On my recent trip to Norway I sailed with Disney Cruise Lines, although based on the research I did of other companies sailing to Norway, the itineraries are basically the same. So I thought I would do a general run-down on what a Norwegian cruise is like on a seven-night sailing.
Excluding those cruises that are longer than seven nights, most Norwegian cruises will stop at the following ports:
While the city itself is okay (it’s the third largest city in Norway and is considered the center of its oil industry after oil was discovered in the North Sea in the late 1960s), most visitors come to see the spectacular Lysefjord. There are numerous boat excursions, not to mention hiking against a beautiful backdrop is always an option too. We didn’t venture too far into the city center but did enjoy our quick stroll through Gamle Stavanger (Old Stavanger) which features an abundance of charming restored wooden buildings which date from the 18th and 19th centuries. It was quite beautiful and reminded me a lot of Elfreth’s Alley in my hometown of Philadelphia.
Between the stunning backdrop of the Sunnmøre Alps and its Art Nouveau city center (a fire at the turn of the last century destroyed almost all of the buildings in the city center so when reconstruction took place, Art Nouveau was in), Alesund couldn’t be any prettier. It’s a pleasant city to walk around, especially Kongens gate (King Street) which is a pedestrian only street. I highly encourage you to go up Aksla, a hill that overlooks the city and offers the most picturesque views.
If I had to choose my favorite stop, it would have to be Geiranger. Magnificent scenery, barely any signs of development, a fjord-what more could you need on a trip to Norway? I mean, the Geirangerfjord is so spectacular that UNESCO even included it on its World Heritage List. While the place is overrun with tourists when cruise ships are in port (seriously, trying to get a table at a restaurant there in the couple of dining establishments was next to impossible), what lay visually before my eyes is something I’ll never forget. I recommend going high up the mountains for stunning views of the fjord from above, and of course traversing on the fjord itself on a small boat (it’s cool going through it on a cruise ship but a lot neater on a boat which is a fraction of the size).
For many people who visit Norway, Bergen is the must see city. It’s known as the gateway to the fjords and is also a hugely popular cruise stop (there were at least three other ships there while we were in port). It’s an immensely historic city, has a fascinating fish market to admire (fish is and has always been king in Norway), and is just lovely to walk around. Bergen is the one city I wish I had been able to spend more time in. We ended up doing an excursion that took us outside of the city so our time in the city itself was brief, unfortunately. I do recommend taking the funicular (Fløibanen) to the top as it offers beautiful and far reaching views of the city. Just plan to have that be the first thing you do once you get off the ship as the lines can get ridiculous.
Pre and Post Cruise
While there are some Norwegian fjord cruises that leave from ports like Dover, England and Amsterdam, Copenhagen is a pretty popular one. Luckily for visitors the cruise terminal is quite near to the city center and taxis employ a fixed rate (I believe it was about 200 Kroner) so no worrying about the meter. Just be sure to leave plenty of time to explore this wonderful city either before or after.
Even though it was June, the weather left a lot to be desired. It won’t be your typical cruise weather (i.e. bright sunny skies, warm temperatures, tropical drinks always in hand), but if you pack accordingly, you will survive and even enjoy it (well, sorta). On our ship (the Disney Magic) along with pool towels, fleece blankets were laid out on the deck for people to use so they could still enjoy being out there but without freezing in the meantime. The ship also had special touches, like having a hot chocolate/hot tea stand for passengers after returning on board (also available on the morning the captain advised people to wake up early when we entered the Geiranger fjord). And as cruise ships are also always wanting to make money, hot alcoholic drinks were also for sale, along with hot cider (two things you’d never see on a Caribbean cruise, for instance). Although you may scoff at the idea, pack gloves, a scarf, and hat, and dress in layers. You will need them. As for rain, the only port day in which there was rain was in Geiranger but even then it was light, nothing heavy. And while stunning blue skies would have been preferred, in a way it added to the overall ambiance.
I’ll admit that I ended up packing Dramamine to take with me. You see, my only other experience with European waterways was the Straits of Gibraltar when traveling to Morocco from Spain and I got terribly seasick. Although I’ve always been fine in the Caribbean, it is like a sedate bath. As I had no experience with the North Sea, I thought it better to be prepared. Thankfully, neither D nor I needed anything. The water was definitely rockier than anything I had experienced prior and you could definitely feel the ship’s motion (even though it’s huge), but that was it. The worst movement was the overnight sailing into Stavanger-that night it seemed everything in our room was moving or creaking.
The coolest thing ever
I had always heard about the Midnight Sun but never experienced anything like it. Although the cruise didn’t even get that close to the Arctic Circle, Alesund is still pretty far north and it was the most amazing thing ever to not have the sun set until 11:35 PM that night. Even the other nights, the sun didn’t set until about 11 and was still up by 5 AM (and some days earlier). It’s definitely a natural phenomenon that will amaze you.
Although I hope to return to Norway one day to see more of the country, I also wouldn’t mind returning via cruise ship, as I have found some longer itineraries that include places I didn’t get to see and more importantly, go farther north which I think would be incredible-that much closer to the Arctic Circle!