Prior to the trip, I explained to my travel mates not to expect a cruise like from America. On this ship line, amenities are sparse. No onboard live entertainment. No cinema or limbo contests. Think of it as transportation, I said. Yvonne replied jokingly that she had taken a cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line and why should this be any different? After all, this is a cruise in Norway.
Norway Travel Saving Tip Number 4
Reserve directly with the ship line. When their website was not completely understandable, I emailed for clarification and they always emailed back the same day. By going direct, I saved hundreds of dollars compared to the internet cruise lines offering to book for us. In addition, because it was the low season, we saved hundreds more. In the end, our single-occupancy cabins cost just over $100 a day.
Norway Travel Saving Tip Number 5
We accomplished additional savings by not pre-ordering meals. Three meals a day will set you back over $100 a day per person. A couple from Canada we spent some enjoyable time with did not know they could have declined meals. But it is possible due to the daily shore leave and the 24-hour cafeteria. Instead of eating the onboard no-choice menu at pre-set times, our mid-day meals were consumed in interesting local restaurants. Returning to the ship, we stopped at a grocery store to pick up a few things for a light evening meal: bread, cheese, salami, fruit, olives, and other tasty morsels.
Norway Travel Saving Tip Number 6
In a word – BYOB. We each brought a bottle of champagne for celebratory occasions like the ship’s departure and crossing the Arctic Circle. The onboard price for a bottle of Veuve Clicquot is around $85.00, which is nearly three times the price in duty-free. Drinks at the bar are staggeringly expensive. You can take two liters of alcohol into Norway and may want to set up your own little bar. We did and made friends.
At the Bergen harbor, the Kong Harold ship was being supplied for our departure. Little forklifts frantically zipped all around us. More than a means of transportation, this ship line has been sailing the Norwegian coast for over a hundred years, delivering goods to the inhabitants living in remote areas.
Having been on a cruise myself once, I was prepared to burst out laughing at the compact size of my cabin. Instead, I found myself gasping at the roominess. The comfortable berth and duvet folded into the wall; the opposite was a sofa. With the berth tucked away, there was enough room to do aerobics, not that I was so inclined. The shower was another matter, however. When I dropped the soap, it was impossible to bend down to retrieve it. I know this because it happened twice.
After inspecting our cabins, we roamed the ship exploring the dining room, cafeteria, lounges, and decks; all the while running our hands over exquisite wood bearing glossy, high-quality workmanship. ‘Isn’t it good…Norwegian wood….’ kept running through my mind and despite knowing all the words to the Beatles song years ago, I could think of no others, so I spent the whole trip humming just that little bit.
At precisely 10:30 PM, a suitably swarthy seaman hoisted off the rope that had tethered us to land and without any fanfare other than our own, we slid silently out to the star-covered sea. Never at a loss for fun, we popped the cork of champagne bottle #1 into the sea and bon-voyaged ourselves.
Shore leave the next day took us to Alesund. If you ever get to Alesund, you simply must eat in the Toldboden restaurant, conveniently located next to the port. The chef was a genius trained in the style of French haute cuisine; had I any Michelin stars in my pocket, I would have awarded him one.
Back on board, we chatted with fellow passengers who were taking the full eleven day round trip whereas we were going port-to-port, departing at Tromso to fly back to Oslo. Everyone agreed it was the most relaxing mode of travel we had ever experienced. Instead of traditional cruises with perky entertainment directors forcing fun, this was by default, forced relaxation. They have a library, a room for games (the kind of cardboard boxes) and a couple of television sets discreetly placed in public areas.
True relaxation is a rare commodity, but I found it in Norway. Being away from entertainment and distractions of the contemporary sort causes people to resort to activities of yesteryear’s crossings. When Lexie considered joining us on the trip, she was stressed and needed a get-a-way vacation. In answer to what onboard activities were available, I replied that there was no beauty spa, shopping center, casino or swimming pool, to which she said she could do ‘nothing’ for six days. After hearing that echo back to her brain, she jumped on board, so to speak.
As I imagine people did in earlier times, we spent our crossing meeting new people, reading, writing, resting, thinking or simply gazing at the scenery. Indeed, the further north we sailed, the more stunning the views. Through the panoramic window, we watched the world’s slowest DVD player showing a non-stop ‘film’ about snow-covered mountains, glaciers, islands dotted with tiny villages and solitary lighthouses. It was like a travel video, but without a commentator, so we were left to our own imaginations to consider how life would be in such isolation. In the dimly lit observation lounges, everyone whispered; even the children were well behaved. Sometimes while contemplating the scenery and the lives of those in it, the barely discernable sway of the ship caused me to contemplate the occasional nap. I thought I would call this journal ‘The Northern Nap.’