CRUISING THE NORWEGIAN FJORDS
The family trip in 2009, selected by popular vote, was a voyage up and down the
coast of Norway on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager. Although we've taken several
Radisson/Regent cruises, this was the first on one of their larger ships. The
Southern California contingent flew from LAX to Dulles on United Air Lines and
then on to Copenhagen on SAS. The Denver group flew United to Dulles and was to
join the rest of us on the SAS flight. Alas, it was not to be.
The LA group had plenty of time for connections and made the SAS flight. The
Fergusons weren't quite so lucky. Regent booked them through Dulles with
insufficient time for the connection. We knew they were on the ground and making
their way across the terminal and told the SAS crew however they didn't care.
Right on time, they closed the door and pushed back. As a result the Fergusons
missed the SAS flight which the rest of us were on. When they asked United, the
cause of their problem, for help the United personnel couldn't be bothered.
Their suggestion was that they return to Denver and try again the next day!
Service is not a word to be used with United Air Lines.
Beth contacted our travel agent, Julie Northington at All-Travel, who was able
to arrange flights to correct for Regent's and United's incompetence and they
made it to the ship minutes before departure but minus two suitcases. The ship
was threatening to sail an hour ahead of schedule. Jodie found out and lobbied
intensively to prevent this. She even planned to lay down on the gangway to
prevent it being picked up.
Natalie was missing one suitcase. When Chris checked about it in Copenhagen,
United found it still at LAX. For some reason it was not loaded on the plane
with the rest of our luggage. They claimed that they sent it on a later flight.
It never showed up. (They also deny any responsibility and refuse to accept a
claim for lost luggage.)
Because of our very early morning arrival at Københavns Lufthavn (Kastrup) we
enjoyed a bus tour of Copenhagen to kill time until we could board the ship.
Fortunately it wasn't too long; we boarded around noon but our cabins weren't
yet ready. We ventured into the Constellation Theater which was set up with a
bank of laptop computers. With a glass of champagne in hand we checked in, were
photographed and given our access cards. These magnetically coded cards unlock
our cabin door and are also scanned whenever we leave and return to the ship.
Since we couldn't access our cabins, and since it was lunch time, we went to the
pool deck and enjoyed a hamburger and a glass of wine or beer while we waited.
Eventually we noticed that others were being taken to their cabins so we checked
and were led to ours, 740. Although we had seen our luggage at the Copenhagen
airport, it was comforting to find it in our cabin.
One of our pre-cruise arrangements through the Regent office in Saint Louis was
for a table for our 11 member family. The matre d' had heard nothing about it in
spite of the reassurances we had received from the Regent shore office. He,
however, set up a perfect table for us with the only request that we arrive
before 7 pm and also to let him know any night we won't need the table.
After Jodie's pre-cruise knee injury we asked if Regent had wheelchairs
available. We were told that they didn't. There are several wheel chairs with
Regent stenciled on them that are being used by several passengers. But Jodie
managed very well with her crutches and with extensive use of the ship
elevators. The gangway was always a problem as was access down tour bus aisles
We also had reserved several tours by e-mail prior to the trip and had an e-mail
confirmation of them. Although the rest of the group found their tour tickets in
their cabins, we didn't. We asked the tour desk why. They said they frequently
don't receive things from the office and that our e-mail confirmation meant
nothing. As a result we are wait-listed for two of the tours. (The good news is
that we were able to go on both tours.)
6-27. Cruising the Skagerrak Strait
Its nice to start the cruise with a day at sea. It allows more time for
unpacking, if needed. The cabin had more than enough storage with many drawers
and ample hanging room in the walk-in closet. Contrary to many ships and hotel
rooms, there were more hangers than we needed.
Tonight (Saturday) was the Capt's welcome dinner. One of the Fergusons'
suitcases which did arrive with them held their dress clothing but not their
dress shoes. But they were still welcome in the Compass Rose dining room.
Today was the first day to tour Norway. The ship voyaged up the spectacular
Geirangerfjord in the morning. The walls were literally lined with thundering
waterfalls coming from the snow still on top of the mountains. Frequently there
are farm buildings or just cabins perched high up on the seemingly inaccessible
sides of the fjord wherever a rare piece of comparatively flat land can be
found. Any flat spot not occupied by a dwelling is used to grow hay.
The ship turned up a side fjord early in the morning and paused at Hellesyit to
discharge passengers who were taking the over-land trip to Geiranger on the road
that clings to the walls of the fjord. (Hellesyit provided Henrik Ibsen with the
settings for one of his plays - "Brand!")
After the long, slow process of transferring the tour group to shore via tender,
the ship reversed course to rejoin the Geirangerfjord and travel on to Geiranger.
Along the way we passed the roaring 7 Sisters waterfalls plus numerous unnamed
We eventually reached the end of the fjord around 10:30. Jodie discovered,
contrary to the advise printed in the daily program, that we did not need tender
passes to go ashore however independent travelers needed to go on the first
tenders so we scurried around and got on one of the early tenders.
(We had booked three independent trips with Norwegian Adventures before Regent
announced that all tours from the ship were free. Although these trips were
expensive they seemed to be better than the ship tours in the same areas.)
When we got ashore in tiny Geiranger (permanent population 230, 3,000 in Summer)
we found that our driver/guide was no where to be found so Chris called him. (We
were earlier than he expected.) Ours was the only ship present. Frequently there
are 3 or 4. He showed up in a large tour van and we set off up the Devils
Highway which switched-back up the mountain side at the end of the fjord. The
panoramic views were extraordinary. We crossed the mountain and entered a long,
verdant valley, eventually having lunch at Petrines Gjestgiveri, a former old
persons home now a B&B. We had a good lunch of poached salmon. Those who didn't
want salmon had sausage which came with catsup and a sour-cream-like spread.
Dessert was either a very good flam or very good ice cream.
We then drove to a goat farm at Kilsti operated by a hippy-like couple who had 4
very active kids. I think the four kids were pleased that we had two kids with
us. Their youngest, age 4, was fascinated by the farm's tractors, so much so
that they had to remove all of the keys from the machines to keep him from
starting them. Our kids and theirs had a good time together.
We were anxious to return to the ship before it left so we cut the visit short,
barely tasting the raspberry leaf tea and the several types of home-made goat
cheese, the fresh Norwegian waffles with home-made strawberry preserves, and the
fresh yogurt. One daughter serenaded us with her violin and trumpet playing. The
mother was a chef at Petrines Gjestgiveri for several years and is now a chef at
the only year-round hotel in Geiranger. Both she and her husband wore matching
free-form tattoos. It was a brief but great visit.
When we returned to the ship we found that the Fergusons' two errant suitcases
had arrived, but not Natalie's.
To summarize; the vistas were prodigious, the meal was very pleasant, and the
goat farm visit was unique with the addition of fascinating kids.
There is a rather large campground in Geiranger which was filled with caravans
(trailers) and campers, very similar to US class C motor homes. I was able to
visit one and, although it was more narrow than those found here, its features
were almost identical. When we visited Norway in 1999 the campgrounds were
populated by tents. Now, in spite of the stratospheric price of fuel, motor
homes have replaced tents.
There was an old car show in Geiranger the Sunday we were there. Old American
big cars are quite popular. It was surprising to see old Detroit iron driving on
the roads. If a car is more than 30 years old there is no import duty.
We usually had room service breakfast when we were departing for a morning shore
excursion. After breakfast, Jodie headed off with the rest of the family for a
long adventure. Dale was not feeling well so opted out. It started off with a
bus ride which was adventure number 1 for Jodie and her crutches. Tour bus
stairs are very steep with turns and minimal handrails and the aisles very
narrow. When I entered there were few seats left. The family had expected I
would be able to sit in one of the front seats which has been the custom on
other trips we have taken when there have been guests with mobility problems.
Not the case today. In fact I encountered reluctance when I asked to share with
singles along the aisle. Toward the back of the bus a very nice gentleman from
England graciously volunteered to share his seat with me. We had a very pleasant
time together for the rest of the excursion. This was his first trip traveling
by himself since his wife died 18 months ago.
It was a three hour bus ride to get to our destination, an inactive copper mine
which now was available for guided tours. The ride took us through town and then
into the rural countryside which was very picturesque. When we were almost to
the mine the bus overheated and an alarm sounded so we had to wait about 20
minutes. I didn't participate in the actual tour, but the rest of the family
did. They were outfitted with hard hats and away they went. Chris returned
shortly because he tired of stooping to avoid hitting his head on the supporting
(One of the reasons there are so many red houses in northern Norway is because
of the ready availability of copper oxide from copper mines. When mixed with
linseed oil it makes a cheap and effective paint. Southern Norway tends towards
white houses since silicon dioxide is readily available there.)
About 15 minutes into the mine the group encountered a very large room which is
sometimes used for concerts because of the wonderful acoustics. There they had a
mini concert by a chamber ensemble. While the group was touring Chris and I
explored on our own, There was a rusting hulk of an old mine train and various
other equipment. There were also glorious displays of lupines and a monument to
all those killed in the mine. There were probably about 30 names.
When the group returned we boarded the bus again which took us to the nearby
train station. The train was waiting for us so it was a mad scramble off the bus
and on to the antique train. Being I don't scramble well guess who was last on
the train. Some family had stayed with me hoping the rest could save seats. They
were somewhat successful. We rode the train through several small towns or
villages. We saw several fishermen standing in the rivers hoping to hook a
salmon. There was also a lot of forest related activity. The last station was
about an hour from Trondheim so a bus took us back to the ship from there. By
this time my room service breakfast was very lonely and I really enjoyed my
hamburger on the pool deck with Dale.
A day at sea. We are truly in the Land of the Midnight Sun. We crossed the
Arctic Circle, 66° 33' 39 (or 66.56083°) north of the Equator, around 10 this
morning. This latitude is marked on Bekinggen Island by a globe monument. When
we were here in 1999 the ship stopped near midnight. We went ashore by zodiac
and were photographed, in the wind and rain, next to the monument. The much
bigger Voyager just slowly circled the place.
Later the ship cruised through the Holandsfjord and paused at th Svartisen
Glacier. Although it has retreated far from the sea, one gets an idea of its
former grandeur from the impressive valley it has gouged out and also the
extensive moraine at its toe.
There are numerous salmon farms along the fjords. We were told that halibut are
also being farmed here.
7-1. Gravdal, Lofoten Islands
We set off on a ship-conducted tour in the rain, minus Jodie who felt that her
crutch tips weren't up to slippery wooden walkways. Our first stop was at
Nusfjord, a well-preserved fishing village. There was a small museum and a few
Many contemporary buildings in Norway are roofed with sod. I don't know if this
is just a nod to tradition or if it is a cost effective roofing method. The
grass or sod is placed on top of a layer of bark or some other waterproof
material. Given the frequent rain, the grass continues to grow so how do you
control it? Of course, you just put a couple of goats or sheep up there and let
Our next stop was at a very small folk museum. It might have been a worthwhile
stop however three busses arrived at the same time so it was extremely crowded.
The final stop on the tour was a very large Viking long house reconstructed on
the site of an original dwelling. It was very interesting. After our tour groups
filled the center room, a guide described how life was in the long house, all
the while a lamb stew bubbled away in a big iron pot over a wood fire.
One of the other rooms contained working areas. One area contained a loom;
another a foot operated wood lathe. More time could have been spent there by
skipping the folk museum.
We've reached the top of Norway. Our second private tour took us to Nordkapp
(North Cape) which is 22 miles from Honningsvåg. The guide and van were waiting
as we left the ship at 4 pm. We first made a brief stop at a commercial art
gallery in Kamöyvaer where the resident artist glues together layers of paper
strips torn from magazines to create remarkable art. After a few purchases, we
headed off across the barren, treeless plateau toward the cape.
There was a brief stop at a replica of a Sami family summer camp. (The Sami are
the native residents of the far North.) There were a couple in traditional dress
with one reindeer, two tents, and a souvenir shop. I believe that they actually
lived in the modern house across the road from the "camp."
The Nordkapphallen (North Cape Hall) was built on what was presumed to be the
furthest north point. In addition to the very modern building with a shop,
restaurant, and bar, there is a monument similar to the one marking the Arctic
Circle. After all this was built it was discovered that Knivskjellodden just a
few miles west is slightly further north. Part of our tour included a glass of
champagne in the bar which is located inside a cavern deep in the rock which was
reached by elevator and then a very long tunnel. Our visit concluded with a film
about Svalbard and an extended session in the gift shop.
There is an informal campground along one side of the cape. It was filled with
campers wanting to see the Midnight Sun. Since our photography was limited by
the high wind driving the very light rain I don't think they saw the Sun that
We returned to the ship around 9:30 PM, just in time for a cafeteria dinner in
the La Veranda Buffet, the only poor meal of the voyage.
7/3. Tromso - Paris of the North
I wasn't as impressed with the city as whomever it was who named it the Paris of
the North. We took a ship tour with a Russian woman as a guide. It started with
a visit to a polar museum which had a seal pool plus other smaller tanks. There
were some exhibits devoted to polar exploration. There was also a play area
which included a climbing wall that was enjoyed by the children (all 5) of our
After the museum there was a long, meandering drive through the various islands
and communities comprising Tromso concluding with a visit to the Polar
Cathedral. It was designed to resemble an ice berg. Both ends were originally
clear glass so that the congregation could be inspired by views of the majestic
snow-covered mountains. The Sun was so intense in their eyes that the window
over the altar was converted to stained glass. The architect was so upset with
this desecration of his design that he never visited the place again.
7-4. Cruising the Norwegian coast.
In honor of the USA's birthday, there was a giant brunch available in the
atrium. As is usual at these things, there was an excessive variety of food
available. I carried Jodie's plate as she crutched her was around, selecting
what she wanted and then followed her into the Compass Rose dining room where
seating was available. Then I went back and served myself.
There was a bridge tour today. It is quite expansive and, as you would expect,
very modern. The ship is propelled by two pods that are mounted below the stern
and pivot to control the ship's direction. Each pod contains a DC electric motor
which turns a fixed-pitch prop. There is no rudder.
The city is spread over three closely-spaced islands. The Voyager docked right
across one of the narrow waterways separating two of the islands. We had an
afternoon tour so Donna, Jodie, Natalie, Chris, and I set off on a walking tour
of the downtown. Since it was Sunday, nothing much was open but it was a pretty
In the afternoon the ship bus tour meandered about town while the guide extolled
the beauties of the Jugend or art nouveau buildings. The town center burned in
1904 but was rapidly rebuilt in this style with the extensive help of Germany's
Kaiser Wilhelm II. The tour eventually reached a high overlook where we could
see the layout of the city.
The bus then headed out into the country where we met a boat on a fjord. We and
the boat passengers traded places and we toured the fjord. This would have been
much more spectacular if we hadn't already been in many fjords. A cold wind and
occasional mist made remaining on deck a challenge however the views from inside
were limited. We later found out that free Swedish pancakes and other libations
were available however this wasn't publicized. The boat brought us back to the
same wharf where the Voyager was docked.
Flåm is located at the end of the 124 mile-long Sognefjord, Norway's longest
fjord. About the only reason to go there is to ride the Flåmsbana, the Flåm
Railway. This is one of the most attractive and scenic railway lines in the
world. Only 20 km long, it climbs to 863.5 m passing through tunnels and
clinging to the sides of the mountains. The engines run on 15,000 V, 16 Hz
The ship docked a very short distance from the train station. Most of the cars
on both trains in the station were reserved for various groups. Several cars
were reserved for Voyager passengers so seating was no problem. The shore
excursion personnel said they would reserve a seat for Jodie however we never
found it. She easily found a seat when boarding at Flåm. Other passengers
allowed her to board first at Vatnahalsen so there was no problem.
It took almost an hour to reach Vatnahalsen, 19 km from Flåm and almost the end
of the line. There was a brief stop in the mouth of a tunnel to view and
photograph the extraordinary Kjosfossen Waterfall. We spent a couple of hours at
the Vatnahalsen Mountain Hotel where we enjoyed snacks and the play yard.
Eventually the train returned, we boarded, and returned to Flåm.
Although the town is quite small, there was the usual large complement of RVs in
the campground. The road into the place must be interesting.
Founded in 1066, Bergen was Norway's largest commerce center until the 1830s and
was one of the cities in the Hanseatic League. Surviving Hanseatic offices and
warehouses line the quay.
We took a ship tour which wandered about the city for a while then to the
funicular which took us to the top of Mount Floyen. The views, in a light rain,
revealed how intertwined Bergen is with the sea. The city is on many fingers
that reach out into the ocean. After enjoying the view, the kids enjoyed the
playground while some of the adults enjoyed the souvenir stand.
The bus next took us to Troldhaugen, the home of composer Edvard Grieg. We
toured the small house and viewed the even smaller building on the lake shore
where he worked.
This voyage was named "Captain Dag's Homecoming Voyage." Captain Dag Dvergastein
is Norwegian and lives in Nevlunghavn in a house that he inherited from his
grandmother. After the ship anchored we tendered ashore and began the long walk
to his house, Jodie on crutches. Shortly after we passed an ice cream store,
about half way to the house, the owner of the store offered to drive Jodie the
rest of the way however she declined the offer. (A similar thing happened on the
way back. A car stopped and a woman got out, offered Jodie her place in the
crowded car. The car would return for her after dropping Jodie at the wharf.) If
only some Regent passengers would be so considerate on the busses.
As we entered the fenced yard, a woman greeted us saying, "I'm Mrs. Captain Dag."
The ship had sent yummy refreshments and champagne which we enjoyed before
The Captain's Farewell dinner was this evening, the last formal dinner. Since
the ship has free booze and wine, farewell cocktail parties and dinners are not
significant. What was significant, however, was the crew show. After the show
the entire ship's company (minus a few needed to operate the ship) made an
Our final private tour was in Oslo. We toured the city in a large van, stopping
first at Akershus Castle where we had a long dissertation on Norwegian history.
After driving around a bit we stopped at the Viking Ship Museum which holds
three ships, two restored. These were burial ships so there were many
interesting artifacts found with them.
Fortunately a heavy rain that started while we were in the museum stopped just
as we were ready to leave. Our next stop was the Norwegian Museum of Cultural
History. It is one of Europe's largest outdoor museums with a comprehensive
collection of old buildings. The most spectacular is the stave church.
The final stop was the breath-taking Vigeland Sculpture Park. Gustav Vigeland
made a deal with the city. In exchange for providing him a place to live and
work, the city could have all of his sculptures. The 80 acre park features 212
stone and bronze human nude sculptures that symbolize the different stages in
life. Although he depicts people in loving detail he didn't seem to relate well
to his own family. He had a distant relationship with his own children and
worked his way through three wives, casting them off as they aged and taking up
16 year-old models.
Since Jodie's birthday would occur off of the ship, we were able to celebrate it
a couple of days early at dinner this night. She was served a beautiful,
delicious cake and serenaded.
After a leisurely breakfast in the Compass Rose, we were kicked off of the ship
around 9:30 and taken to the Radisson SAS hotel, adjacent to Tivoli Gardens. Of
course, it was too early to get into our rooms. The lobby was jammed with both
Regent and Crystal arriving and departing passengers. We put our luggage into
storage and deliberated as to what we wanted to do. Eventually it was decided
that we would walk to the Carlsburg Brewery. The local Regent rep said it was
about a 20 min walk. It was much longer and not easy for someone on crutches.
Eventually we found the place, in a light rain. Everyone but Jodie took the
paid, self-guided tour which was of the old production facility. The tour ended
at the tasting room where you could have two beers of your choice. Donna,
Nathan, and Casey went back to the entrance and brought Jodie up to the tasting
room, making arrangements to use the elevator.
We took the city bus back to the hotel. By this time, our rooms were ready but
all of our luggage was in Nathan's room. The small elevators in the hotel were
overwhelmed by the large number of guests.
We found our room which was quite large and in the Danish Modern style. It was
on the 12th floor and had a lovely view of Tivoli Gardens and the Copenhagen
train station. We had happy hour in our room using wine brought from the ship.
Dinner was at a nearby Italian restaurant and was very good. The kids dined on
The included buffet breakfast was a chaotic affair. Afterward the group headed
off to one of the walking streets in the downtown area, Jodie still on crutches.
It was Saturday and as the day progressed the street became quite crowded,
making crutching difficult. We had ice cream for lunch.
Our final dinner was Pizza Hut pizza in our room where we finished up the ship
wine and the small bottles of red provided by the hotel.
The airport shuttle for the LA contingent arrived as scheduled at 6:30 am and we
went to the airport. Although our flight was on Lufthansa we checked in at an
SAS counter. Since we left the hotel before breakfast was available we had a
breakfast of sorts in the SAS business lounge. We also had a meal on the flight
to Frankfurt. The Denver group had a later flight back through Dulles.
The Frankfurt experience was chaotic. We seemingly traveled miles by foot, tram,
elevator, escalator, and moving walkway. The wheelchair we requested for Jodie
showed up at the gate however there was no one to push it, so Donna pushed it.
Since Donna wasn't an "official" pusher, she couldn't use any of the handicapped
routes. After going through passport control Jodie was offered a ride on an
electric cart but then the cart just sat there. Finally she changed to another
which finally moved.
In spite of never apparently leaving the secure area we had to pass through a
screening point. After what seemed like hours we reached one of two Spartan
Lufthansa business lounges in that end of the terminal complex. We traveled
through security with some unknown musical group who also wound up in the same
austere Lufthansa business lounge as we did. They, however, flew first class.
One of the meal "features" on the flight from Frankfurt to LA was "black salt."
This was very fine salt mixed with powdered carbon and used as a marinade. To
demonstrate its virtues we were served a chunk of raw halibut that had been
marinaded in this stuff. It was awful.
The flight home was long but uneventful.
As is usual on Regent ships, service was excellent. We had room service
breakfast several times. It always arrived a bit before our requested time and
was well prepared. The meals in the dining room were always well prepared and
served. We also availed ourselves of room service for hors d'oeuvres and wine
several times. Some of this fine service may be ending. Rumor has it that the
Filipino crew are being replaced by Indians who will work for half the pay. We
also heard that their health insurance has been reduced or eliminated.
One strange thing is that there is a lack of communication between the ships and
the shore-side office. We saw several instances of this and it is a source of
frustration for both the passengers and the ship staff. One example; Regent was
notified that the Fergusons had missed their connection at Dulles. They said
they would notify the ship. Yet Jodie found out that the ship personnel had no
idea that they were delayed.