This was our first trip to Norway and our first with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. We had picked this particular trip because I wanted to go to Norway but didn’t want to go down south to pick up the ship and this one went from Rosyth. In retrospect I wish I had researched more as some of the ports of call in the North were less than interesting and the more southern areas of Norway were nicer. The holiday started well despite the £120 charge for parking on what was basically a building site, check in was incredibly smooth and quick, nothing like an airport, and our luggage was taken directly from the car to our cabin. Our cabin, a superior one with a window, was very roomy and comfortable with loads of wardrobe space and a good bathroom ( with bath). There were a few places to eat and drink ( we were greeted with afternoon tea more or less on arrival) and plenty of lounges and bars to sit and watch the scenery glide by. Our first evening meal was also a great success despite being too much of it (5 courses!). There was sufficient vegetarian choice, usually two main courses and others that could be offered or adapted, we never had to resort to an omelette once! We were very pleased to see Tofu on one of the main courses and we found the food both tasty and imaginative. Sadly the evening entertainment was less so – we thought the ship’s company to be more like refugees from Britain’s got talent but then we do not really like variety shows. The live music upstairs in the Lido lounge was much more to our taste.
The next day we were at sea all day and a remarkably smooth sea at that. Breakfast, open seating, was very good with plenty of cereal, fruit and fresh bread and the cooked breakfast offered veggie sausages so we were happy. There was a schedule of activities today to keep everyone occupied, talks, activities on deck, concerts etc. We went to a lovely Celtic harp concert in the afternoon. Lunch was again very good with a quorn crumble but our evening meal was a bit more limited ( in the Secret Garden open seating buffet) as it was a formal night and my husband never wears a tie so we were not allowed into our normal dining room. He had a shirt and jacket and frankly I find this sort of snobbery outdated in these days but I suppose we , at 61 and 64 were among the younger set – the average age was 72 and one lady on ship was 100 so perhaps things will change as a more relaxed generation books in the future. We did get a couple of glasses of champagne as a consolation prize at the Captains welcome party but no veggie canapes left for us.
On Tuesday we arrived at Alesund, definitely the nicest port on our trip. The ship docked conveniently close to this compact and decorative town. It is full of wonderful art nouveau buildings and so easy to walk around with very little traffic. Norway has only 5 million inhabitants spread across a large area so nowhere is crowded and there is much less traffic than in the UK. We visited the Art Nouveau museum which I can recommend and were able to nip back to the ship for lunch ( just as well as Norwegian prices are very high) and then go out again. We stayed up to watch the ship leave port at 11pm but it was a little choppy afterwards so difficult to get to sleep, particularly as it seemed to make the walls in our cabin rattle. We also had knocking noises in our cabin both today and yesterday but couldn’t work out where the night time ones were coming from ( some work in the lounge during the day). On Wednesday we arrived in Kristiansund and we went on a half day trip to the dramatic Atlantic Rd, crossing over many little islands, and to a 13th century wooden stave church where we treated to some Norwegian singing, very pleasant. We found the town ( or perhaps a city as 3000 people equals a city in Norway!) to be somewhat uninteresting though there was a pleasant park. As we had complained about the continuing noise in our cabin we were offered two further ones on the floor above with balconies. One was a very good room but the view was completely obscured by the lifeboat, the other had an excellent view but was tiny – no room even for a bedside cabinet besides the beds. We slept there that night which was lovely and peaceful with no noise. The food continues to be very good with a pasta tonight with paprika sauce and quorn, there are really some lovely soups also and all desserts in the main restaurant are marked as to whether they are vegetarian or not. Gluten free and sugar free options are also marked and available and soya milk and ice cream are also readily available and the second day the chef had a meeting with anyone who had a dietary requirement in any way to ensure everything was okay.
Thursday was another day at sea en route to Leknes and the Lofoten Islands. We were given an excellent new cabin, a junior suite midship, so spent a lot of the day moving things from the other two cabins! It was also well located near the stairs to the dining rooms and lounges . We initially had a problem with keys but this was resolved and we later had a basket of fruit delivered to the room. The scenery, always lovely, was particularly good today and the captain detoured into a fjord so we could see the amazing black glacier close up. We also crossed the arctic circle today and have certificates to prove it but we were very underwhelmed by the experience which entailed the ship sailing around a tiny island and we all had mulled wine. It did mean however that for the next few days the sun never really set which was very strange but lead to some lovely evening skies.
The next day we went to a wonderful Viking museum not far from Leknes, this had a replica longhouse with Viking carvings and live crafts, fire etc and a movie and a small museum. It was really well done. We also visited another wooden stave church at Buknes with art nouveau decoration and a pretty fishing village and the scenery was again wonderful. Back in time for lunch and watched a movie in our room as Leknes itself had nothing to look at. We were disappointed with the lectures as most of them, purporting to tell you about the places we visited, were more a hard sell for the rather expensive trips. There were no lectures on Norwegian history, geology or folklore which was very disappointing. The evening was misty but cleared up in time for us to sail into the Trollfjord – very scenic with high mountains and waterfalls and not all ships are small enough to fit in so Fred’s smaller cruise ships are a bonus here. The next morning we arrived at Tromso – there was a good shuttle bus service into this city so we enjoyed a couple of pleasant museums and the main street had an event with classic cars. Tromso is very attractive with quite a lot to see so definitely one of the nicer stops. Returned for late lunch but locked out of cabin for second time in three days – definitely seems to be some sort of problem with these electronic keys.
On Sunday we arrived at Honningsvag, the furthest inhabited place in North Europe and I am so glad I don’t live there. It had one main street and that was it really, the miserable weather and rain did not help and my other half would not even get off the ship. Also as it was a Sunday none of the very few shops were open. We did not go on any trips as we found them very expensive so limited the ones we went on ( £65 for a half day and £130 for the full day one we took) The trip to the theatre performance at Honningsvag was particularly expensive – it was a walk from the ship and only a 40 minute performance costing £19 if you bought the ticket direct but £65 if you went on an organised trip!. We did have one pleasant surprise that evening though as the chef sent a bottle of wine and strawberries dipped in dark chocolate to our room – no idea why. Two days at sea were ahead before our last port of call Molde and as ever the scenery was stunning. Finally a couple of good lectures arrived, the first on the Northern Lights and later in the week, one on the big bang etc. We were also treated to a further nice harp concert and I joined in the table tennis group for two sessions. We even got to one of the midnight suppers a Russian one but never ate much , I don’t know where everyone puts the food, we both gained a few pounds on the trip and we were restricting ourselves. We discovered that 50% of those on the ship were repeat bookers, indeed some had been on six or more trips so obviously Fred Olsen has a winning formula. The next day we were very lucky and saw a sea eagle flying over the ship, we had been very disappointed with the lack of wildlife, no whales or dolphins and very few birds except gulls. On the Tuesday evening the crew put on a great show with song and dance from the Philippines and Thailand, much more entertaining than the standard shows and the crew are really pleasant and helpful in general.
On Wednesday we went to our last port of call, Molde. This appeared to be a very attractive city , modern but with lovely traditional wooden houses and lots of shops but as we had booked a full day trip we could not really spend any time there. The trip – up the Rauma valley and on the Rauma railway was fantastic – it was the best scenery we had seen yet and an excellent way to finish our experiences. The mountains were very dramatic and loads of amazing waterfalls and the fast flowing river. The train was fast, comfortable and smooth and had an English commentary, they even slowed down to allow pictures of the more dramatic bits. We had lunch as part of the trip and were pleasantly surprised by our tasty stuffed peppers with veg and lovely creme caramel. It was a real jewel of a day.
Our last day at sea, rather choppy in the north sea, was spent packing and resting and catching up with emails as we came nearer to the UK ( reception on the ship was very poor and the ships own internet was slow and expensive). Disembarkation was as quick and smooth as it had been at the other end and all too soon we were back on the road to home – was it all a dream?
So would I go with Fred Olsen again? Definitely, I was all for booking a trip to the Baltic capitals as there were extra discounts for booking whilst on the ship but my other half did not fancy it. I think the size of the ship is excellent, the staff right up to the captain are friendly and helpful and the food was better than I expected. I was less keen on the entertainment and would have liked more decent lectures and perhaps some folk dance and song from the area we visited but generally a very relaxing and enjoyable experience.