by John Wilmott, The Telegraph, April 16, 2019
With a natural beauty that exceeds any superlatives, the Norwegian Fjords make one of the world’s best cruising regions – and they are tantalisingly close to the UK. Here’s why Norway is perfect for those contemplating taking an ocean cruise for the first time.
1. Go for just a week
Although there are plenty of longer voyages, many fjords cruises are of seven nights’ duration. This means that if you’re not sure whether you will take to life on a ship, you’re not stuck on board for too long – though the chances are you’ll be hooked.
Fred Olsen has a few five-night options from Newcastle and Rosyth; Hurtigruten has shorter trips, which involve flying.
2. Sail from the UK
Forget the hassle of airports – the choice of fjords cruises from and back to UK ports is excellent. Park your car close to the ship or jump in a taxi from the nearby station; staff will take your luggage to your cabin. After a usually swift check-in, you’ll soon be exploring your new ‘home’.
3. In touch with the landscapes
Once you get to the fjords, there are incredible views all the way from your ship’s decks. The fjords penetrate deep inland so it takes a while to negotiate their spectacular bends.
And as they are quite narrow, the amazing scenery is right there before your eyes – lofty mountains, sheer cliffs, gushing waterfalls, pretty little villages and remote farms.
It’s a refreshing change from other destinations, where you might not see much apart from sea until you’re very close to the next port.
4. Straight to the heart
Unlike cruises around the Mediterranean, for example, where you are likely to dock in an industrial port a shuttle bus-ride from a city, ships cruising the fjords can sail right up to tiny villages.
In some cases you will be able to walk off the ship, otherwise a short ride in a tender will take you ashore. Even in the biggest towns you are likely to visit, such as Bergen and Ålesund, the centre will usually be within walking distance, maximising your time ashore.
5. There’s more to adore
Browse your ship’s excursions and you will be surprised at the variety of ways in which to engage with those glorious landscapes.
Trips to viewpoints overlooking the waterways should not be missed – there are few better vistas on the planet. Scenic drives to natural wonders, such as a glacier or waterfall, a ride on a mountain train, a trip to a rural farm or ancient church and various boat and cable-car rides are all available. Bigger towns boast splendid historic architecture and good museums.
6. Plenty of fresh-air activities
For more energetic travellers, Norway’s great outdoors can be experienced on a high-speed RIB boat, a small cruise boat, guided kayak trip or a countryside hike. There are even a few ziplines.
In some locations, memorable walks begin almost from your ship’s gangplank. Local tourist offices can suggest routes. The summer weather is warm but rarely hot, though you may need a light fleece at each end of the season.
7. See natural phenomena
The midnight sun and the Northern Lights, at opposite ends of the year, are two spectacles awaiting those with the time to take a longer voyage to the far north of Norway.
In midsummer the sun never sets, so if you stay up late enough you could watch it brush the horizon then begin its ascent.
From November to March the dark sky often lights up with the colourful swirls of the aurora borealis – and the choice of winter cruises has never been bigger.
8. You can avoid the North Sea crossing
It takes about a day and a half to sail across from the UK to the fjords and although the crossing in summer is often calm, the sea can occasionally be rough, especially in late spring or early autumn.
If you’re prepared to fly, a number of cruises begin in Amsterdam, Copenhagen or northern Germany, though you’ll still need to spend some time on the open sea. Holland America and MSC have several options. A few trips start or finish at Bergen, the gateway to the fjords – try Hurtigruten and Viking.
9. Most people speak English
If you wander off on your own to explore, don’t worry if you get lost. Many Norwegians speak excellent English – if in doubt, approach someone under 40 – and will happily send you in the right direction.
The same applies when shopping or dining – most menus will have an English translation.
10. Great choice, great value
All sorts of cruise vessels make their way to the Norwegian Fjords, so you can pick which one suits your preferences and budget.
Would you prefer a larger ship with lots of restaurants and bars, glittering shows and – should you be taking children – plenty of amusements? Consider Royal Caribbean Line, Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line.
A slightly more refined but still feature-packed atmosphere can be found on Cunard and Celebrity. Marella’s mid-sized fjords ship is adults-only, as are P&O’s smaller ships.
Smaller ships offer a more intimate environment – check out Saga, Fred Olsen Cruise Line, Cruise & Maritime and Azamara. Note, however, that some cruise lines only offer voyages of more than a week.
If you don’t want to invest too much money on your first cruise, there are good deals. P&O and Cruise & Maritime both list seven-night trips for less than £700; Marella prices start at £939; Fred Olsen five-nighters voyages are from £749 (all prices per person based on two sharing).