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Black Watch Cruise Review
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating
151 Reviews

Epic 14 day adventure to Norway and the Arctic, chasing the Northern Lights

Black Watch Cruise Review by seaventurer

4 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: Jan 2020
  • Destination: the Arctic
  • Cabin Type: Outside Cabin

FRED. OLSEN CRUISES BLACK WATCH - 14 Nights, Norway & The Arctic

Ålesund, Trondheim, Tromsø (overnight), Alta (overnight), Kristiansund

I am on a mission. After sailing on over 50 ships, 150+ cruises and crossings, I'm looking for the uncommon out-of-the-ordinary experience with respect to the ship I sail on and where it goes. Price is relative and a key factor. I love small ship cruising. The reasons and justifications are obvious. A level of personal service and attention one garners; quality of the product including food, entertainment and on-board amenities far exceed those on today's giga-ships with 3,500+ other passengers.

Packing for 15 days was a challenge. One 20kg suitcase for on-board wear, another 20kg suitcase for winter and Arctic gear! My Norwegian Air ticket from Miami to Gatwick included two checked bags so I was safe. It was the carry-on camera equipment and my backpack with computer and electronics (I work when I travel) that brought my total weight to about 60kg (132lbs) of baggage. Of course, I wore about half of what I packed.

I love the Norwegian origins of this ship. The warm woods and artwork furnished throughout by the Olsen's. It's simplistic minimalism and distraction-less parallels that of an English manor and the most comfortable shoes you own.

We dined in Glentanar's Orchid Room each night for the exception of one night out while on tour and one night in "Black Watch's" optional dining venue: "The Black Watch Room - The Grill". Menu's in Glentanar were varied, creative, exceptionally presented, plated and hot, a rarity among many cruise lines today. Our nightly wait staff Jon and Elvis were on their toes setting the stage each evening with diligent, prompt service and attention to detail learning quickly how many twists of the pepper mill we preferred, who drank what, and how we took our coffee (more on the coffee later.)

I opted for tours in each port. While I had been to Tromsø and Trondheim on previous cruises, I wanted to expand my horizons by visiting previously undocumented key points of interest for myself and my book. This would also be my first winter visit. Snow would be the game changer and a new element and facet on this adventure. I was well prepared.

ÅLESUND: We embarked on a tour through the city then over roadways learning about the significance of the furniture industry in the region. It's big business and employs many of the local residents with modern factories and shipping points. Our destination was Stranda Mountain which would require a fjord crossing on a ferry (a simple feat in Norway even on a coach.) The fjord from the mountain top is Geirangerfjord - one which I had sailed through en-route to Geiranger in 2019, Norway's most visited fjord with over a million visitors a year.

The return back to the ship was equally impressive with a stop at Ålesund's infamous Aksla viewpoint, 441 steps up from the city-center where photos of the most recognizable images of Ålesund are captured. According to National Geographic, "Ålesund could be the backdrop for a Nordic fairy tale - with a modern plot twist." Most of the city of Ålesund was leveled by fire which occurred on 23 January 1904. It nearly destroyed the whole city centre, built mostly of wood like the majority of Norwegian towns at the time. The town was rebuilt in the then contemporary style of Jugendstil (Art Nouveau). Modern historians have concluded that the fire was actually positive in terms of city development. The pre-fire city centre was extremely crowded, consisting mostly of old and cramped wood housing with only rudimentary sanitary facilities (WIKI).

Our second port, Trondheim, was a repeat visit for me and there was much to see. A tour to the war memorial museum (Forsvarsmuseet Rustkammeret) and adjacent Nidaros Cathedral built over the burial site of King Olav II c. 995-1030 were first on the list. Trondheim was the scene of a mass fire in 1681 which destroyed most of the city. The Germans also had a significant influence during WWII all of which was thoroughly disclosed in detail at the war memorial museum. Kristiansten Fortress was built after the city fire to protect the city against attack from the east (Sweden.)

An overnight port call in Tromsø was next. Enter the Arctic Circle ! On a previous visit, I had taken the cable car to the top of the mountain (Storsteinen) - this time around wanting to photograph the vista with its snow was not going to happen. The peak was shrouded in clouds and it was snowing hard. At 1,381 feet (421 metres), the weather changes fast. Next time? Next time also for the Northern lights in Tromsø as our seven-hour trek towards Finland and back proved to be too overcast for any hope of an evening display. Others on tour found the lights thanks to some clouds that strategically dispersed and perhaps a more advanced navigator. Let's try for Alta?

Day two Tromsø, the sun reached out and delivered glorious view of the sights and scenery. Our sailing time prevented me from another journey up the mountain so I wandered around town capturing images featuring the town's people, streets, the Edge hotel to the harbour just as the sun set - around 15:00.

Following a day at sea we arrived for an overnight stay in Alta. 69.9689° N, 23.2716° E, part of Norway's Finnmark country with a population of less than 15,000, our most northern port and evidently the largest northern-most town in the world.Gliding through Alta-fjord or any fjord in wintertime is drastically different in winter. The landscape is pristine, evoking yet stark. Much of my photography is black and white and as you can see, it's the right choice in the case below. Previously I'd only sailed through Norway in springtime and summer - this journey was different.

At first light upon arrival in Alta, my traveling partners and I ventured off ship to see the Northern Lights Cathedral (Borealis). I had to grab some shots of this architectural wonder. The sun was brilliant, the church priceless.

ALTA would be our final opportunity to capture the Northern Lights. Long story short, we were transported to a camp about fifteen minutes from the ship. Tents, fires, hot chocolate, banana cake and the Northern Lights greeted us. Blink and you'll miss them since out of a point system of 1-10, we struck a 2. With camera and tripod in hand we captured and alas witnessed the organic beauty of the atmosphere dancing in the night.

Thanks to "Black Watch's" Supper Club (late night buffet), we returned in time for some tasty bites including crispy chicken wings, pasta and of course, the pastries, biscuits, puddings and more. While the sausage rolls and hot chocolate were a nice touch back in Tromsø at 02:00, the hot buffet at 23:30 was sublime. Bedtime.

Set to sail at 15:00 with the wind blowing and snow falling, I didn't have much time except to wander out and catch some shots of "Black Watch", I had spent the morning photographing her interiors which explains why many of the people in my photos are missing. They're on tour. Our sail-away in the snow was memorable as we headed south through the channels of Hurtigruten safe from the North Sea (for the most part) towards Kristiansund, our final port.

Sea days are perhaps my favorite time spent on a ship. One can lose touch with reality particularity with the backdrop of Norway in winter. We would sail through these channels' past town and villages, some with less than 100 residents. Our Captain's home was one of these small village and sailing south, we glided closely past, for the second time, the Arctic marker on Vikingen Island; a monument posted on this tiny island indicating the precise location of the Arctic Circle.

Our final port of Kristiansund was icing on the cake. The weather turned in our favour and a tour to the Atlantic Road and a 1,000-year-old church (Kvernes Stave) were on the agenda, neither of which disappointed. Water was the subject of the coach ride as a record setting high-tide flooded seaside barns and homes. With sunshine and the crisp clear Norwegian air, the church setting brought a sense of tranquility and serenity. The birds were chirping. You knew, at least I did, we were in the presence of a igher power greater than ourselves. It was one of those moments in life when replayed, life challenges and issues seem to vanish.

A sunset departure from Kristiansund left me in awe and reignited. My second trip to the Arctic, forth cruise through Norway, the 56th ship I have sailed on, new-found friends and a complement of joyous, happy, and wonderful people particularly the exceptional staff and crew. Just a few of the memories etched in my mind and forthcoming book: "NORWAY, A Photographic Odyssey" representing the 14 ports and seven fjords I have sailed to and through experiencing the most spectacular sights one could imagine. It's why I love Norway and Fred. Olsen cruises. It's all about the journey.

seaventurer's Full Rating Summary
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Cabin Review

Outside Cabin

These staterooms were larger than expected and featured seemingly brand-new bathrooms with possibly the largest shower at sea I've experienced and upscale soft goods. You'd never expect this from a 48-year-old ship. Since the ships was built for long cruises, there is plenty of storage space - three large closets, six dresser drawers, mini-safe and tea set up. The soft goods are soothing and fluffy while the space has a nice ambiance and classic appeal with two portholes.

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

Amazing road trip through roadwways, across a fjord on a ferry (via a coach) to Stranda Mountain, a ski area including a godola ride to the top and authentic Norwegian buffet lunch mountain top.

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Chasing the Northern lights - missed them, but caught them in Alta ! Van coach for six hours driving towards Finland and back. Too cloudy for a sighting.

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GOT THE NORTHERN LIGHTS !!! Great trip on coach for fifteen minutes to a (frozen) lakeside camp with fires, tents and hot refreshments...where we finally caught the North lights!

City tour + Trondheim in the second world war (War Museum) and Kristiansten Fortress build to protect Norway from the east (Sweden.)

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SHOULD BE KRISTIANSUND but it's not in the drop down. Amazing tour via coach out of town enroute to the Atlantic road, a short coastal biway with stunning views following our stop over at Kvernes Stave Church (circa 1630)

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