Arcadia Norway May 27th.
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P&O North Cape & Norwegian Fjords
J814 - Arcadia - 21 July 2008 (13 nights)
This review gives my personal view only. I realise that all aspects are purely subjective and that others may have a very different opinion of things. I appreciate hard work and know that I am not perfect so I don’t expect things to be perfect. I do, however, expect value for money and people to make an effort.
This cruise turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Our original choice cruise had been cancelled because of operational difficulties so, with only 7 weeks to go, our TA found us a good deal on Arcadia to Norway.
My DH and I have cruised 19 times before (Princess, NCL, RCI, Carnival, Star Cruises and Louis) but never on P&O. We were looking for somewhere different because, hopefully without seeming too boastful, we have done most of the Med, Baltic, Caribbean, Alaska etc, so decided to take the plunge.
I am in my very late 50s (OK – so I’m 60 this October but sssssh...) and my DH is very early 60s. We consider ourselves to be active and inquisitive. We love to meet people, have new experiences and see different things so this cruise fulfilled all our criteria.
We are from the Midlands in the UK so it was a pleasant change to sail from Southampton – no weight restrictions!
Arcadia is a modern, 80,000 ton ship with all the usual amenities. It is also an ‘all adult’ ship so the age range was generally older than we are used to. I would estimate the average age of the passengers to have been around 65 which made the atmosphere relatively sedate and quiet. It was also ‘very British’ as there were only a handful of passengers from other countries.
The decor is muted with lots of wood and plenty of interesting art work.
There were 4 formal nights (held on the sea days), 6 semi-formal nights and 3 smart casual nights. The majority of the passengers adhered to the dress code.
We had been offered a ‘balcony guarantee’ when we booked so were absolutely thrilled to be allocated an aft cabin on deck E. We love aft cabins and this one did not disappoint although it was slightly smaller than the other aft cabins due to its position next to a suite whose doorway has been designed to open very close to ours.
There was adequate storage, a small bath with shower, a large comfortable bed (the pillows were a bit too hard and lumpy for my liking), a sofa with coffee table, a small dressing table, fridge and flat screen TV. I did like the choice of films, BBC and Sky news plus the UK drama and comedy shows – not that we watched much. The balcony was spacious with 2 comfortably padded wooden sun chairs and a small table. Luckily, the weather for the majority of the 13 days was pleasantly warm so we were able to use the balcony quite a lot. Sitting out there with a drink as we sailed through the fjords or late at night with the sun still shining was magical!
It was lovely to be greeted with a beautiful red rose in a bud vase and to have the tea/coffee making facility along with the packets of biscuits. The collection of toiletries (lip salve, body lotion, eye cream etc) together with decently large towels was also a bonus.
Our cabin steward, Emily, was a delight and she kept everything spotless.
The cabin compared favourably with those of the other cruise lines
This is a very, very subjective area. We found the food to be abundant, of a reasonable quality and very British. I, personally, prefer to have a more eclectic choice but it was good to have a plentiful variety of vegetables which we always find lacking on the American ships.
The buffet was usually busy and it was sometimes difficult to find seats (this is the case with every ship on which we have travelled) but people were happy to share tables. I enjoyed the British bacon and sausages. The salads were good and, generally, the quality of the hot food was fine. At lunch time I loved the hot puds with custard – it was a bit like school dinners at their best!
We were on second sitting (8:30ish) and this was my one major gripe - I really don’t like ‘traditional dining’. Quite often the dining room did not open on time so the queues built up. We were on a table for 6 and our companions were delightful which helped to make the evening meal a pleasure but I much prefer open seating so I can choose the time I want to eat (I know I could have gone to the buffet but like to be waited on in the evening). The food was plentiful but we have had better quality on other lines. The service was always very attentive.
We did not try the speciality restaurants but people we talked to had enjoyed the food at both venues – Arcadian Rhodes and the Orchid room.
I loved the main pool area as it had a retractable roof which meant that the facility could be used all the time although I have to say that the lounging chairs were the most uncomfortable that I have ever come across on a cruise ship.
There were many different bars and lounge areas which all seemed to be well used. We love to dance so spent most of our time, when not eating or at the show. in the Globe which had a reasonable size dance floor. The amount of ballroom and sequence dancing opportunities was a major bonus to us but we missed a lot because the main dancing times were scheduled while we were eating dinner and then watching the show. P&O really need to look at the timing of their shows. The majority of other lines have an early show so people can watch that before dinner. On Arcadia the first show was while we, on second sitting, were eating and the second show started at 10.45p.m.! This gave us about 20 minutes after the end of the show before all the other entertainment finished.
There were plenty of organised activities for the 4 sea days but we only did the dance classes which we especially enjoyed. Freda and Michael taught some basic and more complex moves for the tango, jive, rumba, cha cha cha and a bit of salsa. There was line dancing too.
I thought the shows were all very good except for the male guest singer who had no charisma and, as the poor attendance at his second show proved, a very unpopular choice of songs. The resident company did a splendid job with their singing and dancing being full of energy and enthusiasm.
We travelled down from the Midlands on the Sunday and then stayed overnight in Reading. My DH expected the M3 to be busy so we set off at 9.00a.m. anticipating delays but we sailed(!) through so we arrived early (11.15a.m.) at the Mayflower Terminal in Southampton. Our car and luggage were both whisked away with great efficiency and we joined the very short queue which grew extremely quickly after our arrival. Boarding started at 11.45 and we were on the ship within 15 minutes. We had been told that cabins would not be available until 1.30 but DH decided to go straight to the cabin to see if he could leave his suit bag there and, to our delight, the cabin was ready. Emily introduced herself and was happy for us to leave everything in there before we went off to explore and have lunch in the buffet. All our pieces of luggage arrived by 4.00p.m.
We decided not to do many organised trips because we were not sure what the weather would be like. In retrospect, I wish we had done at least one into the mountains around the fjords but we still saw a lot although I think we missed out on the information about the areas.
It was cool and overcast when we woke up but, as this was our first sight of Norway, we were immediately struck by the grandeur of the hills and the way the town with its strongly colourful wooden buildings nestled among the hills.
There were 7 cruise ships in that day so everywhere was very crowded. Arcadia was docked about ½mile from the town centre and, following advice gained from the cruise forums, we headed, on foot, straight for the funicular which is situated very close to the market area. We had to join a long queue and stood in line for 30 minutes. The return ride was 70kroner (£7)pp but worth it for the views of the city and fjord. I’m glad we went straight there as the queue was almost twice as long when we arrived back at base.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around the harbour area where there was a lively and vibrant market with some unusual stalls - whale products and fur products were in evidence everywhere. It was there that we began to realise just how expensive everything in Norway is!!!! I love to go in local supermarkets and try to bring back home a typical delicacy – jam, packet cake mix, sauce, sweets or a cooking utensil – but I could not bring myself to buy anything. Everything was at least twice the price of a similar item in the UK. Even a single post card cost nearly £1. We quickly learned to eat and drink on the ship and to limit our spending to entrance fees and bare essentials.
Bergen has a delightfully quaint area (a world heritage site) just behind the very deep coloured wooden shops by the harbour side. We wandered around there taking photos for a long time before returning to the ship. It was lovely having our first experience of sailing down a fjord and, to make it even better, the sun came out and stayed out for most of the rest of the cruise.
• Do the funicular ride as early as possible to avoid the worst of the queues.
• Public toilets are expensive – between 5kr and 10kr (50p &£1) so have change available.
• There are free toilets in the building at the centre of the fish market area.
We thought Bergen was attractive but Flam was a revelation. We were so lucky that the weather was warm with clear blue skies as it accentuated the magnificence of the lush green hills and the sparkling patches of snow high up on the mountainside. The water of the fjord glistened bright blue and everything was so quiet and still. We had set the alarm for 6.30a.m. knowing that we had a long sail up the Sognefjord to get to Flam and wishing to see some of the fjord. I’m so glad that we did as the scenery in the early morning sunshine was just too beautiful to describe. It was lovely eating breakfast and seeing the mountains and tiny villages slide by.
We docked in the little village of Flam at 8.00a.m. and decided to disembark as soon as possible. This was an excellent decision as it enabled us to catch the first train of the day on the famous train for the 50 minute ride up to Myrdal which left at 8.35a.m. The station is about ¼mile from the dock and there was only a short queue to purchase tickets (310Kr-£31- pp return). The train ride was spectacular with amazing views of the mountains, waterfalls, rivers and villages. The train makes a 5 minute stop at a huge waterfall and most people got off to take photos.
There is not much at Myrdal except for the station and its cafe. My DH and I decided to walk down the path opposite the station and, again, were happy with this decision as it took us alongside a mountain stream to a beautiful waterfall. I felt a bit sorry for the couple who were camping there as their peace was suddenly shattered by us and a few others who had chosen to walk the path.
We caught the 10.50a.m. train back to Flam and were amazed (horrified) by the huge queues waiting for the train. There were several coach loads of people arriving all the time.
The village of Flam is a couple of miles from the dock area so we decided just to wander around the dock/station area with its restaurants, souvenir shops and supermarket. There is a pretty park area and a shingle beach where families were picnicking and sunbathing. My DH saw a crew member swimming and asked if the water was cold. The man replied “somewhere between freezing and ice cold!!” so we decided to give paddling a miss that time!
Arcadia sailed at 5.30p.m. and we were able to enjoy the return trip down the fjord while having a drink on our balcony .....bliss!
• Get the 8.35a.m. train to avoid the queues.
• Sit on the right side of the carriage facing forward for the best views.
This holiday was beginning to settle into a pattern by now as we realised that we would miss so much if we stayed in bed late so, once again, the alarm was set early so that we could have a morning coffee and watch the magnificent scenery pass by as we cruised up the Nordfjord to Olden.
Nordfjord was just as impressive as Sognefjord but in a slightly more gently rolling way. The weather again was superb and the early morning sun accentuated the brilliant greens and blues of grass and water. Olden is also situated a long way down the fjord and, like Flam, has a dock area and then a small town about 1mile away.
My DH had booked a fjord fishing excursion for the morning so he had breakfast and went off to do his thing. I took the opportunity to wander the ship and take photos and then to have a quiet read on the balcony surrounded by the crystal clear air and wonderful scenery. DH had a good time but only caught 3 fish so he was a little disappointed.
In the afternoon we strolled from the ship into the little town. The walk took us past some lovely houses with colourful and well kept gardens before we reached the village centre. There were a few shops selling clothing, souvenirs and food but prices were so high that it was easy to resist buying.
There is a lovely white painted wooden church that is open to visitors and after a look round there we walked slowly back along the waterside to the ship. There was an abundance of wild flowers in bloom and a lot of different sorts of birds. We sat on a bench and soaked up the sights and sounds, revelling in the peace and quiet.
• There is a trolley train that runs from the ships side and does a 1 hour round trip of the area.
• There are free public toilets in the building next to the supermarket in the village centre.
The weather continued to be kind to us and we, again, were up early to see the approach to Trondheim. This was a less spectacular sail but still pretty in its own way. The ship docked in the industrial area of the city and there was a regular shuttle bus service into the town centre which we caught. The bus dropped us off very close to the cathedral so we walked to that. It is a very impressive building and reminiscent of Many English cathedrals. From there it was a few minutes’ walk to the ‘old’ bridge which we crossed into the old town area. The buildings here are pastel coloured wooden houses with pretty flower displays. We wandered this district for a little while before heading into the modern town centre. This was a pleasant enough place but very much like any other town so, after an extortionately priced cup of coffee, we returned to the ship.
• Shuttle bus was 50kr (£5)pp return.
• You could walk into the city but it was a long way and the route was not particularly attractive.
• There is a 100kr (£10) entrance fee pp to the cathedral.
• Toilets are free in the shopping mall.
This was when we crossed the Arctic Circle although we would never have guessed from the fabulously hot weather we were having. The great thing here was that we could see the Norwegian coastline as we travelled north and it was an amazing succession of high jagged cliffs. Unfortunately the calm and still conditions were perfect to create the fog blanket that descended in mid-afternoon and followed us for the next couple of days. This meant that we did not see the ‘midnight sun’ but we did get the 24 hours of daylight. It was a surreal feeling to be sitting on the balcony at 1.00a.m. in full, although misty, daylight!
Honningsvaag and North Cape:
It was heaven not to have to set the alarm so early as we were not due to reach Honningsvaag until 12.30p.m. After a late breakfast and a bit of line dancing my DH and I went our separate ways to join our different tours. We were tendered into the little town of Honningsvaag as Arcadia is too big to tie up to the dock side. There is a permanent population of around 400 in the immediate area and I’m not surprised. It is very wild and beautiful in a stark sort of way but, in winter, they have 74 days of almost total darkness.
DH was going bird watching and he was full of praise for the whole trip when he returned. The guide had been excellent and the group had seen many different birds – sea eagles, puffins, cormorants etc plus a minky whale, seals and sea lions.
I did the North Cape trip. This cost £46 which included the £20 entrance fee to the North Cape national park. The coach trip took about 50 minutes along very windy roads with some spectacular views across bleak moorland. There were herds of reindeer grazing on the patches of lush grass and wild flowers.
The North Cape tourist centre is large and has some interesting exhibits including the 180 degree wide screen film show. It was such a shame that the mist was still hanging around and was thick enough to make it difficult to appreciate the height of the 900ft cliffs. We were free to return when we wanted so I spent about an hour there and 15 minutes looking round the town of Honningsvaag before getting the tender back to the ship.
Unfortunately the mist persisted so we were unable to see the North Cape cliffs as we cruised past them at midnight.
• It would be difficult to do anything independently in this area.
• There is a free toilet on the ground floor at the museum in Honningsvaag.
• Have warm clothes.
The mist cleared as we travelled south to Tromso and the warm weather returned, much to our delight. We also resumed our early morning alarm call and were not disappointed as we sailed up another pretty fjord.
Arcadia docked at the industrial port which is a good way out of the town centre. We were able to see the large bridge and the modern ‘Arctic Cathedral’ from the upper deck of the ship. We caught the port run shuttle bus which dropped us off in the shopping district. This was about 3 miles from the ship.
We walked down to the water front and realised that it was too far to walk across the bridge to the cathedral so we concentrated on the commercial centre. This comprises of a few shopping streets, some pretty wooden houses and there was also a small market where we found some affordable small gifts.
After a couple of hours of slow meandering we felt that we had seen all that was walkable in Tromso so we caught the shuttle bus back to the ship and finished the day with a game of scrabble and a bit of sunbathing.
• Shuttle bus was 55kr (£5.50)pp return.
• The market had the cheapest gifts of all the places we visited.
• Free toilets in the small shopping mall.
After yet another early morning sitting drinking coffee on the balcony and watching the approach down the fjord to the next destination we were pleased to find that we were docked right in the centre of Alesund.
The weather had changed and was cool and damp. This was a shame because Alesund was perhaps the most attractive of all the ‘cities’ we visited.
Once again we wandered the streets and found some beautiful waterfront buildings. My DH then decided to climb the 400+ steps to the top of the mountain where there is a viewing platform. I gave this one a miss and spent a bit of time window shopping before returning to the ship.
The weather improved in the afternoon and the sun came out as we set sail. Apparently this had been the first visit of a P&O ship to this port so we were escorted out into the fjord by a fire department boat with the hoses spraying fountains of water.
• There is a trolley train which takes you up the mountain to the view point for 150Kr (£15)pp
We had lovely weather again as we neared Stavanger. I have to say that I was not particularly looking forward to this port but it turned out to be my favourite of the larger ports. Arcadia docked right in the centre of the town and the market was only a 200 yards from the gangplank. We walked to the market square and then, just to the left is the church with some beautiful and interesting artefacts. A short stroll down the narrow shopping streets lined with attractive floral displays took us to the ferry terminal and a most unusual children’s playground constructed from all kinds of industrial materials.
We carried on walking and eventually came to small hill in the centre of the town with an old ‘lookout tower’ on it. There were very good views of the ship from there. Our stroll took us back to the church square and then into the pretty little park area with the lake and fountain. From there we continued to walk back towards the ship but followed the quayside on the opposite side of the harbour until we came to the Old Town area. This was truly beautiful in the warm sunshine. The old town comprises of several narrow, cobbled streets lined with quaint, white painted, wooden houses which were set off by colourful displays of flowers in window boxes, hanging baskets and the small gardens.
My DH and I spent some time sitting at various vantage points so that we could soak up the atmosphere of this, our last port in Norway, before heading back to the ship.
There was a ‘Great British Sail Away’ party on the aft pool deck as we slid out of Stavanger and down the last fjord. This seemed a fitting end to our Norwegian adventure.
• This is the perfect place to get off the ship in the morning, return for lunch and then get off again in the afternoon.
• Spend all your remaining Norwegian Kroner coins as banks at home will not change them.
Our last day was spent packing and enjoying the facilities aboard for the last time.
We were able to put out our first bags for collection by 4.00p.m. and any others needed to be out by midnight.
We were issued with brown cards which gave us a disembarkation time of 10.10a.m. This was the last time so, as we had to vacate our cabin by 8.ooa.m., we had a leisurely breakfast and then found a quiet spot in the Orchid Bar to read while we waited for our call. The call came at 10 o’clock and we were off the ship and in the terminal by 10.05a.m. We found our luggage quickly but then the wait began. There were very long queues to go through customs and then a chaotic scene as people tried to get to the taxi rank or get their car keys. We finally pulled out of the car park at 11.00a.m. which I suppose, if you consider U.S. immigration and airport waits, was acceptable.
• Take fewer pieces of luggage and do the self disembarkation. We have done this on other cruise lines and been away in 20 minutes.
This was a wonderful cruise and I would highly recommend both the ship and the itinerary. P&O will not be my first choice of cruise line for many reasons: we prefer an ‘anytime’ dining option and less formality. We also prefer a more cosmopolitan mix of passengers and a younger profile. Having said all that though, we would not hesitate to go with P&O again if the price and itinerary were right.