The Norwegian Fjords are renowned as one of the most beautiful areas of the world. I have just spent 8 days aboard Fred Olsen’s flagship Balmoral finding out if this is true.
Our cabin is 6003, a superior outside on Main Deck. Very spacious with large picture window giving unobstructed views. Lots of hanging and drawer space, certainly more than we will need for our 8 days. The bathroom, tiled in blue and white has bath tub/shower with basin and toilet. The days of small bottles of various toiletries are long gone, replaced by dispensers of hair/body wash in the shower and hand wash by the basin. A hair dryer is standard. The cabin of 165sq. ft. painted in white and cream with two tone grey patterned carpet comes furnished with two single beds, dressing table unit, flat screen television and that most important to some, kettle with cups and packets of tea bags and coffee. Set into the drawer unit between the beds are the controls for music channels. Finished with pale blue, white and beige striped curtains and matching bed spreads the cabin is light and bright. Electrical sockets are both European 2 pin as well as an American 2 prong. The flat screen interactive television has a choice of channels and you can access your on board account from it.
Time for lunch which is taken in the Palms Café at the rear of deck 7. The buffet is well laid out with a good selection of hot and cold dishes and many well-spaced tables where you can always find a seat.
5pm and out into the warm sunshine for sail away. A tug pulls us clear of our mooring and turns the ship towards the sea. With 3 long blasts from the ships whistle we say goodbye to the UK making our way down Southampton Water, gathering speed and head for our first port of call, Flam, Norway.
We are allocated 8.30 dining at table 105, usually the Captains table in the Ballindalloch Restaurant on deck 6. Joined by our table companions, introductions finished with, time to select from the menu and eat. A tasty starter of Ham coated with melted Gorgonzola followed by a Yellow Pea soup and the English dish of the day, Liver, Onions and fresh vegetables. The desert of Pistachio ice cream was wonderful. What did I wash it all down with? Regular readers will already know the answer, Rose Wine. Time flies and it’s only when seeing the waiters laying the vacant tables for breakfast we realise it is time to leave. Saying goodnight we make our way back to the cabin to try those beds.
Next day is spent sailing the North Sea. Breakfast finished it’s up to Marquee Deck, the top deck, where there is a swimming pool, jacuzzis, large sunbathing area and bars. Despite it being foggy the air is warm and whilst the sun is not visible its warm rays can be felt. Lying on a sun lounger I drift into sleep until being woken by Her Who Shall Be Obeyed (HWSBO) and told it is lunch time. A starter of Smoked Salmon, Prawns and various meats works well. With a desert of fresh fruit and jelly I am fortified now until dinner so back to the lounger for a few more hours. For those wanting more, Fred Olsen’s offer a list of activities, Yoga, pilates, gym, dance classes, lectures, quizzes, craft lessons, social meetings and many more. The ship is now heading towards the Akrafjord at the end of which will be Langfoss Waterfall the highest waterfall in the world. Passing small hamlets and houses on the water’s edge the high cliffs become closer narrowing the ships passage until reaching the end and Langfoss Waterfall comes into view. Towering above us a cascade of white foamy water racing and bouncing down the rock face into the fjord 612 meters below. As the captain turns the ship all that can be heard is the roar of the water and the sound of clicking cameras and video recorders. A spectacular view that once seen will never be forgotten. It is now time to set course for Flam our first port of call.
Most evenings the dinner menu lists an English dish and tonight is Shepard's Pie a dish I am somewhat partial to. An enquiry of Oliver our waiter as to how it is served brings the reply ‘in scoops’ so two please. Obviously something has got lost in translation as Oliver delivers two large dishes with crisp potato toppings, my table companions fall about laughing. Knowing if I don't eat it all I will receive an enormous amount of stick from HWSBO I start eating and finally finish it. I am now known as 'Alan 2 Dishes', charming!!.
Awaking next morning we are already anchored in Flam. Today is the 'Cultural Aurland' tour. First stop, a viewing area accessed by driving up narrow roads with hairpin bends. On arrival the view is spectacular, a walkway extends out from the cliff top offering breath taking views but not for anyone who suffers from a fear of heights. There’s a toilet that has the same views which can be a little off putting and have an adverse effect on bowel movement. Retracing our steps to the little town of Aurland first stop is the Aurland shoe factory, a small workshop producing 'Loafer' style shoes from which we are told the original American 'Penny Loafer' was designed. Next the glass shop and finally the little church where a funeral had just taken place.
After last night’s fiasco I decide to keep dinner simple with a Prime Steak which really was very good. 10pm however sees three of us heading to the Morning Light Lounge for the evening quiz which tonight is 50's/60's Rock and Roll. My era so I am looking forward to it. We get 17 out of 20 and come second. Lost out on Chuck Berry’s first hit, Little Richards real name and the year that Buddy Holly had a hit with Peggy Sue. Answers on a postcard please. Back to the table in time for coffee and then out of the dining room so late that it is time for bed. This is becoming a habit.
Next day is the port of Olden. Again we are anchored in the fjord as Celebrity Eclipse has taken the only mooring. Tendered ashore we wait in line to board the coach taking us to the Kjenndal Glacier. The sight that greets us is breath taking, a huge glacier of white and electric blue, surrounded by waterfalls whose water cascades down the rock faces to the raging river below and onwards into the lake. I take pictures but none can do justice to the real thing. Back to the coach and a short trip to our lunch stop at Nesdal where we are plied with Waffles topped with jam and cream. Next a boat trip along the Lovatnet Lake passing high cliffs, waterfalls and small hamlets that nestles on the shore of the lake. An hour later sees us arriving at Sande where our coach waits to take us back to Balmoral. Today the beauty I have seen is some of the best I have ever witnessed anywhere in the world. We sail at 5pm and cruise along the beautiful Nordfjord passing towering rock faces, cascading waterfalls, Pine and Silver Birch trees towards the North Sea and our next port of call, Bergan.
The following morning it’s raining. Once on board our tour coach the guide informs us that Bergen is one of the wettest cities in Europe with over 200mm of rain and an average of 265 rainy days a year. Making our way to the funicular railway that is to take us up Mt. Floien we pass through several of Norway’s 952 road tunnels, the longest of which is nearly 24 kms that enable roads to pass under the mountains. The railway to the summit takes just under 4 minutes and on arrival the rain has become torrential spoiling what would be fantastic panoramic views over the city and surrounding areas. One man has purchased half a pint of beer at the little cafe and has been relieved of £8 for the experience. Back at ground level we continue our tour of Bergen and various sights including the famous opera house and a new venue shaped as a grand piano, named after Norway's famous composer, Grieg. I never knew he was only 4' 11 and wrote his famous Concerto at the age of 23. Returning to the ship it’s still raining so time to visit the Palms Cafe for some tea. That evening we dine in the Palms Cafe where they are featuring a Chinese Evening. The food was excellent with the waiting staff dressed in authentic Chinese costume. Finally time for bed ready for our last port of call, Stavanger.
The sun is shining as we arrive in Stavanger, a contrast to the last few days. Leaving the ship we board coach 6 for our 'Stavanger and Countryside' tour. Our guide today has a wicked sense of humour and keeps us laughing. The country side here is a contrast to that of the Fjords with a flat landscape and fields of crops and cattle. Driving further inland the landscape becomes more rugged with mountains. We visit a boulder field, boulders the size of houses, pass lakes which are mirror smooth giving perfect reflections and rivers with small rapids creating small waterfalls and foaming water. I have never seen such beauty. An early lunch is taken at a tourist area that has animals, grass thatched cottages and one of the largest souvenir shops we have encountered. In a large cave transformed into a restaurant/hospitality area we sample Norwegian Waffles with jam and cream. An hour later we are on our way again passing through the beautiful countryside on our way back to the ship. Tonight is formal night and our table has arranged Champagne pre dinner drinks in the Observatory Lounge followed by the Captains Farewell Cocktail Party and dinner. The Head Chef enters the dining room, introduces his staff, and informs us that over the last 7 days the 1260 passengers have been looked after by a galley team of 93. We the passengers have consumed 740 kilos of Beef, 1,415 kilos of poultry products, 418 kilos of Lamb, 1,682 kilos of Pork, 2,296 kilos of seafood, 15,750 eggs, 2,500 kilos of potato’s and 5.23 tonnes of vegetables. The Rack of Lamb that I have is delicious. Dinner finished we visit the Neptune Lounge for 'Crew Show' where the crew deliver the entertainment. An amazing amount of talent amongst the crew with the stars being the 'Boys from the Engine-room' who put on an amazing dance act dressed in such a way as the take on the form of Ken Dodd’s 'Diddy People'.
The last day turns out to be heavy cloud cover, rain and storms so no more sun bathing. Soon we are back in Southampton with overcast skies and time to reflect on the last 8 days.
The Norwegian Fjords are indeed an area of spectacular beauty. Mountains, glaciers, thundering waterfalls, lakes like mirrors and fjords that wind and meander between high rock faces mixed with lush vegetation and breath taking views. Did it live up to expectations? It surpassed them by a wide margin and I look forward to one day returning. Thank you Fred Olsen for your hospitality and making all this possible. A cruise to remember for many years to come.
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Alan Fairfax -
is a travel writer for
YOUR HOLIDAY TV
Alan also writes for the
Ashford Advertiser Media Group with regional papers across Kent with regular holiday & travel sections in all editions