Review of Sapphire Princess – Land of the Midnight Sun (Norwegian Fjords) – June 15-29, 2019
Hello fellow cruisers!
I’ve been on and off Cruise Critic for many years, but haven’t been much of a “poster”. I’ve mainly read the occasional review or roll call, or posted a random question. This year was different though. Last summer a friend and I decided to book a Land of the Midnight Sun cruise to the Norwegian Fjords on the Sapphire Princess for July 15-29, 2019. Although I’m a frequent cruiser with Princess (this was my 19th cruise with them), this was my first big overseas cruise to a country I was completely unfamiliar with. Cruise Critic was a lifesaver to me. I relied on many different reviews and posts over the past few years, trying to gain as much knowledge as I could on the ports, excursions, weather, etc. I got off the Sapphire Princess two and a half weeks ago, and I thought it was best to return the favor to Cruise Critic and post some of my notes and experiences to help fellow cruisers in the future if they’re planning a trip to Norway.
I know a couple of people have posted reviews about this same cruise, but hopefully it’s beneficial adding my own opinions and experience. My friend and I are in our late 30’s, and we did a mix of Princess and independent excursions, as well as planned our own thing in several ports.
I’ll discuss the ship/cabin/food/activities briefly, but I’ll focus on the ports/excursions in more detail, as I think that’s what will be the most useful. I included a few of the approximately 2,000 photos I took and I hope they came out ok. They seemed to be a little distorted or blurry once I uploaded them to this post. If you have any questions, feel free to ask away and I’ll try my best to answer!
I apologize ahead of time for the very long post, but in summary, the cruise and Norway were amazing! Norway is so beautiful and scenic that you really have to see it to believe it (the few pictures I included don't do it justice!). If you are thinking of visiting Norway, I highly recommend it!
This was my second cruise on the Sapphire Princess, the first time being in 2012. I thought the ship was in very good condition and all the public areas were clean and modernized. In my opinion, you couldn’t tell the age of the ship at all. The bathrooms in the cabins need an upgrade, but I’ve found that to be consistent among most of the ships I’ve been on. The service was great, as usual. In particular the buffet staff were on top of things. Only a couple of times did we have to get our own beverages, and as usual, if you blinked an eye your finished plate disappeared before you even knew it. We only ate in the dining room a few times and service was pretty slow. You’re looking at least an hour and a half to two hours to complete a meal in the dining room. And since we liked to make the first trivia session at 7:00pm, we decided to skip the dining room many of the nights. Being Elite I got 250 minutes of free internet. I contemplated purchasing an additional package at the beginning of the cruise, but decided not to. This was a good decision as after the first day or so, I lost interest in constantly checking my email and Facebook and enjoyed a break from being connected. The internet was quite slow in our stateroom but much faster in public areas. And there was a period of several days when we were in the far north or inside the fjords where we had no service at all.
We had an obstructed oceanview cabin on the Emerald deck. As much as we would have loved a balcony on this itinerary, it would have cost us almost $2,000 more per person, and we decided it wouldn’t be worth it with the cost of flights, excursions, etc. We were hoping for the upgrade/upsell fairy to make an appearance, but unfortunately it did not on this cruise. The cabin was in good condition, with the comfortable beds and new, oversized TV. We had a wonderful steward, Pairut, who was fast and efficient and always had a smile on his face. The only negative to the room was that the blackout curtains on one side were about 6 inches shorter than the other side, which let in a quite a bit of light at night. Normally it might not be an issue, but with this being the Land of the Midnight Sun cruise, we had 24 hour daylight for much of the cruise. I never asked Pairut to address it because we both had sleep masks and they did the job for us. This was my first time with the new TV that has on-demand selections and I thought it was great! It was really nice being able to pick from a variety of movies and TV shows to watch and that you could stop/start/pause as needed. The only thing we never figured out was how to get announcements in the cabin. They told us to tune to the channel with the live feed of the ship’s camera; however, we never heard any announcements via the channel. It used to be you heard music on this channel, but now it’s silent.
I thought the food was very good on this cruise and on par with previous Princess cruises, if not better. We ate in the buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner most of the cruise. We only ate in the dining room for dinner four times, partly because we wanted to make the early entertainment, but also because we wanted to enjoy the many scenic sailaways we had. We also had dinner in the Sterling Steakhouse since we each had a voucher for a complimentary meal, and we also tried Alfredo’s once. The food catered to the large volume of Brits on these itineraries, and I was perfectly happy with that. You could have a full English breakfast every day in the buffet if you wanted. I thought lunch and dinner were better in the buffet than I remembered before. Almost everything I tried was very good and I would be happy to have it again. They always had a carving station, a British pie (such as steak and kidney or beef and onion), two curries, two pastas, two soups, and a variety of other dishes, as well as the fruit, salad, and bread selection. The Sterling Steakhouse was good, but not great, in my opinion. Although similar menus, I think the Crown Grill has been better on other ships. I thought the pizza in Alfredo’s was good, but the service was very poor. We tried once early in the cruise to have lunch in Alfredo’s and we stood waiting at the entrance for at least 5 minutes…no one acknowledged us whatsoever, so we left. We tried Alfredo’s later in the cruise and this time were seated in reasonable time, however, we had to get up to get our own condiments and water refills as the servers were never around.
We love trivia and boy did Princess cater to our needs on this cruise! The first night there were four trivia sessions back to back starting at 7:00pm. From then on we had the usual morning and afternoon general knowledge trivia and then at least two themed trivia and game shows every evening; sometimes more! The only other daytime activities we frequented were arts and crafts, which they had every sea day, and speedy Sudoku. On this particular cruise we had an array of theater shows and specialty acts, including four production shows (Bravo, Let Me Entertain You, Born to Be Wild, and Do You Wanna Dance). For the most part they were good, although the Let Me Entertain You production show was very poor and not up to standard. We had various specialty acts, including comedians, magicians, and musicians. Some of the ones we particularly enjoyed included Martin Kaye, Yeah Beatles!, Phil Butler, Phillip Browne, and Gareth Oliver. Our favorite specialty act was Gareth Oliver, a comedian/ventriloquist who was previously on Britain’s Got Talent. He was very good and my stomach hurt from laughing so much.
Ok, now on the itinerary and ports of call. This was a 14 day itinerary with four sea days and 10 ports of call. A quick note on currency – I had read reviews that said there was no need to bring cash (Norwegian Krone) as it was primarily a cashless society. I decided not to bring any, and I used one of my credit cards that has no foreign transaction fees. This worked out great and I didn’t have any issues using it throughout Norway. When reviewing my bank statement after the cruise, I got a great conversion rate to USD. Just make sure if you’re given the option on whether to charge you in NOK or USD, that you select NOK. You will get a better exchange rate from your credit card (assuming you have no foreign transaction fees).
Embarkation in Southampton
We had stayed three nights in London pre-cruise (at the Premier Inn London County Hall) and took the train from London Waterloo to Southampton Central the morning of the cruise. We took an early train that arrived just before 10:00am into Southampton. We took a taxi from the train station to the pier, which only cost about £5-6. We arrived at the port quickly and were able to drop off our luggage and proceed to check-in. A couple of buses had arrived right before we did, so there was a bit of a line, even for priority check-in. It wasn’t a long wait and we were given our cruise cards and access to the Elite boarding area to wait. It was about an hour wait until we were allowed to board the ship. They had come over the PA and said something about a delay although I couldn’t hear why. There were no complaints though…it just gave even more time for the excitement to build! When we boarded about 11:30am our room was ready and we dropped off our bags and proceeded to the buffet for lunch.
Prior to booking this cruise, we had looked at the possible excursions for Stavanger and were excited about a hike up Pulpit Rock. Based on reviews, it sounded like it would be a great active day out with incredible views of the Lysefjord. Unfortunately, as we found out after booking this cruise, the excursion was not available on this particular cruise because we were not in port long enough. The excursion would take about 8 hours total and we were in port for exactly 8 hours. So that was a disappointment from the beginning; however, we decided to view Pulpit Rock from the water below instead. We booked an independent excursion for a 3-hour fjord cruise to Lysefjord through Rodne Fjord Cruise. The cost was 550 NOK per person, which was about $65. The equivalent excursion through Princess was $159.95 per person, so we saved almost $100 each. We thoroughly enjoyed the cruise and would recommend this company for an excursion. Reviews I read before said the cruise was not enjoyable because it was too crowded; however, we did not find this to be the case. Yes there were a lot of people on board, but we easily found space outside on the left side of the boat and set up shop. It was very windy and chilly on the cruise to the fjord, but once we slowed down in the fjord, it was quite pleasant. I would recommend being on the left side because this got us closer the cliffs and the large waterfall. We had a great view of Pulpit Rock from below, and when you zoomed in you could really see the detail of how the rock is jutting out from the side of the cliff.
We also made a short stop at an area where they release goats in the summer to graze. A staff member on the boat threw some carrots to the only goat we could see. We decided our theme song for the day was “High on a hill was a lonely goatherd…” On the journey back we did go inside since it was chilly but easily found a seat. Once we arrived back in Stavanger, we had lunch on board the ship and decided not to venture out again since it looked like it might rain.
This was one my favorite days of the whole cruise. Based on reviews, it sounded like the train from Flam to Myrdal was a must-see and the most popular excursion, with many people booking the train independently. We chose to do an excursion through Princess which included a ride on the train and a 6 mile hike down through the Flam Valley before rejoining the train for the ride back to Flam. We could have done this independently by booking the train tickets on our own and then following a hiking map down the valley. Hiking through the entire valley would have been approximately 12 miles and we thought this might be too much for us and might take too long. We were thrilled with the excursion and it was great having knowledgeable guides explain so much about Flam and Norway. The excursion cost $219.95 per person, which is a lot, but in my opinion well worth it for the experience and views. We joined up with our guides once we got off the ship and walked the very short distance to the train station. There were technical problems that morning so the trains were delayed for about 20-30 minutes. We boarded the train and we had our own carriage for our tour group. Based on reviews I read, it was recommended to sit on the right side of the train for the ride up. This was definitely the best choice and we had amazing views on the ride up. Due to the delays, we did not stop at the Kjosfossen waterfall, where normally the train would stop briefly and you could get out to take photos. Once we arrived at Vatnahalsen, we disembarked the train and had a snack of waffles with jam and cream in the hotel. We then began the hike which started with a fairly steep downhill portion with a lot of switchbacks. It followed a large waterfall down the hill and provided the best views down the Flam Valley. After the initial downhill portion, most of the hike was fairly flat with a few uphill sections. It was very doable for our mixed group. One guide stayed at the front and one at the back and we were pretty spread out in between. That was nice because you felt like you were on your own hike without being in a large group most of the time. They gave you the option to rejoin the train earlier in Blomheller if you were struggling with the hike, which I believe 3 people from our group did. The rest of us continued to Berekvam where we had a little delay in the train picking us up. During the hike the scenery and views were spectacular, and I really enjoyed being in the environment rather than just looking at it from a distance.
We also ran into a group of very friendly goats, with one of them choosing to use my leg as a scratching post for its head.
The weather held out most of the day for us, but we did get a little rain off and on, and by the time we were waiting for the train in Berekvam, it started to rain a little heavier. The rain stopped by the time we got to Flam. We went back on the ship for lunch and decided to just stay on board the rest of the afternoon. Note to anyone sensitive to bug bites like I am – I got quite a few bites on my legs even though I was wearing long pants. I don’t react well to bites, so they got large and inflamed and I ended up going to the medical center for treatment.
I will also add that I thought the sailaway from Flam was gorgeous and not to be missed. All my research ahead of the cruise talked about the sailaway from Geiranger, but I thought Flam was also spectacular.
The ship anchored in Hellesylt in the morning to allow passengers on Princess shore excursions to tender to the port and begin their all day excursions. The ship then continued to Geiranger where it anchored from about midday. At that point any passenger could disembark and tender to the town for half-day excursions or to do their own thing. Based on my research ahead of the cruise, Geirangerfjord was going to be beautiful and the sail-in and/or out was not to be missed. The port information for both Hellesylt and Geiranger on the Princess website talked about Briksdal Glacier being a point of interest but unfortunately Princess did not offer any excursions that went to the glacier on our particular cruise. We decided we wanted to do an all day excursion from Hellesylt so we could soak in as much of the scenery as we could. We did a Princess excursion called Scenery of Geirangerfjord that left Hellesylt and ended in Geiranger. When we first booked the cruise there was only one excursion available out of Hellesylt, called Best of Geirangerfjord. For whatever reason we chose not to book the excursion right away but kept a close eye on it in case it came close to selling out. Well pretty much overnight the excursion sold out and we seemed to be out of luck with all day excursions. About a week later Princess added the second excursion, called Scenery of Geirangerfjord. Now to be honest, I’m not quite sure what was different between the two excursions. The descriptions were a little different but also similar. From what I could tell from the descriptions, the difference was that the Best of Geirangerfjord went to Grodås while we got to visit Eagle Bend viewpoint. But I never talked to anyone on the other excursion, so I’m not quite sure what was different. On our Scenery of Geirangerfjord excursion we left Hellesylt and stopped at a couple of viewpoints on our way to Stryn where we had lunch at Alexandra Hotel. We were lucky at our first viewpoint in that we were the last of the buses to leave Hellesylt and we got to see the Sapphire Princess sail from Hellesylt into the Geirangerfjord. We got some beautiful photos.
Lunch was a three-course meal consisting of soup, a main dish of baked fish, potatoes, and vegetables, and ice cream for dessert. Coffee, tea, and other non-alcoholic drinks were included. We then had time to wander around the hotel and grounds, which were quite nice. We then continued on the bus for a lengthy but beautiful drive up to Mt. Dalsnibba. We had some great views of a glacier and frozen lake on the way up. The guide said they had quite a bit of snow several weeks before we arrived and the main road had only just opened up. The viewpoint at Mt. Dalsnibba was spectacular, with views of the Geirangerfjord, the town of Geiranger, and the ship anchored in the fjord. You could also see the hairpin bends of Eagle Bend behind the ship.
We then continued down the windy road to another viewpoint at the Flydalsjuvet-rock overhang. It had similar views of Geiranger and the fjord, just a little closer. We then drove through Geiranger and around the fjord to Eagle Bend, which had a steep climb up the hairpin bends to the viewpoint. This provided views from the opposite direction to Geiranger and down the Geirangerfjord. We could see the Seven Sisters waterfall as well.
I will say all of the viewpoints were very crowded, particularly Eagle Bend, which had very limited space for parking. The buses had to continue up the road, turn around, and hope there was space to pull in by the viewpoint on the way back down. Not only were there buses for the all-day excursions, some of the half-day excursions also went to these viewpoints and there was another cruise ship in Geiranger, adding to the crowds. All in all, it was a very good excursion with some of the best views and scenery of the entire cruise. The excursion cost $219.95, which is very expensive, but I think we got our money’s worth with it lasting all day. However, after saying all that, I think I would recommend considering the half-day excursions from Geiranger instead. Although it was nice scenery on the all-day tour, I think I would have preferred to watch us sail in to Geiranger and then just spend the afternoon on a tour that hit the main points. Princess offered an excursion that went to the three main viewpoints I discussed above for only $99.95. I’m sure there are also independent tours available, and quite a few people rented the little green tourist cars and drove themselves around Geirangerfjord. If I were to go back to Geiranger again I would probably choose this option. After we completed our tour, we tendered back to the ship, had dinner in the buffet, then went out on deck to watch the sailaway. It was definitely a gorgeous sailaway and you don’t want to miss the views of Eagle Bend, Seven Sisters, and Suiter Falls.
Trondheim ended up being one of the biggest surprises to me on the whole cruise…I loved the city! We didn’t have anything planned for Trondheim. None of the Princess excursions or independent tours appealed to us, so we decided not to book anything and to just wander in to town after lunch. When we got off the ship there was a little hut with maps and guides, so we picked up a city map which had a walking route marked on it. We decide to follow that route, which took us through the town to Nidaros Cathedral and the Archbishop’s Palace. We didn’t go into the Cathedral, but it was beautiful to see from the outside.
After crossing the Old Town Bridge, we deviated from the walking route and walked up a steep hill that lead up to Kristiansten Fortress. The interesting thing about the hill was that it was outfitted with a bike lift that was free for cyclists to use. It was installed to encourage locals to ride bikes and it was cool to watch several people use the system.
We got our workout in by walking up the hill and through a small neighborhood before arriving at the fortress. The fortress is free to enter and had beautiful views of Trondheim. We even caught a glimpse of the Sapphire Princess. After spending some time at the fortress, we wandered back down the same road into town and rejoined the walking path. We stopped in a couple of souvenir shops on the way back to the ship but held off buying anything. By the end of the cruise, I was feeling déjà vu since almost every souvenir shop in Norway had the exact same souvenirs. Overall I very much enjoyed Trondheim and we were lucky to have such beautiful weather. It was sunny with a nice breeze, and we were comfortable in t-shirts all day.
Trondheim is such a lovely town with a mix of traditional and modern, along with beautiful canals, bridges, and cobblestone streets. I hope to make it back to Trondheim sometime because I really did enjoy it.
The day after Trondheim was a sea day, so it was nice to relax and recover from several busy port days. At some point in the early hours of the sea day we crossed into the Arctic Circle. Early on in the cruise someone asked the Cruise Director on the Wake Show whether we would receive a certificate to mark the crossing into the Arctic Circle, similar to when you cross the Equator, and we were told no. However, at some point they must have changed their mind and on the final day of the cruise we each received a certificate marking the day, time, and latitude that we crossed Arctic Circle. It was a nice surprise to receive the certificate and something unique I will hold on to.
Honningsvag (for North Cape), Norway
Our day began early as we were told we’d be sailing by Nordkapp (North Cape) at 5:00am. Nordkapp, which is on Mageroya Island, is claimed as the northernmost point in continental Europe. Technically there is a part of the island that juts out a little further than Nordkapp, but there probably wasn’t room for a visitor’s center there. 🙂 We decided it was worth getting up for to watch the sail by since we may not get the opportunity again. We got up at 4:45am and I thought a lot more people would be up to watch, but it was pretty quiet out on the decks, although that may be because it was so cold! We positioned ourselves inside on the upper deck of the conservatory so that we could easily step outside for photos. It was definitely chilly with a sharp wind, so it was worth bundling up for. We were lucky in that the weather cooperated and we got some nice views of Nordkapp and Mageroya Island. Every now and then the clouds would roll in and cover the view of Nordkapp, but it was short lived we got some very good photos. I’m very glad we got up for this in the morning, as Nordkapp was completely covered in clouds during the evening sailaway. After we watched the sail by of Nordkapp, we sat in the buffet to warm up and wait for breakfast to start.
As many do in Honningsvag, we did an excursion to Nordkapp. We chose an independent tour through Blue Puffin which lasted four hours, from 9:00am to 1:00pm. I read a lot of reviews ahead of time and they almost all had good things to say about the Blue Puffin company. The excursion cost 979 NOK per person, which ended up being about $115. The equivalent excursion through Princess cost $149.95 per person and only lasted three and a half hours. From reading reviews, the Princess excursion went straight to and from the Nordkapp Visitor’s Center while the Blue Puffin tour stopped at two small fishing villages along the way. Overall we were very happy with the Blue Puffin tour and would highly recommend them. We had a great guide who was very knowledgeable about Norway, and the fishing villages of Kamoyvaer and Skarsvag were very interesting and gave us a lot of insight into the importance of seafood to Norwegian culture.
The drive to Nordkapp was beautiful with some amazing ocean views. We also saw a lot of reindeer. We were told the reindeer are brought to Mageroya Island for the summer to eat and fatten up ahead of the winter, and we saw a lot of young reindeer keeping close to their mothers. When we arrived at Nordkapp it was very windy and bitterly cold with the wind-chill. The clouds moved so swiftly and would engulf the globe at the tip of the island and then clear just as quickly. We were lucky in that the clouds cleared right as were at the globe and we got some nice photos with bright blue sky in the background.
After seeing the globe, we entered into the visitor’s center. There was so much going on inside, but our first stop was to the post office to buy, write, and mail postcards to family at home. They include a special stamp and marking that it was mailed at the northernmost post office in Europe. We then wandered around the gift shop and went downstairs to the Cave of Light. That was interesting with a video and exhibits on the Arctic Circle and its seasons. You also pass by the northernmost chapel on the way to the cave, which is funny because apparently everything in Nordkapp is the “northernmost something” in Europe. We had about an hour and a half at the visitor’s center, which was enough time for us to see what we wanted to see. We then boarded the bus for the ride back to Honningsvag. On the way back we were given a snack of reindeer jerky. We had lunch back on the ship and decided to just stay on the ship the rest of the day as we were quite tired from being up so early.
We did not have an early evening, however, as the Sapphire Princess had a Midnight Sun Deck Party that night. We went up to the deck around the pool about 11:45pm, expecting it to be a little quiet, but it was packed! I did not expect to see so many people up at midnight. Most people were of course positioned on the side of the ship where the sun was setting and there wasn’t much room along the railing on the main deck, so we headed up to the Sky deck area across from the funnel. We grabbed some railing space and got some lovely photos. There was a countdown to midnight and the ship blasted its horn as midnight struck.
It was amazing to see how bright and sunny it was at midnight and the sun never even got that close to the horizon before rising again. There was also music and dancing, and at some point the conga line started winding its way around the pool. The weather was surprisingly calm and mild, as the Captain had slowed the ship down where it almost seemed like we were standing still. My face actually felt like it was burning in the direct sun, although that was partly due to the fact I had a slight wind burn from the windy day at Nordkapp. We stayed outside until about 12:30am and started to head back inside until an announcement was made on the open decks that there were some whales off the bow of the ship. We headed back outside and were able to see a few blow holes. This was the second time we saw whales, as we saw a large pod of Orcas between Trondheim and Honningsvag. We made it to the room about 1:15am, which resulted in a very long day since were up at 4:45am the previous day. It was all worth it though and we were able to have a lazy day in Tromso.
Unfortunately I don’t have any information to provide about Tromso, other than a few photos taken from the ship, because we ended up not getting off the ship. We had nothing planned, and we were so tired from our long day in Honningsvag that we decided to stay on board. In addition, the weather was a bit iffy and looked like it might rain. Based on a tip from a fellow cruiser, we had planned to visit a botanical garden which was in walking distance from the ship; however, we never made it. If I were to go back to Tromso I think I would visit the Husky Wilderness Camp, which had great reviews from everyone I talked to.
Right when we hit the time that we were supposed to be sailing away from Tromso the Captain made an announcement that the pilot we were assigned did not have the special certification required to sail the planned route through the islands towards our next port, Lofoten Islands. He said they requested permission to sail the route anyway and were denied. That meant we had to retrace our route to the north that we took coming from Honningsvag, which would then add about four or five hours to our journey, resulting in a delayed arrival to the Lofoten Islands.
Lofoten Islands (Gravdal), Norway
Due to the delay from Tromso we did not arrive in the Lofoten Islands until around 1:00pm when we were originally supposed to arrive by 9:00am. The good thing is that Princess was able to secure a late departure from Gravdal, so we still had a full nine hours in port. Luckily we had booked a Princess excursion for that day and they were able to rearrange most of the shore excursions to accommodate our later arrival and departure. I’m not sure if people who booked independent tours were able to rearrange their excursions or if they missed out on what they had planned. The excursion we booked was Trollfjord by Bus and Boat which was an eight hour excursion consisting of an approximately four hour bus tour of the Lofoten Islands and a four hour boat cruise to Trollfjord. The excursion included lunch. The excursion was very expensive, costing $299.95 per person. My honest opinion is that the tour was not worth it and I would not recommend it. Part of the reason is that our tour guide spoke very poor English and did not seem to talk about anything worthwhile. After a while I think I just stopped paying attention to anything he said.
Our first stop on the tour was at a glass blowing studio and shop. The studio was nice and you could watch someone making glass objects, but it wasn’t that different to any glass blowing studio I’ve been to elsewhere. The scenery outside at the studio was beautiful and you could see the difference in landscape in the Lofoten Islands compared to other parts of Norway. The cliffs and mountains were very jagged and sharp, and there were a lot of beaches and turquoise blue waters around the islands. We continued on the bus tour, which stopped for lunch just before we reached Svolvaer, which is where we embarked on the boat portion of the tour. The lunch was ok, but not really to my liking. It was all cold options, with bread, sliced deli meat, cheese, and various salads. The cruise portion of the tour was on a smaller boat than we’ve had on other scenic cruises. At this point it had started raining pretty heavily and continued for a couple of hours. This was unfortunate, since we wanted to be outside to see the scenery. As a result, we got pretty wet on this excursion. In addition to the rain, there were low lying clouds and fog which covered the tops of the mountains and cliffs. So unfortunately we did not get to see as much of the dramatic scenery. It was still beautiful though, and as I said before, the landscape is very unique.
The boat went into the Trollfjord which is a fairly short fjord and has a narrow passageway, steep cliffs and mountains, and a couple of waterfalls at the end. Now maybe I was spoiled with all of the amazing scenery we had by this point, but although the Trollfjord was beautiful in its own right, I wasn’t that impressed. Certainly, in my opinion, not worth the time and money we spent getting there.
After the Trollfjord we continued on the boat ride, retracing our route part of the way but continuing onto to Gravdal, which is the port the Sapphire Princess was anchored in. We went inside for most of the remainder of the tour and boy was it a long ride. 4 hours on this smaller boat was too much. For most of it we were sailing in the open ocean waters. It was very choppy and quite a few people were sick. I’ve been on many cruises and some rough waters and never had any problems with sea sickness, but this boat ride got to me a little. I was ok in the end, but I was definitely ready to get off when the tour ended. Maybe the highlight of the boat ride was sailing by the Sapphire Princess as we reached Gravdal. We got some nice photos of the ship anchored in the bay along with the town of Gravdal.
When we got to the port, ship personnel were anxiously waiting to escort us back to the ship. I think we were the last of the tours to arrive back. In summary, although it was a nice day out, as I said before, I wouldn’t recommend this tour due to various reasons , including the cost, our particular tour guide, the long boat ride, and by no fault of the company, the weather.
For Alesund we booked an independent excursion through Norwegian Excursions AS called From Fjords to Trolls. It was an all day excursion, lasting almost 8 hours, and went to several scenic landmarks in the area. You had two options for the excursion, one that included lunch and one without. The tour without lunch cost 112 EURO and with lunch cost 132 EURO. We chose the option that included lunch which ended up being $149 per person. Princess offered a similar excursion which cost $229.95, so we saved quite a bit. This was the first time I have booked an all-day independent excursion. I usually stay with Princess for long excursions because I’m nervous about not making it back to the ship one time. Norwegian Excursions AS offered a guaranteed return to ship and our guide, who was amazing, was well aware of the passenger’s concerns about this and assured us we would make it back to the ship with time to spare. We were in a group of about 4 or 5 tour buses that were doing the exact same tour, some through Princess and some booked independently. Our tour guide said as long as we keep the Princess buses in sight, we’ll be fine. And in fact, at our final stop on the tour, he asked us to be back on the bus a few minutes early so that we could leave ahead of the Princess buses. There was only one route back to Alesund, so this guaranteed that we would make it back to the ship on time. Like I said, our guide on this excursion was excellent. Although he wasn’t a native Norwegian, he spoke some of the language and was incredible knowledgeable about the area. He was easy to listen to and provided interesting stories and facts.
The tour started out with a stop at a viewpoint that had beautiful views of the surrounding fjords.
We continued on and stopped at Gudbrandsjuvet, which is a narrow and deep ravine with a large waterfall flowing through it. There is a winding bridge crossing over the ravine which was really unique and interesting.
We then rode through the National Park Reinheimen to the Trollstigen plateau and viewpoint. There is a large gift shop on site and you can follow a pathway to the two main viewpoints, one being a longer walk which includes an uphill portion and steps. The plateau provides views of the waterfall, Stigfossen, and of the winding Troll Road (Trollstigen) and large mountains in the background. Now unfortunately we didn’t see one bit of any of this as Trollstigen plateau was completely engulfed in clouds and fog. You could barely see your hand in front of your face. We still walked out to the viewpoints hoping for the best, but there was no view to be seen at all.
We could hear the thundering roar of the waterfall, and at the closest viewpoint you could make out a small portion of it, but it was disappointing to miss out on the amazing views. I did take a picture of a postcard so I know what it was supposed to look like!
We then boarded the bus and drove down the Troll Road, which includes 11 hairpin bends. Throughout many of the excursions we went up and down various hairpin bends and I really admire the bus drivers for maneuvering such large buses around the bends. I’m sure I would be nervous driving a small car, but they handled the buses and surrounding traffic so well. As we drove further down the Troll Road we started to leave the clouds and could make out the views of the Trollstigen. We then made a stop at the bottom of the Troll Road so we could get views looking up the Trollstigen and Stigfossen.
After Trollstigen we stopped for lunch at a large camping area which had an onsite restaurant. We were provided with a hot buffet that included salmon, burger patties, potatoes, salad, bread, and ice cream for dessert. We then continued to our final stop on the tour which was the Troll Wall, or Trollveggen. Trollveggen is Europe’s tallest vertical rock face and is a popular location for rock climbing. Unfortunately we were still experiencing low clouds and the entire face of the Trollveggen was covered. After Trollveggen we headed back to Alesund and the guide gave us a brief tour of the city before dropping us off at the ship. Even with the disappointment of not seeing the main landmarks, I really enjoyed this excursion and would highly recommend Norwegian Excursions AS. I believe this company operates tours in several Norwegian ports, so they’re worth looking into. I just figured I will have to visit Alesund again when the weather is better so I can truly experience the beautiful views of Trollstigen!
Our final port of call was Bergen, Norway. This is a much larger city and we only had limited time in port, with the ship departing at 2:00pm. We chose not to take any official excursions and just explored the town on our own. The Sapphire Princess docked in a working port and they wouldn’t allow you to walk through the port. The port provided free shuttle buses that took you from the ship to just outside of the port. They had maps available of Bergen, and the path to walk into the city center was marked on the pavement/sidewalk. You just followed the arrows and dots until you reached the center. It was only about a 10 minute walk. We chose to wander around the town center, which includes a large pond surrounded by trees and greenery. It was really beautiful.
We also had views of Mt. Floien and the funicular, which many people chose to take. I heard there was beautiful views from the top and some nice walking paths. We continued exploring the city and walked over to Bryggen, which is a World Heritage Site and includes a lovely waterfront and historical buildings.
We had read in reviews that Bergen was the best place to souvenir shop and that was definitely the case, as the historical buildings along Bryggen were filled with them. I’m pretty sure we went in and out of each one at least twice, trying to make up our minds on which souvenirs to buy. After we had our fill of shopping, we wandered through the Waterfront Fish Market which has a large number of stalls selling fresh fish and various prepared seafood dishes. If you’re into seafood, I’m sure it’s worth trying out some of the food for lunch. We then walked slowly back to the ship. It’s too bad we didn’t have a full day in Bergen as it was a very nice city that I would have liked to explore more of. If I visit again I would probably take the funicular and of course do my souvenir shopping.
Disembarkation in Southampton
Disembarkation went smoothly. We had purchased Princess transfers to Heathrow as we had a flight back home in the afternoon. We met in the Explorers Lounge for a disembarkation time of 9:30am. There was no real customs or immigration to speak of and it was easy to spot our luggage waiting in the large hall as most of the luggage had been picked up. Europe was in the midst of a heatwave and it was almost 90F in Southampton that day. We boarded the bus and quickly learned that the bus was not air conditioned, which made for a very sweaty and uncomfortable ride to the airport. The journey took only about an hour and a half and we were dropped off right outside Terminal 5.
Sorry for such a long post, but this was truly an amazing experience and cruise to Norway. I feel so fortunate that I was able to visit Norway and see so much of the country. When we started looking at possible cruises to take this summer, I had initially discounted going to Norway because I didn’t think it had this much to offer. Within a day of starting my research I was hooked on doing this cruise and it was well worth every penny we spent. I hope to visit Norway again someday and maybe even do this particular itinerary again in the future!