Greetings from Norway – land of the Northern Lights!
I really am a fan of Cunard Cruise Lines and my passengers will tell you that they are very much enjoying their
Cunard experience. There are currently just 3 Cunard “Queens” (Mary, Elizabeth and Victoria) in the fleet. Many are very loyal to the line. I have chatted with a number of passengers onboard who have experienced Cunard’s 14 week long “Round The World” departures. One couple I chatted with has already sailed 72 times with Cunard but it was a female couple from Germany that was presented with flowers at a formal ball as they have sailed over 850 days with Cunard.
It’s early in the AM (Nov 17) and I am sitting in the Commodores Club on Deck 10, where I am surrounded by panoramic views of the ocean with a parade of container ships – there are currently 12 of them in viewing sight. The Commodore Club is a beautiful place – reminiscent of an exclusive country club. The Captain of the Queen Victoria is in the passing lane – this ship is moving along because we were 6 hours late departing Southampton – a tanker containing the fuel for this voyage arrived hours late.
When you sail on one of the Queens its an extra special experience. Cunard passengers are primarily friendly Brits. As you stroll around the vessel it feels sophisticated without being stuffy. It’s very comfortable. The daily afternoon tea is an elegant affair and its so entertaining watching the many ballroom dancers passengers fill the Queens Room dance floor at various times throughout the day. Cunard passengers are willing to dish out more because as they say “you get what you pay for”.
Queen Victoria is not a new ship but its interior is timeless unlike some new very modern ships that are outdated in no time as trends change.
For some cruisers, Cunard’s dress code is a sore spot but it is a Cunard custom. Men are required to wear a jacket every night after 6pm and on this 12 night departure there are 3 formal nights. It’s the mandatory dress code that lifts up the atmosphere during the evening hours. You feel as though you are going to a special occasion every night while sailing with Cunard. Even though passengers are dressed up its on the casual end of the spectrum so everyone is going to feel very comfortable even during the 3 formal nights.
Most of the Brits that I have chatted with have experienced Norwegian Fjord cruises but have returned for this winter climate experience in the Arctic Circle. Norwegian Fjord cruises typically do not sail as north as this very unique itinerary. Everyone wants to see the Northern Lights this time of year and the best sightings are in the far North.
The Brits are panicking about the cold Northern temperatures while my Canadian passengers smirk when hearing that some of them packed extra suitcases with winter clothing, hand/feet warmers and thermal underwear!
When asking some Cunard passengers if they cruise with other lines one couple said they tried some other lines but “we have decided to stick with the Queens”!
The seas have been kind to us – very smooth sail.
November 18 – Happy Birthday to my Mom!
We are now sailing in open waters but it continues to be a smooth sail.
There are 28 countries represented on board – total of 1949 passengers
This evening was the Black and White Ball – a formal occasion where we met the Captain of the vessel.
November 19 – Alesund
Early this morning we docked in Alesund.
There are 47000 that make this place there home.
The Gulf Stream helps to keep the temperatures milder than one would expect in the winter.
Cod fishing is a huge industry here.
Killer whales can be found in these waters.
I have visited Alesund many times and know it very well. I can maneuver around the shopping district easily. I was at my favourite store when it opened at 10am. Everything is expensive in Norway but that can be expected when most things (including food) have to be imported – Norway is currently the most expensive country in the world.
Early afternoon we boarded the Bruvik for a fjord cruise. This boat started sailing in 1949. Back then its top speed of 18 miles an hour made it the fastest vessel in Norway. It features comfortable lounge seating with ample outdoor space. The fjord scenery is spectacular. We saw many large Russian fishing boats during our journey. The snow covered mountains were mesmerizing. Everyone took many pictures during this 3 hour excursion.
Daylight hours are already limited in this part of Norway. Soon Alesund will only experience 3.5 hours of sunlight a day. Our guide told us that the health system is so good here, if one becomes depressed due to the winter darkness they may be sent (for no charge) to the Canary Islands to a retreat owned by the Norwegian government so they can recover!
To “celebrate the darkness” the tallest bonfire in the world lights the sky of Alesund every winter. This event attracts tourists from around the world.
It felt like Christmas in the Britannia dining room this evening as I ordered turkey dinner with all the trimmings – just delicious.
November 20 – Day At Sea
The dining room was almost empty as I enjoyed my breakfast this morning. Most must be sleeping in as this is another day at sea.
I took at seat once again in the Commodore Club (my early morning hangout) to watch the sunrise. At 9am daybreak was starting to appear. Even though its a clear sky the sun only offers a dull light.
As the Captain continues to sail North the amount of daylight will be very more limited.
It was most entertaining watching the Entertainment Director conduct his morning exercise Zumba dance class. Erik reminds me of a young Richard Simmons. He certainly has a large following – the ballroom dance floor was packed and the music was pumping!
Thursday, November 21
Tromso, Norway – First Day of Polar Nights
In all of my travels this is one of the most intriguing destinations I have ever visited.
This place with 70,000 inhabitants claims many world titles – most Northern University, most Northern Burger King, the most Northern Catholic and Lutheran Churches – the list as you can imagine goes on and on….
Tromso is farther North than Siberia, and Alaska!
Two hundred years ago, 80 hunters settled here and soon after the population started to grow.
The University attracts students from 120 countries and with 10,000 students, 1 in ever 7 in this Capital City of the North is a student.
Tromso is often referred to as “Paris of the North” for a few reasons – years ago the local hunters traded their kill for fancy dresses from the store keepers in Paris – nowadays Tromso has 22,000 seats in lounges and restaurants which is enough for 1/3 of the population so…. just like in Paris there are many lounges and restaurants.
Tromso has a cool vibe.
We started the day by taking a cable car up a mountain for a stunning view of the landscape. This being Nov 21 is the first day of Polar Nights – the sun won’t appear over the horizon for 2 months. Starting on Dec 21 it will be dark 24 hours a day. We did see a “reflection” of the sun on some snow covered mountains but by early afternoon it was pitch black. The locals take a daily dose of vitamin D, K2 and Cod Liver Oil to get them through the dark winter.
When touring the famous Arctic Cathedral we learned its not really a cathedral (there is a timber frame Lutheran Cathedral in town) but since so many are attracted to this landmark designed church it has taken the cathedral name. Its hard to miss especially in the evening when it is dramatically lit up – you can spot it for miles.
The Polar Museum was an interesting visit, especially because of the buildings historic age. If its worn wooden floors could talk I’m sure they would have some amazing stories to stories.
After the tour most of us stayed in town to explore. I enjoyed chatting with the storekeepers, especially the ones who have lived in Tromso for their entire life.
Complimentary shuttles ran from downtown to the ship and after a couple of hours I headed back, just in time for afternoon tea.
After dinner we attended a late 9:45pm, 1 hour concert at the Arctic Cathedral. It featured 3 very professional musicians. The encore of, Auld Lang Sine brought tears to many and hearing Harald Bakkeby Moe sing “Be Thou My Vision” was a highlight. It was truly a heartwarming evening. I thought 9:45pm was an odd start time but a greeter told me that this famous church is known for its many midnight concerts.
Our evening tour of the island continued after the concert. We visited another very scenic overlook of the city and drove through beautiful residential areas. Its customary for locals to build homes with oversize windows – never covered with drapes and they want to let the outdoor in. Indoor lighting is important – not necessarily bright lights but accent ones. Our guide told us she has 14 lights in her dining room and that is the norm in many homes.
My initial thought was it must be inexpensive to settle into this community of the far North but like most things in Norway, its VERY expensive to live here.
How do locals make a living? The hospital employees over 400. Research companies employee many plus there are computer jobs and of course tourism. People flock here in order to see the Northern Lights and other attractions like the many killer whales that appear this time of year to feed on pools of herring.
We returned to the ship after midnight. What a jam packed day!
As Tennessee Williams wrote, “Life is all memory except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going”.
Friday, November 22
Today was another relaxing day at sea.
Some of my passengers joined me for a delicious luncheon in the Britannia Dining Room and I once again took in Cunard’s high tea at 330pm.
We were thrilled for those that saw the Northern Lights last night and wondered when the rest of us would get that opportunity…..
As luck would have it tonights display was beyond SPECTACULAR!
The Northern Lights extravaganza started around 530pm and was still in full swing when I left it at 8pm. It really didn’t let up during that entire time. The sky was dancing – what a party. Most of the outdoor lights on the open decks were purposely turned off so we could see the dramatic sky. Many British passengers came prepared with “torches” (we call them flashlights). You definitely had to watch your step but once your eyes got adjusted to the dark conditions it was easy to maneuver.
I’m sure when you think of the Northern Lights a sky of green colour comes to mind. In reality at times you see shades of green and red but the Northern Lights are basically streaks of many shades of white but when a picture is taken the whites turn to 🥬 because a camera can pick up colour better than our eyes.
The Northern Lights are an incredible natural phenomena that all my passengers and I have been so blessed to see. I’m sure the British passengers I met that have tried 4 different times to see the Northern Lights would tell you that the amazing sightings on this cruise have more than made up for the times that they didn’t get to see them in the past.
My iPhone captured some wonderful pictures of tonight’s amazing Northern Lights display. I’m surprised it did so well because I wasn’t using a tripod but had to keep my hand good and steady. I played around and took pictures from different locations on the ship and most importantly figured out how to change camera settings while standing in the dark. When I finally nabbed my first great Northern Lights shot I jumped with joy! I can’t wait to share some with you when I end up with good wifi again.
My nephew will be impressed when he learns that I taught the ships photographer how to use his iPhone for taking pics. His shots were coming out black.
Saturday November 23
We are all off to Sweden by train – a sold out excursion. Scenery in Narvik is stunning.