One of my bucket list items has always been to go and see the Northern Lights. Norway was the choice for this trip and as 2018 is the year of my 45th birthday and my friend, Robyn’s, 50th, I decided to treat us to a cruise to see the lights (well, Bill, my husband) treated us really! We were going 21st March and retuning 2nd April 2018.
We booked the cruise around 16 months in advance and I chose to book with P&O on the Oriana cruise ship. I had joined the Facebook group for Oriana and watched group members share their experience of the ship and cruises. From October 2017 until we left in March 2018, I watched with anticipation and excitement all the passengers who were doing cruises to see the Northern Lights. They were all sharing these wonderful photos of the Northern Lights, which just added to the excitement.
Robyn and I travelled down to Southampton the night before and stayed in the Grand Harbour Hotel. I had a bit of a tough time getting any food in the hotel due to being a gluten/lactose free vegetarian. I managed to get a salad but snacked on some food that I had bought with me. The following day we boarded Oriana around 1pm and had some lunch in the buffet area, shortly after we were able to go to our cabin. I’d booked us an inside cabin. Our cabin had two single beds and a sofa, a bathroom with a shower and there was plenty of cupboard space. At 4pm, we went to our muster point (details of this are in your room and on your key card) which is compulsory as it details what to do in an emergency. We then went to the sail away party at the aft (back) of the ship and watched Southampton disappear into the night. We then had two sea days until we reached our first port, Andalsnes.
We docked in Andalsnes in the morning and had an whole day to explore. We decided to take the morning to look around and had an excursion booked for the afternoon.
We left Oriana and proceeded to the Town centre. Oriana docked in the middle of town so
as soon as you were off the ship, you could look around the small town. There were some shops and an information centre (which is for climbers as we were very close to the Troll Wall). As you can see from the image, Oriana is quite a big ship, although she is classed as a medium sized ship.
After lunch we walked to the bus to have our tour. The tour was going to see the Stave Church (see photo left). The Rødven Stave Church, now the property of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments, dates back to 1300 and is still located on its original site. It was a fascinating church and had a men and ladies entrance. It was cold inside!
After a quick toilet break (there was a small block of toilets next to the Stave Church), we were back on the bus and heading to our next stop at the Troll Wall.
Trollveggen (Troll Wall), with its 3,300 foot vertical and overhanging wall is Europe’s highest perpendicular rock face. As you can see from the image above, it was quite striking. The wall was both sides of the road. After a short stop here, it was time to head back to the ship to leave for our next port. We had another sea day before we would get to Tromso.
We had one sea day on the way to Tromso. It was a bit blowy but relatively calm. Ships have lots of things to do on sea days such as quizzes, films in the cinema, shows, talks, hobby classes and much more but you can also walk around the prom (not all ships have a prom deck though) or sit and read in the Crows nest. Every evening, we received ‘The Horizon’ which detailed what activities were taking place the following day with the time and location. There is also a spa on board offering all kinds of treatments and also a gym. There was also the opportunity to attend Pilates and other fitness classes – you probably need to do something active especially as food is available 24 hours a day!!
During the night (well, 2am!) on route to Tromso, there was an in cabin announcement from the bridge that the Northern Lights had been spotted at the front of the ship. Unfortunately, by the time we had got dressed in our layers and got to the front of the ship, they were gone, BUT, some people had gone to the back of the ship and saw the lights. Tromso would be the next opportunity to see them.
After a lovely day at sea, we docked in Tromso and it was snowing! Nice in one way (at least all those expensive warm clothes got put to use) but also because snow means cloud and cloud means no clear skies and you need clear skies to see the Northern Lights! We had booked a trip independently to go dog sledding as we felt that there was better value for money for this trip when compared to others on offer and, as we were in port overnight, we weren’t constrained to getting back to the ship by evening and worrying about the ship leaving without us. Due to a storm hitting, we were late getting into port so were worried we would miss the trip completely. Thankfully, they waited for us as there were half a dozen of us from the ship that had booked with the same company. Once off the ship, we got the courtesy bus into Tromso which dropped us off opposite the hotel where we were being collected for our excursion, which was handy! We had a pleasant ride to the dog sledding venue.
We booked through a tour company called Get Your Guide, but the actual company the booking was through was www.villmarkssenter.no. On their website you can also book self drive husky sledding, which some people on our group had booked and loved it. The cruise line didn’t offer that as an excursion. After the sledding, they offered food in one of their tents but due to my diet, it wasn’t suitable for me. They offer a drink, meat soup and a vegetarian option. We were then allowed to go and meet the dogs and puppies and have a cuddle. The puppies do like to steal things so be careful!
After having a cuddle with the dogs, we were back on the coach and heading back to Tromso. It was snowing but all transport was operating (not like the UK, where a bit of snow brings us to a standstill!). We had a look around Tromso before heading back to the ship.
After a short time at sea (the same day we left Tromso), we reached Alta. Alta lies well above the Arctic Circle at 70 degrees north latitude. A small town of just 20,000, it is the biggest city in the vast wilderness of Finnmark County. We decided to book a tour in Alta and it included visiting a museum, the Northern Lights Cathedral, slate mine and a husky farm.
We boarded the coach and headed to the museum which was awarded European Museum of the Year in 1993. It houses historical exhibitions depicting the ancient Komsa Culture, the old Market Place in Bossekop, the Northern Lights, military history, local history and a fine collection of Sami costumes and household implements. After that it was onto the Cathedral.
The striking architecture of Alta’s incredible Northern Lights Cathedral splits opinion, but everyone loves the interior. It might look like a factory (some say crematorium!) from the outside, but step inside this northern lights inspired church in northern Norway and it really leaves an impression. Just outside was a display of beautifully carved ice sculptures. They were absolutely breathtaking.
Here is a photo from the inside of the Cathedral – it was something to behold! The floor, chairs and mouldings are all made of oak. The vertical moulding strips with LED lights behind them create an impressive visual effect, a warm atmosphere, and help with the acoustics . We were told that the because of the acoustics, singing in the cathedral draws in a crowd.
After leaving the cathedral we drove to the slate mine. Within the slate mine, they showed us how they cut the slate out and divided it up ready to either turn it in to roof tiles or get creative making door signs. We then made our way to the Husky farm. We had a lovely young girl present a talk to us about the dogs and what they do. The place we visited was a family run farm and they often race their huskies in competitions. The huskies we met seemed to be happy and were living in similar conditions to the ones we saw in Tromso.
Shortly after leaving the husky farm we saw a family of Elk crossing the road – apparently a very rare occurrence and our tour guide was extremely excited.
Our next stop was at a small church in Alta, which in the fading sun and white snow looked stunning. It was then time to head back to the ship for dinner and to see if those elusive Northern Lights would make an appearance tonight!
Again, we stayed up until the early hours of 2am and no sight of the Northern Lights. The next day when we got up we were well on our way to our last port of Stavanger. One more sea day before we get there. We were advised that we probably would not see the Northern Lights after leaving Stavanger, so even though we were disappointed at not seeing the Northern Lights, we’d had a fantastic trip. I decided that I will have to book again but maybe October-February time rather than late March.
On waking we were in Stavanger. I have to admit, I didn’t see very much as I was feeling unwell. A trip to the ship doctor confirmed I had bronchitis. I started treatment and in the afternoon, I managed a short walk around the town. Famed for its many natural attractions and old wooden houses, the Stavanger region is on the radar of nearly every visitor to Norway. Stavanger is both a university city and Europe’s oil and energy capital. Many different nationalities are attracted to the region, making it a highly international destination.
On leaving Stavanger, we had one more sea day before getting back to Southampton. I was expecting an eventful day as the last time I crossed the North Sea returning from Oslo, it was force 12 and a very rough 2 day trip! The sea from Stavanger was as smooth as a millpond!
Both Robyn and I loved the trip overall and was extremely happy that P&O looked after my dietary needs and was able to cook everything that was available on the menu, but changed to gluten/lactose free vegetarian. This is a request that you have to make at the time of booking. If you are interested in looking for a Northern Lights cruise or holiday (lights not guaranteed) please feel free to contact me on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/travelwithjc/ and I will be happy to research a holiday to suit your needs.