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Dave Ansell

Age: 61

Occupation:Computer Consultant

Number of Cruises: 6

Cruise Line: Norwegian Coastal

Ship: MS Nordlys

Sailing Date: March 23rd, 2004

Itinerary: Bergen - Kirkenes - Bergen

Introduction
I took my first cruise way back in 1966 and discovered I much preferred sea days to days in port. After several other trips, I still prefer to be at sea in motion rather than exploring exotic ports. So, what on earth possessed me to go to the other side of the world to do a 12 day cruise stopping at 64 ports???

In short, I had visited Norway briefly in 1976 & had always intended to return & explore the fiords. But it took till now for domestic & career responsibilities to slacken off enough to contemplate it & the desire to visit my daughter in England provided the spur. So, here is my take on “The World’s Most Beautiful Voyage”.

En Route
Australia to Scandinavia is a long haul, no matter what route you choose. I took advantage of a special deal from Scandinavian Airlines & flew Melbourne/Bangkok with Thai International &then switched to SAS for the Bangkok/Copenhagen leg (in Business Class). It was 9 hours to Bangkok, a 2.5 hour wait there & then 11 hours to Copenhagen. The investment in Business Class was worth it – the lounge at Bangkok was an oasis in a hot sweaty airport & up front in an Airbus 340 was superb. Plenty of legroom, real food and a seat comfortable enough to sleep in.
So I arrived in Copenhagen at 6:30 am local time surprisingly fit. No issues with baggage or Customs & I got a train at the airport station & was in central Copenhagen by 7:30. I had only the one day in Copenhagen so I contented myself with a stroll through Stroget (the long pedestrian mall) with it’s unique mix of historic buildings and very upmarket shops. I resisted the temptation of a wonderful pipe & tobacco store which had some beautiful Meerschaum pipes but did have the famous hotdog & coffee. I don’t know what’s happened to the traditional Danish Open Sandwiches though – all I could find were bagels & rolls. But I did find the latest book from my favourite author in a bookstore which was funny as it had not yet been released back home. Eventually, I wandered back to the Central Station & validated my Eurail Pass for tomorrows travelling. Then back to the hotel for a quiet dinner & an early night.

Slept well & had a leisurely breakfast – lots of juice, Danish bread, ham & cheese with a thermos of coffee in a smoking area to finish up with. Then off to the station to get the train (a high speed Linx) to Oslo. The new train technology has really altered European travel. The last time I did this trip it took 12 hours & involved an hour on a train ferry & was very tiring. Now it takes 8 hours including a 30 minute stop at Goteborg & the ferry has been replaced by a long bridge plus they include a meal (lots of smoked salmon) if you are travelling 1st class. Then a 90 minute wait in Oslo to board the night train to Bergen & hey presto – it’s Saturday morning (6:50am) & there I am.

Really good hotel in Bergen – Hotel Rozenkrantz. Magnificent breakfast (huge choice of both hot & cold items), cable TV in rooms, free internet & a wonderful location 50 metres from Bryggen (the historic Hanseatic wharf) & the Fish Market. After the hotel in Copenhagen (carefully not mentioned) this is much better.

I had 4 days in Bergen & did the proper tourist thing – the Flam/Myrdal rail trip (probably one of the top three in the world), the tram to the top of Mt Floyen with it’s spectacular views of the city & harbour and the obligatory cruise around the harbour & adjacent fiord. It’s a picturesque city with friendly inhabitants & historic buildings everywhere. I could have easily spent another week there but the Nordlys was calling. But in passing – Norway is expensive food & drink wise these days. So a big hotel breakfast (always seems to be included with the room rate) is sound practice.

Transfers
This was a breeze. Boarding time had been stated as 6:00 pm & I was a bit concerned when I was told that pickup time from the hotel was 4:15. The bus was punctual & at 4:30 10 of us were deposited at the wharf (quite a distance from the main harbour – don’t think of walking to it) and there was the Nordlys with gangway down waiting for us. We simply walked on board, handed over tickets in exchange for magnetic room key & separate AMEX sized boarding pass & that was it. I grabbed a lift, went up two decks & two doors down a corridor was my cabin. So easy!! However, it should be noted that you handle your baggage yourself – this is a working cargo ship not a cruise liner so most services we take for granted on other lines just do not exist.

Typically this means the cabin is made up in the morning, towels changed if necessary but that’s it.


The Nordlys at Sea

The Nordlys (Norwegian for Northern Lights) is one of 6 Contemporary vessels built between 1993 & 1998. Gross tonnage is 11,200, there are 482 berths & room for 50 cars. Others in the fleet include the Millenium ships (15,000 tons & totally up to date to the point of some balcony cabins), the Mid Generation ships (6,200 tons built in the 1980’s and refurbished in 1995) & one surviving Traditional ship (the Lofoten, built in 1964 & a mere 2,600 tons).

I had a standard double cabin on Five Deck


Deck Five Standard Double Cabin

which was adequate for a person travelling alone but would be rather cramped for a couple. A couch which converted to a bed, a Pullman style bunk on the opposite wall, a compact bathroom, a wardrobe (again enough for one) & a writing desk. There is a telephone which also broadcasts announcements but no TV. Opposite my cabin was what is described as a large double cabin & I would regard it as the minimum needed for a couple.


Deck Five Large Double Cabin

But on a serious note, you don’t take this trip for the luxurious accommodation or the room service.

Nordlys is essentially a cargo ship with 6 decks of passenger cabins & amenities plonked on top of the cargo facilities.

Two deck has a few cheap cabins but is really the car deck

Three Deck has reception, the laundry & the cheaper passenger cabins.

Four Deck (working forward from the stern) has the restaurant, a wintergarden style passageway with windows & clusters of tables & armchairs, the cafeteria, tour desk, souvenir shop, bar & library (multi-lingual with a nice mix of fiction & non-fiction).

Five Deck is the Promenade deck with full walk around & a fair sized open area with deck chairs at the stern. It has no public rooms, only cabins & 4 of the 6 suites available. Ironically, the two top suites are forward facing on this deck & any view the passengers had through their windows would be constantly blocked by the keen photographers who used the promenade there as the best photo stop when entering port.

Six Deck is all cabins & a small deck area at the stern.

Seven Deck has the indoor viewing areas. Forrard is the “Panorama Lounge” with picture windows looking ahead & to the sides. This is also used for meetings & ceremonies & is non smoking. Midships is another lounge which does permit smoking & has a bar though on my trip it was never open. Astern is another outdoor deck area.

Here are a few photos of the public areas
The Restaurant


The Restaurant

The Wintergarden looking forward to the Bar


The Wintergarden

The Panorama Lounge


The Panorama Lounge

The Outdoor area on Seven deck


The Deck Seven Viewing Area

Catering etc.
Passengers booked on the round trip (Bergen/Kirkenes/Bergen) or the full one way (Bergen/Kirkenes or vice versa) have their meals included in the fare. All other passengers must either purchase meal tickets or patronise the cafeteria. At Bergen, the table allocation is done when the dining room opens for the evening meal & this is NOT publicised & you may find you are at the end of a large queue if you don’t come early. Tables are basically 4 or 6 people & window seats are highly prized. Once allocated, you retain them for lunch & dinner the whole trip – breakfast is sit where you like.

Meals are as follows:

(i) Breakfast
Typically Scandanavian buffet with mainly cold meats, cheese & rolls with some form of eggs. Adequate but nothing special. No table service.

(ii) Lunch
High quality Smorgasbord which never became boring. Always at least 3 types of Salmon available in the Cold area (smoked, gravlux & poached) , caviar, shrimps & cod. Etiquette requires that you take a plate of cold fish (plus assorted garnishes & salad), then go back for a new plate of cold meat (beef, lamb, ham, sausage, poultry) & finally return for the Hot dishes. After that, there are desserts, cheeses & fruit. As with breakfast, it is all serve yourself (& carry it to your table). Any meal that starts with unlimited gravlux, caviar, potted shrimps, sour cream, chopped onions & potato salad has got to be good!

(iii) Dinner
Fixed menu (3 courses) with waiter service. The menu is posted outside the dining room if you want to know what’s coming. The offerings are a mix of traditional Norwegian delicacies & “International Cuisine” & I found them surprisingly good. Venison featured on both Entrée & Main Course, various fish dishes (all prepared in different ways including “Baked Cod’s Back with Tomato Puree” which looked like a deep pan pizza when it was being served from a tray but was excellent), roasts, & a few casseroles including a really good veal shank. Entrees were typically soup or smoked meats & desserts were built mainly around Ice cream & fresh fruit.

(iv) Alcohol
My table of 4 comprised 3 non drinkers (including me) so my observations may be a bit limited. Prices appeared to match those on shore which probably disappointed some people. Beer was about $US 12 for a 450 mil glass & wine was available by the bottle or glass. I gathered a glass of Chilean white was about $US 10 - I shudder to think what a French vin ordinaire would cost!! Most people drank water!! In passing it must be said that there was very little drinking done on the whole trip (unless the truly desperate retired to their cabins & drank their duty free which was permitted I believe). During the day, only the cafeteria was open to purchase drinks (both top deck bars were closed) & in the evenings the front bar served coffee & drinks & doubled as a smoking lounge.

(v) Tipping
Not required, not solicited & as far as I could see not wanted!!!!

Staff can’t drink on board but if you can catch up with Wilma (the Tour Director) ashore she might accept some Schnapps!!!!

(vi) Miscellaneous
A self service laundry is located on 3 Deck – coin in the slot & this covers detergent as well. Typical European cycle (machine heats the water) of 60 – 70 minutes). Separate driers.

Part of the welcome kit in Cabins is a book describing the voyage. This was a free souvenir to all passengers & is worth it’s weight in gold! It covers each port (usually with pictures) & is compulsory reading each night to prepare for the next day.

There is a tour desk which also produces a fact sheet on each major port, a “complete list of all ports of call”, and generally serves as a haven for confused passengers & the source of various practical jokes. Wilma, the Dutch Tour Director, was/is a gem & what ever they pay her isn’t enough!!

There is a small gift/souvenir shop on board but you will get more choice & better prices ashore. As noted elsewhere there is a decent library (which by the way works on an honour system & encourages passengers to donate books they don’t want to reread)

There was no Internet facilities on the Nordlys (I think there may be on the newest Millennium ships). However, if you need to keep in touch, the main hotels in the big ports either formally have internet cafes or will let you use their PCs – very friendly.

Similarly, there are no facilities for burning digital images to CD on board. So if your memory card is filling up you will need to allow time in major towns to find a photo shop to get it done. You should expect to take literally hundreds of pictures.
The Voyage

The North bound voyage leaves Bergen at 8:00 pm in Summer to permit an 8 hour cruise from Alesund into the Geiranger Fiord. Reportedly, this is one of the highlights of the trip but is not done during shoulder or winter sailings. After that deviation there is no difference in the itinerary between summer & winter. The actual route followed is mainly “inland passage” between the mainland & chains of islands with only a few stretches of open ocean. There is quite a deal of motion when the sea gets up & I would warn against taking the older smaller ships if you are not a good sailor.

Typically, each day will feature calls at about 5 ports (with others during the night) with stops ranging from 15 minutes to 5.5 hours. During these stops, a large section of the ship’s side is hydraulically lowered to provide access to the car deck & for forklifts to to load & unload cargo.


The Nordlys by Maloy


Where the Cars and Cargo Go

Passengers can go ashore at all but the briefest calls but need to keep an eye on the time as there are no checks to see if everyone is back on board! There were passengers leaving & boarding at most posts of call.

Shore Excursions
These are offered at most ports where the scheduled stop is for 2 hours or more but are weather dependant & do vary between winter & summer.
Major excursions were:
Trondheim 3 hour city & surrounds tour
Bodo City Sights
Tromso City Sights or Husky Dogsled trip
Honningsvag 3+ hour trip to North Cape
Kirkenes Excursion to Russian Border or Barents Safari
Hammerfest Visit to Polar Bear Club
Harstad Bus down the coast to rejoin ship at Sortland

Of these, North Cape is the most famous but is better done in good weather. Trondheim & Tromso are essentially weather proof as the most interesting features are Cathedrals (both spectacular) & the Tromso museum. The Russian Border at Kirkenes is a bit “Been there, done that”.

Alesund, Molde & Stokmarknes should be explored on foot. Stokmarknes has the Hurtigruten Museum showing the history of the Coastal Voyage AND a preserved ship


The Finnmarken on Blocks

ship up on blocks that can be explored. Alesund


Alesund

& Molde are simply two of the most beautiful places in Norway (& the sunset at Molde


Sunset at Molde

on the return trip was magic)

But the real highlight is indeed the scenery which lives up to the publicity. And it seems even more special because it is available 365 days of the year as part of the life of a working ship.

Some Final Remarks.
Although the ship is well heated, it gets very cold on deck if you do not dress for it. Parka, hat & gloves are a must. We had snow covered decks several mornings & on one day there were still icicles on the bottom of the life boats at 3:00pm in the afternoon.

You make your own entertainment with the single exception of a crossing the Arctic Circle ceremony complete with a visit from King Neptune and vast quantities of ice cubes & ice water.

Would I go again?? You bet I will!!!!

Disembarkation
A breeze. We arrived in Bergen on time to be met by a range of buses clearly labelled by destination (Airport, Hotels, Railway Station). Luggage was delivered on shore within 15 minutes. I made my train to Oslo with over an hour to spare & was on my way to the UK to see my daughter.

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