12th to 18th September 2005
Having had quite a busy year, especially with having moved house during the summer, we needed a holiday and we needed to be pampered. So we did something we wouldn't have imagined ourselves doing for another decade or two, and booked ourselves on to a cruise - just a few days, and just to Norway, but we thought it wise to start modest... But all our preconceptions of what it might be like, and what the people who would be on board with us would be like, were happily blown out of the water, because we had a great time and are sure we will do something similar again long before we've gone grey.
We suspect there are still many cruises that wouldn't appeal to us because of the way they are operated and their level of formality, but Thomson got it just right on the Celebration. It was lovely to be waited upon hand and foot for those few days, with nothing too much trouble for the cabin or restaurant staff, yet never did it feel like we had stepped through a time-warp, that we weren't dressed up enough for the occasion or whatever. Our fellow travellers really did span the whole range of ages and backgrounds, and we certainly didn't feel out of place for a moment.
Our cabin was deep in the bowels of the ship, but an "outside" one, with a porthole just above sea level - for most of the voyage at least... It was a twin room, but perfectly comfortable, and the only problem we really had was in remembering which side of the ship it was on! All our meals were included, with only drinks and any excursions extra, and we certainly fulfilled our requirements of being pampered. There was a choice of restaurants, but when it's all included, it seemed silly not to dine as finely as possible whenever we could, and we only used the buffet service for breakfasts and the odd afternoon tea or whatever.
We departed Harwich late afternoon on Monday 12th September, with a piped send-off from the quayside. There was a "super sail-away deck party" to the rear of the ship that we happily listened to from a distance, but it was more fun to watch the tug boats and chart our passage away past Felixstowe and on to the open sea. We spent the whole of Tuesday at sea, during which time we quite unexpectedly (but very happily) bumped into our friends from Milton Keynes.
We were aware that the weather forecast for the Norwegian coast wasn't too great, but as it turned out, the weather in Ulvik on Wednesday morning was atrocious and we weren't able to harbour at our second port of call, Eidfjord, at all. A tour party was supposed to have had an optional overland excursion from Ulvik to Eidfjord, which had to be cancelled due to the road being blocked by a landslide - probably just as well because we would have been unable to pick them up again at Eidfjord! Even shrouded in low cloud, the Hardangerfjord was impressive, however, and the captain changed course a little to take in more of the scenery. Most people seemed to understand why we had to have the change of plan, but needless to say there were a few people who kicked up a fuss.
Unfortunately the bad weather conditions meant our porthole - which we'd paid a modest premium to have - had to be secured on a few occasions during the trip, but we appreciated the extra daylight we got through it when possible!
The weather on Thursday was mercifully much improved, as we had booked ourselves on to our only excursion of the cruise, a circular coach and train trip from the pretty village of Flåm in the Sognefjord - Norway's biggest fjord.
We started by coach, climbing up spectacular mountainous roads via Gudvangen to the Stalheim Hotel, with panoramic views as we supped morning coffee and munched on delicious cakes. Then on via a couple of stops, including the enormous Tvindefossen waterfall, to Voss where we were treated to a huge buffet lunch (the Swedes would call it a smörgåsbord I'm sure) before catching the Bergen-Oslo train for a few stops, getting off at Myrdal, the top of the famous Flåmsbana mountain railway. The latter returned us to Flåm in great style, briefly stopping for yet another torrent of a waterfall. However, famous and spectacular as the Flåmsbana is, we actually found the Bergen-Oslo line more scenic. Altogether a great day out and with all the extra places we stopped it was well worth paying the extra for.
We had been warned that it rains in Bergen something like 320 days per year, and lo and behold it obliged for us on the Friday. But, unusually, it stopped before too long, and we had a really good day looking around the town under our own steam.
We decided we would like to look at their aquarium, which although only a stone's throw from where we were moored, entailed a lengthy walk round the entire harbour. It was well worth the effort and the modest admittance fee, being home to lots of aquatic animals, including quite a few fairly happy looking penguins, seals and crocodiles as well as the more usual aquarium fare.
After lunch back on board the ship we took the funicular railway up Mount Fløyen, which afforded amazing views over Bergen and beyond.
Alas though, it was soon time to wave goodbye to Norway. We still had a day at sea to enjoy on the way home (including getting told off for kite flying, when it interfered with the ship's radar!) but it was the last dry land we were to see for a while.
A few bonus pictures, either by us of our Milton Keynes friends we met, or by them, of us! We had all our evening meals together, which (along with the odd bottle of wine) was a great way to wind down after busy days sightseeing.
Certain photographs here are visible only to authorised users.