Saturday, June 10, 2023

Norwegian Fjords (P&O Cruise)

The Norwegian Fjords (and Scandinavia in general) have been a "bucket list" destination for us since moving back to Europe in 2019. The yearning to visit Norway could perhaps be because we spent 20 years living in the Rocky Mountains, or perhaps maybe because we loved touring New Zealand in 2007 & 2009.  Norway certainly has mountains like the Rockies and New Zealand, and also shares stunning Fjords with New Zealand too, but there is so much more to explore also. (Click on any image for the best viewing experience).

If you had asked us 10-20 years ago, maybe even only 3 years ago "would we ever consider a cruise", the answer would have definitely been met with raised eyebrows and a "not likely", however, the easiest way to see the Norwegian Fjords is on a Cruise boat. So after months of research, reading reviews and blogs, looking at Cruise Port stops, we opted for a June 2023 cruise on P&O's boat the Britannia.

Day 1 & 2: All on board
Southampton is the main UK port for Cruise ships (P&O, Cunard, Princess etc), and fortunately we are only a 1.5 hour drive away. The parking and embarkment process is pretty straight forward and efficient, and once cleared security armed with your "Cruise Card" (more about that below), you are free to board and start enjoying the ship. The view from the top decks is impressive.

P&O Britannia

The Cunard Queen Mary 2 leaving Southampton

The first night and 2nd day were both "Sea days", so we had plenty of time to explore the ship (and get lost). The "Cruise card" is literally your key to everything whilst onboard (key to your cabin, payment method for drinks and dining, and even your passport for shore excursions).

Day 3: Bergen
The first glimpses of Norwegian land came during the morning of Day 3, the Britannia approaches Bergen from the northwest and cruises into port at a much slower speed. Bergen is Norway's 2nd city, and was once the capital, Bryggen (part of the city next to the harbour) is a World Heritage Site.

Lighthouse on the approach to Bergen

Blue skies on the approach to Bergen

View looking over World Heritage Site of Bryggen

View looking over the Fish Market to P&O Britannia

Mirador Skansen Bataljon

Day 4: Flam, Sognefjord and Aurlandsfjord
During the night on Day 3 the ship cruised through Sognefjord (Norway's longest and deepest fjord, nicknamed the "king of fjords"), and at around 4am the ship reached Aurlandsfjord on its approach to the town of Flam (pronounced Flom). We were up on deck at 4.30am to witness the magic of gliding almost silently through this spectacular landscape, and boy was it magic!.


The ships wake along Aurlandsfjord

A small French cruise ship and perfect reflection

Day 4 port of call was Flam, a very small town that gets most of its visitors from Cruise ships, and most of those board the Flam Railway (one of the most scenic lines in the world). The railway was all booked up, so we opted instead for an excursion to Tvinde Waterfall and Gudvangen Viking village, which was decent (although a little expensive maybe for what it was). Flam is a nice little village, and the local brewery was a added bonus (even if it is purely aimed at tourists).

Tvinde Waterfall

Viking village, we had a guided tour

Viking style Architecture

Britannia docked in Flam

Day 5: Olden and Nordfjord
5 days in and the weather had been warm with blue skies everyday all day long, but the early morning cruise into Olden was misty and cooler. The weather in Norway is typically wet and cloudy, so I am glad that we had a more "typical" day at least for half a day anyway. Olden is another small village that many Cruise ships stop at, but I found it to be the least interesting of all the stops - except for the scenery surrounding the village, and Briksdal Glacier (3.5 mile round trip hike). 

Misty approach to Olden

Beautiful waterfalls on the 3.5 mile hike to Briksdal

Beautiful scenery around Briksdal

View to Briksdal glacier

Briksdal glacier which has retreated considerably

Whilst Olden did not have much to occupy tourists, it did have a few photo worthy buildings. The Old Church dates back to the 1700's, and is very rustic inside. The old barn was on the walk back to the cruise port, and is a good example of roofing techniques that date back to the Viking era (Birch bark with turf on top).

Olden Old Church

Old style Viking roofing

Day 6: Haugesund (final day on Norwegian soil)
The ship took all night to reach the coastal city of Haugesund which lies south of Bergen, the city grew up around the herring industry, and later on Petroleum (plenty of evidence of Oil rigs being maintained here), but back in Viking times this area was known as the "Homeland of the Vikings". Any construction in this area has to be first checked for Viking relics, and if any are found construction can not take place.
The city whilst pretty enough is not a major tourist hub, so we opted for an excursion to Skudesneshavn instead. Skudesneshavn's "old town" is one of the best preserved examples of wooden houses/boathouses in Europe, the town was established in 1858 and is a real gem!.

Skudeneshavn harbour houses

Skudeneshavn's quant streets

We also briefly stopped by the Fisherman's memorial in Firkingstad (try and say that fast!), this memorial is for the Norwegian fisherman lost in "American waters". The cross is in fact a Church, having been blessed by a bishop.

Fisherman's memorial

Day 7: At Sea and Conclusion
Day 7 after leaving Haugesund was a sea day, arriving back into Southampton very early morning on Day 8.
Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would ever take a cruise holiday, but all things considered, it was an experience that pleasantly surprised. The cruise ship has enough on board to keep you occupied for a few days in a row (sea days), and entertainment in the evenings (some being a little cheesy). The food on board is pretty good (free and paid), and definitely plentiful, drinks are not overpriced (unlike in Scandinavia). Shore excursions via the cruise line tend to be more expensive, but you can do your research and find alternatives at a better price (we did for one).
Would I take a cruise again? - I think I would if it was a short 6-8 day one with a few stops!

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