Most people contemplating a Europe cruise focus on the popular destinations: the Western Mediterranean for the romance of Spain and Italy, the Eastern Mediterranean for Greek islands and historic places, or the Baltics for the big cities of St. Petersburg, Stockholm and Copenhagen. Often forgotten among those marquee itineraries are the Norwegian fjords, set aside as a bucket-list destination or a place to go after you hit the "biggies."
Perhaps it's because no one really knows what they're going to find in Alesund, Flam and Geiranger. Or maybe people like the "greatest hits" cruises where they visit multiple countries in one trip, rather than a single nation. Then again, just what is a fjord, and why should you go see one?
After a 10-night Norwegian fjords cruise on Celebrity Infinity, we're convinced you should bump this northern destination up on your must-cruise list or at least give it a second look. Norway might just be the perfect cruise destination -- and here are a few reasons (and photos) why.
Norway is expensive.
According to one cost of living calculator, consumer prices in the U.S. are 51 percent lower than in Norway, and the restaurant prices are nearly 63 percent lower. What that means is that a land vacation to Norway, where you're paying for food, hotels, transportation and fun in Norwegian krone is likely to break the bank. But book a cruise, and you pay for meals, lodging, transportation and tours in dollars (or euros or pounds), saving yourself a bundle.
Norway's beauty is best appreciated by water.
Norway is a gorgeous country, with several UNESCO World Heritage fjords, complete with waterfalls and mountain scenery. The best way to ogle a fjord is by boat, and cruise travelers just happen to have a very large ship at their disposal. While it's true that you'll need to book a small sightseeing cruise to view some of the narrower fjords, your cruise ship can sail into and out of the Geirangerfjord, Aurlandsfjord and Sognefjord, to name some of the more scenic waterways. So you get fjord tours included in the cost of your vacation, including optimal vantage points from your private balcony or top-of-ship open deck or lounge.
A fjords cruise is relaxing.
Mediterranean cruises can be exhausting; back-to-back 12-hour days in big-city ports with more sights than you can possibly see in one day can leave you yearning for a vacation from your vacation. In Norway, most of the ports are smaller, and, while interesting, they don't overwhelm visitors with attraction options. (The exception is Oslo, where we could have easily spent another day to see more of the museums.) Plus, with plenty of time allocated for scenic cruising, drink in hand, feet propped up, you won't feel so foot-weary after seven straight days in port.
You can sample strange foods.
Part of the fun of traveling is trying the local cuisine. And while Norway restaurant prices mean you won't be dining out all that often, you still have the chance to sample the region's unique foods. Fish markets in many ports sell more than just fish, and you can taste elk, reindeer, whale and other locally caught fish. Waffles with jam made from Norwegian's plentiful berries or the caramel-flavored brown goat's cheese are affordable snacks (often included in ship's excursion prices). In Geiranger, we tested out a variety of chocolates made with local flavors -- aquavit, cloudberries, brown cheese -- before purchasing some as a souvenir.
People are friendly -- and speak English.
If you have the landlubber's fear of finding your way in a place where no one speaks your language, you've got nothing to worry about in Norway. Nearly everyone speaks impeccable English -- and they're super friendly to boot. Shopkeepers we met joined us in ridiculing Justin Bieber (apparently Norway changed the date of school exams as his concert was the same week), held forth on their favorite Scandinavian authors translated into English and helped us figure out why our credit cards weren't working. Nowhere did anyone look down on us for being "American tourists."
Norway is fabulous for outdoor activities.
That is, when the sun's out. It rained one-third of the time we were in port, but when the sun's out, Norway is a great place for kayaking, biking and hiking. (Just bring your rain gear.) In Geiranger, you can hike to mountain farms and even behind some of the raging waterfalls, or kayak to the famous Seven Sisters waterfall. In Flam, you can take the famous train one way and then bike or hike back to town through the valley. In Bergen, a funicular leads to hiking paths above the city, while, in Alesund, a short but steep climb rewards you with views over the city and harbor.
Norway has unique cultural attractions.
If you like museums, culture and history, Norway might have more than you imagined. Oslo is rife with cultural attractions -- from the Folk Museum, with examples of typical Norwegian architecture from around the country, to the Nobel Peace Prize Museum and the Vigeland Sculpture Garden. In Stavanger, you can learn about Norway's economics yesterday and today at the Canning Museum and Petroleum Museum. From Bergen, you can visit the home of Edvard Grieg and even catch a concert, or learn about Norway's painters (including Edvard Munch, of "The Scream" fame).
Norway is kid-friendly.
A Norway cruise isn't just for retirees. We were surprised how family-friendly the destinations on our fjords cruise really were. Kristiansand has a beach and sandboxes right in the middle of the main shopping boulevard. Stavanger's Petroleum Museum, in addition to fun and interactive exhibits, had a superb play structure (complete with crane) and a coloring area for the kiddos. Tiny Flam had a playground you could see from the cruise ship, plus a train ride and nature trail young tourists would love. If the sea life at Alesund's aquarium isn't enough, there's even a climbing area, sand box and interactive water feature where children can redirect streams of water.
You can cruise in nearly any nationality.
Norway attracts travelers the world over and an international array of cruise ships, too. You can cruise the fjords on American, British, Norwegian, German and Italian cruise ships. Our Celebrity ship carried a mix of Brits, Americans and Spaniards, but you can also choose German-language AIDA or to sail with more locals on Norway's own Hurtigruten. So whether you prefer to book your vacation in dollars, pounds, euros or even Norwegian krone, or opt for a big or little ship, there's a cruise that's right for you.