town, convenient to everything. This time however, the Queen Mary 2 got the dock and both the Pacific Princess and the Ocean Majesty had to anchor in the harbor and tender passengers ashore.
On our previous visit, I organized two private tours for members of our roll call. First, we first took a ride on the Flåmsbana (www.visitflam.com/en/flamsbana/). Immediately after the train ride, we took a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) cruise with Fjordsafari (www.visitflam.com/en/se-og-gjore1/aktiviteter/fjord-safari-heritage/). After that, we still had about 1-1/2 hours left in port, so John and I decided to hike to Brekkefossen, a waterfall above Flåm that we had seen from the train. However, we just did not have enough time and had to turn back before reaching the top.
This time in Flåm, we decided to spend all of our time hiking in the Flåmsdalen Valley to Brekkefossen and some of the other waterfalls we had seen from the train eight years ago. The distance from Flåm to the Myrdal train station is about 12.5 miles (20 km) and the elevation change is almost 2,850 feet (867 m). A round-trip hike was out of the question but we thought we might be able to hike about a third of the way up the valley and back.
Free hiking maps are available at the Flåm tourist office. First we took Tour #3 (www.visitflam.com/globalassets/dokumenter/walking-in-flam-and-flamsdalen-valley_map-and-routes_norwegian-a.pdf) for a side trip to the Brekkefossen. This is the large waterfall about 2 km outside of town on the main road; it has an overall height of 328 ft (100 meters). When we arrived at the trail head, we were greatly disappointed to find that the path was closed for maintenance. However, the fall is visible from a number of points along the road.
We then continued on the road along the Flåm River (Tour #4) another 1 km to the pretty little Flåm Church (built in 1667). The altar piece and the grapevine patterns decorating the choir date from the 1680s. In the 18th century, the nave was decorated with pictures of deciduous trees and different kinds of animals (including lions!). The church is visible from the Flåmsbana and is on the route of Flåm’s little tourist train. A few other people were there when we arrived; many more were visiting when we passed later on our way back into town.
From the church, we continued along the river (Tour #8) to the Rjoandefossen. The upper section of this gorgeous waterfall has a drop of 482 ft (147 meters). The water then splits into a multitude of cascades that fan down the cliff face, making its total height 1,017 ft (310 meters). As we walked along, we could see the falls in the distance. However, a much better view is found by following the road around a small hill until you are directly opposite the falls. This is such a beautiful waterfall that we wanted to try to get more views of it and the upper Flåm Valley. We continued up the valley until we passed an isolated vacation cabin. Just past the cabin was a dirt road off to the right; following that for a ways, we found more outstanding views. By now, we had walked 4.5 miles (7.2 km) from town, so we decided to turn back at this point. On the way, we were passed by a hoard of cyclists who were zooming down the valley.
Once back in Flåm, we decide to walk along the Aurlandfjord to a small marina. From there, we had some excellent views of the town and the three ships calling there today. This is another spot visited by the tourist train. By the time we caught the tender back to the ship, we had hiked 10 miles (16 km). The weather was fairly good today: highs around 50°F (10°C), mostly overcast skies and only a few light sprinkles.
The pre-dinner show was a Comedy Cabaret with ventriloquist Kieran Powell. John hates being picked at shows that feature audience participation (he has been chosen a number of times in the past), so we sat in a less obvious location. Another woman had a big laugh when her husband was picked for a routine. However, it wasn’t so funny when she was chosen for the next routine. She ran out of the theater and almost got away but Kieran chased her down and dragged her back. She was not very happy about that but turned out to be a good sport in the end.
During dinner, we had fantastic views as we sailed out of the fjord to our next port of call. We enjoyed braised lamb shanks with Spellbound Petite Sirah.
FRI, 06/22/18 ÅLESUND, NORWAY 9AM – 7PM
Ålesund (www.visitalesund.com) is spread over seven islands near the entrance to Geirangerfjord; the city center is on the islands of Aspøya and Nørvøya, which are linked by the short Hellebroa bridge. The ship docked alongside Nørvøya island, only a few minutes walk from the main sights. Pullmantur’s Zenith was docked nearby along Aspøya. There is a small unmanned tourist information center at the exit from the dock with maps and brochures. Just outside the gates were kiosks for tour agencies and the hop-on-hop-off bus tours. There are helpful green footprints leading pedestrians out of the port area.
Today the highs were again around 50°F (10°C) with mostly overcast skies and strong winds that made it seem colder. We warmed up quickly on our hike to the top of 597 ft (182m) Mount Aksla, on one side of the Byparken (City Park). This hike is advertised as “only” 418 steps along a steep ridge line; that fails to mention the 53 steps up from Kongens Gate (the pedestrian shopping street), a steep incline up Lihauggata to reach the park entrance and additional steps in the park to reach the bottom of the stairway. Nevertheless, this is a relatively easy climb, with several viewpoints and many benches for resting along the way.
The 418 steps are numbered according to some inscrutable scheme (why does step 408 deserve a number?) but do serve to let you measure your progress. Right at the top of the stairs is the Fjellstua restaurant, which is where all the bus tours stop. There are great views from the restaurant’s terrace and from the upper parking area. We continued up the path from the parking lot to another viewpoint, the Kniven (Knife). Later we would see that there were WWII-era German bunkers built into this rocky outcrop. We would discover these were common throughout Norway at high points. As we descended the other side of the Kniven, we saw a signpost on the opposite side of the street for a trail leading farther up the mountain. We hiked this trail for awhile before turning back. As we approached the Kniven, we could now see the bunkers built into the side away from the Fjellstua restaurant. Instead of following the trail back over the Kniven, we took the road so that we could inspect the bunkers more closely.
Leaving the bunkers behind, we climbed back down the stairs to the Byparken. As in any park, there are statues and other public art. One of the two most important statues portrays the Viking leader Rollo, who was born near Ålesund; Rollo founded Normandy and is thus an ancestor of William the Conqueror. The other is of Kaiser Wilhelm II, erected in appreciation of his help after the Town Fire of 1904.
The 1904 fire destroyed 850 houses and left ten thousand people homeless; despite the devastation, only one person was killed. The town was rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style (known as Jugendstil in Norway) that was popular from 1890–1910. This international style of art and architecture was characterized by the use of forms and shapes from nature, especially plants and flowers. The Tourist Information Centre offers a 90-minute guided walking tour of the city center that includes some of these historic buildings. We went to the main Information Centre (at the end of Skaregata by the Brosundet fishing harbor) to get on the list for the tour (NOK 125 pp), which would not start until noon.
Before meeting for the tour, we planned to see some of the Art Nouveau buildings on the way to the Ålesund Church. First, we walked back across the Hellebroa bridge to Apotekertorget square, the location of the Jugendstilsenteret (Art Nouveau Center). There are two statues in the square relating to Ålesund’s fishing heritage: a young fisherman and a woman packing crates of dried cod. From here we walked down several streets lined with Art Nouveau structures until we reached the Ålesund Church (NOK 30 pp) on Kirkegata. This church replaced the one destroyed in the 1904 fire and has some interesting murals and stained glass windows. There is also a votive ship, a model of a fishing boat, hanging from the ceiling.
We returned to the Information Centre for our tour, which consisted of only one other couple. Our guide (Kirsti) first took us to the waterfront behind the Information Centre and told us the history of Ålesund, which she summed up as: fishing, the Fire and Art Nouveau. We were standing next to the “Monument over Englandsfarene,” a memorial to the “Shetland Bus”—a fleet of fishing boats that ferried refugees out of and military troops and supplies into German-occupied Norway during WWII. Kirsti pointed out some of the buildings around the harbor that had survived the Fire, for example, the yellow Aspøy skole (the primary school) with an onion-dome tower and the Oluf Holm warehouse that is now the Fisheries Museum.
From here, we walked to Kongens Gate (named for Kaiser Wilhelm); there are numerous Art Nouveau structures along this shopping street. The artists who rebuilt Ålesund came from many counties, so the buildings reflect their international interpretation of Art Nouveau. Kirsti pointed out many of the typical motifs, such as sunflowers and other floral designs. She also pointed out more traditional Norwegian elements, such as snake knots and trolls. We continued up the steps towards the Byparken for some rooftop views before returning to the fishing harbor.
We walked along the picturesque waterfront, stopping at a small park with a seagull sculpture. Kirsti said that there was once a large bird cliff here before the birds were displaced to make way for a parking garage. As we approached the Hellebroa bridge, Kirsti asked us to sit down on some benches made of horizontal metal pipes. We thought the benches would be cold to sit on but we were surprised to find that they were heated. No wonder we had earlier observed a backpacker sleeping on one! These benches were a gift to the city from the Tafjord Kraft Heating Company. Finally, we crossed over the bridge and ended the tour in Apotekertorget square, with Kirsti discussing the fishing-related statues we had seen earlier.
John and I continued on our own around the harbor towards the Fisheries Museum. We did not visit the museum but simply enjoyed looking at the boats outside that are part of the exhibits and other boats in the harbor. There was even a small Viking boat with a dragon-head prow. We walked out to the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater and had great views of Ålesund with Mount Aksla in the background. After viewing a few more Art Nouveau buildings in that area, we headed back to the ship.
We had another beautiful sail away while John enjoyed cod with lentils and I had the seafood skewer; those went well with Silverado Chardonnay.
SAT, 06/23/18 TRONDHEIM, NORWAY 9AM – 6PM
Trondheim (www.trondheim.com) was the first capital of Norway and is still the city where new kings receive their ceremonial blessing. Although we had been told by the port lecturer that the Pacific Princess would dock at the Cruisebåterminal by Pirbadet, that spot was taken by the Zenith and the our ship was relegated to the Ila Pir, a commercial dock on the west side of town, next to the Ila neighborhood. On my street map from our last visit, this pier was considered so unimportant for tourists that it was covered by an ad. Regardless, the distance by foot to the main tourist areas is about the same from either pier.
In 2010, we used the walking tour at www.frommers.com/destinations/trondheim/walking-tours to plan our DIY tour to the Nidaros Domkirke (Cathedral), the Archbishop’s Palace, the Old Town Bridge (Gamle Bybro), the Kristiansten Festnung (Fortress) and a number of other sights, such as the Trondheim Torg (column with a statue of a Viking on top), Vår Frue Kirke (Our Lady's Church), and Stiftsgården (the Royal Residence).
Although the weather was rather disappointing, with rain on and off for the entire day, we planned to start our day with a visit to Munkholmen (Monk's Island), a short distance offshore. The new docking spot actually turned out to work better because the route to the ferry dock was more direct. There were signs on the pier directing passengers to the city center. We followed them to Mellomila street and simply headed east, mostly following the waterfront, until we reached the ferry dock at Munkegata. The distance was about 1.25 miles (2 km).
Along the way, we passed the Skansen Bridge, a railway bridge that is a landmark because it is the only one of its type in Norway, a Strauss bascule drawbridge. Joseph Strauss (who was the chief engineer for the Golden Gate Bridge) revolutionized the design of bascule bridges by replacing the iron counterweights with ones made of concrete. We had to laugh at this being a tourist attraction because there are three Strauss bascule bridges (St. Claude Ave., Almonaster Ave., Hanes Blvd.) in New Orleans alone. They are nothing unusual to us!
The first ferry (www.trippsbatservice.no/munkholmen) to Munkholmen leaves at 10 a.m. and the ride takes about 15 minutes. Of course, we arrived well before the ticket office opened and had to wait; round-trip tickets are NOK 95 pp. There is a statue of the Last Viking—a fisherman—on the ferry dock. We were joined by only one other tourist couple on the ferry, plus some people who work on the island. As this is a very popular recreation area, I suppose the ferry would be crowded on a sunny day.
About a thousand years ago, this tiny island was used for executions; the heads of the criminals were placed on stakes and faced Trondheim as a deterrent to others. From roughly the 12th to the 16th century, there was a monastery here. The monastery buildings fell into decay and were erased when a fort and prison were built in the 17th century; those remained in operation until the end of the 19th century. The site was occupied by Germany during WWII; anti-aircraft artillery was installed to protect the nearby submarine base. Today it is a recreational area, with a beach, picnic areas, a gift shop and a cafe.
There is a sign at the entrance to the fort that identifies (in Norwegian) the various buildings; access to them is only by guided tour. We had plenty of time to see the grounds before the first tour at 10:30 a.m. The tour costs NOK 50 pp and is offered in English and Norwegian. Of course, the other couple was Norwegian, so the guide gave his spiel in that language, sent them on to the next room and repeated everything in English for us.
The main part of the tour is in the large cylindrical tower. There is a dank dungeon in the lowest level for the worst criminals, the ground floor was for common criminals and the upper floor was for rich and political prisoners. We saw the cell of the most famous inmate, Count Peder Schumacher Griffenfeld, who even had his own servant; he was accused of spying for Sweden and spent 18 years here. The very top of the tower was fortified by the Germans with anti-aircraft guns during WWII. The guns are gone but a concrete observation station still remains. The tour is about 30 minutes long and well worth taking. We finished in plenty of time to catch the return boat after spending a total time of about an hour on the island.
Next, we decided to take the Gråkallbanen, the world's most northern tram line, which runs from the city center uphill and into the forest and recreational area Bymarka. The yellow and blue antique tram cars of the Gråkallbanen are a tourist attraction; however, the only trams we saw running today had the modern cars. The trams run every 15-20 minutes and the round-trip (within 90 minutes) fare is 30 NOK pp for seniors (cash only, change available). We had read that the price was lower if the ticket was purchased at a ticket machine but we did not see any near the tram stop.
Although we were not optimistic about the chance of enjoying any panoramic views of the city, we thought it would be a fun ride and a chance to see some of everyday Trondheim. We boarded the tram at the St. Olaf’s Gate stop for half-hour ride up the slopes of Gråkallen mountain (1811 ft, 552 m) to the final station, Lian, and the Bymarka recreation area (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bymarka). John had planned a hike to the peak of the mountain for the views but that seemed pointless given the poor weather conditions. Instead, we walked down from the tram stop to the pretty little lake Lianvatnet, a popular place for picnics on more pleasant days. There is also a restaurant up the hill from the tram stop and we took in what view there was from its parking lot. All of this took less than 15 minutes and we caught the next tram back down.
We had entertained thoughts of returning to the city center to revisit sights from our previous visit. However, we were discouraged by the continuing rain and exited the tram at the Ila stop. This was only a few blocks from the ship (about 0.4 miles or 644 m) via Koefoedgeilan and Mellomila.
As we left Trondheim, we had some excellent views of Munkholmen. Leaving the fjord, we also spotted whales!
Instead of the usual luncheon, this cruise’s "Most Traveled Passengers" event was an evening cocktail party held in the Sterling Steakhouse. We had been to a couple of these cocktail parties before—we knew better than to eat anything ahead of time. We were seated at tables and heavy hors d’oeuvres (both savory and sweet) were brought around; there was no lack of beverages either. This was very nice but we really prefer the luncheon.
Once again, a low pressure system threatened to interfere with the cruise itinerary. In order to avoid the worst of it, the Captain announced that we would proceed with all possible speed to Honningsvåg, so that we could arrive and leave there earlier than scheduled on Monday.
SUN, 06/24/18 AT SEA
As we traveled farther north, the days had been getting shorter and shorter. The sun was up this morning at 5:37 a.m., when we crossed the Arctic Circle; we will not have another sunset until we cross it again on the return trip south. (We would get a certificate recognizing our Arctic Crossing.) The 24-hour daylight is not too much of a problem for me but John needs darkness to sleep well. He has already been blocking the bottom of the balcony door with a robe and using duct tape to close the drapes more tightly. Even with those measures, the cabin is not completely dark.
This was a very busy day. The Pop Culture talk was on “Milestone Events of the Sixties.” After lunch, there was a port lecture for Honningsvåg, followed by the “Maitre d’ Wine Club” wine and food pairing ($25 pp). The five wines were: Veuve Cliquot, Siverado 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Sanctuary 2013 Chardonnay, Decero 2016 Malbec, Zeni 2015 Valpolicella and Don Maximo 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon .
The pre-dinner show was a concert by English recording artist Greg Scott. Dinner tonight featured Duck l’Orange with a nice Burgundy.
MON, 06/25/18 HONNINGSVÅG (NORTH CAPE), NORWAY 9:30AM – 8:30PM
Honningsvåg (www.nordkapp.no/en/) is on the island of Magerøy, which is connected by road to the mainland. The main reason to come here is to visit North Cape, the northernmost point in Europe that can be accessed by car. North Cape is also where the Norwegian Sea meets the Barents Sea.
When we visited here in 2010, it was very difficult to arrange an independent tour. Nevertheless, I persevered and managed to arrange a private guided tour for us and three other roll call couples. This was a comprehensive tour that included the Kamøyvær fishing village, the Gallery East of the Sun, Nils Somby’s Sami camp, the North Cape Hall, Skarsvåg (the northernmost fishing village in the world), the Christmas and Winter House, and the Honningsvåg Church. After the tour we had hoped to do some hiking but it was raining, so we visited the Nordkappmuseet instead.
We felt that we had seen the main sights in and around Honningsvåg on our prior visit. A bird watching tour looked interesting but proved difficult to arrange independently. We reluctantly decided to book a ship’s excursion, the “Stappen Island Bird-Watching Tour”; with the changed port times, this was a serendipitous decision. The ship’s tour did not have to be rescheduled to accommodate the change in port times (2.5 hours earlier than scheduled), so we would have several hours beforehand to go hiking.
For once, we had a beautiful, sunny day, with highs reaching 52°F (11°C). The Pacific Princess was docked near the tourist information center and later the Hurtigruten Nordcapp docked at the next pier; the TUI Mein Schiff was at anchor and tendering passengers.
We stopped in briefly at the info center to get a map that showed the trails in the area (without much detail). The main trail in the area leads up into the hills behind the town and can easily be spotted from the ship. The trail head is at the north end of Prestevannsveien; a short way up the trail is a turnoff to a nice overlook of the town, the cemetery and a statue of Knut Erik Jensen (a film director born in Honningsvåg).
We kept going and were rewarded with fine views of Honningsvåg, Nordvågen (the next town east of Honningsvåg) and Prestvatnet (a lake that is part of Honningsvåg’s water supply). We climbed up a hill on the peninsula between Honningsvåg and Nordvågen for even better views. After that, we walked down to the dam on the lake and then retraced our steps to Honningsvåg. Back in town, we walked by the church and the harbor before returning to the ship. In total, we walked about 5.7 miles (9 km).
After relaxing and having lunch, it was time for the long bus ride to Gjesvaer, a fishing village on the west side of Magerøya. Along the way, we got to enjoy the rugged treeless landscape, occasionally dotted with small reindeer herds. We also saw several fish flakes, the wooden frames for drying salted cod (klippfisk).
We reached the village and boarded the Bird Safari (www.birdsafari.com) boat for a 90-minute tour of the Gjesværstappan Nature Reserve. It is a short ride to the wildlife refuge, a collection of rugged islands that are actually green as compared to the starkness of Magerøya—a gift from the excretions of the birds! You begin to see birds even before reaching the islands. The captain and crew know their stuff, identifying birds by sight and sounds; they keep up a constant patter of bird information that is really useful. There are Razorbills and Puffins in the water and many more birds on the cliffs (Kittiwakes, Skuas, Gannets, Cormorants, Shags, Guillemots). All the birds are impressive but the numerous White-tailed Sea Eagles are special stars! We passed a group of rocks where many Grey Seals were resting; there were also lots of them in the water. As we neared the harbor, we passed many Arctic Terns, perched on the rings of abandoned fish pens. Back at the Bird Safari headquarters, there is a gift shop and a display of stuffed sea birds.
In the late afternoon, before sailing, there were two performances of a local show, “Our Northernmost Life.” Unfortunately, both of those conflicted with our Bird Safari. We later saw part of the show on our stateroom TV.
Dinner tonight was open seating and our usual table was not set up for dining. Tee saw us when we entered and directed us to a table for two with another excellent waiter, Arlene. We dined on veal scalloppini Milanese, accompanied by a Ruffino Chianti Classico Reserva.
TUE, 06/26/18 AT SEA
This morning, we attended a two-fer port presentation on “Tromsø and Geiranger.” In the afternoon, the Bridge announced that there were whales on the port side. We looked out from our balcony and saw a pod of about a dozen on the starboard side as well.
The first event this evening was the Captain’s Circle Party for those who have cruised previously with Princess. Eight-five percent (537/647) of the passengers on this voyage had previously sailed with Princess and 226 were Elite. The most traveled couple had 1,156 days and the 2nd most traveled couple had 765. Our cruise friends, Paul and Jeannie (paul929207) were the 3rd most traveled couple, with 755 days. Another couple was recognized for attaining 500 days cruising with Princess on this voyage.
We were very restrained at the Captain’s Circle Party because next up tonight was the Chef’s Table ($95 pp). On the Pacific Princess, this is a more laid-back event than on the Regal and Royal Princesses, where there is a dedicated space for this special dinner. However, the meal, prepared by the Executive Chef, is always outstanding. I suspect we like this a lot because it was our eighth time!
Tonight's group of 12 gathered at the Club Bar, where we were greeted by the Assistant Maitre d', Roberto Boi, and helped into white jackets or lab coats. Then we were escorted into the Galley, where we scrubbed our hands thoroughly. It was between the two dinner sittings, so the Galley was not so busy as it has been when the Chef’s Table was held earlier in the evening on other cruises. We were introduced to the Executive Chef, Bhairav Panchal; he and Roberto pointed out all the food preparation areas and explained how everything was organized to work smoothly. After that, we were moved to a table in an out-of-the-way corner, which was decorated with a beautiful ice sculpture and carved vegetables. There we were served Villa Sandi Prosecco and five special appetizers prepared by the Executive Chef. After enjoying those, we were escorted to a special table in the Sterling Steakhouse. Before being seated, a group photo was taken with the Assistant Maitre d' and Executive Chef.
The first course was a soba-wrapped yellowfin tuna loin served with Adelsheim 2014 Pinot Gris from Oregon. Next was a berry sorbet palate-cleanser decorated with a chocolate fan. The main course was a unique surf and turf: a venison medallion with a Grand Marnier sauce and a Maine lobster tail with Cognac sauce served on a seafood risotto. This course was served with Argentiera Bolgheri DOC Superiore from Tuscany. That was followed by a cheese course of a cheese bonbon with candied nuts. The over-the-top dessert was a lemon mousse covered in white chocolate and served in a huge dark chocolate bowl. This was accompanied by Errazuriz Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc from Chile. Those with any appetite left were presented with a tray of the Chef’s homemade biscotti and amaretti, accompanied by coffee/tea. [Note: We were not the only people who asked to have our chocolate dessert bowls wrapped in foil to take away and enjoy later.]
Needless to say, this six-course meal and accompanying wines were outstanding and served with appropriate pomp and ceremony. After the meal, each couple received a copy of the 50th Anniversary Edition of Princess' cookbook (Courses, a Culinary Journey), the group photo and a souvenir menu; each lady was presented with a long-stemmed red rose. Wow! Great meal!
WED, 06/27/18 LONGYEARBYEN (SPITSBERGEN), NORWAY 7AM – 5:30PM (LAST TENDER 5:15PM)
Longyearbyen (en.visitsvalbard.com/visitor-information/destinations/longyearbyen) is the largest settlement and administrative capital of Spitsbergen, the main island of the Svalbard archipelago. Longyearbyen is on the southern shore of Adventfjorden, a branch of Isfjorden. This was the most northerly port on our cruise (78°14’30”N). It was only about another 800 miles (1300 km) to the North Pole. The tops of the mountains here are all jagged and black-and-white, somewhat like Antarctica. However, there is some short, shrubby ground cover on the lower slopes.
When we arrived this morning, the wind was quite strong (30 knots) and, since there are no tugs, we could not dock as planned. When the Captain announced that we would not be docking, I was afraid that we would be missing this port entirely. However, the Pacific Princess anchored and we commenced tender operations.
Except for walking or taking the ship’s shuttle ($8.50 pp, one-way) into town, visitors cannot explore this area without an armed local guard for protection from polar bears. The map in the Princess port guide even shows the location of the polar bear warning sign and the extent of the “safe area.” Although polar bears are less likely to venture near town at this time of year (and we didn’t see any), it is a possibility.
John had investigated the scant local tours and the ship’s offerings; he finally picked the ship’s “Catamaran to Pyramiden” ($189.95 pp) boat tour as our best option. Although this tour could possibly be booked independently for a much lower cost, John knew that the ship might book all the seats available for the single tour time that would work with the ship’s time in port. Because of the last-minute need to tender, the Shore Excursion Office called our cabin to tell us to meet 25 minutes earlier than originally scheduled; announcements were also made to the public areas of the ship. Fortunately, everyone got the news and made it to the Cabaret Theater in time.
Today was overcast, a bit colder (41°F or 5°C) and, of course, quite windy; it would be even windier on the tour boat. Although everyone had been warned to wear warm, waterproof clothing, it was surprising to see the number of people who did not take that advice seriously; one woman was even wearing open-toed sandals! Luckily for them, the tour boat had some exposure suits to loan the unprepared. John and I wore our water-resistant hooded jackets and pants (and carried plastic rain ponchos, just in case). He was happy with a regular shirt and slacks plus a sweater vest under that; I had a long-sleeved base layer under a fleece pullover and fleece tights. We finished off our ensembles with hats, gloves and hiking boots. Even though we were relatively comfortable, we wished we had brought warmer gloves and the portable electric hand warmer that we forgot back in the cabin.
After tendering ashore, we walked down to the Aurora Explorer and began the approximately six-hour tour. The first third of the trip involves a cruise through the Isfjorden and the Billefjorden to Pyramiden, with a stop at the majestic Nordenskiöld Glacier. John and I, along with a few other hardy souls, spent this part of the tour out on the open deck, hoping to spot whales, walruses or other Arctic wildlife. Alas, we did not see any marine mammals but there were many Puffins and other seabirds that we had encountered in Honningsvåg. Making up for the lack of animals, the scenery was spectacular, with many glaciers in the rugged mountains of the archipelago. We eventually reached the huge Nordenskiöld Glacier, a tidewater glacier that is actively calving. The glacier is awesome but be prepared for the frigid wind that comes off it long before you even get near. The tour boat did not approach the glacier very closely and we did not see any calving; nevertheless, the glacier is an impressive sight.
Leaving the glacier, we continued on to Pyramiden, a derelict Soviet-Russian coal-mining town. We were met by rifle-toting local guides and divided into groups of about 40 for a walking tour of the site. We took turns waiting for the lone bus to shuttle us to the main part of the ghost town. Our guide explained that when coal was discovered here around the end of the 19th century, many countries initiated mining operations. In the 1930s, the Soviet had mines at Pyramiden and Barentsburg. By the 1980s, the town had around 1,00 inhabitants—miners as well as their families and support staff—and was nearly self-sufficient. However, Pyramiden was never profitable and in 1998, the site was abandoned and operations moved to Barentsburg. Now the only people here are the eleven who lead tours and operate the hotel during the eight months of the summer season.
Our guide led us past the deserted buildings: dormitories, the hospital, the school, the indoor swimming pool. The only sites we entered were the Cultural Palace (sports and entertainment facilities) and the Canteen (where all cooking was done). The obligatory statue of Lenin stands in the town square, with a great view of the glacier. The former housing for families is called the “Crazy House” because of the noise of the children playing—now it is occupied by an equally noisy colony of Gannets. We were followed about on our walk by a Svalbard reindeer (smaller than its cousins near Honningsvåg) but there were no signs of Arctic foxes or other animals besides birds.
The only parts of the complex still in use are the helipad and the hotel, which houses a post office, souvenir shop and restaurant/bar. Although we had some intermittent sunshine, it was still not clear enough by the end of the tour to see the top of the town’s namesake pyramid-shaped mountain.
Back on the tour boat, we decided to enjoy the warmth of the cabin and let the boat’s captain alert us if anything of interest was spotted; napping may have occurred. We got back to the tender dock at 3:30 p.m. and considered walking into town to visit some of the museums (Svalbard Museum, North Pole Expeditions Museum) there. However, we decided to tender back to the ship instead and were back aboard by 4 p.m.
Tonight’s pre-dinner show was an Elton John tribute act, “Diamonds: A Tribute to Elton”, by singer Maxwell Bresnahan. At dinner, we both chose Szechuan chili shrimp, which went well with Les Ecuries Seigneurie de Tanlay Chablis.
THU, 06/28/18 AT SEA
Today’s Pop Culture talk was on “The British Invasion and Motown.” After lunch was the “Princess Grapevine” wine tasting. The five wines were: Asti Spumante, Rosemount 2014 Chardonnay, Duckhorn 2015 Decoy Merlot, Pacific Bay 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and Giordano 2012 Barolo.
In the late afternoon, we were invited to a “friendly and informal gathering” with the Captain, the Hotel General Manager and the ship’s Senior Officers. We had never been invited to a function like this before and were curious to find out what it was all about. This turned out to be a way to show appreciation to everyone who had endured the transatlantic crossing (about 100 people), with its three missed ports. We were served complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and had a pleasant talk with the Hotel General Manager.
This evening, we once again enjoyed dinner at Sabatini’s. John chose the Tuscan steak and I chose the veal rack. The wine tonight was Zeni Amarone.
FRI, 06/29/18 TROMSØ, NORWAY 8AM – 5PM
The next port was Tromsø (www.visittromso.no), the gateway to the Arctic. On our 2010 visit, we docked at the Breivika pier about 2.5 miles (4 km) from the city center. We took a local bus to the cable car (fjellheisen.no/en/), which climbs 1,378 ft (420 m) to the top of Mt. Storsteinen for a fantastic view of the fjord. After hiking for about two hours, we took the cable car back down and walked to the Arctic Cathedral (www.ishavskatedralen.no/en/). From the Cathedral, we walked back to the city center via the Tromsøbrua bridge. We finished the day with a visit to the Tromsø Botaniske Hage (en.uit.no/tmu/botanisk), which are right across the road from the Breivika cruise pier.
This visit, however, John planned a scenic driving tour with several potential hikes. The ship docked at the Prostneset pier next to the town center; the Hurtigruten Nordnorge was docked nearby. This location made getting to the Avis/Budget office easy because it was only a short walk away. We had been told that the office did not open until 9 a.m. but it was already open when we got there; according to the sign, it had opened at 8 a.m. Oh well, we were still getting a relatively early start at 9:20 a.m. Our vehicle today was a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. This was vehicle was so quiet that we couldn’t be sure that the motor was running upon starting; it took a while to get used to it.
There was lots of road construction in the area around the car rental office but we managed to get going in the right direction and find the tunnel (Langnestunnelen) that cuts across the island. The entrance to the tunnel (on Vestregata near the intersection with Bispegata) is not marked; it looks like the entrance to a parking garage. Once inside the tunnel, there is an underground roundabout that was exciting to navigate. The signage was a little confusing but all we had to do was follow the signs to the airport and stay on Road 862. It was a good thing that John had already previewed our route on Google Maps Street View so he knew where to go!
After exiting the tunnel, we continued on Road 862 past the airport and across the bridge between Tromsøya (Tromsø’s island) and mountainous Kvaløya island. At the roundabout, we went left to follow Road 862 along the southern coast of Kvaløya. We hadn’t gone far before we encountered a typical Norwegian road hazard: reindeer in the road. Four reindeer were strolling nonchalantly down the middle of the road, wandering back and forth along the center line. We weren’t sure how they would react if we honked at them, so we just crept up on them until they ambled far enough to the left for us to slip by. They closed in again behind us, blocking another car that was following us. We don’t know how long that driver had to wait to get by!
Road 862 turns northwest where it intersects Road 858 in Eidkjosen and becomes Fjordvegen. However, Road 862 eventually turns southwest, while Fjordvegen continues north. We followed Fjordvegen around Grøtfjorden almost to Tromvik, on the north shore of the island. All along the way, we had spectacular views of the mountains and the fjords. Many looked like they had just come from the glacial grinder and had high bare rocks and little vegetation. Others were lush and green but still high and steep. Unfortunately, the tops of the mountains were obscured by clouds, boding ill for our plans to hike. We turned on the gravel road to Rekvik and drove to the trail head for Trail #1, Brosmetinden Mountain (nerdnomads.com/hikes-in-tromso). The trail to the top of the mountain is supposed to afford fantastic views of the ocean. However, we could see that the trail disappeared into the clouds and it seemed pointless to hike in the cold and rain for two hours and not be able to see anything from the top. It took us 70 minutes to reach the trail head from the car rental office.
We retraced our path south along Fjordvegen to the turnoff to Ersfjordbotn, a small village on the isthmus between the Ersfjorden and the Kaldfjorden. From here, we hoped to see dramatic 3,280 ft (1,000 m) tall cliffs that plunge straight down into the sea. Although the scenery was beautiful, the clouds were still not cooperating and we could not see very far down the fjord. However, we did see a nice waterfall at the head of the fjord.
We made our way back to Fjordvegen and continued south to Road 862, where we turned right toward the west end of Kvaløya. Again, due to the weather, we passed on Trail #4 (Nattmålsfjellet), a hike up another small mountain said to have very nice views of Ersfjord and Kaldfjord. There were gorgeous views of first Nordfjorden, then of Sørfjorden and finally of Kattfjorden (and of course the clouds), with quaint fishing villages dotted here and there on the shore.
When we reached the turnoff to Sommarøy, we went right and drove across the high and elegant one-lane Sommarøy Bridge connecting Kvaløya to Sommarøy Island. The fishing village of Sommarøy is important to the Norwegian economy because of its cod and herring processing and packing plant, which exports its products around the world. It is also a tourist mecca due to its beautiful white coral beaches; many people come here for outdoor activities such as kayaking. There are many smaller islands in the bays, so the ocean scenery is particularly lovely.
We had hoped to drive to the adjacent small island of Hillesøy to take Trail #6 (Hillesøytoppen) for an elevated viewpoint of the islands. But we finally had to accept that this would not be our day for hiking. When we crossed back over the Sommarøy Bridge, there is a picnic area where we could pull off and get some great views from a small hill. Less than 328 ft (100 m) after we rejoined Road 862, we saw the parking area for the last hike we had considered, Trail #5 (Ørnfløya). Like all the others, it was reputed to have amazing views on sunnier days.
We continued our scenic drive around the western end of Kvaløya and along its southern shore. This side of the island is much more pastoral, with many farms. We would see this same scenery later when we cruised out of the Tromsø Fjord on our way to the next port of call. As we drove along the fjord, I spotted a small square-sailed Viking ship out in the fjord. Perhaps it was motorized as it appeared to have only a two-person crew.
Shortly after passing the town of Hella, we saw a sign pointing to “Helleristninger” (petroglyphs) followed by the attraction symbol. Just ahead on the left was a pullout where we could view some prehistoric rock carvings (www.visittromso.no/en/Rock_carvings) that are thought to date to 2600 BC. They showed a herd of what might be reindeer. At first, we though the carvings had been vandalized because of the bright orange paint; I later read that this was done to make them more visible. There is an interpretive sign but it is only in Norwegian.
Road 862 becomes Road 858 after it passes the Ryatunnelen underwater tunnel and continues to follow the coast. It was still early when we came to Eidkjosen, so we decided to return to Ersfjordbotn in hopes that we could have better views of the Ersfjorden. Unfortunately, the views were even more obscured. Although we were disappointed that we did not get to make any hikes, we did have a beautiful scenic drive.
We filled up with gas and drove back thought the Langnestunnelen into Tromsø. We were following the signs to “Sentrum” when our Garmin told us to take the next exit. We were surprised to find ourselves at the entrance to an underground parking lot with no way to turn around. After fumbling for a credit card to activate the toll gate (much to the aggravation of the car behind us), we managed to get a ticket and then find the exit to the city center. Perhaps cars in transit through the lot do not have to pay as nothing was charged to our credit card. In any case, we made it back to the car rental office without further incidents, despite needing to make a slight detour to avoid the road construction. In total, we drove 226 km (140 miles).
To calm our nerves after the underground adventures, we sought solace at Mack’s Ølbryggeri Ølhallen (www.mack.no/en/olhallen). The brewpub is Tromsø’s oldest pub and has 67 Norwegian brews on tap. We enjoyed Mack’s Porter and Mack's IPA; two half-liter drinks cost 255 NOK or about $32 (!).
Tonight’s pre-dinner show was a Judy Garland tribute act, “A Garland for Judy”, featuring singer Becky O’Brien. At dinner, we both chose the duck breast with Asian flavors, which went well with an excellent Belle Glos 2016 Pinot Noir.
SAT, 06/30/18 AT SEA
This morning there was an interesting “Meet the Master & Management” program. The Captain, the Food and Beverage General Manager and the Hotel General Manager were interviewed by the Assistant Cruise Director and then took questions from the floor.
The ship crossed Arctic Circle about noon, so we would now start having night again. Later in the afternoon there was a port talk on Bergen.
Tonight was the last of the three formal nights and the Captain’s Farewell Party was held between the two dinner sittings. The Club Restaurant did not serve the usual entree of a broiled lobster tail and two prawns. Instead, three steamed lobster half-tails were served over risotto. This was a new dish and quite delicious. We also enjoyed one of our favorite appetizers—escargots. We always like sparkling wine with the lobster dishes so the wine for tonight was Nicolas Feuillatte champagne.
SUN, 07/01/18 GEIRANGER, NORWAY 12PM – 6PM
Today turned out to be one of the prettiest of the cruise. For a change, we had perfect weather: no clouds, 60°F (15°C), no wind. The Geirangerfjord lives up to its reputation—a stunningly beautiful and narrow fjord that rivals Yosemite Valley. We made a pause to tender passengers ashore in Hellesylt for their all-day overland excursion; only those passengers were allowed to disembark and quite a few did so. We cruised up the fjord, passing the Seven Sisters waterfall on one side and the Suitor waterfall on the other side. The fjord is only 800 yards (732 m) wide at that point.
Then we proceeded on to the tiny town of Geiranger (www.fjordnorway.com/geiranger/) for our noon arrival and started tendering. At that time the Pacific Princess was the only cruise ship in the fjord; the Phoenix Reisen Amadea arrived in the late afternoon. This was a little surprising because around 200 cruise ships call at Geiranger during the five-month cruise season; it is Norway’s second busiest cruise port. On our 2010 visit, there were three other ships in the fjord all day.
During our previous visit, we hiked on our own using the detailed map found online at www.fjordnorway.com/geiranger/at-your-service/brochures-and-maps. This map is also available from the tourist office on the dock for NOK 10. We hiked for about five hours to the Flydalsjuvet overlook, Storseterfossen and the Vesterasfjellet overlook.
On this visit, John rented one of the four or five cars available from Hertz, a Toyota Auris Hybrid. We had some delay getting the car because the Hertz counter is closed on Sundays; in order to pick up the keys, John had to wait in line with everyone seeking tourist information. The Auris had a different driving feel than the RAV4 Hybrid that we had in Tromsø. We only drove 47 miles (75 km) today and John was just getting comfortable with it by the time we had to return the car. Anyway, we were finally on our way at 1:05 p.m. We shared our little adventure with a couple of Cruise Critic friends, Paul and Jeannie (paul929207).
We didn't have that long in port so we planned a scenic drive to the area’s three scenic viewing highlights. First, we headed south out of Geiranger on Road 63 to revisit Flydalsjuvet, a point of rock which juts out over the fjord 1,007 ft (307 m) below. This overlook is featured on just about every promotional photo of the Geirangerfjord but without the ugly fencing that prevents oblivious tourists from plunging over the edge. There are actually two viewpoints here: the rock itself and a viewing area of the rock a little higher up the road. We stopped at both lookouts for nice views of the fjord and the Pacific Princess far below.
We continued up the twisting road to the Geiranger Skywalk (www.dalsnibba.no/en/) near the summit of Mt. Dalsnibba; with the stops at Flydalsjuvet, this drive took 50 minutes. Along the way, there were lovely views of the landscape with farms, lakes and waterfalls. The see-through Skywalk platform is Europe’s highest fjord view from a road: 4,921 ft (1,500 m) above the fjord. The mountain top is rocky and bare of vegetation but the panoramic views, both of the fjord and of the surrounding mountains, are astonishing. Our ship was amazingly tiny in the lovely fjord below. There is a NOK 140/car fee to access the Nibbevegen toll road to the Skywalk.
We then drove back down Road 63, through Geiranger and north on Road 63 through the 11 hairpin bends (each named) of the Ørnevegen (the Eagles Road). There is a viewing platform and parking lot at Ørnesvingen, the highest of the hairpins at 1,483 ft (452 m) above the fjord. From here, we had panoramic views of the fjord and could even see the Seven Sisters. We spent about 15 minutes here and left at 3:15 p.m.
We drove over the mountain pass part of the way through the Eidsdal valley. We stopped at the beautiful lake Eidsvatnet, which is surrounded by stunning mountains with waterfalls cascading down their sides. Some of these falls are quite large and are apparently unnamed. We would have like to have driven all the way to Eidsdal town on the next fjord, Storfjord, but we were running short on time. Reluctantly, we turned back to Geiranger at 3:30 p.m.
Before returning the car, we needed to have another refueling adventure. There are a grand total of two gas pumps in Geiranger; they are behind the big souvenir shop next to the tourist information office. Naturally, these two pumps are very busy and we had to drive by twice before there was one available. None of our credit cards would work in the pay station but I was able to pay inside the souvenir shop. When we dropped off the keys at the tourist information office, the woman there was surprised that we had managed to fill up. I guess many tourists give up trying to reach the pumps and resign themselves to paying Hertz’ exorbitant refueling charge. In any case, we were ready to tender back to the ship at 4:55 p.m. [Note: With the car rental, gas and the toll road at Dalsnibba, the total for our four-hour DIY excursion was NOK 1,901.69 (NOK 475.42 pp or $58.19 pp). Princess offered a three-hour excursion, “Mt. Dalsnibba & The Eagle Bends Road,” for $99.95 pp.]
We were getting ready to go to the upper decks as we sailed away, when we noticed that the ship was moving backwards towards the anchorage we had just departed instead of forward. It turned out that large rock had become stuck in the anchor when it was raised. The anchor cannot be completely raised with something stuck in it, so we had to return to the anchorage where the rock could be dislodged. The Captain later posted photos on the Navigational Chart of the rock stuck in the anchor.
Tonight was again Italian night and featured Brasato (Italian pot roast), which went splendidly with Giordano Barolo.
MON, 07/02/18 BERGEN, NORWAY 8AM – 7PM
The final port was Bergen (en.visitbergen.com), the second-largest city in Norway. Despite the fact that Bergen typically gets 300 days of rain per year, we had a lovely sunny day just like on our previous visits in 2009 and 2010. The Pacific Princess and the HAL Rotterdam docked at the Skoltegrunnskaien pier, within easy walking distance of downtown; the port authority also ran a free shuttle to the fish market. The TUI Mein Schiff was docked at a much less convenient pier.
On our first visit to Bergen, we took the funicular up Mt. Fløyen and hiked some of the trails there, walked around the Bryggen area and the Bergenshus Fortress, and visited Haakon’s Hall and the Rosenkrantz Tower. On our second visit, we bought combo tickets for the double-decker bus and cable car ride up Mt. Ulriken. We hiked the trails there for several hours before returning to the tourist area. Today, we planned to hike between Mt. Ulriken and Mt. Fløyen.
Bergen is poetically called the “City of Seven Mountains,” although the locals cannot agree on exactly which peaks comprise those seven mountains. Two of them are definitely Mt. Fløyen (1,309 ft or 399 m) and Mt. Ulriken (the highest at 2,110 ft or 643 m). Traversing the Vidden (plateau) between them is one of the most popular hikes in Bergen. Although hiking purists eschew the funicular and cable car, we planned to take the cable car up Ulriken and the funicular down Fløyen.
We left the ship as soon as passengers were allowed to disembark. There were free city maps available right outside the port terminal. We walked along the waterfront next to Bryygen to get to the city center. The Småstrandgaten stop for the #2, #3 and #8 buses is next to the Xhibition shopping center; there are ticket machines there too. It is less expensive to buy a ticket from the machine (19 NOK pp, senior rate single) than from the bus driver (30 NOK pp, senior rate single). A #3 bus came along soon, we validated our tickets and we were on our way to the Haukeland Sjukehus (Haukeland Hospital). The public transit site, Skyss, has details on buying and using tickets plus a map showing all the bus routes to the hospital (www.skyss.no/globalassets/kart/linjekart/linjekart-haukeland_aug2013.pdf).
The ride to the Haukeland Sjukehus S. stop takes about 20 minutes. We took the pedestrian overpass over the busy highway and followed Haukelandsbakken to the Ulriken cable car station (www.ulriken643.no/en/). We got there just after the station opened at 9 a.m. and bought one-way tickets (115 NOK pp, senior rate). There was a large number of people from Mein Schiff there on a hiking excursion, so we had to wait for the second car up.
We had difficulty finding good information about the exact distance and time needed for this hike. The best description I could find started the hike at the funicular station and ended at the hospital (floyen.no/en/walks-hikes-floyen/tur-10-over-vidden-til-ulriken/); that supposedly is 11.2 miles (18 km) and takes 5-6 hours. It is slightly easier to hike from Ulriken to Fløyen but it is still rated moderate/difficult. We walk 6 miles (10 km) a day back home but the terrain there is fairly level; John was concerned that I might be overestimating our endurance. If it had been a hot day, I would have agreed with him but it was relatively cool. The high temperature this afternoon was only 72°F (22°C) and it was cooler in the mountains.
We were somewhat reassured when the sign at the trail head read 13 km (8.1 miles), which we estimated would take us roughly 4-5 hours. The trail (www.alltrails.com/explore/recording/bergen-ulriken-to-floyen) up to the plateau is narrow and rugged but fairly well marked with metal poles and an occasional wooden marker (either “Fløyen” or “Vidden” indicates the correct direction); very soon there were large rock cairns indicating the way.
Up on the high plateau there are plenty of rocks but few trees. The terrain is relatively level but with lots of ups and downs. The scenery is very pretty and at a couple of points you can see the Folgefonna glacier in the distance and the city laid out below you. At other times it's like you are in a treeless wilderness. Some of the trail passes by pristine mountain lakes and through grasslands (with sheep) and bogs (with lots of bog cotton). There are rustic boardwalks in the wetter places. As we slogged along, we kept getting passed by fit, blonde, young Norwegians taking advantage of the fantastic weather by running the trail. A few asked us whether we were doing the whole Vidden hike and reassured us that it was all downhill from there (liars!). Besides being frustrated by the running Norwegians, we were also frustrasted by the numerous trail signs that seemed to indicate we would never reach the halfway point. Eventually we did indeed cross an imaginary half-way point and the second half of the trail was actually much easier than the first.
The trail finally did descend from the plateau toward a cluster of large lakes that comprise the city’s reservoir. For most of the hike, we could see the prominent cell tower on Mt. Rundemanen in the distance. After crossing between the lakes and traversing a few more ups and downs, we reached a wide gravel trail that switchbacks up the mountain and levels out near the summit. Even though this trail climbed up, it was so much smoother than the rocky path we had been following that we were invigorated. Along this part of the trail we saw a derelict ski jump and the remains of some WWII German bunkers.
The last two miles (3.2 km) were mostly all downhill. The gravel trail led down to a lake where it joined an actual paved trail. Finally we were on the map for the Mt. Fløyen trails (www.byfjellskogene.no/sitefiles/59/bilder/Kladde-bilder/Kartfloyen_1.JPG). After we came to the Brushytten kiosk, we followed the red trail to the Fløibanen funicular station (floyen.no/en/). We bought a one-way ticket (NOK 50 pp) on the funicular, rode down to the city center and walked back to the ship for some ibuprofen and Grolsch.
Our actual mileage for the Vidden hike (measured by the Garmin) was 8.37 miles (13.5 km) in 4:35 hours. Counting walking from the hospital to the cable car and to and from the ship, we did 11.5 miles (18.5 km) today. The cost for our DIY excursion totaled NOK 184 pp or $22.50. The ship offered a four-hour "Mt. Fløien Funicular & Hike" up Mt. Rundemanen for $79.95 pp. Although not quite as scenic as the Pulpit Rock hike, we would recommend the Vidden hike to anyone who loves hiking and has the stamina for it.
Tonight we tried a new menu item, a brochette of filet mignon and sweet potatoes; this was OK but a little strange. However, the Simi Landslide Cabernet was excellent.
TUE, 07/03/18 AT SEA
On the last full day of the cruise, we were somewhere off the coast of Denmark. As usual for the sea days on this trip, it was overcast with light fog. It must have been foggier during the night because John said he heard the foghorn blowing.
In the morning, we attended a Pop Culture lecture on “Great Inventions, Discoveries, and Innovations of the 20th Century.” Later we finished our packing.
The pre-dinner entertainment was a Production Show, “Motor City.” Dinner tonight was mussels in a white wine and cream sauce; that was enjoyed with Domaine Saget Pouilly-Fume.
The clocks were moved back an hour tonight to put us on London time.
WED, 07/04/18 DOVER, ENGLAND 6AM
We decided to use the Princess transfers, so we had to be ready to leave the ship by 8 a.m. for the two hour drive to LHR. Our 2:30 p.m. flight on Virgin Atlantic (code share with Delta) to JFK left on schedule and we had plenty of time to make our connection to RDU, arriving around 9 p.m. It was not easy to go from wearing jackets, sweaters, hats and gloves to 90°F+ (32°C+) temperatures and high humidity! However, this was another fantastic trip, full of wonderful new experiences and memories. Read Less