Norway was on my Bucket List since I had travelled to Alaska with Charlie in 2013 (the previous year – see B30: A Whale of A Time) and realised that a holiday featuring fjords, glaciers, snow and ice was not a bad option at all. As we had also “done” Canada, we knew that once wrapped up it could be quite cosy. I had been to some of the Scandinavian countries before with work (see B67: Stockholm 1996) so I knew that they were generally great places to visit, well organised but pricey. Therefore an all-inclusive cruise would also make financial sense; it would make a trip to Norway more a-fjord-able!!
Sadly, my Mam, Peggy – my first ever cruise buddy – had passed away just three months previously in Feb 2014. We went ahead with the pre-booked holiday knowing that Peggy would have wanted us to. And we ended up enjoying the day trips even though we didn’t partake in many of the evening frivolities back on the ship. This is how we got on.
Overview of our Norwegian Fjords Cruise 2014
So we booked the 8 Night “Norwegian Fjords” Royal Caribbean (“RC”) Cruise on board Independence of the Seas (the "Indy") out of Southampton, UK directly with RC ... from 17 May 2014 to 25 May 2014. This is the route we took:
Because we expected there to be amazing scenery en-route in Norway we opted for the cabin type which RC call Junior Suite with a Balcony ….and we didn’t regret it. We also opted for My Time (flexible) Dining but planned on going for dinner around at 6:00pm every night of the cruise vacation. This would allow us eat early and then go to whatever entertainment was on afterwards with full bellies. We bought the drinks package.
Norwegian Cruise Packing List
As I alluded to earlier, a bit of thought needs to go into packing for a cruise in a cold clime like Norway as the weather can be challenging both on deck and ashore. Waterproof warm layers for the day would be important. We would also be doing some trekking so hiking boots would be useful. Because a cruise gives you an excuse to dress up, a couple of smart evening outfits would also be handy. Charlie would hire a tux and accessories on-board for formal night to save carting it in his luggage. A few cruise-specific items would also be useful (e.g. a 4-gang power strip because the ships never have enough sockets, magnetic hooks/ clips because ship walls are metal allowing you to hang up bags & coats freeing up valuable floor space). Click here to see a list of what I packed.
How Our Norwegian Cruise Went
Dublin – Southampton (England, UK)
Saturday, May 17, 2014
17 May 2014 – Dublin-Southampton BE383 0905-1030 (1 hr 25 minutes)
As Southampton is just a short hop from Dublin, this time we travelled over on the day that the cruise would begin and didn’t need any hotel accommodation the night before. We flew with FlyBe from Dublin to Southampton regional airport and then got a taxi for the short 5 mile transfer to the Cruise Port. Southampton Cruise Port is an absolute delight to travel out from as it’s well organised and efficient. We had checked in online in advance and had printed off our cruise luggage labels which were already on our suitcases. This time we also had Priority Boarding as we had booked a Junior Suite so boarding was super easy.
Day 1 of Cruise
Southampton, England, UK
Saturday, May 17, 2014 (Evening Attire: Casual)
Check in for the cruise was painless and by mid-morning we were on board the Independence of the Seas. Our junior suite would not be available until 1pm as is the norm, but we headed off to explore the ship. We then popped up to the Windjammer Café at the back of Deck 11 where we had lunch with drinks ….I sipped my first cocktail of the cruise, a strawberry daiquiri, while admiring the view. Our room, 9564, was soon ready and our luggage had arrived so we busied ourselves unpacking (super easy with packing cubes.) We were delighted with the roominess of the suite especially the walk-in wardrobe - below. Sure it was far from this I was reared!! 😊
We also read our first “Celebrity Today” welcoming us on-board…these are the daily newsletters telling you all you need to know on your cruise and are left on your bed each day (See copies HERE).
At 4 pm we all assembled for the mandatory Emergency Lifeboat Drill and shortly after 4:30 pm we sailed away out of Southampton with DJ Rob in charge of the sail away party out on deck and us enjoying the views as we waved to the onlookers on the shore. We headed for the English Channel and then North East across the North Sea. Ahead of us lay almost 950 nautical miles of the North Sea with the odd oil rig in the distance en-route to Norway.
Above: (Left) Onlookers at Southampton (Right) Happy at the Sail-Away Party on Deck
We headed to dinner after 6pm to the King Lear on Deck 5 which was delicious with plenty of choice. Afterwards, we caught a bit of the Piano Man, Simon John, in the Schooner and had a few drinks in the bar. Went to bed looking forward to the week ahead.
Day 2 Cruise
At Sea All Day – the North Sea
Sunday, May 18, 2014 (Evening Attire: Formal)
We awoke to a sunny day with the odd cloud overhead. The sea was quite calm considering we were in the tumultuous North Sea. Today we could explore the ship to our heart’s content. There was a lot to do: we watched people play shuffleboard, we admired people surfing on the Flowrider, and we ate breakfast and lunch. The day flew with all of the activities.
Above: (L) Shuffleboard (M) Strolling (R) Flowrider - 18 May 2014
Tonight was the first Formal Night so we got the glad rags on and headed to the Captain’s Party with Captain Henrik Loy. We took lots of photos but we got none of the captain however but here’s some of the night anyway:
After dinner we saw a spectacular ice show. I don’t know how they do it….I know I couldn’t even on dry land! We came back to the room turned down with some towel sculptures.
Day 3 Cruise
Monday, May 19, 2014 (Evening Attire: Smart Casual)
Docked: 4:00PM to 11:30PM
The next morning, the fjord into Skjolden was just stunning….everywhere we looked was a gorgeous vista and the air was so clean. Skjolden is the innermost cruise port of Norway, located at the head of Norway’s longest and deepest fjord – Sognefjord – and at the foot of Norway’s highest mountain and largest glacier. The approach is via the picturesque Lusterfjord, which is emerald green because of the meltwater from the glaciers. Along both shores of the fjord are beautiful villages and lush green landscapes with small idyllic farms. We got a gorgeous first impression of Norway from all of this. And you could do worse on a Monday!
Sognefjell Mountain & Scenic Jotunheim with Refreshments
Shortly after docking, we left the ship at 4pm for our 3 ½ hour sightseeing trip. The scenic drive took us over Sognefjell Mountain Pass – the highest mountain road in Norway at 4,700 feet above sea level. The scenery offered stunning view of Jotunheimen National Park area where 27 of the highest peaks in Norway can be found.
This is an ancient thoroughfare linking east and west. We saw old varder – small stone pyramids or cairns which were used to mark a safe route for those travelling this inhospitable territory on foot or on horseback. The mountain road was first opened to cars in 1938 after approximately 200 unemployed youths worked on it for two summers with simple tools and in harsh weather conditions. The road is closed in winter. The scenery along the route is quite varied and beautiful.
We stopped at Sognefjell Mountain to admire the spectacular views and a refreshment break at a typical mountain lodge. Coffee, tea and Norwegian waffles were served. Yum!!
En route we saw many monuments and waterfalls.
After the tour, we got back on the Indy and readied ourselves for dinner as the fresh air had given us an appetite.
Day 4 Cruise
Tuesday, May 20, 2014 (Evening Attire: Casual)
Docked: 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM
We woke up the next morning and were in beautiful Flam with its 500 inhabitants; situated at the innermost part of the Aurlandsfjord – a tributary of Sognefjord. Surrounded by steep mountainsides and roaring waterfalls Flam offers wild and dramatic nature at its best. Flam is the starting point of the unique Flam railway – widely recognised as one of the steepest and most beautiful railways in the world. This area is home to the Naeroyfjord, preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Stalheim Valley & Tvinde Waterfall
We had the option of going on the Flam railway but decided instead to see the Stalheim Valley and Tvinde Waterfall. At around 12:30 pm we left the ship to do this three and a half hour excursion. We passed from the head of Aurlandsfjord through two long tunnels carved in the mountainside to the small village of Gudvangan, situated at the head of the Naeroy Valley. Continuing through this dramatic fjord landscape, we followed a salmon river, passing Glashameren, where the mineral rock anorthosite is excavated. Anorthosite is a light-coloured stone used for road covering.
In front of us we had a spectacular view of the Stalheim Hotel perched high above the valley. Our coach wound its way along the Naeroy Road. We passed beautiful Lake Oppheim and then travelled through woodland and lush farmland to the majestic Tvinde Waterfall to take photos and enjoy the wonderful scenery.
We returned by the same route stopping off at the traditional Stalheim Hotel where we were served tea/coffee and pastries while admiring the splendid view. From the terrace of the hotel we had wonderful photo opportunities. The camera really doesn’t do it justice of the stunning views of the valley below. The hotel also had a lovely gift shop where Charlie got a great Norwegian sweater. Afterwards we continued down the Stalheimskleiva, Norway’s steepest road. On both sides, waterfalls were cascading down the mountain sides, while the coach made its way around 13 hairpin bends to the valley floor.
We headed back to the ship and readied ourselves for dinner which again was delicious. Afterwards we enjoyed the Production Showtime in the Alhambra Theatre…..great music and dancing and hard to believe we weren’t in the West End. But one of the most memorable parts of that very memorable day was watching from our balcony onboard as our huge ship did a 360 degree turn as we were leaving Flam. This is a YouTube video of our ship doing just that eight months earlier where someone captured it from the shore....but we were blessed with a sunnier evening the following May:
Day 5 Cruise
Wednesday, May 21, 2014 (Evening Attire: Smart Casual)
Docked: 7:00 AM to 6:30 PM
Olden is a pretty little town at the inner end of the NordFjord and we arrived there just as we were finishing breakfast of Eggs Benedict in the diningroom. The head of the fjord is characterised by varied and dramatic scenery. Peaceful valleys and tidy farms contrast with gleaming glaciers, foaming waterfalls and towering mountains.
Olden is the gateway to the Jostedal Glacier, the largest glacier on the European mainland. A tour to Briksdal, its most well-known glacier arm is highly recommended. The village of Olden and the Stryn region are vigorous and active with bustling trade and businesses. They have long been known for tourism and business but now are also known for contemporary design. Olden is the main cruise destination in the NordFjord and we were excited to see it.
We left the ship early at 7:45am for our 3 ¾ hour excursion to the Briksdalen Glacier. The tour started with a drive through the village of Olden (above), situated on the shore of the Nordfjord. We then continued along the Olden River, known for its salmon fishing….and along the shores of the emerald green Olden Lake – owing its wonderful colour to the melting water from the glacier. We followed the shores of this lake and up the Briksdal valley until the road came to a stop at Briksdal Mountain Lodge.
As I said previously, the Briksdal Glacier is an arm of the Jostedal Glacier, the largest glacier in continental Europe. From Briksdal Mountain Lodge the glacier can be reached on foot in approximately 45 minutes. I must say, being office workers and not very fit at the time, both of us found the trek quite difficult. It was approximately 2 miles in total but it was steeply uphill over dirt and stone hiking paths. But it was well worth the effort and we were delighted that we kept going right up to the glacier. With the rate at which glaciers are disappearing worldwide this might be our last chance to see these stunning natural phenomena unfortunately.
On the return from the glacier to Briksdal Mountain Lodge, refreshments consisting of homemade cakes, vafler (Norwegian waffles) and tea/coffee were served. We also had time to browse in the large souvenir shop next to the restaurant before we returned down the Briksdal valley to Olden and the ship. We freshened up and got ready for dinner onboard which again was faultless. Afterwards we had a few drinks in the Schooner Bar where a Beetles Quiz was going on. Some of the answers were hilarious. We retired early that night “besh out” after our hike to the glacier.
Day 6 Cruise
Thursday, May 22, 2014 (Evening Attire: Formal)
Docked: 8:00AM to 3:30PM
Again, we sailed into Alesund just after breakfast. Alesund has a spectacular setting across several islands stretching out into the sea. It is situated at the very entrance to the World Heritage listed Geirangerfjord. Cruise ships of all sizes can dock at the cruise terminal in the very centre of the town.
Alesund City Walking Tour
So we had booked to do the city walking tour as we had heard it was a place best seen on foot. We weren’t disappointed. Our guide was great showing us around. We learnt that Alesund is one of the few Art Nouveau towns left in the world. This lovely and unique coastal city indeed is best enjoyed on foot together with a knowledgeable guide escorting you through the winding streets, pointing out the many colourful details of the buildings that you could easily miss on your own.
The catastrophic fire in 1904 left the town in ashes. There were 10,000 homeless people after the fire that destroyed the whole centre. The city was rebuilt in Art Nouveau or Jugend style with building materials from all over Europe. We experienced the reconstructed city centre – full of colour and life. We were particularly impressed with the many decorative details on the buildings. After having explored the city for about 2 hours, the guide walked us back to the pier.
Above: Alesund - 22 May 2014
Back on board Indy we played some mini-golf than readied ourselves for the second Formal Night. The style with young and old was great to watch.
Day 7 Cruise
Friday, May 23, 2014 (Evening Attire: Smart Casual)
Docked: 9:00AM to 5:30PM
We had a relative lie-in this morning as we didn’t dock until 9am. Stavanger is known as “the shortcut to the fjords” at the south-western corner of Norway. Cruise-ships can dock in the very city centre, near “Old Stavanger”, the oldest part of town. Just a short walk away is the picturesque marketplace and the cobblestoned pedestrian streets.
The landscape varies between fjords and steep mountains, like Lysefjord and the famous Pulpit Rock…just an hour’s boat trip away from the city centre. The Stavanger region of Norway has long claimed to be the cradle of the Vikings. The Vikings settled in my adopted home of Dublin from 841 AD onwards. Waterford, 15 miles from my hometown of Carrick-on-Suir, was founded by Vikings also in the 9th century. So it was fascinating to see where these founders would have originally come from.
Stavanger – Oil Capital of Norway
As Stavanger is known as the Oil Capital of Norway we thought this would be an interesting excursion. Modern day Norway owes its wealth to this black gold. So, this 3 hour excursion left from the cruise terminal at 9:45 am. The guide took us from the Middle Ages when Viking Kings ruled both land and sea….up to modern-life Stavanger; the oil capital of Norway. Stavanger and the surrounding areas hold many unique finds from the Viking era and earlier, and our first stop was at “The Three Swords”. These Viking Swords are 10m high granite sculptures, symbolizing the unification of Norway through the Battle of Hafrsfjord won by King Harald the Fair-Haired in 872.
After a photo stop at the battle monument, the tour continued through the old fishing village of Tananger, also once a pirates’ nest, and passed the Sola Beach. We proceeded through rich agricultural areas, to arrive at the Norwegian Petroleum Museum, officially opened in 1999. The first platform to drill for oil in the North Sea came to Stavanger in 1966 (a year after I was born!!) and caused quite a sensation. No one knew then that the petroleum industry would become Norway’s most important industry and that Norway would become one of the world’s leading oil producing countries, or that Stavanger was destined to be Norway’s oil capital. At the museum we learned about geology and technology and experienced the excitement and drama of the oil adventure. I thoroughly enjoyed it as I’d never seen anything quite like it before.
Above: At the Norwegian Petroleum Museum, Stavanger - 23 May 2014
On our way back to the ship, we drove along the harbour to Old Stavanger to get a glimpse of the more than 150 white wooden houses dating back to the 18th and 19th century. These houses preserved by law form a charming area, where a lot of local artists live and work. Back on the ship, we freshened up for dinner. As it was Friday night we could see lots of the locals on a nearby bar/ship celebrating the end of the working week as we sailed away after 6pm. Many had also come down to the waterside to wave us goodbye. We were also followed by several seagulls which we photographed from our balcony.
We then made our way to the restaurant for dinner. Afterwards we watched the Street Party on the Royal Promenade which was colourful and energetic. Kudos to the entertainment team for their energy!
Day 8 Cruise
North Sea (Cruising)
Saturday, May 24, 2014 (Evening Attire: Smart Casual)
There was a lot to do on-board. Shopping, cocktail classes, towel folding demo, watching the people on the rock climbing wall, gambling in the casino!!
That night, we started packing our suitcases before dinner ….then afterwards put our luggage outside our room door. We picked up the photos we were buying from the Gallery and headed to the casino and bar for our last drinks on-board. Today’s cocktail was Nordic Hurricane (Captain Morgan’s, Smirnoff Vodka, peach schnapps and tropical juices shaken with ice and topped up with Sprite!!). Luckily they were the only Hurricanes I experienced on the North Sea!! 🤣
Day 9 Cruise
Southampton, England, UK
Sunday, May 25, 2014
Shortly after 5:30 am we docked back at Southampton, England having smoothly sailed through the night…hard to believe it was only 8 days since we left. After breakfast on-board, we made our way to the gangplank and disembarked the ship.
We grabbed a taxi to Southampton airport and caught the following our 1340 BE384 flight to Dublin with no hassle. We arrived back in Dublin a little over an hour and a half later, no jetlag and completely rested. We had both LOVED Norway and would encourage anyone to go there…you cannot AF-FJORD to miss such a great country!! 😊😊
Bucket List Items Ticked Off in the above Blog 68
Number 16 - Nature & Wildlife - Visit 8 Stunning WaterfallsNumber 34 - Eat/ Drink Regional Food and Drink
Other Blog Posts
Blog 11 - Sydney, Australia
Blog 12 - Hong Kong, China
Blog 17 - Beijing, Xi'an & Shanghai, China
Blog 19 - California, USA
Blog 27 - Scotland
Blog 28 - Barbados
Blog 29 - Canada
Blog 30 - Alaska
Blog 31 - Everglades, Florida
Have you ever been on a cruise to Norway? Tell me about your experience in the comments section below.
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My name is Mary and this is my bucket list blog ...having survived a near-death experience. I hope it encourages you to "live your best life". See how I'm completing my own bucket list items. And let me know how you're getting on with yours!