Norway and The Northern Lights P & O Cruise In 2017.
We decided in 2016 when my husband and I both turned 60, that we would celebrate with another cruise and decided on seeing the Northern Lights as this was on both our bucket lists, we hoped we would be able to tick this one off. Here is a day to day diary of the 12 night cruise.
Did we see them? you will have to read on…..
Sunday 5th March
We had decided to travel a day early to avoid any traffic delays and have a leisurely start to the holiday. This entailed an overnight stop in a Premier Inn just outside of Southampton. Our trip advisor research suggested we avoid the Beefeater restaurant and try the nearby pub The Horn Inn which proved to be sound advice. The evening meal here was basic plain food with large portions and good value although the pub decor was a bit dowdy.
Monday 6th March
We checked out of the hotel and drove into Southampton for our breakfast, as again the Trip Advisor reviews for breakfast in the Beefeater were not that good and we had plenty of time before we had to check in. We found a lovely Italian Deli and and Cafe in the in the West Quay Shopping Centre and Steve had a warm almond croissant and coffee and I had a pear croissant and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice which was very nice. We had a walk around the shopping mall and then stopped to have another cup of coffee before we made our way to the cruise terminal. Be warned though, we parked in the multi storey car park at West Quay and it cost £10 for just over 2 hours parking.
I had booked car parking with cruise and passenger services who park the car for you, so unloaded the cases and checked in for our cruise on P & O’s Oriana.
Oriana Cabin B321 Deck 10 B Deck
We boarded at about 2.00 pm, found our cabin B231 which was a balcony cabin and on deck 10. I was very pleased with the cabin as it was very well appointed with loads of storage space for all our clothes etc. The packing for this holiday was quite different to normal holidays, as we had to pack woolly jumpers, warm trousers, thermals etc which filled the cases very quickly but we had to be well prepared for the cold weather in the Arctic to come.
We waited for our cases to be delivered to our cabin which amazingly arrived not long afterwards and brought to us by our cabin Steward Edwin. We unpacked and then went down to the safety drill. Once we left the dock Steve then decided to open his bottle of brandy and sat out on the balcony whilst I went down to reception and had a walk around.
We decided to choose what they call freedom dining, where you can eat at any time between 6.00 p.m & 9.00 p.m and also choose to have a table for 2 if you do not wish to sit with others. As Steve is not very sociable this was what we did most of the time, although we did share a table on one evening with another couple, but stress only the once. Freedom Dining took place in the Peninsular Restaurant which was one of the 2 main dining restaurants. After our first meal on board it was along to the theatre to meet the entertainment crew and see a short taster of the Headliners Theatre Company in the Theatre Royal and then it was time for our first night on board.
Tuesday 7th March – Sea day
We were getting ready for breakfast at 9.00 am and all of a sudden the lights went out, the water stopped and the ship gradually slowed to a stop in the middle of the North Sea. The Captain came over the tannoy to say we had had a power cut and the Engineers were working as quickly as they could to restore the power. It was only about half an hour before everything was back to normal.
There were plenty of activities to do throughout the day. Steve did his own thing and I did mine meeting up at lunch time, and then later again in the afternoon. After the evening meal it was in the theatre to see the entertainment which tonight was the singer and comedian Jay McGee who was very good. Except sat right behind us was a woman who had to repeat and explain every joke to her husband which was a bit irritating. Decided to go up to the Crows Nest (one of the lounge bars) which is right at the front of the ship on the top deck which has a panoramic view out of the curved glass front window. Had my first Pina Colada and then so to bed.
Wednesday 8th March – Sea day
Quite a bumpy night and during the day, but nothing too bad. We had breakfast in the Al fresco room which was a whole lot better where we were shown to a table when it became available rather than trying to find a table carrying trays around in the Conservatory. We also chose to have lunch in the Al Fresco, again for the same reasons as not going to the Conservatory. You could chose to have a full sit down lunch in one of the main restaurants, but that is just eating to excess.
During sea days, there were different activities, lectures etc throughout the day, we do our own thing, and Steve is quite happy for that, as he knows I cannot get lost on board ship. However, the previous day I went to 2 quizzes, one a table for less than 6 quiz where I made a team with 4 others, and then the biggest quiz on board “The Battle of the Sexes” which is good fun. Steve missed the first day but I dragged him down The Battle of the Sexes quiz as at this time the men’s team was short. After lunch we did some exercise (3 times around the promenade deck which equates to just under a mile).
We were scheduled to arrive in our first port of Andalsnes in the morning, but because the captain was very considerate, he pushed on during the day in the choppy seas and we we were docked in port late that evening. During the approach to Andalsnes we had our first snow showers with little flakes landing on the balcony. We continued through some absolutely stunning fjord scenery, low cloud, but the tops of the mountains were covered in snow. We actually sat out in our balcony wrapped up warm including ear muffs (well we had paid for a balcony cabin, so we were going to make use of it) and watch the fantastic scenery as we sailed past. We then entered a narrow fjord passing the Art Deco city of Alesund along the foreshore with snow capped mountains behind.
Arriving in Andalsnes early, we enjoyed a peaceful dinner tied up alongside the quayside, and then I went and watched the Headliners dancers and singers in the theatre. Steve didn’t go, he decided to go up on deck and do some northern light seeking.
Thursday 9th of March
We didn’t have any excursions booked in Andalsnes as the one we wanted to go on was fully booked weeks in advance, so we we had a leisurely breakfast then walked around the pretty little town. We thought that this would be the warmest place we would visit but it was very cold, with feet of laying snow and fresh snow showers, but all the pavements and roads were clear of lying snow. There were some beautiful houses with mountain backdrops.
After a very snowy walk we went back on board, and walked around the top deck before we left port. It was a still and beautiful evening as we sailed out of Andalsnes. We sat on the balcony with a glass of wine as we sailed quietly and gently down the fjord. We had a good dinner in the calm fjord waters before travelling into the arctic circle and the Norwegian Sea to our next stop of Tromso. After dinner we saw the comedian and singer Jay McGee again in the theatre who again was quite good again.
Friday 10th March – Sea day
Leisurely breakfast and then activities throughout the day including the quiz in the morning to add to our current team of 5, as this was a progressive quiz held on the sea days, where the totals for each day were carried forward until the final sea day when the winning team was named. Then the fun Battle of the Sexes which Steve enjoyed so much last time he wanted to join in the battle again!!!!! Some more men were recruited around the ship so their team was growing in numbers, well they had to as they were way behind the lades at this stage. We did our own activities during the afternoon and then it as it was a formal night, out came the posh glad rags. After dinner we popped into the black tie ball and then saw the entertainment in the Theatre Royal to see a young singer and pianist Dean Stansby.
Saturday 11th March
Quite a rough night with the ship rolling, so I did not sleep until it calmed down which was very late into the night. Arrived in Tromso. Again we missed out on the excursion we wanted to do, which was snowmobiling, but even though I tried to book it weeks before we set sail, it was fully booked. So we had a leisurely breakfast and then took the shuttle bus into the town. Again the snowy scene continued and there was heavy snow throughout the day with deep snow in and around the town but the pavements were okay to walk on.
We knew Norway was expensive but we decided to stop in a cafe and had 2 large cups of hot chocolate with whipped cream on the top which was delicious and a Danish (or Norwegian) pastry, – cost, deep breath £21, but it just had to be done and it was very nice. We then walked across the very long and high Tromso bridge (I was very brave, I don’t like heights) which straddled the river, to see the Arctic Cathedral which was on the other side, which was quite beautiful a tall triangular shape mostly made of glass.
We then made our way back across the bridge and through the town again to catch the shuttle bus back to the ship. Before dinner we took in the view from our balcony and the other side of the water was a ski run, lit up at night.
Dinner and then I went and saw 2 lots of entertainment. Steve again decided not to go, and again was on watch for the illusive Northern Lights, in between very heavy snow showers. We left Tromso just after 3.00 am for 1/2 day sailing and onwards and upward to Alta.
During the sailing I just had to take some photographs of the snow and ice around the ship’s decks, including a snowman that a passenger had built on one of the outside café tables. These photos sort of change the illusion that cruises are just to hot climates. One gentleman completely ignored the snow and ice on the back deck and went for a soak in the Jacuzzi, but note he kept his woolly hat on!!!
Sunday 12th March
It got very rough during the morning, and then just before we went up for breakfast the ship took a right turn and it got a lot better, so much so that the sun was out and we sat on our balcony in a short sleeve blouse as it was quite warm, we could have been in the med, except for the tall snowy mountains behind and the icicles on the rail of the balcony.
Arrived in Alta in Finmark and we docked right alongside the airport and watched the snow plough clear the small runway in readiness for take offs and landings.
It wasn’t long before we had to board our coach for our first excursion, which was going to be 5 hours long. The scenery was amazing and it is hard to visualise how much snow there is, it is also very bright with the sun and so much snow that it is very blinding so sunglasses are a must. The roads are all covered in compacted snow but with the studded snow tyres that by law everyone has to use the Norwegians get around as normal.
First stop was the Northern Lights Cathedral which was just a photo stop but it was very pretty. It was an unusual shape and the outside was coated in titanium, it was quite spectacular. Then it was on to the Alta museum, which showed the history of rock carvings, fishing of the locals, mining and geology and the history of the Sami people. There was a little also a little dark room where you could choose a short film to watch and we chose a northern lights one which was very interesting with some superb photos of them.
It was then to a Sami camp where we were greeted by traditionally dressed Sami hosts who told us about their culture and the reindeers. We then got up and close and personal with some gorgeous reindeers including a baby one, so cute. Some of us were able to have a go around a circuit in a reindeer sledge. I had the opportunity but had to decline due to my back problem, as it was quite bumpy and I didn’t want to make my back any worse.
We then went into their Lavvu (a sort of tepee tent) for a coffee and cake and then bid our farewells to these lovely people
It was then onto the Paeskatun Slate Quarry up in the mountains for a short film on how they used to live and then a demonstration of how slate is cut and then shaped into a roof slate. Many slates quarried from here are exported all over the World.
Then the last stop was the husky centre, where we met some huskies and gave them cuddles. The ones we were able to cuddle were all outside in the very cold snowy weather and on an individual chain with their own little wooden kennel, which initially I found hard, but these are bred for working and they get loads and loads of exercise pulling sledges.
They were all very friendly and the lady gave us a talk about them, stating that they love the cold and would not be able to cope with being inside and the warm. Some of her huskies were actually taking part in the famous husky race which is over 1000km and takes about a week to complete. (She assured us the huskies got plenty of breaks along the way). We then sat around an open log fire with another cup of coffee in wooden cups with a long handle and a piece of homemade cake.
After 5 hours it was then back to the ship after a thoroughly enjoyable day. Unlike other excursions we have been on other cruises there was very little time spent on the coach as the places we visited were not very far apart and we had plenty of time in each.
As we did not get back until 7.30 p.m it was a quick change and down for dinner. As it was a perfectly clear night and the stars were out, it was perfect weather to see the Northern Lights. So it was on with our thermals and warm clothing and up on the top deck just in case they made a showing.
Well it was worth the cold as to our surprise and excitement we did see them, only briefly and only short spurts of green light but we did see them so we were very happy.
We were in port overnight so a nice and peaceful night with no rocking whatsoever.
Monday 13th March
Still in Alta for another day, so as our next excursion wasn’t until 11.00 a.m. we had a leisurely breakfast and then there was a flag raising ceremony to commemorate “Commonwealth Day”. The Captain gave a short speech and the commonwealth flag was raised and would be flying for 24 hours.
Today was an excursion to see the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel. It was a beautiful day, clear blue sky, very sunny and very snowy. I have to say the hotel looked quite uninspiring from the outside being of a long low igloo shape, covered in snow, but once inside it was truly magical.
It is now in its 18th year, and each year it us completely hand built from scratch with a different theme. This year it was the ice age and the huge ice sculptures were of woolly mammoths, sabre tooth tigers, bears, giant reindeer, swans etc. All that was in the hotel were long corridors off each were situated the 30 bedrooms of varying sizes, single, twins, doubles, and a honeymoon suite and the ice bar. There were no guests staying at the hotel so we were able to have a look in all the bedrooms.
The bedroom were accessed by a low archway with a curtain covering the entrance and then all that was in the bedrooms was a bed made from ice with reindeer skins as the covering. There was a block of ice with some colourful etchings on it which depicted a television. The honeymoon suite was slightly more luxurious, and was not quite a four poster, but had 4 short pillars in each corner a beautifully carved pattern in the ceiling and a little lounge area with an ice table and an ice seat covered in reindeer skin.
We had a drink at the ice bar, which consisted of an ice glass filled with a blue vodka spirit, where we sat on an ice bench covered in reindeer skins and drank through the ice glasses. Amazingly our lips did not stick to the glass!!!
All that is in the actual ice hotel are the bedrooms, the bar and a little chapel room as people do get married in it, with the other amenities such as the toilets being in a separate beautifully appointed wooden block just a short walk away. There is also a beautiful lounge complete with log fire and stunning restaurant, again with an open fire. It was quite beautiful. I could have quite happily checked in for the night, but Steve was not so enthusiastic. Perhaps we could go back and renew our vows!!
This is where Joanna Lumley stayed (how many nights I do not know) when she filmed her series “In Search of the Northern Lights”.
The garage to the Igloo Hotel isn’t for a car but snowmobiles. Also in the grounds of the Hotel there was a group of snowmobiles about to set off, but I managed to sneak on to one whilst no-one was looking.
We came back to the ship, then got a shuttle bus into Alta, and saw where the husky races (mentioned above) finished. The junior race finished the day before and the seniors race was due to finish either tomorrow or the following day. Apparently the daughter of the owner of the husky centre that we visited finished 3rd in the junior race.
There were beautiful ice sculptures dotted around the centre of the town which were stunning. We had a leisurely walk around the town and actually went back to the Northern Lights Cathedral and paid to go and have a look inside which was lovely and very modern. I signed our names in the deep virgin snow outside of the Cathedral (well it just had to be done) and then just had to take a photograph of the roads that you will see are cleared down to compacted snow for the locals to go about their daily business, but all around are tall piles of snow. We then got on the shuttle bus back to the ship.
As we had previously booked an excursion to hopefully have another sighting of the Northern Lights tonight we attended a short talk about our excursion later in the evening. There is a local man who set up tours, where scientifically on a day to day basis he communicates with the local weather stations for weather reports, wind direction etc for the best possible place in the area to see them, but of course there is absolutely no guarantee. There are 3 sites used and set up for these sightings and on our particular evening it was decided on the best place that we would be going to which was a 45 minute coach trip travelling north.
It was down to an early dinner before wrapping up warm as it was going to be a long night in sub zero temperatures. We boarded our coach for the 45 minute drive to the banks of a beautiful fjord with stunning scenery. and very peaceful. There were a couple of houses on the banks and a building where the toilets were situated, and a footpath through the deep snow lighted only by a few little lanterns, as the less light the better where searching for the “Lights”. It was dark and the only light was the rather misted over moon and the little lanterns. But it was not to be, as the cloud did not clear and the conditions were not right. We were just thankful that we did see a little show the previous night.
We were out in the cold for a few hours with everyone having cameras at the ready, but nothing. There were some open log fires in various places with benches covered in reindeer skins for us to sit on, and a Lavvu (a tented sort of wigwam) with a central hole in the roof for the smoke from the open log fire to escape where we were served hot chocolate to help keep us warm and cake. It was very peaceful, but it was an expensive trip with nothing to show for it (except an empty bank balance!!). The scenery however as it has been throughout was fantastic.
The coach trip there and back was an experience, again with roads impacted with snow and ice and feet of snow at the side of the road, you have to see it to believe it, but travelling at night was even more amazing. The journey back was an experience in itself as we managed to get a front seat, which was higher than the driver so we had a panoramic uninterrupted view out of the front window. We could not believe that although travelling on a major road we probably only saw about 4 cars travelling in the opposite direction, before we got back to the suburbs of Alta.
Tuesday 14th March – Sea day
We left beautiful Alta with the ship sailing at around 3.00 am heading south and homeward bound and to our final port of call being Stavangar. I went to a seminar which was a talk about how the shape of your feet affect posture which can be the reason for back and knee pain etc. Those who attended had a footprint done on their feet which showed your personal pressure points, which was quite interesting. However the reason for the seminar was mainly promoting an insole shaped to you particular foot shape to help to distribute your weight using the correct pressure points. At £125 I decided not to purchase any. The rest of the day was attending other activities and eating.
We started off quite calmly but later in the day the sick bags suddenly appeared on all stairwells. Then shortly after that the Captain announced over the tannoy that he was informing us all, that it was going to be extremely rough tonight and tomorrow. He told us the movements that the ship could have but told us that she was used to extremely rough weather so nothing to be afraid of, all the movements were normal. He advised if you have medication take it so we knew we were in for a bumpy ride. I didn’t take any medication as I have been in rough weather before and thought I would be okay.
It was starting getting to get rough when we went down to dinner at 6.00 p.m and seeing the waves rushing passed the restaurant window was a bit alarming, and it slowly worsened. We watched a classical singer in one of the lounges after dinner and she had trouble standing up as the weather worsened and she had to grip the mike stand the whole of the time. She really did well holding the high notes in such conditions as it couldn’t have been pleasant for her.
As it was still quite early I really didn’t want to go back to the cabin just yet, as it was getting rougher and rougher and being alone in our cabin I preferred to be with other passengers, so we decided decided to have a quiet game of scrabble in the games room but halfway through I suddenly felt queezy, so I decided it was time to go upstairs, but it was only about 8.30 p.m.
From then on it was a quite horrible and I spent all of the night in and out of the toilet as I was sick numerous times. I felt really rough.
Wednesday 15th March – Sea day
After a horrible night the weather hadn’t improved so I stayed in bed all day as I still felt terrible. There were 30 foot waves and force 11 winds so the ship was rocking and rolling. Steve filmed a video on his mobile phone, inside on deck 7, as all the outside decks were closed, but it doesn’t give a true impression of how rough it was. However he panned around the walkway and as you will see there wasn’t a sole around. I didn’t eat or drink anything all day, which was most annoying, all that food and I couldn’t eat it. At about 8.45 pm Steve popped up to one of the restaurants and brought me back a bread roll. I ate 1/2 but that was it.
We did have an invitation to a cocktail party as a loyalty member, but this was cancelled but the formal black and white evening went ahead but unfortunately I stayed in bed.
Thursday 16th March
Early morning the sea calmed a bit and I actually went to sleep for a while. I did feel like getting up as I did feel a lot better, but just had orange juice and toast for breakfast. Arrived thankfully in Stavanger although a few hours later than scheduled due to the captain having to slow right down due to the weather.
Managed a small bowl of soup for lunch and then we got off and had a few hours walking around the pretty cobbled streets of Stavanger and it was lovely to get some fresh air, having spent the last 36 hours confined to the cabin. We did actually have an excursion booked but it had to be cancelled due to our late arrival as there would not have been time. We spent the last of our krone on a couple of pretty cushions for mum and a soft cuddly husky for us (well me) as a momento of our trip to Norway. We did actually leave Stavanger later than scheduled due to the late arrival.
Had an early dinner and I went and saw the Headliners dancers and singers murder a queen tribute. Steve declined and probably just as well as it was not good, and he went and saw a film instead. It was quite another bumpy night but nothing like previously.
Friday 17th March – Sea day.
Last day at sea so the it was the final of the 2 quizzes we were partaking in. We didn’t do bad in our small table for 6 quiz finishing probably in the middle but the most important one was the final of the “Battle of the Sexes”. Over the previous rounds both teams grew in numbers, as it became very popular and very competitive.
Going into the final it was pretty close and the ladies had a point to prove as we were told that the men had beaten the ladies on the last few cruises, so naturally this group of ladies wanted to change that. It went right down to the last question as it could have gone either way. BUT the ladies did it, and beat the men by 15 points (which how the scoring went was 30 points for a correct answer and 15 points if it was offered to the other side as a steal). The men bowed down to us and took their defeat gracefully but it was good fun.
We then watched the passengers who had been rehearsing as a choir during the cruise do their performance of various songs on the stage in front of an audience which was very good. It was then back up to the cabin to pack the cases.
The cocktail party which was postponed from its original slot 2 days ago took place tonight. We had a free drink and some canapés and there was a prize ticket raffle. A bloke won a photo album and a bottle of champagne and then the entertainment manager said she was going to draw another ticket for a bottle of champagne and I couldn’t believe it when she called out my name. As it was the last night on board I had to try and find somewhere to pack it, with the cases being full. But it was nice and it was the first raffle prize I had ever won, so thank you P & O, although I would have preferred to have got some money off the wine bill! But a nice end to the cruise.
We then went and listened to a classical pianist in one of the lounges, who was very good and then I went and saw the Headliners dance troupe for the last time, which I was hoping was going to be better than their Queen tribute, which it was, I have to say it was very good and the best one by far. The show was entitled “We’ll Meet Again” and they sang and danced to well known war time songs. The theatre was adorned with Union Jack flags for the audience to wave at the end with a rousing rendition of Rule Britannia, it was very good. So it was a good last night on the Oriana.
It had been a rocky ride back and even when we reached the Dover Straits ship still rocked a bit.
Saturday 18th March
Woke up in Southampton, got up early and had a cooked breakfast before we disembarked at 9.20 a.m. We found our cases easily in the hangar, collected the car from the car park and then homeward bound.
The end of a memorable cruise in more ways than one. The first week travelling up to the Arctic Circle and our time in Norway absolutely fantastic, and if there was anywhere in the World I would love to live it would be here. When we looked at the photos Steve did remark how happy I looked in all of them which confirmed my feelings of being somewhere I fell in love.
The scenery, the cold and snow, the clean air (wonderful if you have hair prone to humidity, which is not a problem here) and the people. Steve would prefer somewhere warmer, but hey ho!!! The second half travelling home in a storm was not so pleasant.