Fred Olsen - In Search of the Northern Lights
We arrived early for boarding and were disappointed that they did not start to load passengers till past 3pm. Our boarding time was 2:30 pm so we were way past this when we reached the cabin. Good news was that the luggage was in the cabin. We had the same cabin midships deck 4 as we had on the same trip last year. The cabin is an outside 2 porthole variety, small but quiet and comfortable. Storage space very good, easily enough to stow all our warm clothing. Beds comfortable, bit on the narrow side, bathroom adequate, the shower is much larger than many other cruise lines offerings in this price range. Our air con (once set to our liking) was perfect and did not require adjusting at all during our trip. This was at odds with many other cabins in different locations. Several comments were made about high vibration in some of the cabins at the rear but not sure how far forward this was still evident. Its an old ship so I think vibration from the propulsion system is bound to be higher than modern vessels. Our Captain (same as last year) was Sten Ronny Jenson. He has a style of his own, casual and a very approachable person, often in the lounges at night chatting to the passengers. His announcements would always start with his catchphrase 'Hello it's me again' and his humour would percolate into his messages. I doubt you will ever meet a more likeable or down to earth Captain. Temperatures were higher than last year and above freezing, although with the ships movement and the wind, on deck you need very warm clothing. The views cruising between the mainland and the islands are really stunning especially if the sun decides to show itself. First stop, Alesund, a very pretty town, well worth exploring, we had good tour round last year so stayed in the town area. If you go there be sure to get to the observation area at the top of the hill for super all round views. 2nd stop Tromso, another nice place to investigate and over 2 days to do it. The Cathedral and the cable-car were on the other side of the water, hefty walk but there is a bus for approx £5 return. Taxi to cable car is approx £10 single trip. Both of these are well worth a visit. We had booked a night trip out to see the Northern Lights but we were not lucky this time, temperature above freezing. There was another trip out the following night and they had a terrific viewing of the Northern Lights which left us kicking ourselves for not booking both nights. Next stop, Alta, and another chance to see the Lights? Afraid not, a bit on the chaotic side, 1 hour on the coach to the destination with howling winds and snow swirling in the coach headlights, we were told we were going back to where we started to another site. Another hour gone and on arrival it was clear the site was still being prepared for us, massive queue for loos and to top it off ...NO Northern Lights!! Alta itself is a shuttle bus ride away from the port and a smallish town with a new titanium Cathedral which is well worth a visit and costs approx £4 to get in. The town was preparing for the dogsled race and the snow and ice carvings were in progress. Next place on the list was Molde which is a quaint place and we decided to do the Atlantic Ocean Road trip. This was a nice casual trip and there are some sweeping arch bridges to cross. It is apparently very spectacular if the wind is in the right direction as the waves crash close to the road. Last stop was Bergen and we headed for the funicular which was about 15mins walk from the ship. Super views as expected and we planned our walk in the town from seeing landmarks from the viewing area. The town has many old colourful wooden buildings which contrast with the modern stores. The fish market which had been highlighted as a 'must see' was a disappointment. We could not find it and finished up in the Tourist Info office in a new glass building on the second (top) floor. When asked where was the fish market, the assistant said 'you're standing on it' as it occupies part of the lower floor. We went and looked but it seemed more like small tourist attraction than a thriving market. I believe they do have stalls outside sometimes. Trip back to Southampton as expected very bumpy in places, thats the North Sea in late winter. Other aspects: Food - excellent, better in our view than Cunard and certainly hotter, we were in the Four Seasons restaurant with 2 super table companions.Try and get a table well away from the doorways as it can be very draughty. Staff- Happy and very helpful. Activities - Good fun games, Wii, dog racing, dolphin racing, darts, carpet bowls, golf. Entertainment- always difficult as you cannot please everbody but we thought the mix of acts was good and the ships entertainment troupe were superb and put a lot of effort into all their shows. The crew show was excellent. Trips- Apart from the night trip at Alta the trips were fine, the night ones a bit on the expensive side. If we went again we would probably book privately to search for the Northern Lights as they have only a few people per vehicle and can get to many more places so there is a better chance of seeing the Lights. There were 5 coaches on one of our night trips. We wanted to book again for next year but Boudicca is not doing this trip..shame. It is an old ship but it is small, comfortable, friendly and has a super crew.
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