Emerald Princess cruise to the Norwegian Fjords by Mike Pickup

There is an oft-repeated joke in Norway; a visitor asks a boy if it always rains in Bergen. The boy replies; “I don’t know, I’m only eleven!” Well we can assure you it doesn’t. We awoke in Bergen, the last port on our Norwegian cruise, to warm sunshine, the best weather we experienced during a week that included a force eight gale and thirty foot waves. Yet it was all handled so easily by our cruise ship Emerald Princess that not one cup of coffee was spilled and many guests were unaware of the conditions outside. Our cruise started in Southampton, England. There was a mix of nationalities on board including Americans for whom this was a key element in their European tour. For Londoners like us, however, in less than two hours from leaving home we had located our cabin and were enjoying lunch in the buffet.Photo 1. Cabin Later that day we headed to Vines wine bar in the ship’s central atrium for pre-dinner drinks. No ordinary wine bar, Vines offers guests the choice of Tapas or Sushi to accompany their drinks. We were tempted to stay the evening but we resisted and joined our fellow guests for a substantial dinner.  After a night-cap in Crooners bar it was hardly surprising that we slept soundly. A sea day followed and a chance to relax before getting dressed up for the traditional captain’s welcome party. The next morning, day three, found us moored in Stavanger, a small town (Norway doesn’t do ‘big’) popular with cruise ships. There were three in port that day, moored next to the old town with its quaint pedestrian cobbled streets and white wooden buildings. The new town is only a few minutes away, so there was plenty to do and see, all within walking distance. Photo 7. On the bridge We were unable to leave port that afternoon at our allotted time due to a combination of close proximity of the other ships and strong winds. When we finally left, two hours late, the ship’s master, Captain Martin Stenzel, warned us of heavy weather to come. He was right. Several hours later, sitting in our restaurant on deck five, someone commented that they had ordered fish but didn’t expect to see it swimming past the window! However, Emerald Princess took it calmly and diners even asked the waiters not to close the curtains so that they could enjoy the show nature had put on for us. The next day we arrived in Skjolden, Sognefjord, one of Norway’s longest Fjords that runs deep into the spectacular landscape of towering mountains and high waterfalls. Photo 4. Lom Church Our tour took us inland through the Sognefjell National Park, passed  huge glaciers, despite it being the middle of summer, and over northern Europe’s highest mountain pass to the town of Lom, home to Norway’s second oldest church. Completed in 1158, this wooden structure is in use today and is popular throughout Norway as a wedding venue. Lom also claims to have Norway’s best bakery and many guests felt they just had to sample the produce. Photo 5. Alesund We awoke next day in Alesund. Consisting of seven islands linked by numerous bridges it is often described as the Venice of the North. This busy port and home to the thriving North Sea Oil industry and is also well known for its fishing, primarily cod, and furniture making. In 1904 an unattended candle let to a major fire which destroyed most of the homes. They were rebuilt in the then fashionable Art Deco style, giving the city a unique architectural heritage. Remains of the old buildings were re-assembled so it is also possible to see local homes as they were before the fire. Our last port of call was Bergen. Again small enough to manage on foot, it is noted for its UNESCO Heritage site, the old Hanseatic Wharf of Bryggen with colourful buildings, narrow passageways and historic structures. The famous fish market is also worth a visit. Photo 6 Bryggen Our final day was spent at sea and included a tour of the ship, one of Princess Cruises more popular events. Our group was taken “back stage” to see how things worked. First stop was the bridge where one of the officers on duty explained the controls and navigation to us. Captain Martin Stenzel appeared, relaxed with morning mug of coffee in hand, and was happy to join in the question and answer session. We visited the kitchens to see just how the ship manages to feed meals to over three thousand guests and how food is brought on board, stored and prepared, with every meal cooked to order. We also visited the print shop where two thousand copies of the daily programme are produced, and the photo labs where the hundreds of pictures taken by the ships photographers are processed and printed. Last stop was the engine management room where the chief engineer, supported by a large screen linked to the ship’s control computers, gave us a detailed description of not just the operation of the engines but also the air conditioning, heating, fire control and water management. He told us we were safely drinking tap water that was processed from what had earlier been flushed down the toilet. In fact it was so pure that minerals had to be added to make it taste like the water we were used to. He certainly wasn’t a good salesman for bottled water! Our journey ended with a memorable meal in one of the two speciality restaurants, and after the now traditional night-cap we retired for the final time to our comfortable bed, having made new friends, enjoyed the hospitality that is Emerald Princess together with the unique and spectacular country that is Norway. For more information on Princess Cruises go to www.princess.com