August 4, 2014

"So How Was Your Norway Fjords Cruise?"

That's the map showing the route of our 15-day cruise on the Crystal Symphony. 

See those life boats? Our two staterooms (7088 and 7090) were right below the first lifeboat. We were warned that our rooms had a "partially obstructed view." But itt wasn't as bad as we'd feared.

Actually, we were happy to be well-positioned if the ship had needed to lower lifeboats during the Oslo terrorist threat. We thought about charging admission to our staterooms.


I'll confess: this lovely picture comes from Google, not my camera.

Our cruise started and ended in Copenhagen. We enjoyed three days there before the ship sailed, and another day at the end of the cruise.

Copenhagen is a lot like Washington. Both cities impose height restrictions on buildings in the central city. Both have lots of parks and greenery. But, as you see in this image, Copenhagen's center city is a lot more attractive than the office buildings on K St. in D.C. To be fair, Copenhagen has its share of modern architectural monstrosities, and Washington has lots of attractive older buildings across the city.

Washington is finally becoming more bike friendly. But in Copenhagen, 40 percent of workers commute to work by bike (as I did for 20 years). Sidewalks along major streets are divided in two -- half for pedestrians, half for cyclists. This arrangement can be hazardous for a newbie like me who staggers around like the drunk I used to be. 

What is It with Vikings and Hot Dogs?
When I visited Iceland two years ago, one of the tourist attractions was a hot dog stand in Reykjavik, the capital city. I have to admit: its hot dogs were terrific. I didn't get to Copenhagen's touted DØP hot dog stand, but my travel mates said its organic wieners were almost as good as those famous Icelandic hot dogs.

All three of us agreed Copenhagen is a fun city to visit. I only wish I'd done it in my biking days.

As I reported in an earlier Copenhagen post, it was a special treat to have my London pals Terry and Prav pop over to push my wheelchair around Tivoli Gardens.

The Crystal Cruise Line and Its Ship the Symphony
This cruise was my fourth. Two of the others were on Regent Line, which is considered top-of-the-line. I thought the Crystal Symphony was as good as the Regent ships.Actually, I now find that Crystal has been rated the world's best more than any other line.

Our staterooms were smaller this time, but I suspect I'd chosen a higher class cabin on Regent. I don't think the Symphony had any staterooms with balconies like I had on both Regent cruises.

But the food on the Symphony was excellent, the best yet. After our first seating, we requested a table in the area served by Zolton (from Hungary) and Marisa (from Portugal).

Just a few issues. The help-yourself buffet restaurant was closed in the evening. The only remaining option was the more formal dining rooms, which was OK on this trip since I enjoyed dining with my two travel companions. But I would have missed the buffet dinner option on my two solo trips.

There were also two specialty restaurants -- Asian and Italian -- that required reservations. Both were excellent.

Logging On
I like to write blog posts while traveling, and I'm addicted to internet access. In this arena, Symphony was head and shoulders above the competition. It offered a computer room with about a dozen PCs... AND three top-notch techies. Since I spend lots of time these days creating -- then trying to solve -- computer problems, the support of these experts was invaluable.

No technical wizardry, though, could solve the problem of slow, intermittent, or sometimes nonexistent internet connections as we headed north into Arctic waters.

Accessing the internet on cruise ships is not cheap. Crystal's charges are typical:
• Plan A: “Pay as You Go” access for $0.74/minute.
• Plan B: 2 hours of access for $50 ($0.42/minute)
• Plan C: 5 hours of access for $115 ($0.38/minute)
• Plan D: 10 hours of access for $200 ($0.33/minute)
• Plan E: 25 hours of access for $300 ($0.20/minute) 
I signed or for Plan E to get the maximum time for the lowest per minute charge. If we hadn't had frequent disruptions as we sailed north, I would have spent even more.

The ship had a room set aside for bridge players, overseen on this voyage by a nice couple who were bridge masters and very good instructors. Each afternoon, they organized two hours of duplicate bridge. I participated a couple of times, but I experienced my usual problems with duplicate bridge. I like a much more informal game with lots of chit chat. Serious bridge players would envy our bridge-room couple; they've played this role on more than 50 different cruises.

The evening entertainment on this cruise was the best I've seen. A "Broadway" evening was especially good. This cruise also featured emerging young artists.

The Cruise Itself
We were on the ship for 15 days, with two full nights at sea. On the other days, you could wander ashore or take a group tour, which the ship offered at each stop. We signed up for just one -- a boat trip to an island, where I finally got to see a puffin.

OK, that's another Google image. We saw the birds only in the water and from a distance.

As I  predicted at the time, our first stop -- the sail through the awesome fjord connecting Geiranger and Hellesylt -- was the highlight of the trip. Actually, Crystal's calling this trip a "Norway Fjords Cruise," is a stretch, since this was the only real fjord we saw. But it was certainly impressive.

I also posted about our stops in Bergen and Oslo. Alta was a favorite of ours -- the world's northernmost city with a population over 10,000. We traveled through latitudes like northern Siberia's, but the entire Norwegian coast is warmed by the Gulf Stream which keeps it ice-free year-round.(The Germans appreciated this during WW II when they occupied Norway but left Sweden alone since it was willing to send minerals from its northern mines down the Norwegian coast.)

The last stop before returning to Copenhagen was Skagen, Denmark's northernmost town (population 8,000). I didn't go ashore. But my travel mates did and thoroughly enjoyed  it.

The cruise ended with a small problem. As we came down the gangplank, here's what we saw:

A long line waiting for cabs. It was Eid -- the holiday marking the end of Ramadan -- so Muslim cab drivers were taking the day off. (My three cab drivers in Oslo were all from Pakistan.)  Compounding the problem, another large cruise ship (way in the background of this shot) was disgorging its 4,000 passengers who were also looking for cabs. (That's half the population of Skagen, our prior stop.)

But this issue is small potatoes. The cruise was terrific. Hard to decide which I'd rank #1 -- this one or my Alaska cruise. But when you add in the pleasure I got from traveling with my son and his gal this cruise  easily ranks No. 1!

1 comment:

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This is just gorgeous !
*love* everything as the messages, the pictures and the quality of the writing. Thanks !