Well where do I start?
After listening to friends who had been on many cruises, we decided to take the plunge and booked our first ever cruise. For our first we didn’t really want to fly or travel great distances to meet the ship or indeed stay onboard for any more than a week or ten days.
So we booked with Cruise & Maritime for a Norway cruise to see the fjords – a cruise that left from and returned to Newcastle, our home town.
We were pleasantly surprised at the ease at which we boarded (and indeed disembarked), with checks and tickets quickly sorted and cases carried off by their staff and were really pleased that our cases arrived at our cabin approx 15 mins later.
Being somewhat “poor” sailors my wife and I were glad that the forecast was reasonably calm for the dreaded North Sea. I knew how bad it could be having sailed it many years ago as a member of the crew for one of the tall ships..
Our ship was the Magellan. It had received some pretty good write ups and we knew in advance that the ship was not an ultra-modern super- vessel, but one that provided comfort in a nice friendly environment. It was what we had expected.
Our cabin (with sea view) was very nice, very clean and better than I had imagined. The beds were comfortable and the small coffee and water facilities very welcome. The bathroom was small but useable and the shower ok.
Breakfast’s were good - not fantastic but they did try very hard to please with typical buffet type English breakfast items and a facility to have omelettes cooked or eggs fried / poached as you wait (scrambled egg was already on the buffet). The buffet was ok but the bacon was pretty awful (everyday) and the sausage could, at times be a little undercooked. Never mind it was a starter for the day ahead and the toast and Marmite was delicious (great to see Marmite on board – as people will know from previous reports I am a Marmite fanatic). Having said all that the service and attentiveness by all the staff was first class.
Instead of the buffet you could, if you so desired, go to one of two restaurants on board and have the breakfast served to you which we tried but decided it was easier and perhaps quicker to go buffet-style. Free coffee and fruit juice in abundance.
Lunch, again, was a buffet style experience, but depending on what time you went in, there were very few seats available due to everybody appearing to go at the same time. On more than one occasion during the ten days (four times actually) we were asked to use the other restaurants to perhaps ease the pressure. However not being in the much of a rush we always found seat after a few minutes.
The buffet was reasonably good and offered around five or six main courses always with a fish type course and vegetarian options. They also offered fresh cooked pizza and salads and there was also soup, a wide range of sweets (which were very good) and ice cream.
Also available round the pool area was a barbeque type facility where they served burgers, sausages etc with salad.
For dinner we went to the Kensington Restaurant. This was a different class and the food and service were superb. The menu was different every evening and the choice was excellent ably supported by some decent house wine (both red and white)
The food was served extremely efficiently and always hot and well prepared. Not once in the nine evening meals did we have any problems with our choices. The quality of the food was excellent and our waiters (one for wine and one for food) could not have been more pleasant and very good at their jobs.
There were a couple of formal dress evenings which we enjoyed (always nice to dress up now and again).
We booked the full drinks package prior to the cruise and all-in-all it wasn’t too bad with wine at the table and drinks whenever you want them. At a cost of £35 per day for the two of us it worked very well in our favour – and that is without going totally mad and getting bladdered every night.
If I did another cruise I think I would probably rebook the drinks package as it suited us but may not suit everybody.
As it was our first ever cruise, we decided to pre book some excursions with the cruise company. They were expensive but we thought that we would give them a try – in for a penny etc etc.
We booked four and of the four two were good, one was ok and one was a disaster.
The best was the rail journey – out by coach and back by train. Great day out – expensive at £159 per person, but enjoyed the day. The other good one was the visit to Lillisand, a beautiful little village and one to make you drool at the scenery and lifestyle.
The worst one was the Bergen tour – it wasn’t actually a tour. We got on a bus, drove for 10 mins then pulled over to get on the funicular railway which was to take us up high to enjoy the Bergen vista from above.
Well that didn’t happen….as we were with our guide, we waited in a huge queue for almost one and half hours at which point my wife and I decided enough was enough and told the guide we were leaving the queue and would make our own way back to the ship, which turned out to be only fifteen minutes walk anyway. There were three other ships in harbour and the place was packed to the hilt which according to the local guy who spoke English, happens quite a lot.
Well where do I start. The entertainment was pretty poor. There were two entertainment “sites” - the Main Showroom and what we called the “other lounge”. I will try to be kind and say that the main cabaret was very poor, highlighted by an “Abba Night” where my wife and I lasted for three songs before departing to save the rest of our sanity. However they did partly redeem themselves on the last night with a jazz tribute night which wasn’t too bad.
There were a lot of Scots aboard and the nights seemed to be pointed towards them which is fine if you are Scottish and like taking the mickey out of Sassenachs.
As for the “other lounge” – well need I go on. There was an male organist with a female singer who was truly awful . Her voice was monotone and all songs sounded the same – dire. We watched for a while then decided the quiz in the other bar would be better. Such is life – you get what you pay for I suppose.
The good and the bad
The good was definitely the evening food and the service. The toilets on board were extremely clean and checked very regularly by the staff.
Both my wife and I found it very “samey” and spent a lot of time wondering what to do next. The daytime “entertainment” consisted of things like making elephants out of table napkins and sculpting melons into strange shapes or watching someone make cocktails whilst trying to be funny. All a bit tired and weary. There were a lot of “older” people on the cruise and perhaps this suited their tastes.
One of the most important aspects was seeing the fjord themselves. As most of the travelling to the towns happened at night it was difficult to get a fair assessment of the beauty of the fjords. We left ports at in the early evening sailed overnight and docked around six in the morning having sailed through what would have been some breath-taking scenery.
Norway was very expensive (we expected this). A diet coke and regular coffee in Oslo was £9.00 and in Bergen two small bottles of water were £4 each. The open top tour bus in Oslo was £60 for the two of us and lasted about 90 mins. It should really not have come as much of a surprise.
The most annoying part for me (personally) was the lack of time allowed for stops on the daily excursions we had booked. As a keen amateur photographer I was hopeful of some quality time to take some nice pics of the wonderful scenery. However the trips seemed rushed and the stop offs were short and usually in the wrong sort of places to savour the environment. We went to one place where the driver and the guide didn’t know where the place was and had to phone in to find out the details…such is life.
Will we go on another cruise ??
That is the big question. We would have to think long and hard about what it is we were actually getting. Having talked to one or two people on the cruise they also had reservations about certain aspects of the holiday.
Having said all this we did, on reflection enjoy most our first voyage.