The Fjords have always been my dream. Having lived one year in Norway, I didn’t have the opportunity to do so. Don’t panic, there is always time to visit them. And not just anyhow! On a cruise ship!That’s how we found ourselves in Kiel one morning, ready to embark on the famous MSC Orchestra, for 7 days. The flight from Paris to Hamburg is included in the ticket. We very quickly spotted an MSC employee at the airport, before taking a shuttle bus from Hamburg to Kiel.
Boarding in Kiel
Arrived in Kiel, the boat can be seen from afar. A great moment of emotion. I understand better the fascination that one can have for cruise boats, it’s huge, it’s luxurious, it’s BEAUTIFUL!
We left our luggage at the indicated place and boarded almost empty-handed. As the rooms were not ready right away, we took the opportunity to have our first buffet breakfast on the boat.
Well, here is a small parenthesis concerning the luggage. For any trip, as soon as your luggage is in the hands of others, you should always take with you at least 1 day of change of clothes (you never know). We noticed the presence of a gentleman, every day, at the reception, with the same clothes, to claim his luggage. His luggage arrived, by bus, only 3 days later (out of the 7 days of the cruise).
Around 2pm, just before departure, we were able to reach our room. Our suitcase was waiting for us in front of the door. The room was spacious, with a small balcony on the 14th floor. We were lucky to be at the back of the boat and to have sun almost all the time and to admire the landscapes. It did not bother us at all to be just above the propeller because the vibrations and noises are minimal.
Life on the boat
The cruise is punctuated by stopovers, meals, activities and shows. In 7 days, we had time to have a little routine.
In the morning, JB goes to the gym to go jogging in front of the sea. It is one of his favorite moments of the day. Meanwhile, true to form, I eat breakfast and fill my bag with fruit.
Then, we get off the boat, queue at the tourist office with about 50 other travelers to book the day’s excursion (some cities do not require an excursion). It takes 20 minutes max. We then spend the whole day to visit, to be amazed by the landscapes, before going back on the boat.
Around 7pm, the next day’s program is delivered to us directly under the bedroom door. It indicates the weather forecast, a small text on the destination, recommended excursions as well as shows & dress code. I really like this daily program because it allows us to live in total carelessness, to live from day to day without having to plan too much in advance… Besides, most people don’t know where they will be in 2 days. The cruising rhythm has also taught them to live in the moment.
In the evening, before dinner, there is a great show. We go there every day, the shows are of quality and are all different. After and before the show, we spend time in one of the many bars on the boat, listening to live music and cocktail after cocktail, while others chat in the smokehouse or try their luck at the casino.
We always dine at the same table (imposed table) with other French-speaking travelers, before going to our room, or having a drink at the bar, or dancing. There are all kinds of music: jazz, disco, classical… until late at night.
First stopover, Kristiansand is a very nice small town, with its small fort, its small beach, its old town. My Norwegian friends have always told me about Kristiansand as a nice place to live, much more than Oslo. I gladly believe them.
It was in Kristiansand that we realized that our cards were not working (for withdrawal anyway). No panic, we were able to withdraw cash on the boat, but at a less advantageous rate of course.
“Wake up! We are in the fjords”. I saw for the first time the fjords from my room around 7 am when the boat was slowly moving forward towards Geiranger. Between sleeping and waking up, I thought I was still in a dream. The spectacle was so grandiose that I had tears in my eyes. 1 hour later, we were allowed to get off the boat. MSC was the first boat to arrive. Other cruise companies will follow, what a chance to be able to book the excursions at the tourist office before the others.
I don’t know if it’s specific to MSC Cruises but we always had the right to the floating bridges (to get off the boat very quickly), while the others have to take individual boats – which slows down the descent enormously.
A short stroll in the surroundings before our excursion.
The Norwegian houses, still as beautiful as ever, especially those with green roofs. It is so quiet, so green, we even saw some super cute cats… Walking in the streets, sloping, is already a very pleasant experience
The excursion we took took us to the top of the mountain, where there was a beautiful lake. Some small houses bordered the lake, admire the view they have! This lake reminded us the lake Tuyen Lam which we saw in Da Lat – Vietnam, same beauty.
Apparently, according to tradition, you have to have piles of rocks created as in the photo, so that the trip goes well (and/or to come back later). But all the rocks of the care are already used to form these piles, so we couldn’t make two of them for us 🙂
Leaving Geiranger, on the deck of the boat, a loudspeaker was explaining us what we had to look at: the waterfalls which were on our left, on our right…
The boat made a quick stop in Hellesylt to pick up a few passengers. We were not allowed to get off, but it was at Hellesylt where the captain made a magnificent maneuver, turning the boat 180°.
3rd stopover. After the breathtaking beauty of Geiranger, Flaam did not disappoint me. From the Stegastein observatory with its very modern architecture, the view was breathtaking.
We also took the famous Flaam train but the experience was just enjoyable, nothing more. At one point, the train stopped to allow the train from the other direction to pass. A mini show was taking place at that moment, it was fun. But hey, you can zap if you need to. Let’s say that the official picture (below) over-sells a little the experience 😉
Flaam made a big impression on me with its many souvenir stores, sheepskin rugs and bad fast food. It seems to be an ideal camping place because I’ve seen several of them. The fun anecdote I had in Flaam was when a gentleman, horrified by the fur vest his wife wanted to buy, asked my opinion. Not wanting to be part of this domestic squabble, instead of saying “no is too ugly”, I answered that it was not a very warm piece and it was a shame to buy fur for that.
4th stopover. I was the first to get out of the boat, dressed in my best sportswear bought for the occasion, with the hope of being able to climb up to the Pulpil Rock (or Preikestolen, yes yes this cliff of 25x25m at 604m above the waters of the Lysefjord). My hope was destroyed in 2 seconds by the tourist office who confirmed me that I would never have enough time to make the round trip considering the schedule of the cruise ship.
It takes a bus to go from Stavanger to the Pulpil Rock parking lot, then 4 hours of walking in total (round trip) or between 7 and 8 hours of travel. So no chance to get there, unless I take a boat trip, or admire from a helicopter.
MSC doesn’t even propose this excursion in their program because it’s sorely lacking of time, and it requires a high level of endurance. Well, it will be a reflex to come back to Norway.
I opted for the boat. Good choice since we passed some seals on the way, heard about the salmon farm in the area and saw the Pulpil Rock from below. It’s the square point in the middle of the picture. There, the view isn’t as good as when you are above, but good.
The city of Stavanger is itself very picturesque, although more touristy than other cities. We even had a very tasty lunch at the port (it was very simple, just mussels & oysters).
Last stop before returning to Kiel: Gothenburg. MSC arranged free shuttle buses to take us to the marina (as the boat has moored far from the city center). I appreciate the gesture especially that at other companies, this shuttle bus could have been paying.
When I saw that there was a nice fishmarket in Gothenburg, I went there first. OMG I love fishmarkets (since the excellent fishmarket in Sydney, I go to all fishmarkets in all cities). It was the cleanest fishmarket I have ever seen. You could even sit down to eat, the prices were absolutely right. Unfortunately, I was not hungry.
I wanted to try Norwegian oysters, but the only ones available were from France ahahah
The city was small but very pleasant and studious. JB was looking at the green parks with jealousy, while I was raving about the many Swedish decoration stores at soft prices
Last day on the boat: we are asked to label well and take out the suitcases early in the morning. A team is in charge of taking the luggage down. As at the boarding, we get off the boat almost empty-handed. We look for our luggage, goes towards the shuttle buses to return to Hamburg then to take our plane. We just made the reflection as that nobody made sure that we take the good luggage. No checking!
We really enjoyed travelling with MSC. The cruise is perfectly suited for exhausted Parisians looking for an organized but not too organized vacation. Considering the destination (expensive, very expensive), the price seems very correct to me. Moreover, there was absolutely no surcharge other than what was announced (tips taken directly from our credit card, about 7€/day/person. We took an unlimited drinks package, enjoyed the cocktails, and nothing was charged on top of that). All shuttle buses were free. The staff was adorable, even too helpful. All we had to do was get out of the room for someone to come and make the bed right away.
The interior decoration of the boat isn’t always to my taste but I find that everything is of good quality, the work is done regularly on the boat so that it is like new. The entrances/exits of the boat are managed with a master hand, we never wait long. Compared to other companies, MSC has always arranged for customers to be able to go down via a deck; and never by small boats, which greatly reduces lost time.
We were able to negotiate the rates directly with the travel agency. In all, we spent :
- 694,-/person for the double room with balcony, price already reduced by -10% (other room types, e.g. with or without window, will cost less), full board. JB was able to negotiate a birthday cake in addition
- Return transfer Hamburg/Kiel: 17€/person, included in the quote made by the agency
- Return flight Paris/Hamburg : 104,5€/person, included in the estimate made by the agency
- About 60€/person for each of the excursions purchased at the tourist office, or 180€/person for the whole trip (excursions to Geiranger, Flaam and Stavanger). Yes yes, Norway is priceless!
- 7€/day/person for tips
- Unlimited drinks package: 23€/person/day
- A lunch at the port of Stavanger: 20€ for two
- Negotiate rates directly with the travel agency or cruise lines. As it works by quotation, we told each other that the other was offering cheaper fares
- Buy excursions (in English) directly at the tourist office of the city, not those proposed on the boat. The only two advantages offered by the boat’s excursions are : (1) the language: the excursions exist in French (2) if ever you are late because of your excursion, the boat is waiting for you
- If you aren’t a fan of cocktails/wines or other drinks, you can do without the unlimited drinks package. Just buy bottles of still water at 3€ (it is forbidden to buy water during the stopover and bring some back on the boat).
- However, if you want to take the unlimited drinks package, it is better to add it in your quotation before boarding. On the boat, the price goes directly to 27€ instead of 23€/day/person
- Take warm clothes & a waterproof jacket, we are still in Norway, at high altitude. I’ve seen a lot of people buy MSC fleeces for 50€ just because they don’t have adapted clothes
- Before boarding, take at least 1 day’s change of clothes in your handbag. You never know
- Bring your swimsuit, there are 2 large pools & jacuzzi on the boat. Don’t forget your camera.
- For some mysterious reason, my VISA card did not work at ATMs in Norway. Remember to contact your bank before your departure so that international payments and withdrawals are accepted. You can also change money on the boat (or on the spot), but the exchange rates are scandalous.