Awed by the beauty of nature on a multigenerational cruise around Norway

By Patti Kelly
This article appears on page 6 of the May 2019 issue.

The village of Reine on one of the islands of the Lofoten archipelago.

Live like a Viking. These were the last words that my professional author son, Jeff Carlson, wrote to his boys before he died. So off to find our Vikings we went.

Together with Jeff’s 13- and 15-year-old sons, Ben and John, a 16-year-old cousin, Sam, and my daughter-in-law, Diana, I put together a family trip to Norway for June-July 2018 that would include a 14-night Princess cruise. We invited Diana’s mom and stepdad and Diana’s twin sister and her new wife.

London pre-trip

The cruise would leave out of Southampton, so the family planned to meet up in London. I actually flew over to Scotland two weeks ahead of our trip, then flew down to London to meet Sam, who flew in on his own.

We had a couple of lovely London days that included visiting the British Museum and the Churchill War Rooms and taking a fabulous walk down the main street of the city, the Strand, on the way to St. Paul’s Cathedral, learning what the street might have been like 350 years ago. (We followed the Rick Steves self-guided itinerary, learning about the early city days, buildings, history and streets.) I had never had time to do that on past visits.

I used my Starwood loyalty-program points for our stay at the Sheraton Skyline Hotel London Heathrow (Bath Rd.; marriott.com).

It was very easy to get from Heathrow to the local hotels, which are in the free fare zone, using both buses and the Tube. We got Visitor Oyster cards, which can be reloaded with credit, to travel into London and move around the city on the buses.

Diana and her boys soon arrived, and we had one crazy, busy day to visit London before our cruise. We were out early to the Tower of London (entry, $78 for all of us), with the first stop being the Crown Jewels, as the lines build up early. We also spent a good hour in the White Tower and wandered the grounds, in particular the wall overlooking the Thames with a great view of Tower Bridge.

We stopped for lunch ($62 for all) at the Slug & Lettuce, just off the Thames, then we walked to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Most places we visited offered a family ticket, and if we needed to add one more, a senior ticket was always available for me. The cathedral visit cost approximately $61 for our group of five.

We climbed the 528 steps to the top and were rewarded with a phenomenal view of the city.

The summer had been really warm in Europe, and, indeed, we had a marvelously warm and clear day. Those steps — along with all of the rest of the walking — added up to a 9½-mile day.

Next we rode a double-decker bus to St. Katharine’s Pier, where we had perfect timing for a ride down the Thames ($38 total) to Big Ben, which was undergoing work, so there was lots of scaffolding.

A walk through St. James’ Park led us to Buckingham Palace for some photos. At Victoria Station, it was insanely busy and crowded. There, we boarded the Tube for the ride back to our hotel, where we met up with the rest of the family.

A royal surprise

The boys at Bryggen, the old wharf of Bergen, Norway.

It was back to Heathrow the next morning to rent two cars from Hertz (approximately $100 per vehicle) for the drive to Southampton, the port for our Norwegian adventure. My group headed for Windsor Castle, with Diana swearing every time we came to a roundabout.

We arrived in time to see the Changing of the Guard and then visited the chapel that most Americans had seen so much on TV with the recent Meghan and Harry wedding. (We pointed out where George Clooney and his wife had sat, as the boys could relate to that.)

In the State Apartments, there was so much beauty and art. Amazingly, as we exited the State rooms and headed across the lawns, we saw five shiny black cars lined up. We knew the Queen was in residence, as her flag was flying.

Shortly, out came ladies incredibly dressed with those amazing hats, and in a few minutes the Queen appeared! It was Royal Ascot Week, and they were off to the races.

Stonehenge, where most of us walked out to the stones, was our next stop. This was pretty exciting for the gang ($65). We continued on to Southampton, where we all stayed the night at the Holiday Inn; once again, I used points for the two rooms for myself, Diana and the boys. The three teens buddied up, which left Diana and me with some nice quiet time.

Later, we dropped off the two cars at the local airport and took a taxi ($25) back to the hotel.

Getting underway

Taking two taxis to the pier in the morning ($25 each), we boarded the Sapphire Princess, our home for the next two weeks. We had chosen Princess Cruises (Santa Clarita, CA; 800/774-6237, www.princess.com) because of the affordable price (about $2,500 per person, with tips included and a $180-per-person onboard credit); we booked through Vacations to Go (Houston, TX; 800/338-4962, vacationstogo.com).

Though our outside cabins had some window blockage from lifeboats, they worked for us.

This 14-night cruise had four at-sea days, which we were all delighted with, as we certainly needed some downtime now and again. We had all packed rain jackets and long underwear, but the weather was mostly fantastic, especially where it was important, such as in the spectacular fjords.

Our first port stop was Stavanger, where the teens, Diana and I chose to go exploring on our own. We walked around the picturesque area near the dock, which had lovely old houses built in the 18th century. We bought bus tickets (about $10 per person, with discounts offered for kids and seniors) and went out to see the Swords in Rock, a short ride away.

These swords commemorate the battle of King Fairhair against the surrounding kings that ended up uniting Norway into one kingdom. The 33-foot-tall swords, made of bronze, represent peace, unity and freedom.

After taking the bus back to town, we walked to the Museum of Archaeology, where they had some great rune stones, Viking jewelry and artifacts on display. (A family-of-five ticket cost approximately $25.)

Interactive excursions

The next day, under incredibly bright sun, we stopped at Skjolden. We had all been out on the deck to enjoy the trip up the Sognefjord, the longest fjord in Norway, and it was phenomenally beautiful.

Once docked, Diana, the boys and I picked up the bicycles we had rented online from Adventure Tours Norway (Skjolden, Norway; phone +47 969 13 130, adventuretours.no). The bike rentals included helmets and cost approximately $175.

It was a spectacular bike ride up the Morkrid Valley, with no traffic. After a short, fairly level ride of about 5 miles, we took the turnoff to the Drivande Waterfall, followed by a good 30-minute hike uphill to the lovely waterfall.

After taking dozens of photos, with stops by the river and the fjord, we returned to the ship. This was the best day of the entire trip!

Another over-the-top experience had us traveling up Geirangerfjord to the small community of Geiranger, which normally has around 20 days of rain each month in June and July, but we got full sun.

I had set up a 3-hour tour with Norway Excursions (Søvik, Norway; phone +47 922 74 247, norwayexcursions.com) to all of the area view points for a cost of $80 for each adult and $50 for each youth 12 to 17 (kids under 12, $40).

We had a dynamite tour guide, and the views really were stunning at each stop as we went up Mt. Dalsnibba and Eagle Road. We only wished that we might have had a couple of days to hang out at that magical spot.

In Trondheim, our next stop, we finally saw a bit of rain. We walked into the city across the Old Town Bridge over the Nidelva River, the picturesque 18th-century wharves lining the river.

After a quick stop at the Nidaros Cathedral, which was begun during medieval times, we bought all-day bus tickets ($32 for our group of five).

We visited the Trøndelag Folkmuseum (Sverresborg Allé 13), which cost $39 for our family of five. This open-air museum had a 12th-century stave church, lots of old homes with interesting interiors and — the high point — the ruins of a 12th-century castle. Some of the buildings had people dressed in costume, who were ready to share lots of information about Norway’s history and culture.

Heading north

View of the town of Ålesund.

We welcomed our second sea day as an opportunity for ping-pong, swimming, laundry, interesting talks, line dancing and perhaps a nap. At almost 7 a.m., we crossed over the Arctic Circle, where, for three months in the summer, the sun never sets, giving us the most lovely evening skies.

We were excited to arrive at Honningsvåg, our northernmost stop at 71°N. I had rented a 9-seater vehicle for our group online ($200) from a vehicle-repair place, Nordkapp Bilservice (nordkappbilservice.no), that had about a dozen vehicles right at the port.

We were soon on our way, this time with all nine of us traveling together. It didn’t take long for us to begin sighting reindeer herds, and we stopped for some photos.

We continued north through the stunning tundra to the North Cape Museum (Nordkappmuseet), where the entry fee was about $250 for all of us. This is said to be the most northern point of Europe (reachable by car); it would take a 10-mile hike out to the left to get to the actual top of the continent.

The weather was cloudy and misty, and there was crazy wind like one almost couldn’t stand.

Within the museum, there was a great video presentation plus shopping, food and lots of exhibits. We were there for almost three hours, so glad that we were on our own and could choose our own schedule.

Heading south, we stopped at the fishing village of Skarsvåg, which had its own group of reindeer wandering around, and we chose the Nordkapp Jul & Vinterhus (North Cape Christmas & Winter House; julehuset.no) for our lunch. The adults all shared king crab and bread, and the boys tasted the crab but ate hamburgers made of pork (about $250 for all nine of us). The place was cute and filled with Christmas and Nordic items for sale.

We continued on, stopping at the rest of the picturesque fishing villages on the island of Magerøya, but we simply didn’t have time to wander the town of Honningsvåg, though I’m sure it was very interesting too.

Tromsø

On July 1st we arrived in Tromsø. We were able to purchase all-day bus tickets ($37 for the family) at the port, which was a good distance outside of town, but we moved just a bit too slowly and missed the bus into town by 30 seconds. As it was a Sunday, the bus was only running every hour.

We ended up walking into town over a lovely bridge and past the spectacular Arctic Cathedral, which was closed most of the day. By the time we reached the tram that goes up the mountain, the line looked to be hours long, so we jumped on a passing bus heading back into the downtown area. Diana and I did go back to the tram in the afternoon, when there was no line (cost, $52 for two adults), and, indeed, it was spectacular at the top.

The downtown area along the water was lovely, and we did visit the Tromsø Domkirke, going inside for a peek, as there was delightful music that could be heard as a part of the Sunday service.

My second-favorite day was at our next port, Gravdal, in the Lofoten Islands. The weather gods were with us, as we had another warm and very clear day.

One of the old houses at the open-air Sunnmøre Museum.

I had rented two cars from Avis (approximately $100 per vehicle), which were delivered to the dock. We drove straight to the end of the road to the community of Å, where our first stop was the bakery for the most fabulous cinnamon rolls with tea and coffee ever!

We spent a couple of hours wandering through this exquisite community, enjoying the most amazing scenery. As we headed back toward the port, we made frequent photo stops. The scenery in every direction was totally over the top — mountain peaks, delightful coves, beaches, cute villages and the open sea. We all wished that we could have had a week in this area.

Thank goodness for another sea day, followed by a port stop in Ålesund the next morning. We had a nice walk through the town, which had been rebuilt in Art Deco style after a fire in 1904. Then we made the climb up Mt. Aksla, following the path, to enjoy lovely views of islands in every direction.

At the Sunnmøre outdoor museum, which included lots of great old buildings and old Viking boats, the teens loved the kids’ activities that had been set up, with their favorite being walking on stilts. The round-trip bus fare to get there cost about $40 and the museum admission for our five, $35.

The last port day took us to Bergen for a short stop. It was a bit misty, with very low clouds, so we opted out of the funicular ride up the mountain, assuming any views would be limited. Instead, we chose to stroll through the city, in particular to see the old Bryggen wharf, passing through the fun fish market along the way. This was the only city in Norway that really felt overrun by tourists.

We all were sad when our last sea day had arrived. The ship had the original Beatles drummer, Pete Best, on board, who gave a very fun and interesting talk, with lots of photos from the very early Beatles days.

Our teens enjoyed their day, meeting up with new friends from England and Colorado. This group got together for teatime and conversation every night about 9 p.m., and our teens all agreed that the best part of their time on the ship had been their tea club.

A huge highlight of this adventure had been our lovely dinner every night with our entire group of nine. We sat at the same table every night, and we totally loved our wait staff.

As some of us had flights departing just past noon, I had arranged for a private car pickup from Airport Pickups London (phone +44 208 688 7744, airport-pickups-london.com) for about $175 for the five of us to return to Heathrow. This all went very smoothly.

We had all learned a lot about our Vikings.