These 7 Things Throw Norwegian Fjords Cruisers Every Time!
These 7 Things Throw Norwegian Fjords Cruisers Every Time!
Not one of the passengers I spoke to in the early days of my recent Norwegian Fjords cruise had any inkling that the days of us cruising here could be numbered. And every day on that cruise, I came across things about cruising the Fjords that my fellow passengers were shocked, surprised, or confused by, and I wanted to talk about seven of those here.
#1 End of Fjord Cruising in Sight
Norway has always been a very eco-focused country and is far advanced in many of the things they do, with electrification of cars, hydroelectric power, and so on.
They already had strong rules on the type of fuel and various eco things related to ships cruising there. However, they have decided that by 2025, they will only allow zero emission ships and ferries into UNESCO World Heritage listed fjords. So, that includes places like Geiragerfjord and Naeroyfjord, which is where Flam is based. They won’t even allow LNG ships. It basically means you need electric powered ships, of which there are none.
There is also a lobbying group called Cruise Not Welcome and its members have been harassing cruisers over the last couple of seasons. They put up a thousand posters in Bergen this past season, but they’ve also been active in Flam.
Of course, there are many other fjords that are not UNESCO World Heritage listed, so it is possible that ships could sail there. However, some of the most stunning and the most beautiful are the ones that are going to be restricted.
There is a real chance that cruising to the fjords will become very different. This was a big surprise and probably is an extremely good reason for going sooner rather than later.
#2 The Fjords Are Not Alaska
One of the things I did find amusing is how many people were surprised the Norwegian fjords were not like Alaska.
It is not only geographically different, but I think many people expect an Alaska cruise and a fjords cruise to be interchangeable. I’ve done both recently. I went to Alaska in June, and I went to the fjords again in September, and they are extremely different.
Let me talk about some of the key differences that you should expect.
First, in the fjords, there are many places that you can call on, big and small, loads of places that can accommodate ships. In Alaska, it’s more restricted, so most of the ships will call on three key ports. Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway. They may also go to Whittier, to Sitka.
Myriad of Places
However, in the fjords there are a myriad of places. Even some of the tiniest places you can imagine take cruise ships. So, you’ll find that itineraries are often a mixture of towns like Stavanger, Bergen, Olden, and Flam. But you will go into tiny little places like Geiranger, which only has about 250 residents. I went to Eidjord, which has just a couple of hundred.
On a Norwegian fjords cruise, the scenery is constant because you are sailing within fjords, some many hundreds of miles deep. Whereas in Alaska, you’re basically travelling by sea from port to port. So, scenery is more constant. It is around you most of the day and certainly into the evening.
A Norwegian cruise is not as wildlife focused. In Alaska, you’re looking for eagles, bears, whales. Here it is much more nature and scenery focused. You might see a couple of reindeer, but it’s not so much about the wildlife. It’s about the scenery, the huge cliffs, the magnificent forests, the waterfalls. It’s also much less about glaciers. In all my trips that I’ve been on to the Norwegian fjords, the only time I’ve seen a glacier is when I went on a helicopter ride in Nordfjordeid, and I saw it in the distance. It is possible though to see some glaciers in Norway and some people went on excursions on my most recent trip to the Briksdal Glacier.
There’s one key similarity. Both are very beautiful. Many people ask me, “Should I do Alaska or the Norwegian fjords?” The answer is both because they are very different.
#3 So Far Inland
The third thing I want to talk about, which is one of the most surprising things about doing a Norwegian fjords cruise, is how far inland the ships sail. Even on the big ships, I have been to the likes of Skjolden on the Queen Elizabeth, which was 135 miles inland. And recently on Disney Magic into Eidfjord, which was over 110 miles inland.
This is a key difference between Norway and Alaska, because you don’t tend to get any experience quite like this on an Alaskan sailing.
One of the biggest confusions, which can turn into one of the biggest surprises around the Norwegian fjords is linked to the weather, and the Northern Lights.
The weather in Norway is not great. Even in summer it usually only gets to between 15 and 21 degrees Celsius. That’s 60 to 70 degrees in the daytime. It rains a lot, like in Alaska.
What threw people is they hadn’t really packed as they would do if they were going to a very variable climate. So, heading to Norway, I always pack the same as I do for Alaska – layers – and I make sure I’ve got a good outer layer to cope with rain.
Midnight Sun & Northern Lights
In the peak season, which runs from May to about September, it is light until very late – these are the months of the Midnight Sun. So, although a lot of people come to the fjords hoping to see the Northern Lights, they will not see them because it’s the wrong time of year. You can be out on deck at midnight and it’s like the middle of the day.
If you want to see the Northern lights, cruise in the autumn and winter months, and head north. It will be very cold, but November, December, and January, offer the greatest chance to see the Northern Lights. Plus, there’s some awesome winter-related shore excursion options.
#5 The Options
Another thing that surprised people was just how many options and permutations face you when considering a Norwegian fjords cruise.
It is a short season. Places can get busy, prices can be high, and demand can be even higher, because you can only really sail between May and September if you want to avoid snow boots.
Most cruises tend to be packaged as seven-night sailings and you have two key routes to choose from. The first are a mix of fjords and towns. It tends to be more focused on the mid to southern part, and most of those will sail out of accessible ports. They will sail out of the UK or Germany, Holland, Denmark, or Norway itself. This is the classic and most popular one, with the most amount of choice.
The second option that you could consider is a more intense coastal trip that runs from Bergen in the south to Kirkenes in the north. Heading into the Arctic Circle. There are few lines that do this one, but the most common is Hurtigruten, which has departures every day.
Fjords and Towns
My suggestion as a first timer would be to do the route I mentioned first, but with this also comes a challenge, as almost all cruise lines offer a version of it. So, you could go with the resort type cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, MSC. More premium cruise lines, like Princess, Celebrity, P&O Cruises UK. And smaller ships like Saga or Fred Olsen. You could even go with German or Italian lines, like AIDA or Costa. The choice is enormous.
So, it’s important to decide what kind of experience you want, so you are not unpleasantly surprised. For example, I went on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, which gave me a more enrichment focused experience –there were lots of lectures and talks. When I went on Disney more recently, there was zero immersion, it was more about the on-board experience.
#6 Excursions That Surprise
Something that threw off a lot of people was excursions. They tend to be expensive and sell out quickly. However, one of the things I would say is it’s very easy to find excursions and hop on, hop off buses in port, even in the tiny ones. There are a myriad of options and at much better value than line ones.
Make sure you do think about and plan excursions in most of the places that you visit. Some of the places are incredibly small. So, if you step off in Skjolden, for example, or you step off in Eidfjord there’s pretty much nothing to do in the actual town. It’s all about going further afield. Even in the bigger towns likes Stavanger, there’s not a lot to do in the town itself.
Many of the excursions can result in long days and a lot of people over-exerted themselves because they’d basically booked six, seven-hour excursions every day. They were exhausted. So pacing is key.
There are a few more excursions watchouts you need to know about.
First, Norwegians are very active, so they tend to underplay the energy levels and the difficulty of excursions. It may be billed as moderate, but it is often harder than people expect. Keep this in mind.
Next, a key thing that surprises people is just how expensive many of these excursions are. So, make sure you budget for that.
One of the things that surprised and disappointed people on all my trips revolved around souvenirs. People wanted to come back from Norway with beautiful and authentic items. The souvenir shops are everywhere, but they’re very tourist orientated, and in my view, they’re packed with corny things, many of which are not made in Norway.
If you do want to bring something back that’s unique and typically Norwegian, then look at the knitwear with the distinct Norwegian snowflake design. And of course, they have trolls everywhere. Always check on the label where they’re made.
I would stress again that Norway is very expensive. The currency is the Norwegian kroner, and because it’s not the Euro, the exchange rate is more complicated, it’s easy to get confused about how much you’re paying. Make sure you understand it. On the plus side, many of the souvenir shops will take Euros and some will take dollars or UK Sterling.
If you really want to do a Norwegian fjords cruise, look at this video, where I give you very specific tips on how to make the most of a Norwegian fjord cruise. Starting with the one tip everybody should focus on first to make sure they get it right.
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