Andrew Darby was once seasick on a pedalo, but a trip to the beautiful scenery of Norway with Cruise & Maritime Voyages has changed his mind forever
Cruise Adviser don’t half have a sense of humour. As a 30-year-old Midlander living in central London, I had once been seasick on a pedalo and the thought of getting on a rowing machine has been enough to give me sea legs. I’m perhaps, therefore, not the ideal candidate for an eight-day cruise tackling the North Sea up to Norway. But the fjords, one of the world’s most dramatic landscapes, had been on my bucket list for some time, and a cruise – I was told – was the only way to do it.
It was with this trepidation that I boarded Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ 1,250-capacity ship Magellan at Tilbury’s London Cruise Terminal. Within half an hour my passport is checked, my bags are delivered to my room and I’m enjoying a cocktail in the spring sun – not a bad start.
Our first stop is the very next morning in Amsterdam, which is enjoying King’s Day – a celebration of the monarch’s birthday – and the city is awash with orange. Before we wander the canals, we take the opportunity to visit Keukenhof, one of the world’s largest flower gardens which only opens its gates to tourists for two months of every year, after 10 months of cultivation. It is here that the Netherlands garners its reputation for tulips and, having opened to the public 69 years ago, it now has 100 cultivators donating millions of bulbs each year.
We have another day at sea before arriving at the fjords – a perfect opportunity to explore the ship. CMV unashamedly targets the older generation and, speaking to some of the veteran cruisers on board, it’s easy to understand why 40 per cent of its passengers are returning customers.
The itinerary and destination are, of course, the primary reasons why someone decides to book a particular cruise, but one passenger tells me it is with the food and entertainment where CMV get it so right. I become accustomed to this way of living: a two course breakfast and five course dinner become routine and my day is broken up with a morning quiz, a table tennis competition and a token attempt at using the gym facilities. This, in addition to the bingo, films, crafts, cabaret and spa treatments on offer.
It is the next morning, however, when I really understand why people cruise. As I pull my cabin curtains back, I am presented with a postcard vision. I have woken up in Eidfjord and the fuzzy head I acquired from the previous night’s Abba-inspired show quickly subsides. One of the many reasons that Eidfjord welcomes up to 600,000 visitors each summer is the Vøringfossen waterfall, which has a total fall of 182m. It is overlooked by the Wes Anderson-esque Fossli Hotel, which has been family-owned for four generations. The other is the Hardangerfjord – Norway’s second largest fjord – at which we don our fluorescent waterproofs for a high-speed RIB experience from the harbour.
Our day in Flåm is a roller coaster. We cruise along the beautiful Aurlandsfjord and have lunch with Vikings, before taking the famous Flåmsbana railway which weaves through the mountain landscape up to Myrdal. We toast the day with a trip to the Ægir brewery where, by the fireplace, we are treated to a tasting session and given a background in the Norse mythology that inspired it. It has been a whirlwind day of history, culture and scenery and my head is spinning, not – I assure my group – because of the ales I have sampled.
Olden is one of my personal highlights of the cruise. In the morning we head to Briksdal glacier and with the choice of hiking up or taking the aptly named ‘troll car’ we opt for the latter. By beating the crowds we have the glacier and the icy blue water below it to ourselves and admire a valley 10,000 years in the making. In the afternoon we continue our relaxed mode of travel by taking the Loen Skylift 1011m above sea level to Mount Hoven, drinking in the panoramic views as adventurous Norwegians take flight paragliding from its peak.
Our cruise of the fjords culminates in Bergen – Norway’s second city – one of the inspirations for Disney’s Frozen and a city decorated in colourful architecture. We take in the local food and visit the Edvard Munch exhibition at the KODE art museum and I begin to wonder how many other forms of travel would allow for such a variety of experience.
On our last evening, Mike Hall, head of marketing for CMV, tells me that the fjords cruise is the “benchmark” for cruising. If that is the case, then CMV certainly set a high standard. As for this now hardened seafarer, I’ll see you at the port for my next cruise…