Victoria Gavin joins a Fred. Olsen cruise around the Norwegian fjords and is overwhelmed by the scale, beauty and colours of the lakes and mountains
Be prepared for snow,” was the advice my friend and I were given when packing for our Norwegian fjords adventure in May, and boy did we take it: snow boots, winter coats, hats, scarves and multiple layers crammed into our suitcases. What we didn’t anticipate was the glorious sunshine and balmy temperatures we experienced for much of our trip.
We were cruising with Fred. Olsen on Balmoral from Dover, and our itinerary began with a full day at sea; an ideal time to wind down with a treatment (or three) at the Atlantis Spa. Everything was on offer, from full-body massages to manicures.
After sailing through the night on moderately rough seas we woke early to enjoy the serene approach to Bergen, gateway to the fjords, alongside the magnificent Statsraad Lehmkuhl, a three-masted barque used for training by the Norwegian Navy.
A walk around the city and the charming UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bryggen was followed by a coach tour of some of the local sights including the royal residence, reminiscent of a Scottish castle, and culminating in a trip on the funicular railway to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the city from Mount Fløyen.
Fred. Olsen offers a wide selection of shore excursions to suit all tastes and all our guides were excellent; knowledgeable, interesting and humorous. Back on the ship we basked in the sunshine with a glass of wine while enjoying the dramatic mountain scenery en route to our next destination.
The atmosphere on board was relaxed with a formal dress code on only two of the seven nights, which was a good mix. It was nice to see everyone make an effort for dinner, although there was also the option to eat in the Palms Café for a more casual dining experience.
Our chosen restaurant was the Spey, where we enjoyed beautiful sunsets and impeccable service. We also ate at the Grill, where for a very reasonable cover charge of £15pp, during the summer months you can enjoy alfresco dining while soaking up the scenery.
Balmoral, while being the largest of the Fred. Olsen ships, has an inviting, personal ambience. Many of the staff have worked for the company for a number of years and clearly enjoy their jobs, which is reflected in the service they provide.
Our cabin was light and airy with a large picture window and ample storage space. The comfortable beds, along with the temperature control, ensured an excellent night’s sleep, and the bathroom included both a shower and a bath.
Like the lovely staff, our fellow passengers, who varied greatly in age and included some families, were extremely affable with many keen to recount tales of past cruises and share their knowledge and experiences; incredibly helpful for relative novices. For dinner we requested a larger table with other diners and enjoyed sharing stories over a few glasses of wine.
Much of the food was quite traditional, perfectly prepared and beautifully presented, including local delicacies such as salmon and herring as well as warming favourites such as Beef Wellington. Always available was a Dish of the Day, a vegetarian option, a selection of omelettes or grilled chicken, all served with your choice of potatoes and a selection of vegetables.
We chose the all-inclusive drinks package which included a variety of wines by the glass, selected house beers, house spirits and soft drinks all day. Also included was a 50 per cent discount on some branded drinks and cocktails which, on an already reasonably priced drinks menu, was excellent value for money.
The many onboard entertainment options throughout the day and evening, ranging from quizzes, craft classes and talks to comedians, solo artists and shows, ensured there was never a dull moment.
Of course, the spectacular Norwegian scenery was the biggest attraction of our cruise. In Olden we opted for the excursion to the Kjenndalen Glacier, an arm of the mighty Jostedal Glacier, the largest in mainland Europe. Our coach took us along narrow winding roads, some of which become impassable during the winter months – it was easy to see why. I would have struggled with a car, let alone a coach. The sights included typical Norwegian houses, as well as traditional farm buildings with grass roofs, many of which have graced the landscape for more than 100 years.
The glacier itself was a relatively easy 20 minute walk from the coach over quite flat but stony ground, at the end of which we were rewarded with views of the shimmering blue waters reflecting the sunlight (if you’re travelling to the fjords then a decent camera to capture the surroundings is a must-buy).
The next part of our journey was a cruise across the vivid green waters of the serenely beautiful Lovatnet Lake taking us past Mount Ramnefjell where twice in the past century huge boulders have fallen in to the lake resulting in tidal waves which decimated local hamlets. The latest landslide, in 1936, filled a section of the 800-metre-deep lake so that boats cannot pass at low tide, but this means that any future rock falls will be prevented from having the same devastating effect.
In the village of Flåm, known for its railway and scenic mountain routes, we took the train to the nearby town of Geilo, where we stopped for lunch and then travelled back to the ship by coach, enjoying some of the most spell-binding scenery I have ever seen – glaciers, mountain peaks, frozen lakes and traditional wooden cottages dotted around the landscape.
I would never have imagined that a ship would be able to reach these remote corners of the world, but the compact size of Balmoral and the depth of the fjords (some are as deep as 1,300 metres) make these spectacular landscapes accessible.
Our final day on board was spent cruising the beautiful Lysefjord where, due to the unprecedented good weather, we were able to sail right to the end of the fjord and experience the amazing waterfalls and the grand Preikestolen cliff, which soars 604 metres above water. An unforgettable sight on an unforgettable holiday.
Our fabulous cruise was finished off to perfection with brilliant sunshine and a cold beer by the pool on the marquee deck as we cruised, relaxed and carefree, towards home. I cannot imagine a better way to experience the splendour of this utterly enchanting part of the world and would recommend it to anyone. The only question now is: how soon can we go back?
GETTING THERE: A seven-night Scenic Fjords of Norway itinerary departing Newcastle on 8 May 2018 starts from £799pp, based on two people sharing an interior room (0800 0355 242; fredolsencruises.com).
7 tips for your Norway cruise
Cruise lover Kelvin Clarke shares his tips for making the most of your adventure on the fjords
- When planning your trip, check the Norwegian bank holidays – nothing will be open on these days.
- Try to get a stateroom or cabin at the back of the ship: great for seeing both sides of the fjords as you cruise up them.
- If your ship doesn’t provide them, bring a pair of binoculars (and of course the best camera you can afford).
- Visiting Bergen? Walk from your ship to the funicular railway, which climbs up Mount Fløyen and offers great views of the city and some interesting walks to the small lake. Afterwards, stroll down to the old town and relax in a bar.
- Get up at 6am on the morning you arrive in Geraingerfjord to enjoy the views, and make sure you are out on deck when the ship reaches Seven Sisters Waterfall. When docked at Geiranger, take the local tour to Ørnesvingen and Flydalsjuvet viewpoints.
- When in the village of Flåm, the railway is a must. Take a seat on the right-hand side of the train for the best views. If you go on the train ride in the morning this will leave you enough time to sail to the village of Gudvangen. There is a bus service from here back to Flåm.
- If Ålesund is on your itinerary, walk from the ship to the Fjellstua viewpoint if you can manage the 418 steps. It’s worth the climb for the view.