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 falls.
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 timbers.
(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 shops.
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 them graze.
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 night.
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 group.
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 town.
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 power.
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 heading back.
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 appearance.
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 McDonalds.
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.