Please sign in to post.

Final Trip Report- Norway/Arctic Circle Cruise.

Quick Version: Fabulous time and a wonderful experience.

Longer version:
Transportation: I flew American Airlines from Seattle to London Heathrow RT. I used FF miles for the coach tickets and then paid a fee to have seats in comfort + which allow for extra legroom. On the way over, there was an empty seat next to me and I felt quite happy with the seating. On the way back, I received a complimentary upgrade to premium economy and the timing could not have been better. We had a three hour maintenance delay while aboard the aircraft, and when 9 hours changed to 12 hours having that nice seat and room was such a blessing! In the UK I used National Express to get to/from Southampton from Heathrow and it was convenient and inexpensive. There was a short cab ride between the ship and the bus station (about 9-10 pounds) and there were plenty of cabs. I used the tube to go to Kew Gardens on my extra afternoon at Heathrow.

Lodging: I stayed at the Soffitel at Terminal 5 upon arrival as a bit of a splurge. It was nice and they gave me a complimentary breakfast which is the only way I would ever eat breakfast at this hotel (25 pounds otherwise). The night before my departure I decided to try a new Heathrow hotel to expand my options and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express at Terminal 4. The room was clean and the staff helpful. Most people might characterize the room as a little small and basic, but I had just spent two weeks in a cruise cabin so it seemed pretty big to me. I actually flew in and out of terminal 3, but I find going between terminals on the tube just isn't that hard. I'd rather do that and have a hotel I can walk to from within the terminal, than insist on being near a specific terminal.

Cruise Ship: I was with Princess Cruises on the Island Princess. The ship embarked and disembarked in Southampton. The ship was sold out with 2200 passengers and about 800 staff. The demographic mix (according to cruise director) was around 1000 from the UK, 500 from US and Canada, around 250 Aussies, and the remainder from various locations. There were few families on board, but I think that this reflects that the ship doesn't have climbing walls, go-carts, waterslides, etc. It is just your basic, somewhat old fashioned cruise ship. That type of ship suited me fine. I had a balcony cabin on the starboard side and I really enjoyed having that floor to ceiling view and the ability to step out onto the balcony.

Ports: We went to Haugesund, Andalsnes, Trondheim, the Lofoten Islands, Tromso, and Honningsvag (for the North Cape) in Norway and then had a stop at Newcastle in the UK on the way back to Southampton. I enjoyed all the ports. I went on a few shore excursions that were a bit rushed, had some fabulous shore excursions, and did some independent port explorations as well. People have asked if I felt we had enough fjord time. What is enough fjord time? We did spend some time in fjords, especially traveling in and out of ports. This cruise was intended to be Coastal intensive with a special emphasis on the Arctic Circle areas. The scenery was absolutely stunning everywhere that we went and the weather equally fabulous. The captain announced at the end of the cruise that he couldn't remember a 2 week cruise to Norway with such spectacular weather throughout.
Haugesund- I went on ship sponsored shore excursion "Walk to Ryvarden Lighthouse." I enjoyed getting out and walking in the countryside.
Andalsnes- I took the gondola up the mountain and enjoyed some hikes and scenery from the heights. Lots of fjord time and views here.
Trondheim- I had one of the disappointing shore excursions here "Open Air Folk Museum and Nidaros Cathedral." When I was told I would have 15 minutes on my own to explore the museum I was very disappointed. Afterwards, I did enjoy exploring the the downtown area and participating in St. Olav days activies.
(Continued in post below)

Posted by
8615 posts

Lofoten Islands- Shore Excursion was to be on a bus tour that drove around the islands to places of historic and geographic significance. This was a good excursion. We spend time at Haukland Beach and I was struck with the close resemblance to beaches I had been to in Hawaii and here we were above the Arctic Circle. (no palm trees though).
Tromso- No shore excursions here. I explored the town on my own and went to the Polar Museum and learned a great deal about polar explorers.
Honningsvag- Lovely small community but the draw here is the North Cape. I signed up for a shore excursion bus to drive to the North Cape visitor center through the ship. It was fine, but I discovered that I could have had a better experience (included a visit to Sami families) for less by buying on the pier upon arrived. I did enjoy the fabulous views at North Cape. Once again the weather was amazing.
Newcastle- I had been to Newcastle before when my sister and I did some walking along Hadrian's Wall. If I hadn't already spent time there, that would probably have been my #1 choice of destination. I had originally planned on taking the train to York and doing an explore, but realized that the ship was docking too far away from the train station in Newcastle for me to do this without stress about getting back. I signed up for an excursion to Lindisfarne(Holy Island) and Bamburg Castle at the last moment. I enjoyed this excursion. Lots of North Coastal Scenery, history, and getting to see a lot places where "Vera" is filmed. The Island itself was exceptionally crowded by British families and their dogs (boy do they love their dogs) enjoying their summer holidays and the two bus loads of visitors from the cruise ship were just a drop in the bucket. Bamburg Castle was not crowded at all. I enjoyed both locations
Only one port was a tender port and we were the only cruise ship in almost every port we were at.

Advantages of Cruising the Norwegian Coast: Fabulous Scenery Nonstop! Access to locations that are not as easily accessed otherwise. Very cost efficient. I had a good price on my cruise and even with paying for about $500 in shore excursions, I came out with a final total of $2407 for the 15 days that I was on the cruise. That included port fees, gratuities, internet, shore excursions, food, lodging Balcony cabin for solo cruiser), transportation, laundry, and daily entertainment options. That works out to $160 a day. Norway is not an inexpensive place to visit and this was one way I could do this and still afford to go. I visited with a lot of women (mostly solos) that felt more comfortable traveling on the cruise ship for personal safety reasons. That wasn't much an issue for me personally, but I can see how it was definitely an advantage for these women. The other advantage that I saw was that for many of the elderly or mobility challenged individuals, this was a way that they could still travel when they would not be able to do so otherwise.

Disadvantages of Cruising the Norwegian Coast: Limited interactions with locals beyond guides or those involved in the tourist industry. Limited time in ports. You get a "taste" of the area that leaves you wanting more. At first, this made me feel a little bad until I realized that I could always come back and that sometimes even a taste is better than nothing.

I had a great trip and was extremely thankful for the opportunity to see a bit of this part of the world.

Posted by
4292 posts

Limited time in ports. You get a "taste" of the area that leaves you
wanting more. At first, this made me feel a little bad until I
realized that I could always come back and that sometimes even a taste
is better than nothing.

That's the advice I was given before a Mediterranean Cruise in 2014 and it made me feel better. Treat it for what it is and plan future trips around what you liked. We loved our whirlwind tour of Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast and knew we'd be back. Finally made it back for 11 days in April, and it all started because of a port stop in Naples.

Posted by
7009 posts

Carol, it sounds wonderful - and you have a very good attitude about the limited time in ports. Sometimes a taste is enough now if it leaves you wanting more. I have that same issue with European pastries. 😊

Seriously, I loved the report and really enjoyed reading about the incredible scenery you saw. Norway has always been on my bucket list but this pushes it up even higher. Thanks so much for posting all this wonderful information! You are also really good about posting both the pros and cons and I do appreciate that.

Posted by
3330 posts

I really enjoyed your trip report. I haven't really considered Scandinavia, mainly because of the cost. I look forward to checking out cruises to Scandinavia.

Posted by
7446 posts

Excellent report, Carol! I especially enjoyed hearing details about a cruise experience from a forum traveler to give us perspective.

Posted by
1970 posts

Carol Now Retired

I was waiting for the next installment which turned out to be The Final Report. Loved skimming it and I will go back for a second reading.

So pleased that you had such a good time and it all went so well.

You got lucky with the weather as the captain said. Often ports have to be cancelled when sailing Norway, Iceland and other countries in that part of the world due to bad weather.

Posted by
486 posts

Thanks so much for your informative report! Cruising gets you more places in less time…which I love. And many don’t. It does show you where you may like to return to spend more time…if you are able and wish to. And it’s these coastal Norwegian areas that draw me…the fiords are calling!
I am still considering the Princess 2 week cruise similar to your itinerary. Your weather sounded ideal! We would be cruising late Sept. I am sure fall is much cooler weather and shorter days….just hope for some clear skies. I am glad this cruise trip worked out so well for you!