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luckybecky

NCL Spirit Trip Report: Summer Solstice Norway Cruise

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Hello Cruisers!

 

We recently returned from a 12 day NCL cruise to Norway on the Spirit. We had an amazing time in such a beautiful country. I'm going to give you a detailed trip report. I have dozens of pictures, menus, food porn and more. I go into a lot of detail in my reviews. Some people like all the details, while others think I am too nitpicky. I don't consider myself either a cheerleader or a critic of any cruise line. I'm just sharing my observations which may or may not be relevant for you. I hope you'll find some useful information here.

 

This was our seventh cruise. We have cruised with Carnival four times, once with Celebrity, and once in Tahiti on the Paul Gauguin. We looked forward to trying NCL to see how it compared to the other lines, particularly Carnival since that is the one we had the most experience with. I'll make some observations about how I think they compared.

 

We started planning this trip many months in advance. We booked the trip in August 2018. We soon joined our roll call where we had an exceptionally good leader. John created a spreadsheet where he kept track of all the people who joined the roll call along with all the excursions we were planning. This roll call really enhanced our trip so much and we were very grateful to John for all the work he put into making it happen.

 

I am a big planner, so I spent the next months making plans for our time pre and post cruise in London. We booked air travel, hotels, and transfers. We purchased travel insurance. Excursion planning was a big deal. I'll spend a lot of time talking about this here. Our roll call was very helpful with this and we planned a number of excursions with our fellow cruise critic members. 

 

At the time we booked our cruise, and for several months after, NCL did not have any excursions listed for our cruise. When they did finally list some excursions, we found the prices to be extremely high. We did not book any excursions through NCL. We had a $50 per port excursion credit included as one of our perks but even with that credit, the NCL excursions were exorbitantly priced and we did better making our own plans.

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When we booked our cruise, it was listed as a "distinctive voyage" which included several perks. In addition to the $50 per port excursion credit, we also had a 250 minute internet package, 120 minute phone call credit, 4 specialty dining credit, $100 on board credit, and beverage package. 

 

At some point after our final payment was made, I think it might have been in April or thereabouts, I noticed that the price of our cruise had gone down very significantly, like $2000 or so, from the price we had paid. I called NCL to see if we could get the lower price. Nope. We already had pretty much all the perks that we could use, so there wasn't much else they could offer us as compensation. 

 

We haggled a bit, and finally the NCL rep came back with an offer of $500 on board credit. This paled in comparison to the $2000 price difference but it was the best they would do, and the rep said it was a one time take-it-or-leave-it offer. So we took it and were happy to have it. We are frugal travelers and rarely spend any money at all on board, so it was almost a challenge to spend our OBC which was $600 in total. (The OBC unfortunately could not be used to pay gratuities.)

 

So finally most of our plans were in place and all we had to do now was to wait!

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It's finally time to go! We live in San Antonio, but we found better flight options out of Austin. So on Wednesday June 12 we drove an hour and a half from our home to Austin. Our flight left around 6:30 pm. We arrived in London at about 10am local time the next morning. I had pre purchased National Express bus tickets to Southampton but our bus wasn't scheduled until 1:15 pm. So we had about a 3 hour wait at the airport.   

 

We finally got to Southampton around 3:30pm. Walked to our hotel from the bus station. We were very tired so we napped for a couple of hours. Several of our roll call members were staying at the same hotel and had made plans to meet for dinner, but we were suffering jet lag and just weren't up to it. After resting for a couple of hours, we dragged ourselves out of bed and went out for supper. We walked through a nearby park and saw the Titanic memorial. 

 

The next morning we were excited to start our long awaited vacation! Finally I will have some pictures for you. 

I very strongly recommend travelling early,  don't plan a flight that arrives on embarkation day. I would never plan a trip that cuts it that close. We left home 2 days before our cruise. 

 

On embarkation day we had a light breakfast at a coffee shop near our hotel, and then Ubered to the ship. Embarkation was very easy. We left our suitcases with the attendant outside and then went into the large hall to await embarkation. The process to sign in and get our ship cards was very fast and efficient. We were given a boarding card number and found a seat in the large hall while waiting to board. It did not take long for our number to be called. We got on board right around noon. Here we are getting on board.

 

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We headed right up to the buffet for lunch. Raffles was OK. It was always crowded. Always. There never seemed to be enough seating. On a warm weather cruise,maybe this would not be a problem because some people might take advantage of the outdoor seating. But on this cruise it was usually too cold to eat outside and Raffles always seemed crowded. The food was OK. Typical buffet food. I think it was very average, about the same that you would find on any other cruise line or buffet style restaurant.

 

Here are a couple of pics from Raffles. I think I took these at a later time.

 

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This is the bar and eating area at the back of the ship, right outside the buffet area.

 

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After lunch, I did a quick ship tour. Here are a lot of photos for you. This is an older ship, in fact I think it is the oldest in the NCL fleet, so many of these photos may be familiar to some of you. We loved the size of the ship. It was big enough to have everything we wanted in a cruise ship, but still easy to get around. 

 

We were in cabin 9550

 

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Here is the minibar. We never used it. 

 

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We found the closet to have plenty of room.

 

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The bathroom was tight. 

 

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We did not need the coffeepot so we stored it in the closet, in order to free up space on the small desk.

 

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Our room was very comfortable and our steward took great care of us and kept the room spotless. However this room is definitely smaller than we have had on some Carnival ships. The bathroom was also smaller. Or maybe it just felt smaller because they partition it into 3 parts: the toilet, the vanity, and the shower, with doors between each part. The vanity area is definitely much smaller than we had on the Breeze. But it was fine. 

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On with our tour of the ship:

 

This is the Bier Garten bar. I never saw it busy at all. It was just too cold much of the time to enjoy lounging outside.

 

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Here is the pool. We  never went swimming but we did see people swimming occasionally. The pool was heated and felt lukewarm when I dipped a toe in. We did get in the hot tub once and saw them in use fairly often. We thought it wasn't hot enough though. On a warm weather cruise, the hot tub temp probably would have been fine, but up here in the North Sea we thought they needed to crank up the heat a little more.

 

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There was a game room that was popular. We saw people playing games there very often.

 

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The internet cafe:

 

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The library

 

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Galaxy of the Stars lounge on deck 12. My pictures don't do it justice. It was a very nice area with big picture windows offering 180 degree views. 

 

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In the Galaxy lounge there was a circular staircase which would take you down to a bridge viewing room:

 

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This room also contained a lot of ship mementos. Unfortunately any time there was much activity on the bridge, such as docking, they closed the blinds so you couldn't see what was going on.

 

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More of my ship tour:

 

The gym and spa

 

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The kids' play area at the back of the ship

 

 

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The theater

 

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Sushi bar and Shogun

 

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The main atrium

 

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Champagne Charlie's

 

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Le Bistro

 

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The casino

 

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Maharini's Lounge

 

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Shanghai Bar -- this spot looked very popular. We didn't spend a lot of time there but it always seemed busy.

 

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The arcade:

 

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Guest services

 

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Henry's Pub

 

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The Cafe, where they had coffee, sweets  and a small bar.

 

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Windows Dining Room

 

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Ok well that was a lot of photos to get things started!

 

In the afternoon,  there was an art "scavenger hunt" in the art gallery which I did. It was easy and I got a bunch of raffle tickets for the next day.

 

Muster was at 4:00pm and was very easy. We were assigned to the theater so it was very comfortable, unlike some muster drills I have attended on other ships where we have been packed into very hot, crowded outdoor decks. 


Immediately after muster, our roll call group had agreed to meet at the Raffles Terrace Bar. We had a large roll call group and it was fun to meet everyone and watch sailaway with our new friends. 

 

Here is John (standing) who was our roll call leader, his wife Pam, and another early roll call member, Stuart.

 

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Our luggage was delivered around 6 pm. 

 

We went to dinner in the Windows Dining Room. In general, we liked the food and service in the dining rooms. As for comparison, it was much better than our last cruise on the Carnival Sunshine. There, the dining room food was hit or miss, and we had a lot of issues with very slow service. Here on the Spirit we found the food to be consistently good. Not amazing, but very good. And service was very friendly and efficient. We had no problems with slow service. NCL definitely beats Carnival when it comes to main dining room service, at least as compared to our most recent cruise on the Sunshine. 

 

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Here is the Windows menu for tonight:

 

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The following "classic entrees" were on the menu every night.

 

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Here is some food porn for you

 

Shrimp and crab cake

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French onion soup

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Greek salad

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Baby spinach salad

 

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Grilled atlantic salmon

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Chicken piccata

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And of course dessert!

 

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Blueberry cheesecake

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Salted caramel chocolate tart

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I really don't know what was wrong with me, not ordering the chocolate lava cake. That is my all time favorite dessert on Carnival and I have no idea why I didn't order it here. 🙄

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Posted (edited)

It is worth noting that the Windows dining room was very large. We never had to wait for a table and never saw it full. A fellow cruiser told us that it is one of the largest dining rooms in the fleet, which is saying something since this is an older, smaller ship. 

 

The area at the back near the big windows never seemed full. We were only seated there once. Almost all of the tables in that area are for larger groups. There are very few of the smaller tables for two, or even four. I wish they would reconfigure the seating in this part of the dining room to accommodate couples or smaller groups. As it is, most of the tables seat 6, 8 or more.

 

Later, we went to the Welcome Aboard Show in the main theater. I have to say that the shows on this ship were the best I have ever seen of all our cruises. We really enjoy live entertainment. There was live music all over this ship, all the time. Very talented entertainers, in Champagne Charlie's, Galaxy, even piano music in the dining room sometimes. We have been disappointed on our past couple of Carnival cruises to note a lack of live music. There was no problem with that here on the Spirit. Fantastic live music all the time. And the evening entertainment lineup was amazing. We saw a show almost every  night and were blown away by the quality of the entertainment. We usually arrived at the theater about 15 - 20 minutes before showtime and never had trouble getting a good seat. Don't wait until the last minute to show up. Shows always started *exactly* on time. 

 

We hit the casino for a bit before retiring to bed. Tonight we met Reinzi who was the casino bartender and we occsionally would see him at other locations on the ship. He immediately learned our names and drink preferences and took great care of us for the entire cruise.
 

It was a beautiful night.

 

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Edited by luckybecky

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Posted (edited)

Day 2

 

This was a sea day. We were still adjusting to the time change so we enjoyed sleeping late, and then we went to our official Meet and Greet for the Cruise Critic roll call at 10am. The captain and all senior officers and the cruise director were there. Each one introduced themselves and said a few words to the group. John, our amazing roll call leader, told me that this was the largest Cruise Critic group they have ever had on the Spirit. This was entirely due to John's leadership. He really did an amazing job running the roll call and keeping us all organized.

 

The ship provided some light refreshments. This was held in the Garden Dining Room. It was very nice and we enjoyed a second opportunity to meet all the roll call members we had been chatting with for so many months. I'm sorry to say that with such a large group, I don't think I got to meet everyone. I would see the same people over and over throughout the cruise, and others I think I never saw again. 

 

We had kind of a lazy day. Here is the schedule.

 

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As we go along, I won't post all 4 pages of each days' schedule because a lot of the information is redundant, like operating hours. But I'll be sure to post the schedule of activities for each day.

 

In the afternoon I went to the art auction. I had a bunch of raffle tickets and had nothing better to do, so I thought what the heck. I knew I would not buy anything. The prices are way too high for me. The auction was fine, but it dragged on -- and on -- and on. I kept thinking it would end but it just kept going and going. I stayed for almost two hours before I finally bailed (Paul wisely left much earlier to take a nap). As for my raffle tickets -- I did win a little plastic thingy that you can put your cell phone in, I guess it is supposed to be waterproof. My advice is to not bother wasting your time here.
 

 

Edited by luckybecky

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Posted (edited)

We had a 6:30 pm reservation for Cagney's. It was excellent! We had a 4 dining package included with our cruise. I have to say that we really enjoyed the dining package, but I don't think it would be worth it to spend a lot of money dining a la carte at the specialty venues. By way of comparison, when we cruised Carnival, the steakhouse cost a flat rate of $35 (all other specialty restaurants were a flat rate of $15, if I remember correctly). Here on NCL, it is not a flat rate and a multicourse meal will cost considerably more than $35 per person if you don't have the dining perk. But in our case it was included (of course you have to pay the gratuity).

 

The Captain and another officer showed up and were seated at a table next to us. 

 

Everything was delicious. The 7 layer chocolate cake was incredible. Very rich. There was no way we could finish it.

 

Sorry, my menu photos are hard to read.

 

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Oysters Rockefeller

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Pork belly. It looked good but I'm sorry to say we both thought it wasn't very good. Everything else we had was delicious.

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Beefsteak tomato salad

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Iceberg wedge salad

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Filet mignon

 

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NY Strip

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Caramel Butterscotch Cheesecake

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Later we spent some time in the casino before bed. We are not big spenders, but we enjoyed playing a little pretty much every night. I think we skipped the show tonight, one of the only times we missed the evening show. It was singer Nicola Ward. She performed twice on this cruise and I only recall seeing her once, later on.

 

It was another beautiful evening and we enjoyed spending some time in the Galaxy lounge.

 

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Edited by luckybecky

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Day 3

 

Today we awoke to a beautiful view in Stavanger, Norway! Here is the view from our balcony:

 

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Here is the schedule for today and a few pics from around town:

 

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Stavanger may be best known for the amazing Pulpit Rock. We wanted to hike up to the top, but our port time did not allow. I had contacted a local guide to see if it could be done. They could not assure us that we would be able to get back to the ship on time.

 

Disappointed to miss this amazing sight, but we did the next best thing. We took a scenic cruise through Lysefjord which was beautiful. And we saw Pulpit Rock from below.

 

We did not do any excursions through NCL. Their prices were just crazy. I am a true believer in booking your own excursions outside of the cruise ship. This has worked very well for us and saved us tons of money. But there is always that caveat: if something goes wrong, you are on your own. If you are on an independent excursion, the ship won't wait for you. Some people just don't feel comfortable taking that chance, and I can certainly understand that.

 

But for us, with very carefully researched providers, we have had good luck with outside tours (but we did have one hiccup later in our cruise). I'm going to post comparisons of our tours with those offered by NCL. I'm not doing this to denigrate NCL, but just as a point of comparison. 

 

So today, we had a 3 hour boat tour through the fjord with Rodne Fjord Cruise company. The cost was 550 NOK, or about $64 per person. A very similar tour is offered by NCL, and includes coffee and waffles. It cost $129 per person. I did not want to pay double the price just for a waffle. Everything else about the tour sounded exactly the same. It was a very short walk from the ship to the excursion  boat. Very easy to do this tour. 

 

The scenery was just stunning. 

 

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It's hard to see from below, but that's Pulpit Rock up there in the next photo. It is the little square part jutting out in the top center of the photo, 1,982 feet above us.

 

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Here is the Spirit docked in Stavanger

 

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Here is the full price list for all the NCL excursions offered during this cruise.

 

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And here are the detailed descriptions of the tours offered in Stavanger.

 

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Posted (edited)


All aboard time was 3:30pm. 

 

Right after all aboard time, we heard a page for Mr. and Mrs. _________  to please contact Guest Services. Or something like that. Later, we heard that this couple had been left behind in Stavanger. We heard that the husband had been ready to board, but the wife failed to appear because she was shopping. Supposedly NCL retrieved an overnight bag from the couple's room with passports and maybe some other essentials, and left this with the husband stranded on the dock as he waited for his wife. I have no idea if this story is true but it was the rumor we heard from a trusted source.

 

We went to Shogun for supper. It was disappointing. We had heard that it is great -- specialty dining but without the cost. Well, the food was not that great. We ordered steamed dumplings which arrived at our table about 90 seconds later. They were obviously not cooked fresh to order. A little dry. These were the same dumplings that are served on the buffet and in the casino in a large warming dish for late night snacks. Definitely did not show the kitchen at its best.

 

We ordered hot and sour soup which we love and order every single time we go out for Asian food. The soup we got had a really weird, unappetizing pink color. The taste was just OK. I ordered orange beef. I've had this many times at many different restaurants. It is usually served with a rich, thick orange flavored glaze on the beef. Here, it was soupy. The flavor was just OK. 

 

We were really disappointed. Service was fast. We were in and out quickly. But the food just wasn't that good. It was the same thing you could get upstairs at the buffet. Not made fresh to order but basically served up from a warming dish. We did not bother to go back again. This was the only meal that we really found disappointing, so overall NCL is doing a great job with the food.

 

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Hot and sour soup, and dumplings

 

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Spring rolls and calamari

 

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Combination fried rice. (I wanted vegetarian fried rice as a side, but there was miscommunication and this is what I got)

 

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Orange beef

 

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We went to the show "World Beat." The performers did a fantastic job and we loved the show band. This was a major improvement over our most recent Carnival cruise, where they used recorded music and sets were nonexistent. As I already mentioned, the shows on this ship were superb.

 

We also went up to Galaxy for the Battle of the Sexes show. Paul joined the men's team. I'm sorry to say that the men did not perform very well. LOL It was fun to watch. The Galaxy of the Stars is a beautiful lounge and we loved sitting up there enjoying the views from the big wraparound windows. 

 

It was another beautiful night.

 

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Edited by luckybecky

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I'm loving your review! I absolutely loved this cruise and I'm certainly enjoying reading about the cruise from another perspective. I loved Galaxy Lounge and spent most evenings there with all my new cruise friends. It was just amazing -particularly on the many nights when the sun didn't go down. I also recognised some of the people in the Shanghai Bar- having a cabin Deck 9 just above it I usually went there for a pre dinner drink. I also did all my tours privately and had a wonderful time in all of the ports. I was also on the cruise before -so I definitely had a wonderful 26 days onboard the Spirit. I look forward to reading the rest of your review. 

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Day 4

 

Today we arrived in the charming city of Trondheim.  Here is the schedule for today:

 

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Along with several of our roll call members, we had arranged a walking tour with a local guide.  It was a brisk 20 minute or so walk to the Trondheim cathedral where we were to meet our guide. 

 

Here we are getting off the ship.

 

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We really enjoyed the street art we found in many of our ports in Norway. I posted some from Stavanger yesterday. Here is some from Trondheim that we saw as we walked to meet our guide. Paul is an artist and we love seeing public art.

 

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Unfortunately we were delayed in docking due to another ship being in our berth. We weren't able to disembark until about an hour later than planned.


So we had to hurry to meet our guide, and the time we would have had to tour the inside of the cathedral was lost. 

 

Here is the cathedral. I hope on our next trip we will get to tour the inside.

 

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Our guide did an excellent job. She talked to us about the history of the cathedral. Then we walked past the Archbishop's Palace, and into a park. Here, we sampled the water at St Olav's Well, which is said to restore youth to all who partake. We drank the cool, clear water but we are still waiting for our gray hair and wrinkles to disappear. 

 

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Continuing our walk....

 

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We continued our walking tour to the Old Town Bridge. 
 

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We also saw the royal palace, where we were able to mount the steps (no security shooing us away as might be expected at just about any official building in the US!) and we practiced our royal wave. 

 

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