Cruising the fjords with Fred.
For anyone in Suffolk or Norfolk who is new to cruising, a short cruise, from a local port, on an English-speaking ship is the ideal. For experienced cruisers wanting to see the drama and beauty of the Norwegian fjords, the ideal ship is a smaller Norwegian-owned ship where the officers know the area like the back of their hands. Amazingly it is possible to combine all of those requirements if you go on holiday aboard a Fred. Olsen ship.
With departures from Harwich, there are four ships in the fleet, Braemar, Black Watch, Bouddicca and Balmoral, ships that look like a traditional ship. They have funnels and decks big enough for passengers to congregate on to enjoy the passing scenery or dance at a sail-away party. The ships are small enough to sail down the narrower fjords, with the snow-topped mountains towering above and waterfalls splashing down onto the water below.
Fred’s customers are very loyal – to the company and sometimes to a specific ship, and that is true of the crew too. Returning guests are remembered by name and greeted with hugs and laughter.
On days “at sea” (it takes a couple of nights and a day to get from Harwich to Norway) a range of activities stops anyone from getting bored. There are guest lecturers on a wide range of topics, classes in crafts, ballroom dancing or bridge. You can play deck games, use the pools and gym, test yourself in quizzes, complete jigsaws, or borrow a book from the library. Of course, many people just like to sit in a lounge or on deck and watch the waves, doze or read.
Waking in your ensuite cabin and opening your curtains to find the ship is moored right in the centre of a tiny town or village, with just a short stroll to the shops and any attractions, is an added bonus of travelling on a smaller cruise ship.
Last year I was onboard Braemar (920 passengers) and spent a week on the fjords sailing to Lysefjord, then onto Flam, Bergen and Eidfjord. A couple of years ago I went on Black Watch (800 passengers) and cruised to Bergen, Olden, Flam, Gudvangen and Eidfjord.
Norway is a beautiful country, with friendly people and there is plenty to see and do. Coaches from the ship will take you into the surrounding countryside, with a local guide telling tales of what it is like to live in the country, as well as the history of where you are visiting. On shore tours I have had tea at a Norwegian farmhouse, taken the famous train ride at Flam, had my first experience of kayaking, and been on a “cycle and hike” into the countryside, with a local expert to escort us along the cycle track that wound its way beside Eidfjord and into the farmland beyond.
Back on board, we always eat more than we should, but with a choice of fine dining and informal buffets, all serving delicious food, it is hard to resist the huge choice. Breakfast, mid-morning coffee and biscuits, hot and cold lunch, afternoon tea with sandwiches and cakes, the five course dinner and the late night buffet! (Well, actually the latter I have never had room for – but many people do!) When all the food and entertainment is included in the holiday, it is natural to want to get your money’s worth!
The entertainment staff on board Fred.Olsen ships are at the heart of the daytime and evening entertainment. Led by the Cruise Director, the ship’s show company produce all-singing, all-dancing cabaret-style shows, and are joined on each cruise by a variety of comedians, singers, instrumentalists or a magician. The ship’s orchestra plays for the shows and for the ever-popular ballroom dancing, while more energetic guests head for the nightly disco. If you’d rather spend the evening having a quiet drink, chatting to new friends or playing a game of Scrabble or Monopoly, there are plenty of easy chairs and corners to hide away.
The highlights of a Fred.Olsen cruise for me include arriving at Harwich (or any of the other departure points) when your luggage is whisked away and then is waiting for you when you arrive at your cabin, the amazing friendly staff, who seem to know when you need something before you even realise it yourself, and the sheer bliss of having all the worry and strain taken away from you so all have to do is relax, enjoy your holiday …and plan the next one. Some people enjoy their cruise so much that they immediately book for the following cruise and stay on board when other passengers sadly have to depart for work and home. Now that is a recommendation!
This article was first published in Suffolk Norfolk Life magazine in February 2015.