Cruising the Norwegian fjords without Disney! COMPLETED
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Pre-trip report part two: these decks are confusing...
It was time to phone up and making the booking, now that we knew which cruise we were going on, and we had all the vouchers ready to use. Here’s where my previous Disney cruising experience came in handy. I’d already researched what cabin category we were happy with, and I’d looked up the deck plans online, so as soon as I found out what was available, I could decide on the best located cabin for our price range.
We decided to go for a balcony cabin. To us, after the beautiful scenery we’d seen in Alaska, an inside cabin or one with just a porthole would be a false economy. There were so many choices though, although I guess you can say the same about Disney – it’s just the difference I know them all so well!
We opted for a category JD, and I went for the highest possible deck that had a JD cabin in it, which was a C deck. It’s taken me a while to get my head around the decks on board the Azura, as it’s not as straightforward as Disney, as you’re about to see.... here’s how it works, from the top deck all the way down to the bottom:
Sky deck Ocean deck Sun deck Aqua deck Lido deck Riviera deck A deck B deck C deck D deck E deck Promenade deck F deck P deck
Ok, so the decks with the lettering make a lot of sense, and I can understand the idea of the Sky deck, but outside of that... Oh boy, this could be interesting!
Anyway, back to what we booked. I went for a JD cabin on C deck, and managed to snag C607, which I was really pleased to find was still available. It was as midship as it’s possible to be with that type of cabin. Literally next door to our cabin is a JB cabin, which would’ve cost us even more. We’re in between the aft and middle elevators, and staircases, so I went ahead and booked it.
Even better, the woman asked if I wanted to go for the option of upgrading our cabin if an upgrade became available for no additional charge. It’s what we’d call the GTY option for Disney cruises. After checking that we’d only end up with something better (I had a quick look at where the pricier cabins were all located and they all appeared to be on higher decks and pretty much midship), I said so we’ll see what happens. If we don’t get an upgrade, that’s fine, as I’m perfectly happy with what we’ve got, but of course, it would be nice....
I also opted for the early dining option, not having enjoyed the late dining on our last Disney cruise around Alaska – we just ended up finishing eating far too late. I also asked for a table for two, as there’s no-one we’re cruising with, but that’s not guaranteed, so we’ll have to see what happens...
Towards the end of January, details of the shore excursions finally came out. This is where I really missed being on a Disney cruise, as usually I can peruse my PassPorter and decide in advance which excursions we like the look of. We didn’t have that option this time around, as we could only find out what the shore excursions were, once booking opened up. I know, it’s slightly odd, as wouldn’t you have thought that you’d want to advertise them in advance? Apparently not...
Anyway, when we finally got the details, I printed the likely ones off (forgetting the ones that looked exceptionally strenuous ) and we both had a look at them. The first decision I’d made was that, because this was a cheapy cruise, and because we were stopping in two cities, we wouldn’t take excursions in either Bergen or Stavanger. I’ve got a guidebook to Norway and it details what to see in both cities, so I figured we’d explore them for ourselves, allowing us to spend as long as we want in each place we stop at. Sure, the excursions looked good for both, but we’ll do it on our own and see how we get on.
So that just left Flaam and Olden. Flaam was an obvious choice from both of us – we went for Norway in a nutshell, which says the following:
Presenting some of Norway’s most breathtaking scenery, and one of the world’s most spectacular rail journeys.
The line between Flåm and Myrdal is only 12½ miles long but the journey takes up to 50 minutes. As you climb from 16 to 2,845 feet to Myrdal Station, there are 20 tunnels and 1 stop at the Kjosfoss Waterfall, where you may alight to take photos before continuing your journey.
Changing trains at Myrdal, you’ll pass through the Gravhalsen Tunnel down to the Raundalen mountain valley to Voss, a well known tourist resort in both summer and winter. In Voss, relax over a buffet lunch.
Have your camera ready - as your journey continues by coach, stopping at the Tvinde Waterfall, which cascades down the mountainside. Passing the Oppheim Lake, you’ll soon reach the serpentine bends known as Stalheimskleivane, the steepest road in Norway. On either side there are the Sivle and Stalheim Waterfalls. At the valley floor, the route follows the Nærøy River passing Gudvangen by the Nærøyfjord and then through the tunnels and back to Flåm.
It starts at 10.30 am and gets back to the boat at 4.55 pm. I’m assuming that’s pretty much the whole day taken up. you read that right – I’m assuming, because I don’t have any times for when we’re all ashore, and when we’re back on the boat at any of our ports of call. I know, another thing that’s weird. Disney tells you straight off, so you know where you are, and to be honest, I wish P&O would as well. I don’t like having mysteries awaiting us when we get on the boat.
The next day in Olden, we ended up going for the Briksdal glacier by troll car. This sounded great, and although there were other options to see the Briksdal glacier, they involved quite a long trek, so we opted for the easy option! So what’s this excursion all about? This is what the P&O website told me:
An opportunity to come face to face with the crowning glory of this scenic landscape –the beautiful Briksdal Glacier.
Travel by coach through the beautiful Olden Valley with its majestic mountains, glacier tongues, waterfalls and the green Olden Lake. On arrival at the Briksdal Inn, you’ll board your troll cars which will take you part of the way to the Briksdal Glacier.
Briksdal Glacier, located in Jostedalsbreen National Park, is part of the Jostedal Glacier Icefield, which is the largest Glacier on the European mainland. This massive Glacier flows 4,000 feet down the mountainside into the Briksdal Valley. The troll cars will drop you off at the entrance to the National Park. It is not possible to see the Glacier from this point, however, there is a good view of it on the way up and a walk of approximately 550 yards will provide a closer look. There will be time to admire the Glacier and photograph its many shades of blue and turquoise before walking back to the troll cars for the return journey to the Briksdal Inn where refreshments of coffee, tea and cakes will be served. There will be time to browse the souvenir shop before boarding the coach back to Olden.
By now, I’d started to browse Cruise Critic and their message boards, and looked up some information about these ports of call. I saw some amazing photos of both places, and knew we were in for a treat, but I did also learn that it can be quite foggy at Olden, so I went for the afternoon excursion, which sets off at 1.00 pm and comes back at 4.30 pm. As there’s another version of the excursion that goes out at 9.00 am, I guess that means that we’ve got the morning to explore this place...
Wow, now I understand what you meant when you said the decks are confusing!! What?? What makes the Sun deck different from the Sky deck, and why is it UNDER the Ocean deck? Your cabin sounds perfect, though. And I'm sure the scenery on the excursions is spectacular. I've not been to Flaam or Olden, but have been to Bergen and Stavenger. I wish I could remember them well enough to give you some touring tips, but they'd be out-dated anyways. Oddly enough, one thing I remember about Bergen is taking a tram up the ski slope and spending some time in the lodge at the top admiring the incredible views.
It'll be so interesting to hear about the ship-- hope the food is good!
Pre-trip report part three: you want how much for parking?
Roll around to mid March, and we got our cruise paperwork through the post, although this paperwork was pretty impressive:
Inside was some information about our cruise, but the main focus were the shore excursions, with full details of everything you could book at each port of call:
We were both very impressed with this, especially the fact that it had been personally printed for us with our names and cruise details on it. Now Disney are good, but surprised as I am to say this, I was more impressed with P&O’s details than Disney. I know, amazing but true....
The next thing that we needed to start to think about was spending money for while we’d be ashore in Norway. The Norwegians are just like us, one of the few European countries who opted to stay out of the Euro, which presented us with an interesting challenge. While you can walk into any currency exchange place in the UK and get Euros there and then, obviously there’s not as much demand for Norwegian Krone. I enquired in quite a few places and was told everywhere that I could order it and they’d get it in for me, so it’s just as well I asked, as this was an answer I wasn’t expecting.
With just over a month to go before our cruise, I needed to work out what we were going to do with the car while we were off in the fjords. We would be driving down to Southampton, as it was only a couple of hours’ drive away. I checked on the official site and they were charging...
wait for this.....
.... sure about that?
.... they wanted £180 for parking for the week – that’s $280! I was shocked and horrified by that and there was no way whatsoever I was going to pay that much money to park the car for a week.
I did lots of research, but was struggling to find anything that much cheaper. I looked into perhaps staying the night in a hotel beforehand, as I assumed that we’d be boarding relatively early the next day. I saw a couple of deals for places that would give us the night there and seven nights’ parking for £110 ($170). Still a bit pricey, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do...
Finally, after a bit more research, I found a place where we could park and they would take you to the cruise terminal by bus. And the cost? Just £60 ($93) – much better! I went ahead and booked that.
It was about this time that I got the details from P&O about when we’d be boarding on our first day and I was staggered to see that our boarding time was mid-afternoon, between 2pm and 3pm. Wow.
Ok, so perhaps we wouldn’t need a night in a hotel the night before afterwards. After all, if it’s only a couple of hours’ drive away, then we can go down that morning. That would save us some serious money.
As our cruise moved ever closer, I started to work out what we’d do on our days in Bergen and Stavanger. Thankfully my guidebook had good maps in it, which I photocopied, blowing them up in size, so we could easily read them. I also double checked on where the ports in both places were, just in case they weren’t within walking distance, but thankfully they were. I even found a walking tour on a website for Bergen, so that worked!
During this time, I kept an eye on the Cruise Critic forums. There weren’t many people on there on our cruise, but there were some. There was apparently an original thread that disappeared, then someone started another. There must’ve been maybe eight to 10 people on there, but sadly none of them seemed to be up for a meet. I did tentatively suggest it, after it became apparent that some of them would be on some of our excursions, but that met with a big, very long, and very painful wall of silence. No-one basically was biting, which was a real disappointment. I have to say, after all the stories I’ve heard from other people, about great meets that had emanated through Cruise Critic. Well, not for us, it seemed...
As we neared our sailing date, I started to check the weather forecast for Bergen, and Stavanger, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they were similar temperatures to what we were experiencing at the moment. At least now I knew what to pack!
According to our itinerary, we would be enjoying two black tie dinners, two smart that required a jacket, and three evening casual nights on your cruise. I swear I had told Mark that, probably at least once, this, but still he seemed very surprised when I went through this about a week before we were due to sail. Just to explain the situation, I love dressing up about as much as Mark hates it. we’re a good combination like this!
About 10 days before we were due to set sail, I went in search of Norwegian krone, only intending to find out the exchange rate, so I could work out which was the best value. However, at the first place I went to, they told me that they had krone in stock. Ok then, well let’s go ahead and buy some. I’ve since been back a couple of times and we’ve taken their entire stock, so now we have plenty of cash for our time in Norway – and heck, we’re probably going to need it, as it’s not exactly known for being a cheap country...
We are also stocked up on sea sickness tablets. We’re not great sailors at the best of times and we haven’t heard good things from people who’ve sailed over the North Sea to get to Norway. Add to that the weather looks like it’s going to be miserable. We’ve had non-stop rain and wind for what feels like weeks now – actually it probably is weeks and that’s set to continue during the weekend, so we could have a truly miserable sailing out. I just hope it’s not as bad as we fear, but I’m not holding out how much hope for that....
So now we’re almost there, and I have to be honest I’m half terrified. I’m used to boarding the Wonder, Magic, or Dream (or Fantasy soon enough... ) and knowing exactly what’s awaiting us on board, thanks to PassPorter’s Disney Cruise Line and its Ports of Calls. Now I’m feeling a bit lost at this stage, as I have no real idea what to expect. Sure, whatever’s on board will be wonderful, but it would just be nice to have more of an idea. Of course, I could spend hours going through the P&O Cruises website, but that just takes too long. Oh to have a PassPorter for every cruise in the world.
Next: the trip report in just over a week's time....
Oh Cheryl, I hope your seasickness stays under control and that you and Mark have a great trip! I'm so sorry there wasn't more info available before your trip, but if I know you--you have everything under control and planned out!