Our trip to Scandinavia included two nights in Stockholm and an 11 night cruise from Copenhagen up the coast of Norway past the Arctic Circle to the North Cape. We had previously done a cruise that included Bergen, Norway and wanted to see more of that beautiful country.
We flew into Stockholm after a lengthy trip from Orlando. Living in coastal Georgia, we normally fly out of Jacksonville, Florida, but the airfare from JAX was $600 per person higher for our trip than flying out of Orlando. That did involve driving 2.5 hours past Jacksonville and a night in a hotel prior to our flight to Europe.
Sleep Inn & Suites - Orlando Airport
We booked this hotel through park, sleep and fly. Some hotels offer parking for travelers that stay in a hotel prior to flying out for a vacation. There were not many choices and this was the best one available. The hotel itself looked clean enough and the rooms were spacious. The hotel was a bit old and worn, but acceptable. However, after checking in our room, we noticed that the air conditioner could only function on full blast. The room was about 60 degrees, so we turned off the AC. We never turned it on and didn’t have a problem. The breakfast was good, but checking in the hotel took way too long with only one front desk clerk. Our parking was on the side of the hotel past the paved area in an area of dirt and some trees. I parked in there and upon return from our trip, found that my car was blocked in by another vehicle. Since we returned at 2am, I had to drive over a curb. Fortunately, my vehicle was undamaged in the process. Still, the hotel did a very poor job in managing the parking. We will never stay in this hotel again.
We had three flights to make it to Copenhagen, having to fly to Atlanta then Paris Charles de Gaulle and finally to Stockholm. We arrived about 12:30pm and made our way to the Flybussarna. There were nice busses every 10 minutes that took us into the city to the main rail station. Cost was a little more than $10 per person. From the rail station we took a taxi to our hotel.
First Hotel Reisen
We booked this hotel because of its great location and reasonable rates. The hotel was an older hotel, but clean and well maintained. The room was comfortable and a reasonable size. Air conditioning was not common for hotels in Stockholm, so we had an electric fan in the room that was effective. It was 30 degrees C when we first arrived, but the fan cooled our room just fine. The hotel had a nice restaurant, where we dined one evening and an excellent buffet breakfast. We would stay in the hotel again if we visited Stockholm again.
After the long trip, we were tired and didn’t do any touring. We took a short nap and had dinner at the hotel, which gave us discount of about $10 since we were staying in the hotel. The meal was a Swedish seafood stew and excellent.
The next day, we were very busy. We met a Free Walking Tour of the Old Town that was about two hours long. The tour guide was very good and we enjoyed the old city. We went back to visit the Royal Palace and Cathedral that was nearby. We passed the Nobel Museum, but decided to skip it. We found the ferry that took us close to the Vasa Museum. The Vasa was a huge 17th Century sailing ship launched with much pomp and ceremony that capsized and sunk after sailing about 200 meters.
The museum was amazing. The ship had been recovered from the harbor almost intact. The museum building was built around the huge ship. There were parts of the ship that had to replace rotten or damaged wood, but most of it was the original. There was an excellent film about the ship’s history and why it capsized. Other exhibits showed who worked on building the ship, including the role of women. Shipbuilders from Holland came to Stockholm for the King of Sweden. Several people died when the ship capsized. We learned that the design of the ship was flawed. It was top heavy and the hold was not large enough to support the needed ballast. We spent 2-3 hours in the museum.
Upon returning to Gamla Stan, were our hotel was located, we walked around a little more and found a restaurant that proved to be just what we needed.
Restaurant Kaffegillet i Gamla Stan AB
We picked the Kaffegillet at random, after a full day of touring Stockholm. The restaurant was in the old city with seating inside and outside next to the street. We chose to dine inside. Everything we selected for our meal was great. The prices for the meal were reasonable, including the wine. We had reindeer for our appetizer and salmon for the main course. Everything was wonderful.
The next day we had a five hour train ride to Copenhagen. I had book first class tickets for about $50 per person. The train was very nice. The first class car had only 3 seats across that were very spacious and comfortable. We enjoyed the green countryside of Southern Sweden on our way to Copenhagen.
We arrived at the rail station at the Copenhagen Airport (closer to our hotel than the main rail station), took a taxi to the Crowne Plaza.
Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers Hotel
We stayed at the Crowne Plaza again for one night prior to our Norway cruise. The hotel was convenient to the airport and a nearby shopping mall. Rooms were spacious, modern and with all the amenities. Breakfast was not included with the room, but was excellent. The hotel's rates were very reasonable for Copenhagen.
There was a concert at the new arena and the area was flooded with people going there. We had difficulty finding a place to eat at the nearby shopping mall due to the large crowds. We finally found a Mexican restaurant that we could eat. The food had only the faintest resemblance to Mexican food. In fact, the salsa tasted more like it was from India. The cooks appeared to be Indian.
The next day we had a great breakfast at the Crowne Plaza and about noon we boarded a shuttle bus to the cruise port. The cruise terminal turned out to be the same one that we had used on our cruise from Copenhagen 5 1/2 years ago.
SERENADE OF THE SEAS
This cruise was our second on Royal Caribbean. We were elite on Celebrity and able to transfer our loyalty benefits to become Diamond on Royal Caribbean for our first cruise on Explorer of the Seas last year in a TransPacific cruise. Our Norway Arctic Circle cruise was cheap, since we had a huge credit from a cancelled cruise last year that was to go to New Zealand. Serenade of the Seas is one of the smaller ship in the large Royal fleet and we very much enjoyed our cruise. We are trending to Royal since Celebrity and NCL have significantly raised their cruse prices.
New Checkin Procedure
While still at home, I had gone through the check-in process and printed out a scalable sheet for Ginny and I. When we arrived at the port of embarkation in Copenhagen, we checked our luggage, then immediately a representative greeted us, scanned our sheets and passed us to board the ship. It all took a minute or two. She indicated that our key cards were in our cabin. We were amazed at how expedited the boarding process had become. When we arrived at our cabin, it was ready and our cards were in an envelope on the door.
We found dining in Serenade’s main dining room (MDR) was about on par with Celebrity’s MDR dining. The menu for Royal’s MDR has a bit fewer choices than on Celebrity, but everything we ordered was excellent. Service on Serenade was excellent. We dined about half of our meals in the MDR and for most had Julio as our head waiter. He was great and took good care of our needs. We did have the 3 meal dining package for specialty dining and enjoyed the Italian, Steak and Asian restaurants. All were excellent and the worst thing was that we tended to overeat more. We did dine at the buffet for breakfast and lunch, as well as twice for dinner. Breakfast and lunch were pretty good. The omelet station was great, but I missed the Celebrity Eggs Benedict station. For a few nights Serenade had an Eggs Benedict station, but when I ordered breakfast there twice, the eggs were cooked hard, pretty much eliminating the joy of having breakfast from there. The two dinners that we dined in the buffet, I was seriously disappointed in what I chose. The most disappointing items were the Moussaka and then the Lasagna. Both were nothing like the real thing. The Moussaka had no eggplant or meat. It was largely composed of potatoes. The Lasagna had no pasta and was mainly beef, with melted cheese on top. I tried other dishes in the evening and nothing was really that good. One night is settled for a burger that was about the best thing available. It was interesting, since at lunch, the buffet would usually have something that I liked.
The entertainment in Royal Caribbean is generally superior to Celebrity’s entertainment. We didn’t go to all the shows, but the shows that we attended were excellent. The production show singers were excellent. The top show that we saw was the fantastic violinist. She was originally from China, but I don’t remember her name.
DIAMOND HAPPY HOUR
Our happy hour was held in the Diamond Lounge, which was small on deck 13. It was always a bit crowded, but you could eventually find seats. Service was good and you could order three drinks outside that location, even when dining up until 8:30pm. It worked well for us, since I only paid for two drinks for the entire cruise (when I ordered drinks for us a bit after 8:30 in the MDR).
Our cruise had six ports and they were filled with amazing scenery. Some ports were no more than small villages, others were medium sized or large cities. The farther north we progressed, the longer the days, until we had 2-3 nights when the sun did not set. We learned to sleep with a little light coming in around the sides of the curtains in our cabin.
Our first port was Geiranger and its fantastic fjord. We learned that a fjord is carved out of rock by glaciers that existed during the ice age. We saw a lot of fjords in Norway and the one in Geiranger was arguably the most impressive.
We had a private tour booked with Norway Excursions. Our tour for Geiranger with Norwegian Excursions was cancelled while we were traveling. The company refunded our payment and put us on the Mt. Dalsnibba and Eagle Road tour at no charge. They were exceptional in all areas. Our guide, Anita was fantastic and the tour exceeded our expectations. Our bus found its way up the scenic slopes to Mt. Dilsnibba that was loaded with recent snow and awesomely beautiful. Also, returning to the port city, we took a shorter route up Eagle Road for more great scenery. This was one of the best tours that we took on our entire cruise to the North Cape. We also, enjoyed a great Norwegian Excursion tour in Alesund.
Nearly all our tours involved riding in a small or large bus on mountain road that usually took us up for fantastic vistas. I think we were too busy enjoying the scenery to get sick riding up and down the mountains.
Our departure from the small village port of Geiranger was memorable, since we passed through the wonderful fjord. A one point, when the ship arrived in front of an amazing waterfall, the ship stopped and did a complete 360. The maneuver was remarkable in the fjord channel. These modern ships can do a 360 and we have been on cruises that did this maneuver (one around Cape Horn and another in Glacier Bay, Alaska). The Captain must have known that no other ships were approaching us in the fjord, since passing us at that point would have been impossible. In any event, everyone was able to see the waterfall.
We were headed north and the next day passed the Arctic Circle. There was a ceremony for that called the Blue Nose. I watched a little of it on the pool deck, but it was cold and windy, so I didn’t stay for the entire ceremony. Some crew members had cold water poured down their necks and procured a blue nose. We saw some people around the ship with blue noses. I didn’t want one of those. All the passengers received a certificate from the Captain on having passed the Arctic Circle. The day after, we arrived in Tromso. This was the largest city in the north of Norway.
Our tour was with Tromso Individuell. We booked this tour for Tromso over the internet and paid in full in advance. When we arrived at the quay after leaving our cruise ship, no one was there to greet us from the tour company. After looking at all the busses in the parking lot, we could not find our tour. I asked a young security guard at the gate if he would call the tour company for us. He did and eventually the tour guide came to pick us up. I was amazed at the poor management by the tour company. I had looked at each bus in the parking lot, I had seen a name for the "group" on the bus that was our bus, but the name meant nothing to us. Fortunately, we had a good, but not great tour. Tromso was probably the least scenic port on our cruise's itinerary. It was the largest city in the north of Norway. Still, the day was a good day and good tour, despite the difficulty with finding the tour. The tour took us to see three fjords as well as a scenic island near the entrance to the ocean. We had a nice lunch that included Norwegian food. It was a buffet and included many local specialties. There was a lot of smoked fish. I tried the smoked fish and it was ok, but not my favorite dish.
This was another fairly small town where our ship docked. In the middle of June the temperature was in the high 30s or low 40s with lots of wind. Ginny and I layered as much as possible to protect ourselves from the weather.
We had booked a tour with Blue Puffin to the North Cape. This tour was great. Our tour was from the port of Honningsvag and our cruise ship. The tour guide was exceptional. She took us to see a scenic fishing village that included an up close and personal greeting from a King Crab (she fished two out of a large tank). She explained life in the far north of Norway and the fishing industry. Also, we met a member of the Sami people (also called Lapps) with his reindeer. We say many reindeer while on the tour. The tour took us over some very scenic places, but the main event was our visit to the North Cape facility, which was wonderful. It was a modern multistory facility that included a fantastic film showing the local area and its northern lights in the winter and endless days in the Summer. There were exhibits and a good place for a meal if desired. The facility was not far from the point were your could see the actual North Cape. It was very windy and cold, but I ventured out for about 15 minutes and took some great photos.
After another sea day, we arrived in Alesund, back in southern Norway. It was warmer there and we actually had a brief night, the sun going down around 11:15pm, rising about 3am. We had a tour with Norwegian Excursions. This was our second tour with them (first was in Geiranger). Again, the tour was wonderful. Our tour guide Iga was extremely knowledgeable and took us on a fantastic tour. This tour was probably the best that we took on our 11 night Serenade of the Seas cruise that visited 6 ports in Norway. The tour took us over much extraordinary scenery. The highlight of the tour was the Troll Road and Trollstigen plateau. Also, we saw the waterfall Stigfossen. This is a tour not to be missed.
Stavanger was probably the largest city on our cruise. The port was central to Norway’s petroleum industry in the North Sea. We took a Fjord Cruise with Radne. The smaller boat was docked not far from our cruise ship. Many of our fellow cruisers from the Serenade of the Seas took this tour. It was chilly and we had not seats inside, so we brushed off the water on a bench on the port side of the boat and were able to sit for most of the three hour cruise. Many persons had no seats and sometimes partially blocked our views. However, we managed very well and were able to see very well, also taking lots of great photos. Our cruise took us past the famous Pulpit Rock that some hike for hours to reach. The Rock was featured in one of the Mission Impossible movies. About halfway to Pulpit Rock our views of the fjord was wonderful. We saw massive rock formations carved out by ancient glaciers. The boat even stopped to feed a goat that lived on the edge of one of the rock faces. Fortunately, it didn't rain and the day was great.
We had one more sea day and then returned to Copenhagen port. Royal had a transfer to the airport that we had booked.
The trip was great but we were looking forward to returning home. Our Delta flight from Copenhagen was to New York’s JFK Airport. I had gone through JFK a few times during the 80s and have avoided it until this flight. We only had two flights to our destination in Orlando. Again, JFK was a royal pain. The lines were long getting through immigration, customs and security. We had a three hour layover in the airport that turned into a more than six hour layover. Our terminal included gates A, B and C. Gate C61 was the gate for our flight to Orlando. We waited at the gate for more than and hour. It took over two hours to get through all the lines. We noticed that the flight before ours to Denver did not depart the gate. We heard that the aircraft had mechanical problems. Our pilot was waiting for our aircraft to enter the gate, but with the Denver aircraft still there, that was not going to happen.
Here is what I posted to Delta regarding our experience:
We had an awful experience at JFK-NY. After a great transatlantic flight on Delta from Copenhagen to JFK, we had a flight from JFK to Orlando scheduled to depart around 7:30pm. The flight did not depart until about 11pm, arriving in Orlando about 1:30am the next day. We found the right gate C61 and arrived there after enduring all the dreadful but necessary immigration, custom and security process as well as the poorly run shuttle bus to Terminal C (not Deltas fault). Our problems began when the aircraft at terminal C61 that was flying to Denver did not fly. We were told it was due to mechanical problems. Our aircraft could not enter our gate, so we were finally told that we had to move to another gate (yes, we were herded back through the dreadful shuttle bus, which took a long time due to so many passengers waiting, all holding carry on luggage and standing for a long time). That gate was B23, I believe. The mess was not created by our Delta pilot. In fact, due to his heroics, we were informed as much as he could find out. He turned out to be our hero. His name was Eric Franke, # 521736. He was great, as were the rest of the Delta crew that worked diligently, late into the evening. Unfortunately, Gate B23 had no seating, no way to scan our boarding passes and our aircraft was still sitting somewhere full of its incoming passengers. Therefore, our pilot announced that we were moving to another gate. That gate was B18, which was back in the direction which we can come from the shuttle (at least we didnt have to take the shuttle bus over to the C terminal then. However, the entire area was jammed with waiting passengers for other flights and most of us had to stand up for what seemed like forever. Again, our pilot was our hero, keeping us informed. The local JFK staff seemed absent without leave. We had to wait until others departed to Portland and Richmond, then wait for our aircraft to empty of its passengers for us to board. Finally, we took the dreadful shuttle bus one more time to our aircraft and we departed about 11pm. The flight was great, but late and we cleared the airport with our baggage around 2am.
Ginny and I made it home a little before 7am after driving from Orlando, with the help of the coffee that I had on the last flight.
Cabin was what we expected, fine. However, be aware that a huge window washing machine was posted in front of our adjacent cabin 8162, which blocked part of our view.