• Abigail Woodruff

The Fjord Experience

I always feel so intimidated when I first sit down to start blogging, especially holidays! There is so much that happened and so much that I want to share with you that it feels overwhelming to try and fit it all into this little chunk of the internet.

To start out, if you don't have time to read this entire thing, you just want to scroll through the pictures, or you just want to catch the overall vibe of what this blog post is going to be like before diving in for the long haul- here's a bit of a glance:

- Everybody should put cruising the Norwegian Fjords on their bucket list

- Believe me, the pictures really do not do it justice

- Good crew = good cruise

May 31st, 2019

Just like our cruise last year, we showed up WAY before our boarding time told us to because we just paid a lot of money for the trip of a life time and we wanted to make sure that we made use of every second on board that we could. It is a really different experience cruising when you have done it before, especially when it is on a ship that is SO similar to your last one. We stuck with Royal Caribbean and our ship, Explorer of the Seas, was pretty much identical to Navigator of the Seas. It was nice in some ways because we knew where everything was and what to expect, but it was also not as fresh and exciting as it was last time when everything seemed SO massive and lush.

Boarding day is amazing because you have just started your holiday. You are not at all thinking about the cruise coming to a close and are just enjoying gorging on food and the fresh breeze on deck. We did all of the mandatory bits like the drill (which seemed to take absolute ages), went to see the show that night, and then went to have our dinner. We were seated with this random guy and the conversation was appropriately awkward. Jonathan and I both agreed that we would probably do my-time dining in the future because our first experience sharing a table with someone else was really bizarre. There is only so much that you can talk about with someone as an adult. Why is making friends so hard when you are older? We were glad that we didn't do it for this cruise, though, because if we did, we wouldn't have met the incredible Jross & Elbert, our waiter and assistant waiter. You will hear more about them later, I am sure, but long story short- they were amazing.

The amazing waiting staff!

Our beautiful room- if you ever want to splurge on a balcony or anything, the Fjords would be the best time to do it!

The Royal Promenade where all the shops are.

This dining room ceiling gave me full-on Tangled vibes

June 1st, 2019

Sea days are amazing for exploring the ship, especially if it is brand new for you. Because Navigator was so similar to the Explorer of the Seas, we didn't feel the need to go around and hunt down the amazing things on each deck. We did use this sea day for a bit of time in the casino because we would be docked most other days, to do a bit of shopping in the stores on the Royal Promenade, eating some great food, and reading up on the pool deck. One thing that I do want to mention about this day, though, was how underdressed we felt at formal night. I thought that a blouse and a skirt would be enough to make me feel dressed up, but with women walking around in ball gowns and men all in tuxedos and suits, Jonathan and I felt downright frumpy. This is definitely the opportunity to dress to the nines and nobody would stare at you, if anything you will probably be looked at funny if you don't dress up like you are going to a royal coronation. Today was also the meet-the-captain opportunity and he gave a little speech and introduced us to his staff. Our captain was really great and he was actually from Norway, so it was nice that we got to be the cruise that brought him back home for a bit. We also really enjoyed our cruise director but agree that nobody will ever compare to Rob McNally!

The captain is the one in the middle with the microphone and he is introducing all of the senior staff.

June 2nd, 2019- BERGEN, NORWAY

We started the day with a light breakfast in Windjammer before getting off the ship and heading into Bergen. Because we could not walk around the port, we had to take shuttles to get us outside of the docking area and then we headed towards Bryggen and the centre of Bergen. One of the main tourist attractions in Bergen is the Floibannen which is this little train that takes you to the top of a mountain overlooking Bergen so you can see the second biggest city in Norway from a bird's eye view. We decided to book the tickets in advanced to getting to Bergen and it was literally the best tip that we can give you if the Floibannen is something that you want to do. When we got down from the view, the queue to get on the train was all the way down the street!

Views in Bergen

Headed towards the Floibannen

Views from the top of the Floibannen. You can see all of Bergen, and can even see our ship in the background.

When we were on top of Bergen breathing in all of the crisp mountain air, the clouds opened up and brought some pretty heavy rain. We had luckily gotten most of the pictures and had saw what we came to see, so we headed back down and walked to Bryggen, a World Heritage Site that consists of old wooden buildings. What I love best about just wandering around is that you come across little things like a local band playing in the city and little shops tucked into the tight alleyways of the wooden buildings. We found this AMAZING souvenir shop that had a mixture of cheesy Norwegian things and locally sourced products and stocked up on everything from trolls (a very important Norwegian story) to cheese slicers for our friends and family. By the time we emerged, the rain was quite heavy and ceaseless and we just spent some time nipping here and there and taking in the stunning architecture of the traditional Norwegian buildings.

You can tell Bryggen is the highlight of this amazing city

Traditional Norwegian architecture

Lovingly eyeing Bergen

Braving the rain!

We finally decided we had enough of the rain (pro-tip pack a good waterproof jacket) and so we weaved through the well-beloved Bergen fish market and then headed back to the ship. It was perfect timing to get a late lunch and change into something warm and dry for a cosy afternoon sipping tea and reading on deck with views of the Bergen scenery in the background. The entertainment that night was both a singer from X-Factor back in the day and also a comedian that Jonathan and I both really liked. We then headed to bed early because it was Geiranger the next morning and I wanted to get up early to see the views as we sailed deep into the little fjord.

June 3rd, 2019- GEIRANGER, NORWAY

Early in the morning, I woke up, put on loads of layers, grabbed my camera and headed up on deck. Jonathan wasn't feeling well so I was on my own at first. As soon as the automatic doors opened up and the wind hit my face, I knew I was in for a long morning, but when I emerged onto the deck and saw the greenery and the waterfalls and the massive mountains in the distance, I knew I was also in for one of the best long mornings of my life. I went straight to the beverage station to get some hot peppermint tea and went up as high as I could on the ship for 360 uninterrupted views. At the time I went up, there were maybe 5 or 6 other people on deck so it was very quiet. All I could hear was the sound of the wind whipping through the flags and the gentle cawing of birds. The scenery was unreal and I felt myself starting to tear up. I was so unequivocally at peace. It is funny because nobody really tells you how cold Fjord cruising is so I am shivering and the wind is almost knocking me over and it's blowing this scorching hot tea in my face. There is a slight sprinkling of rain and I have to keep tucking my camera in my jacket between shots to protect it and the whole while, the only thing I can think about is how dreamlike the whole experience is. Geirangerfjord is the kind of place that makes you forget about anything negative and just makes you feel emotional because it is THAT beautiful. By the time Jonathan came up on deck, I had managed to compose myself a bit and we wandered around deck together just taking in all of the greenery.

We decide after a couple of hours on deck that it is just a bit too cold so we head down to get our tickets for our excursion and then grab some breakfast from Cafe Promenade to enjoy on a lower level deck. If you want to see the amazing views but you don't want to stand in wind/rain central, I highly recommend going down to a mid-level deck. Yeah, you might not get the 360 open views, but you still get some amazing scenery and are much more protected from the elements. While on the lower deck, we sailed past the Seven Sisters Waterfall (which is ridiculously beautiful) and all kinds of other rock formations. Can I just give a massive round of applause to the glaciers that carved out Geiranger Fjord? You did a spectacular job.

Melon and caramel croissant with a view

The Seven Sisters Waterfall

Way too quickly, we were ready to dock in Geiranger. Most people have to tender when they are there, but we got the sea walk and headed onto dry land for our excursion that we had booked. After a lot of discussion, we decided to go with the Mount Dalsnibba excursion so that we could see the fjord from up high. We figured that a lot of the time we would be on the boat looking up at the mountains and that it might be nice to get a different perspective. We got on our coach and started heading through the little town and soon enough we were on a pretty consistent upward slope doing some gnarly hairpin turns up to the summit. Our guide was amazing and was telling us about some of the local legends, telling us about local brown cheese and pointing out "troll toilets" all the way up to the top. Apparently Geiranger pretty much closes down as a whole in the winter because it gets so cold and so hard to navigate. He pointed out some small glaciers and then WALLA we were at the top of Dalsnibba, up in the clouds and snow and looking down on our massive ship that looked miniature in the distance.

Look at how small the ship looks!

It was SO cold at the summit.

On our winding way down, we took a pit stop at this amazing photo location to get some shots a little bit closer to the fjord water. THIS is why looking into some excursions when you are cruising the fjords is a great idea because we would have never been able to do this on our own and we got some amazing photo and real-time experiences out of it.

When we got back into Geiranger (the town), we decided to go hunt down the waterfall that runs through the middle of town and also to try some Norwegian snacks because we weren't allowed to bring any food back onto the ship. While Jonathan hunted down a bathroom, I went to get us some chocolate and a soda to fuel up on before our little trek to the waterfall.

Brus was a pear flavoured soda, Kvikk Lunsj was pretty much like a creamy kit kat & SMIL was our favourite- creamy caramel morsels YUM!

The walk from the port to the waterfall is totally doable and not strenuous at all if you ever find yourself docked in Geiranger and don't know how much of a trek it will be to get to the gushing water. It's actually a nice little walk along the waterfront and you get to see some traditional Norwegian homes and shops and also get to see some mountain goats. We walked past this amazing little chocolate shop that we heard was really good, but we were already full from our pear sode and SMIL.

Shop with a traditional grass roof

The waterfall within walking distance from the ship!

After that we went back to the ship to read on deck and get food (what else is new) and I ended up falling asleep to the sound of waterfalls in the distance- also the motion sickness pills I took in anticipation of the winding drive probably didn't do me any favours. There wasn't any show that night because everyone was pretty much on deck watching the sailaway and I think that is totally a good call because those views are one in a freaking million. We did take a break from the views to go eat dinner, though, because we couldn't miss spending time with Jross & Elbert and it was still plenty light when we were finished at 9:30 or so to get a couple more hours of some scenic viewing before bed time.

June 4th, 2019- MOLDE, NORWAY

Obviously after this magical day I am thinking, well it can't possibly get any better than Geiranger so it is all going to go downhill from here. I even looked out our window when we pulled into port and all I could see were these ugly industrial buildings so I just thought, we will go off and wander for a bit, but it looks like one of those places that will end up being a bit of a waste of time. So, we get off the ship and I casually look to my left and see the most magical, mystical mountains that I have ever seen in my life. Like these are mountains right out of a fairytale fantasy novel. They are dark blue and cast a blue shadow over the water and the sunlight coming from behind them causes this warm light to peek out from behind the peaks. Jonathan just started laughing as I scurried over to the left to get some pictures since I had been complaining about how boring Molde looked from the window. Jonathan had been interested in looking at the football stadium and luckily that is also where the view opened up as well.

After I took over a hundred photos of the mountain ranges, we nipped into town to see what we could find to do in the town of Molde. I am not exaggerating when I say that we saw about everything that there is to see in Molde in about 2 hours, so it's definitely not a big place. Jonathan had his handy dandy map out and was pointing me this way and that towards the library and cathedral and then we found out about this old historic house and gardens and went on a little hunt to find it.

Molde's main street

Molde Football Stadium

Molde Cathedral

We wandered up these residential streets, past a school and then all of a sudden we were in the garden of this beautiful yellow home. It is bizarre because people actually live there now and there is just a bunch of tourists wandering in their garden, but it was really lovely. Because Molde isn't this huge tourist destination, it was quite quiet and peaceful for being one of the main attractions in Molde.

Thinking I should move?

View of Molde from the gardens

And with that we had seen pretty much everything there is to see of consequence in Molde, so we headed back to the ship for lunch and lounging. We decided that it would be a good time to try out the mini golf on the ship as well as a lot of people were still off on their Molde excursions and it wasn't a really beautiful sunny day so the ship was kind of quiet. It was a brilliant idea because it was pretty much just us on the little golf course and the views from the ship were breathtaking. Pretty much the best mini golfing experience that I have had- it'll be hard to beat the Norwegian mountainscape.

Then, with our dinner and the evening show under our belt (it was the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers), we headed to bed because we had an intense excursion the next day.

June 5th, 2019- OLDEN, NORWAY

Olden surprised us as we hadn't heard anybody really talk about it before, but the views are up there with Geiranger's. It is deep in this narrow fjord and is about the same size as Geiranger. This was the day of our big excursion. We had decided to do a hike to Briksdal Glacier, a well-known glacier in western Norway. The website had said that it was a strenuous excursion but we had just assumed that it wasn't that bad and that it was just a warning for the elderly people who make up 90% of cruisers. Turns out that it actually was very strenuous, even for fit young people, but before I get ahead of myself, I should mention that our coach stopped at this little glacial lake to take photos and it was really really beautiful. The water of this lake is literally the most stunning and ethereal colour that I have ever seen before. I want my whole house to be the colour of this lake. I want my child to be the colour of this lake. And of course, the photo doesn't do it justice.

Then, we arrive in the car park for the glacier hike. I am all pumped and ready to bound up to this glacier. We see the beginning of the path all unassuming and nice with a little arrow pointing towards the right side for walkers and then...

BAM. It is literally all freaking uphill and my calves are screaming at me. I get to a little place where people are looking at this waterfall and I go over to "check it out" when I really just need a breather. I look over to the path and all these older people are whipping out their hiking sticks and tightening up their hiking boots and Jonathan and I are looking at each other like what the heck did we get ourselves into. We go another 5-6 minutes straight uphill hiking and it evens out a bit. I relax thinking the worst is over until I notice this heaving waterfall and steep stairwell and contemplate my life choices as we move over for a troll car (literally just a glorified golf cart) to pass us.

You can see the stairs in the background!

Finally, after traipsing up the stairs and my leg muscles yelling at me that I am out of shape and a complete fool, the path starts to flatten out. There are little uphill slopes every now and again, but I don't feel like I am going to pass out and die in the Norwegian wilderness, in fact, I really start to appreciate the views around me.

My face when I realised I could actually see the glacier.

The views that kept me going.

Soon enough, we started seeing signed in Norwegian with the title BRIKSDAL GLACIER pasted across the top and realised that we were almost there! Just a few more steps and we were on the rocks of the little beach surrounding the base of the glacier. A lot of people thought we actually got to hike ON the glacier, but that is pretty impossible. It is a hanging glacier, so little bits chip off and fall away from it all of the time and it would be really dangerous, but I did get to feel the ice cold water coming from it and gaze at it amongst the other tourists and hikers! Honestly, I was just so dang proud of myself for getting there that I was running on pure adrenaline.

Couples that hike to glaciers together, stay together.

Casually so proud of my athletic prowess

And with that we started the downhill trek back to the base to get some Norwegian delicacies like lefsa and buttercream and apple cake. I don't know whether it was the fact that it was all down hill, or the fact that the sun was out, or the fact that there was delicious desserts waiting at the bottom, but the way down was literally 5 times faster than the way up. I was just smiling and snapping pictures. I can see why people get addicted to hiking because even though it was really hard work, it was blooming fulfilling.

Smiling because I am about to get lefsa

This was the best excursion that we have been on for any cruise port we have been on. It was amazing because we got the transport taken care of, a bit of local history, some local delicacies, and some guidance for the hike, but we were also allowed to do everything at our own pace and enjoy it the way we wanted to. Also it was pretty much the coolest thing I have ever done. After our snacks (which were amazing by the way) we got back to the ship just in time for sailaway (which was really beautiful) and then went to a comedian juggler (which is the weirdest show I have ever seen) and then had dinner (yum!). The only downfall of the night is we went to the "Dancing on Top of the Ice" show which was literally the most awkward thing I have ever done in my life. Jonathan and I ended up leaving because all they were doing was yelling at people to get on the floor and dance.

Sailaway from Olden

June 6th, 2019- ALESUND, NORWAY

Jonathan and I didn't really have a plan for Alesund except that we wanted to go on top of Mount Aksla because it was an amazing viewpoint. We thought that we would walk up the stairs for the view and then go check out the Art Nouveau architecture near the centre, but Jonathan wasn't feeling well so we did a little switcheroo and booked tickets for this little local train to take us to the main sights. It wasn't that expensive (but it was still a rip off) and it brought us to Mount Aksla without us having to climb up a million stairs or whatnot. While we were waiting for our train, we decided to go get a little stuffed moose for Oscar (because we are exemplary pet parents) and wandered upon the little Art Nouveau architecture area. The buildings are so colourful and it's right on this canal front. It was stunning, and because it was quite early in the day, not many people were there.

Having got our moose and stumbling upon the main strip of the town, we headed back to get on the train up to Aksla. We had these little headphones that we wore on the train which told us all about the history of Alesund from the role that it played in the war, to the significance of certain structures and the whole history of the fire that brought the famous architecture to Alesund. It was a good way to get a quick overview of the city and before we knew it, we were parked up for viewing the city from Aksla. These photos are what followed.

We then debated for awhile whether we wanted to take the stairs down but my frugal mind was all "but you already paid for the train ride and it might take you somewhere else!" and it did to be fair, but we didn't stop anywhere else, so when we got off the train, we headed out to check out the cathedral and to see what other things we could find around Alesund. There wasn't much to see, but it was a really beautiful day and it was kind of nice to just wander around and see what we could find without any pretence.

Loved this ode to the vikings on the park bench

Back to this stunning place

Alesund Cathedral. We didn't go inside, though, because it cost money.

If you ever wonder what I look like when I travel, this is a pretty accurate representation.

The afternoon and evening on board was quite busy this day. We had lunch and.... can you guess?... read on deck for awhile, then we actually decided to hop into the pool because it was such a warm sunshiny day. The water was still freezing, though! We then got ready for dinner, I bought some perfume, we watched The Barricade Boys which is this group of 4 guys that sing Les Mis and I was near tears when they sang Bring Him Home in honour of D-Day and then we had a lovely dinner before the Love & Marriage Gameshow which is one of my favourite parts of the evening cruise experience, it always makes me laugh! I am exhausted just typing it out!

June 7th, 2019- STAVANGER, NORWAY

The last port day! It came around really fast when we were cruising (but I have literally been typing for almost 4 hours, so it's come around a lot slower this time, ha!). Our last day was in Stavanger, which is most famous for Pulpit Rock. Jonathan and I, however, having barely survived the glacier hike decided to just wander and see what we found. It looked really beautiful and I am glad that we did what we did, because as amazing as I am sure Pulpit Rock is, I feel like we really got a feel for Stavanger in our wanders.

-Just a note before I forget, there are boats that take you to this mystical garden island nearby, and while we didn't have time to do it, it looks freaking amazing if you do have time!

We started our walk around the port and came across the Stavanger Cathedral which had this beautiful park behind it with a lake and fountains and loads of swans. It was a beautiful sunny day again, but it was early in the morning, so it was quiet and lovely and I could have sat and watched the swans all day if it was just me.

Jonathan wasn't necessarily as keen on the swans as I was, though, so we wandered into the back streets where a lot of the shops were. None of them were open yet because it was so early but it was almost nicer that way because it wasn't heaving with people and we could just enjoy the quiet morning atmosphere. We turned down this one street unexpectedly, though, and my mouth dropped. It was this stunning colourful street with these bright multi-coloured buildings. I have never seen anything like it. It was like I was in this giant doll-house world. There was this cute colourful coffeeshop with books in the window and I would literally go there every day if I was a local. Read more about the street here- https://www.visitnorway.com/listings/%C3%98vre-holmegate-the-colourful-street/4726/

How cheery is this??

We then just wandered up to this monument, went to hunt down some of the cool street art, and then went to the other side of the docks to check out the famous buildings of Old Stavanger (which as Royston, the excursions manager would say, you need not to miss). Old Stavanger is literally the cutest place you have ever seen in your life. It's these beautiful old wooden white buildings with multi-coloured shutters, stunning gardens, picket fences, views of the port... just... it's perfect. I would pick up and leave everything behind if I could live in Old Stavanger.

Beautiful street art

Walking into Old Stavanger

View of the ship from Old Stavanger- we were literally docked right next to it!

We did the last of our souvenir shopping right before getting back on board and it was quite fun trying to use up all of our kronor before getting back on board (Norwegian Kronor is a really fun currency to use). One thing we decided we really wanted to do was get our amazing waiters a little souvenir from Norway so we were hunting around the shops for the perfect thing and saw pins that had 2 flags on them- one of Norway and one of other countries, we knew that Jross & Elbert were both from the Philippines so we found pins with the Philippines flag and got that for them. They were so pleased with the gift and it honestly meant the world to us to get it for them. They put them on right away and wore them for the rest of the cruise and told us about their families and such. Those two men completely made our cruise. We highly recommend doing something similar to this, along with a tip of course, to show the staff how much you enjoyed their company.

Elbert (left) & Jross (right) with their pins!

A musical show and Graham (our cruise director's) comedy show later, we went to bed in preparation for our last day on board. Stavanger was the perfect port to end our cruising in Norway.

June 8th, 2019

Last day of the cruise consisted of 3 things really: packing, filling ourselves full with the food, and our tour of the ship.

For Jonathan's birthday, I got him tickets to the All Access (behind the scenes) tour of the ship because that is totally his thing. We got to see the bridge, the incinerator room, the engine control room, the kitchen, the laundry room, etc. which is amazing for people that want to know the ins and outs of ship life. Jonathan really loved it and even I have to admit that it was cool to see all these parts of the ship that you kind of forget exist when you are on board. It really is a floating city.

We watched shows, got snacks, did some shopping, everything between our schedule. Trying to cram everything in on our last day.

Jonathan and I on the bridge!

FINAL THOUGHTS- I have been back from this cruise for a month now and still think about it almost every single day. I love my city breaks that are packed full of culture and intrigue, but there was something so special about being out in nature and soaking in Norway through the core. I spent every second that I could looking at the hills and waterfalls and just taking it in because it's so unique and special. Cruising was definitely the best way to tackle the fjords too, because you were literally sailing down the path that the glaciers would take, looking up at the towering nature on both sides, surrounded. The towns that we went to were so welcoming and everyone was so lovely and nice. Everywhere was clean and progressive and yet it was also old and traditional. We would pass medieval churches and legends of vikings, but it all was renewed and brought into the modern age. I did a bit of research on troll stories and Norse Mythology before my trip and I have to say that it heightened the experience even more. It's a land of myths and legends and rain and history and beauty and... well, I guess you'll have to go check it out yourself.



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