Norway's Fjords offer cruising spectacle

Fine dining within, stellar views from decks, MS Rotterdam delivers iconic journey Photo: J.S. Fletcher

OSLO, NORWAY, May 21, 2012 – Today’s visitors to Norway generally cite the fjords at the top of their list of sites to see, and cruising is an efficient and fabulous way to see these marvels of nature. Roads are scarce (and often shut down in the winter) along much of the rugged coastline, so ships historically have supplied towns and transported people. Now, cruise ships bring visitors to see the fjords and the accompanying mountains and waterfalls.

What we found during our week-long cruise aboard Holland America Line’s MS Rotterdam were an admiration for the hearty souls who claimed this area, an understanding of how important sailing and navigation was to its development, and an appreciation of nature that can create such a marvelous land.

The MS Rotterdam comfortably carries 1,400 passengers and offers plenty to see and do amid her 10 decks. These range from shows to fine dining to onboard classes, fitness classes and expert-led seminars, to daily tea service. Passengers on this cruise were mostly from Europe.

Ports-of-call included Bergen, Geirangerfjord at Geiranger, Alesund, and Hardangerfjord at Eidfjord, all in Norway. Two sea days gave us time to explore the ship’s Greenhouse Spa, watch free cooking demonstrations, try our luck in the casino, use the amply equipped exercise center, plus sample the two-story, main dining room, La Fontaine, and the superb, intimate Pinnacle Grill.

On one night of the cruise, a special Le Cirque menu was featured (offered in conjunction with the world-class restaurant of the same name with locations in New York City and Las Vegas). The restaurant’s famous crème brulee is on the menu and was even featured in the on-board cooking demo. (Tip: This special menu is only offered once per cruise, so be sure and book early, even before leaving home if possible. There is a small extra charge, as there is with the regular Pinnacle Grill menu, too.)

Ice Age Creations

Fjord, in its basic meaning is “where one fares through.” It has the same origin as the word “fare” (for travel) and the noun “ferry.” It derived, we learned, from a pre-historic word meaning “pass,” which became evident as we sailed these bodies of water with mountains and craggy terrain on both sides of our ship. The fjord’s opening to the sea is called its mouth. What sets a fjord apart from other bodies of water is its shape and what surrounds it. A fjord, often a great natural harbor, is longer than it is wide; if the opposite occurs, it’s then called a cove or a bay instead.

The fjords’ existence can be traced to a succession of ice ages that covered Northern Europe. Norway has impressive fjord bragging rights: Two of the three longest fjords in the world are found here, Sognefjord at 126 miles and Hardangerfjord at 111 miles. The No. 1 spot, though, belongs to Greenland.

Bergen delights with its colorful rows of wooden structures, now popular shops for visitors, plus its fish and flower markets. “Our most international city,” said one Norwegian guide of this, Norway’s second-largest city.

The don’t-miss here is the funicular ride up to Mt. Floein for a great view of ships in the fjord – a great view, that is, if it’s not too rainy. Keep in mind that Bergen gets 240 days of rain each year, which has earned it the nickname “City of Rain.”

Eagle Road & Seven Sisters Waterfalls

Our next port, Geiranger with Geirangerfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was easily our favorite stop. We took the ship’s excursion of an unforgettable bus climb up the “eagle road,” with several switchbacks and a reported 11 hairpin bends. We stopped at several viewing points to see our ship at anchor in the fjord far below with the mountains rising alongside and an elevated view of the impressive Seven Sisters Waterfalls.

This highly photographed spot takes its name from the seven separate falls alongside one another that tumble to the fjord below; the highest begins about 820 feet up. Facing the Seven Sisters from across the fjord is another fall, this one nicknamed The Suitor.

We wished for more time in the Art Nouveau city of Alesund. All too quickly came Eidfjord, our final port before returning to Rotterdam. There we chose an eight-hour bus and train ride that included a picturesque stop at the Voringsfossen Waterfall. One of Europe’s highest, it cascades 600 feet down to the valley below and is easily accessible from the parking lot of the historic 1891 Fossli Hotel, located at the innermost end of the Hardangerfjord.

Well-known composer Edvard Grieg was a regular guest at Fossli Hotel and wrote his Opus 66 here. Many know his “In the Hall of the Mountain King” made famous by another Norwegian, dramatist Henrik Ibsen and his play “Peer Gynt,” first published in 1867.

If You’re Going: Holland America Line’s sailing season for the fjords is May-September. The MS Ryndam, with 1,260 passengers, sails from London, while the 1,404-passenger MS Rotterdam sails from Rotterdam. The “7-Day Norse Legends” cruise Sept. 7-13, visits the ports mentioned here. For pricing and more details, visit hollandamerica.com or contact your travel agent. For more on Norway’s fjords, check out VisitNorway.com.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Freelance writers Kathy M. Newbern and J.S. Fletcher report on luxury destinations, spas and cruising around the globe. They are award-winning members of the Society of American Travel Writers and created YourSpaReport.com and YourNovel.com, their personalized romance novel business.


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Kathy M. Newbern

Kathy M. Newbern and husband, J.S. Fletcher have been producing travel stories specializing in romantic and luxury destinations, and adventure travel. They’ve visited every continent, climbed the Great Wall of China and Cape Horn, the Sydney Harbor Bridge and walked into in a Pyramid burial chamber.  Join them on their next adventure.

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