Marella Explorer – Land of the Midnight Sun Cruise – June 2019

Day 1 – Embarkation

In my opinion, Newcastle port is not very well organised. The embarkation process was very disjointed and puts a bit of a dampener on the start of your holiday. We (I was travelling with three other ladies on this cruise and cabin sharing with one of them to cut the cost down), arrived at the terminal at around 11.30 having walked from the North Shields Premier Inn which is located at the entrance to the port (so is a good place to stay as the walk is all downhill). We were then sent to the red building to drop off our cases. Because I hadn’t paid £48 to prebook my cabin, I had no idea of my cabin number, so it was then that I learnt I would be in cabin 4078. We queued for around 45 minutes where they attached a label with our cabin number on and took it off to be put on the ship. The next time we would see them was outside the cabin. We then went back outside to wait for a courtesy bus to take us back to check in at the terminal.

Once back at the terminal, we then had to queue again to collect a document and our cruise cards, then wait for our allocated letter to be called to check in and go through security. Because Gill (my cabin buddy was running late, I asked if I could check in without her and was told by one of the ladies that I couldn’t and would have to wait for Gill to arrive. So I sat down with Lesley and Sue (my other two buddies) and waited for our letter (L) to be called. Gill still hadn’t arrive when our letter was called so they went a head and boarded while I waited. After another hour or more of waiting (and I was getting hungry), I asked another lady if I could leave Gill’s card with them for her to collect and they said ‘yes, just leave the envelope’. Why they couldn’t have done this an hour and a half ago, I don’t know, so I carried on to the next queue!!

I queued to get my photo added to my card then again to go through security, then to get on the bus to go to the ship, then finally (having driven the long way around) we were dropped off at the ship and able to board. All in all, the above process could be improved as it seemed very disjointed and unorganised. I am not sure if this is all down to the port itself or TUI, I’ll let you decide!!

Marella Explorer waiting for us to board

I boarded mid ship, deck 5 near the reception area, so to find my cabin, I just went down one level and easily found it as my cabin was midship. I had an inside cabin and (as stated above) was sharing with Gill to save money as Solo travellers tend to be penalised with a ‘solo supplement’. By cabin sharing, I can travel as a solo, meet up with people for dinner but still also do my own thing.

Cabin number 4078 – inside – Deck 4.

The Cabin has a lot of room and wardrobe/drawer space. Bathroom is quite big too. After unpacking and settling in, I met up with Lesley, Gill and Sue for dinner and was joined by two other solos, Jim and Julie. Over the period of the holiday, I did find that there was a lot of engine/air con noise in this cabin – not sure what, but it was quite loud. I was told (by a member of housekeeping) that floor 4 is the worse for this noise!

As always, first night dinners are never brilliant due to my diet, so had to make do with what could be made for me. I had a lettuce wrapped veggie roll with a peanut sauce to start, followed a a vegetable tart (but with no tart) and a lovely apple pie with sorbet for dessert (this was the best bit of the meal).

After dinner, we made our way to the front of the ship to watch the ‘variety’ show which was just a taster of what was going to be shown throughout the cruise. I went to a few of the shows and as always, some were good, some not so – It’s a personal choice, so I have avoided commented on the shows throughout this blog and mainly kept the blog to the tours and ports of call.

The evening was then spent in one of the many bars onboard called the Indigo. There is also a nightclub and casino there.

Day 2 – Sea Day

After having lunch, I spent most of my day in the ships spa, just chilling and relaxing. They had an offer on of £99 for the whole cruise and it consists of using the spa area (no treatments) which reminded me a bit of walking into the spa at Centerparks in Longleat. Beautiful, spaced out and isn’t that busy at all.

Day 3 – Bergen

Bergen is the Gateway to the Fjords of Norway. As a UNESCO World Heritage City and a European City of Culture, the Bergen region has the ideal combination of nature, culture and exciting urban life all year around.

I had a tour booked which was the Monstraumen Cruise. Deep fjords, steep mountains, mighty waterfalls and powerful currents – all year round!
On the way from Bergen you will have a good view of the famous Bryggen, the old city of Bergen along with the rest of Bergen`s harbour basin.

The cruise continues under Nordhordalandsbrua up the 27-kilometer long Osterfjorden in Hordaland province. Innermost in that deep fjord is Modalen, the second smallest municipality in Norway with about 380 residents. Underway, the fjord narrows between the steep mountains as you head through the strong currents of the shallow and narrow Mostraumen strait. You’ll also see waterfalls that can give your face a really refreshing shower at times of peak water flow! We sail our bow right up to a waterfall before turning back in Modalen and retracing our route through the magnificent landscape.

There was a slight problem with this tour for some people (limited mobility and the disabled) as it turned out there was a 10-15 minute walk to get to the dock where we got the small cruiser. Even at the cruise ship, some people left because of this as they were unable to walk. I (and several others in the group), spoke to the excursion rep, Kelly, and we all found her rather rude and abrupt as she was unable to understand that it hadn’t been specified that there was a 10 minute walk to the cruiser on the description. Had this been said, some people probably wouldn’t have booked. However, on the return trip, it was announced that, for those that needed it, there was a bus waiting at the port. I think Marella could have handled it a bit better, but at least they found a solution for the return trip. As well as our cruise ship, there was three others in port, including Fred Olsen’s Boudicca.

Fred Olsen’s Boudicca

Day 4 – Olden

Olden is a small pleasant village at the end of the Nordfjord. A ten minutes walk from the quay will bring you to the centre of Olden, with shops, outlet stores, cafés, ATM and a post-office.

Olden in absolutely stunning. I had a great trip (again organised by Marella). It was called Majestic Kjenndalen. This time, we had a coach ride from the port (after a short tender ride as P&O’s Britannia was also in port today), to a small cruiser to cruise lake Lovatn.

We cruised to our first stop which was a restaurant on the lakeside called Kjenndalstova where we were given hot drinks and waffles. Surprisingly, they were able to do some gluten free/lactose free vegetarian waffles, so for once I managed to eat!! I was very grateful for this as its so unusual on these trips to get anything but this restaurant was very obliging.

We boarded the coach and then headed to see the glacier. The road was very narrow and in places we were high up with very little protecting us from the edge of the road (which went into the lake we had just cruised on. On reaching the glacier, there was a short walk of about 10-15 minutes to the viewing point. Walking about there was some lovely waterfalls either side of us. The Glacier looked fantastic.

Panoramic image from the glacier viewing area.

On the way back, we stopped at the location where there was a memorial for a land slide that had killed a lot of people. You can read about it from Wiki here. It was a very pretty and well looked after place. For somewhere of such devastation, beauty certainly shone through.

A little further down the road we stopped again and had the opportunity to take some photos at the grass roofed holiday homes. When the grass on the roof gets too long, they bring their goats to cut it.

During the trip, I bumped into Jim and we decided to meet up back at the port to do the cable car. While I was waiting, I saw Lesley and Sue and told them about the cable car so they decided to join us. It was quite expensive (£75). We got on the blue bus that took us to the Sky Bar from right where the tender dropped us off. It was a five minute bus ride and we were at the bottom of the rock face we were going to ascend. It looked high up!!

Within 5 minutes, we were at the top and ‘wow’, the views were spectacular. Up the top, there was a shop, cafe and restaurant. There was a horse shoe to commemorate the opening of the sky bar which was in Moi 2017 (May?). They are still working on some of the landscape up there and it looked like there were footpaths to go exploring which I didn’t do, but, if I ever come back, I think I would go up there for the whole day and have a good look around. I was worried about paying £75, but it was definitely worth it.

Panoramic photo showing the lake to the glacier on the left, Marella Explorer anchored in the middle and the way out to the right

We then headed back to get the tender back to the ship. I have put a 5 minute video of the trip back down on my Facebook page.

So today, I got to see a glacier and felt like I was on top of the world – fantastic day. The Marella tour was good and would recommend this one. There is also another organised tour to the Briksdal Glacier which Sue and Lesley went on and they said it was a good trip, so maybe another one to consider. Their tour had a 45 minute walk to the glacier or you could book an alternative tour which included a troll car ride up so you didn’t need to walk as far but could also experience the glacier. This is probably the one I would book if I returned.

Day 4 – Molde

Molde (24.000 inhabitants) is a busy industry and trading centre, in addition to being the episcopate and the administrative centre for the county of Møre og Romsdal. The “Town of Roses” also has various educational facilities as well as offering many cultural activities, including an international literature festival and the famous annual Molde International Jazz Festival.

I had nothing booked for this port as it was visiting the troll wall which I had previously done from Andalsnes. On listening to some of the passengers on board, one of the trips was not that good which was one that included the great Atlantic Road. Sue, Lesley, Julie and Jim had booked one called the Valley of the Trolls and they said it was fantastic.

At night now, it is very light and these photos were taken well into the early hours of the morning!

Day 5 – Sea Day

At 7am this morning, we passed the Artic Circle. Again, I spent most of the day relaxing in the thermal spa. Lots of people have reporting spotting dolphins and whales today. I haven’t seen any, but I never do! I missed seeing them on the cruise I did earlier this year.

Day 6 – Honningsvag

Today was a trip to visit the North Cape (another Marella organised excursion). The trip up was fabulous. Lovely views of the mountains and reindeer. We stopped at a Sami Camp for a while and had the opportunity to take photos of the traditional Sami with reindeer and their teepee.

The coach then carried on to the North Cape. Our tour was really lucky and we got to get fantastic views and photos and just as we were leaving, the cloud came down and you couldn’t see very well. This remained for the people who were on the afternoon tours. Take a look at my photos and the one around the monument of the seven circles (find more info on this) was one of the last ones I took and you can see how cloudy/foggy it was.

When we (Jim was with me on this tour) returned to the tender port, there is an Ice bar right where we get on and off the tender, so we visited it. It was cold in there, but felt warmer than it did on the North Cape! We had to pay to go in, and were given a drink in a shot glass made of ice. Fortunately, they were non alcoholic drinks and we got to try two. We were then told that when we leave, we throw the glass (made of ice) into the water and make a wish.

As well as the ice bar and some shops, there was a tourist information center with a shop and outside was some trolls and a statue of Bamse, a famous St Bernard dog.

Day 7 – Alta

I had visited Alta in 2018 on my northern lights cruise so opted to do an excursion with Marella called ‘Alta River Boat Cruise’ (it was also £5 for a shuttle to town and it was Sunday and everything was shut). From the description, I was sure what to expect. We had a lovely coach ride to the location (it was at the place where they build the Ice Hotel in the winter). When we got there, we were split into two groups and one had waffles and tea whilst the other group had the ‘river cruise’ trip. When you think about river cruise you think about a small cruiser. Our cruise boat was this;

Not totally what I was expecting, but was a fun and exhilarating trip.

Where we were for this excursion, I could see the slate mine I visited in 2018 up in the mountain. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to have any waffles as they had no gluten free ones this time. It was a great excursion and our guide was really informative.

Day 8 – Tromso

I had a bit of a lazy day in Tromso. Marella charge to take you into town and having visited Tromso previously, I decided to have a spa day. I had really sore head, neck and shoulders so treated myself to an acupuncture appointment which was very through and helped ease my pain. I then had my nails done as mine were chipped. I took a few photos from the ship and instead of being shrouded in white, it was green, so totally different to when I came here in March 2018.

A lovely photo of the Marella Explorer in Alta

Day 9 – Bodo

It is a small town and the cruise ships are only just starting to discover it’s beauty and the residents of Bodo are starting to invest in building hotels and improving the roads etc.

At this port, I opted for another excursion with Marella called Scenic Sights and the Arctic Rail. I was expecting the tour to have booked seats on the rail for all the group to be together, but unfortunately this wasn’t the case and we had members of the general public in the coach we were told to get on. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong side and my views were not brilliant.

After an hour on the train, we got off and headed to Rognan where the Blood Road Museum and some old traditional buildings were. Again, we were split into two groups. One group looked at the museum while the other group went to eat. There was nothing I could eat, so I decided to go outside and take some photos (I took lots!).

We then went on to look around the Blood Road Museum. It is all in Norwegian, but the tour guide gave us lots of information.

The coach driver took us on a scenic coach ride, where we stopped at a cafe and were given a sweet tortilla with some brown cheese (Brunost) that tastes like caramel and is actually brown in colour and very sweet. I didn’t get to try it but had a meringue and bottle of water. Those that I did ask found it very sweet, but different.

We continued in the coach to a location near Bodo where the water forms a mini whirlpool (called Saltraumen whirlpool). Here is a link to the Wiki page about it. It was very interesting to watch although the tide was quite low so not as strong as it could have been.

Panoramic photo of the viewing area

We then carried on back to the ship. We were the last group back and they were waiting for us so they could leave.

Day 11 – Sea Day

I made the most of the spa and had a further acupuncture treatment. I did find that the choice of entertainment on sea days on Marella wasn’t much and preferred to just chill either in the spa or on deck.

Day 12 – Flam (pronounced Flom)

This was a tender port (the only one we were supposed to have had on this trip). Flam is a very pretty place. I had booked a tour called Naeroy Fjord and Stalheim, It was a fjord cruise with coffee and cakes at the Stalheim hotel and then a ride down a very winding road and back to Flam. I took many photos, but I will put a few up here and the rest on my facebook page.

Naeroy Fjord – Spectacular. The boat went right up to a waterfall so a crew member could get some of the water for us to try.

The Stalheim hotel was a red building on top of a hill and had fantastic views. There was also and old world war bunker there. We had a short stop here (coffee and danish too) before heading down the winding road with 11 hairpin bends – again, we had fabulous views and saw a couple of waterfalls.

After this, we had a short trip back to the port.

I had booked a rail ticket to do the Flam Railway independently (it cost £55 for a return on the train) but ended up cancelling it as the train got back at 16.55 and the last tender was at 17.00 and I didn’t want to risk missing it (and not sure if they would have waited!). If you do want to do it, there is a separate queue for independent travelers and you can book when you get there or online. When you get off the ship (or tender), it is a 2-3 minute walk to the ticket office and station so very easy to do independently.

Cruising out of Flam was fabulous and we had some live singing from Pippa Langhorne. Having the scenery of the mountains loom over the ship was absolutely amazing. We had some rain, but that didn’t stop us still enjoying it.

Panoramic of the ship leaving Flam

Day 13 – Sea Day

Another sea day and on our way back to Newcastle. I had a lovely day chilling in the spa and then having my final acupuncture treatment. It has definitely helped with my neck pain (which I knew it would). Tonight was the last night on board and at midnight the ship was pretty quiet.

Day 14 – Disembarkation

I was off the ship by 8.30am and on my way to the train station for a 5 hour train journey back to Bristol.

As always on a cruise, the staff was outstanding. I loved the casino, managed by the lovely Uros, and can’t fault any of the staff on board. They really tried to help with my dietary requirements and most of the time did well. I managed to request that I had the same table every night (or at least the same waiter) and it worked really well.

I hope you found this blog informative and not too long! As always, I will post all my photos on my Facebook page. If you are looking for a cruise or holiday, don’t hesitate to contact me and I would be more than happy to look/book for you.

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Sydney Part 1

After visiting Newcastle, we travelled slowly overnight to our scheduled stop in Sydney. We were due to be there in the early hours on the 20th February staying overnight until 11pm on 21st. The first day, we were due to be anchored in the harbour and would get to Sydney by tender. The tender would take us to the Man of War steps right by the Sydney Opera House. The Man of War steps is also right near the Botanical Gardens, so a good opportunity to take a stroll though them too, if its what you like doing.

I was going to take the train to Katoomba, but the weather was very low cloud and intermittent showers, so I opted to do a hop on hop off bus. I decided I would get off and change to the Bondi Beach tour.

The photos below are of the ‘living’ building which I loved when I came to Sydney in 2017.

I got off at the stop for the Australian National Maritime Museum. This was included as part of my city ticket and also included entrance on to the HMAS Vampire (ship) and HMAS Onslow (submarine). I found the submarine to be very small considering the amount of crew it would have to hold and the beds were tiny!

After completing (there is still a small section of the tour I haven’t done so will find a time to do the whole tour) as much as I could and getting back to Circular Quay, I decided to go back to the ship, have dinner. After Dinner, I got the tender back to shore, and by then it was dark.

As I was waiting the Arcadia was scheduled to dock at the Overseas Passenger Terminal which is located in Circular Quay.

I had planned to do some more touring on the second day (21st Feb), but due to Cyclone Oma, Brisbane Port had been shut, so I spent the morning trying to sort our my onward journey. In the end, I got off the ship and went on a small cruise around the harbour. The weather was, again, raining and very grey.

So overnight in the early hours of the 22nd February, a letter was slipped under the door from reception informing us (all the people who were due to get off in Brisbane) that due to Cyclone Oma, we would not be getting to Brisbane until the 26th. As my second cruise was delayed, I thought that it would be handy to stay on the ship until Brisbane. Unfortunately, it was not possible to stay on the ship till Brisbane as it transpired that it was very possible that they wouldn’t be stopping there at all. Because of this a flight was booked and P&O had booked us all into various hotels. Of course, this delay also meant that I had three days in Brisbane. What I did in Brisbane will be shared on the next blog!

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Noumea, New Caledonia

As we were preparing to leave Lautoka, the captain made an announcement regarding a cyclone weather system (named Oma) was heading to Port Vila, so we were now not going there. I was disappointed in this as it was the port we were going to on my Birthday (February 15th) and I had planned and booked a helicopter ride. The new plan was that we would arrive in Noumea at around 3pm on the 15th and stay overnight and that the crew were trying to get us an additional port in Newcastle, New South Wales for the 19th February. Port Vila was the second port we were going to miss because of the cyclone, and as much as it was a disappointment, its good to see that P&O consider the safety of the passengers over trying to get to a port where a cyclone is forming. Lots of passengers were not happy, though and still continue to moan.

We had a lovely sail in to Noumea and arrived as predicted at about 3pm. We were in a container port, so the only way out was by courtesy bus.

I decided that I needed to get off and thought I would get the bus to the terminal port so that I can access some free WiFi. That was not happening! There was so many passengers with the same idea, that I had no chance of connecting to the internet. I then went across to the supermarket to buy some chocolates for the staff on the ship. I discovered the next time I had internet that I has spent a lot of money and also heard a lot of people feeling like they had been conned with the amount they were charged. I returned to the ship and had dinner in the restaurant and was surprised with a birthday cake from my husband and the waiters sang happy birthday to me.. It was a really nice birthday.

There was a shuttle bus running to Lemon Bay in the evening, so I decided to go along and take a look. Lots of people on the returning coach said that it was very expensive. I wonder if the shop owners up the prices when they know there is a cruise ship in port!

After a brief outing, I returned to the ship and went to bed in preparation for my morning tour.

When I woke up, I was greeted with rain and wind (I am guessing that this was down to Cyclone Oma – it was also very humid so my camera lens kept steaming up so some photos are a bit hazy). For my tour, I chose highlights of Noumea and the Aquarium. The highlight tour included driving around through the old town. The guide was very informative and said the old town was his favourite area of Noumea.

We then drove to the aquarium where we had an hour to look around. The animals looked a bit happier than in the one in San Francisco.

We then headed through town and back to the ship (you can see how windy it is from some of the trees in the photos).

I found Noumea OK. Probably not the best visit due to the weather, but I also found it very expensive and hard to convert from French francs to GBP. I don’t think it is a place that I would go out of my way to visit on its own but it would be nice to return for a day trip on another cruise one day. Next stop is now Newcastle, NSW on 19th february due to the itinerary change because of Oma!

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Lautoka, Fiji

We arrived in Lautoka on 13th February. We were due into Pago Pago on 11th (this was a change to our original port of Apia which was changed at the end of December), but due to Cyclone Oma, it was going to be missed. We had been at sea for 7 days since leaving Hawaii on the 5th, having lost a day due to crossing the international dateline (we didn’t have the 11th in the end). We had about 48 hours of really bad seas (force 9/10) and large sea swells of around 6m. We finally docked in Lautoka and it was a lovely sunny day.

Originally, I was going to do an island escape tour to Tivua Island, but due to developing Bronchitis (again!!), I was now on an antibiotic that made your more sensitive to UV, so changed it to ‘Fijian Homestead and History’ tour which was more coach based. It was four hours long.

We left the port and headed out and stopped for a photo opportunity near the ‘sleeping giant’ mountain. Called so because, if you look closely, you can see the outline of a face and its looks like it is sleeping!

We passed several sugar cane fields, which all had railway tracks along the front to take the sugar cane to the refinery, which was near where we docked. It was really nice to see a side of Fiji that you don’t normally see.

After about 20 minutes, we arrived at South Sea Orchid Garden. We were shown a beautiful home which was steeped in history and had a lot of furniture that went back four generations and were either made or brought to the island from family members. We also met the guides grandparents.

We were then shown to a tea room where we were given tea, cake and sandwiches (nothing for me as they didn’t cater for me so I just had water – they offered me juice, but I was fine with the water) and we were then invited to take a look around the gardens at the beautiful lily pond and orchids. We spent about an hour here.

We then headed to Nadi and had an opportunity to shop for some souvenirs, but I found the shop rather crowded as several other coaches turned up at the same time.

carved sculpture outside shops

After Nadi, we then headed to a traditional Fiji Village called ‘Sabeto’.

It was quite strange in the village. The homes seem very basic, yet all the villagers had mobile phones. It was quite weird that mobile phones would be put above the basics in every day life!

In the village, we went to the village hall and had a cava welcome by the heads of the village. I will post a couple of videos on my facebook page of the performances from the villagers.

After the village we headed back to the ship.

I enjoyed seeing a different side to Fiji that you would normally see. The next stop was due to be Port Vila on 15th February which was also my Birthday. Due to Cyclone Oma, it was cancelled and we headed to Noumea instead and would arrive at 3pm 15/2/2019 for an overnight stay.

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Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Well, this port was a bit of a surprise. Due to Cyclone Oma, and use missing two South Pacific ports, the captain announced that on the 19th February we would visit an additional port in Newcastle. The tours team on the ship managed to get together some tours so I opted to do the Dolphin Watch and Port Stevens tour.

On a couple of the Arcadia Facebook groups, there was a couple of grumbles from fellow Australians about going to Newcastle and how rubbish it was. I was then worried that it would be horrible, but was pleasantly surprised how nice it was. We were docked in a commercial coal port, so on fist sight all you could see was the coal sorting frames and containers. Once we were on the coach and heading to Port Stephens, the scenery started to change and it was a very pretty place. We stopped at Birubi Point. Apparently, a lot of the sand from the dunes are exported and a lot of it is exported to Hawaii.

After a brief 5-8min stop, we then headed to the harbour at Port Stephens to board the boat to see the dolphins. Whilst waiting, I noticed lots of people looking up at the tree I was under and they were taking photos. Turned out, there was a couple of cockatiels sat in the tree. Very strange site for us Brits!

When we were on the boat, we took a casual cruise out into the harbour to look for Dolphins. It wasn’t long before we spotted some dolphins. It was quite a big pod of them. They were fishing, though so were not interested in playing for us to see them properly. I will post some photos below. They’re not brilliant, but the boat we were on abide by rules to keep the dolphins safe by keeping 50m away.

We then cruised back to the pontoon stopping briefly to allow passengers to do some ‘boom netting’. Boom Netting is a net at the back of the boat that you can sit in while the boat moves along – a bit like a mobile spa bath!!

We then had an hour drive back to the ship.

I then dropped off some shopping at the ship and caught the shuttle bus into Newcastle town centre. It was pretty much like any town centre. I took a few photos in town and on the way back.