Travel

Thursday 10 July 2014

Cruising The Fjords: I tip my hat to a glorious Queen

Constance Harris

Published 23/06/2013|04:00

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It's quite an experience to witness the Queen Elizabeth make her swan-like, majestic way up Norway's mysterious fjords - even if you have to get up at 5.30am to see it.

Standing in the queue at Costa Cafe in Southampton Airport, the man in front – fit, sharply dressed, early 40s – turned to me and said "You were just on the Queen Elizabeth cruise, weren't you? It was our first with Cunard. Wasn't it brilliant?"

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He was flying back to Manchester, I to Dublin. With the enthusiasm of new converts, we reminisced about our one-week voyage to the fjords and waterfalls of Norway. He hadn't even waited to leave the ship before he'd booked his wife and himself on their next cruise – flying to New York for four days then hopping on the Queen Mary 2 for the seven-day return cruise to Southampton.

I can understand why he did. You can have such a magical time that you want to make sure you will have it again. If I was to pick one word to describe my Cunard experience it would be elegant. It was also highly social, engaging and easy. And that was just life on board. The experience of the fjords and Norway's scenery were something else.

If you are cruising for anything less than a week, don't arrive tired. You need to be in the whole of your health to enjoy the social interaction and activity, not necessarily strenuous.

By day four, I was working out in the gym (where one could also book personal training, yoga, Pilates, etc), relaxing in the spa before dinner, kayaking in fjords or trekking to glaciers – I chose the more active tours but most were undemanding – dabbling in dance classes, playing table tennis and chess with my son, and enjoying the evening shows which included quality stand-up comedians, plays or elaborate Live at the London Palladium shows.

Entertainment director, Amanda Reid organises a full and diverse schedule with a team of hosts who look after everything from entertainment to group meet-ups. I really enjoyed James Anthony Smith, who sounds uncannily like a young Julian Clary and was just as funny when he delivered talks on the tours we were going on, and friendly and conscientious Jamie who looked after the themed balls (Elizabethan full costume was one), singles and gay group meet-ups, among other things.

Despite all the activities I did do, I only scratched the surface. What was really enjoyable was discovering something interesting to try out on the ship, get there within five minutes and after, get back 'home' within five minutes, too. Basically, Queen Elizabeth is a mini metropolis, with a thousand amazing workers behind the scenes looking after 2,000 guests.

I hadn't expected that there would be endless, fabulous food (included in the price) and proper, silver service, afternoon tea. At the Britannia restaurant, for dinner there are two sittings. If you like to meet new people, they will sit you at a table with others. There were formal and semi- formal nights and most people relished dressing up.

The sight of men in dinner suits and women in gorgeous evening wear made the cruise that bit more special. If formality is not your thing, then the Lido restaurant is for you, while The Verandah is a very elegant, very reasonably priced, French cuisine restaurant. I recommend it.

Cruising on a ship as luxurious and accessible as the Queen Elizabeth, is ideal for people who are physically restricted. It's like a floating city with lots of lifts, engaging public spaces and amenities.

Fifty per cent of the cruisers may be over 60 but the other 50 per cent are under.

There were young couples with small children, as Cunard offer childcare to cover both day and evening. The Queen Elizabeth had a brilliant crash room for teenagers as well as a lovely youth activities organiser, Adam.

As for the fjords of Norway, they were stunning – majestic and unspoiled.

Our cruise sailed at the end of May. The snow had only just melted the previous week but as there was snowfall the night before, we enjoyed snow capped, spectacular views on warm sunny days.

It is an unforgettable experience to travel up a narrow and imposing channel of water, like the fjords of Norway, in rainy, predawn, misty light. It is impossible not to imagine our Viking ancestors at such a time, to imagine you see the faces of gods in the surrounding rocks, guardians to these secret lands.

There is so much power in the imposing mountains, the cascading waterfalls into the dark depths of the North Sea.

At the small and ancient village of Olden, we disembarked to travel inland to visit the Briksdal Glacier.

I joined a trekking party instead of taking the bus ride up.

For an hour and half we tramped up a small mountain, through woods and by fast running streams, led by a local guide who left us in no doubt as to the harshness of life in this land with its hard weather and isolation.

When we got to the Briksdal Lake, we got into dinghies and gently paddled to where glacial ice becomes melted water.

It wasn't a challenging trip, but to be sitting in a small boat beneath a huge glacier that makes terrifying snapping sounds as it cracks and shatters is an experience I am glad I had.

At Geirangerfjord, I went kayaking for three hours on the fjord which was enjoyable and exhausting.

If you are looking for a gentle introduction to the landscape and fjords of Norway, the cruise is ideal.

We stopped in the engaging and stylish town of Stavanger, and the villages of Olden and Geiranger, gateways to extraordinary lands of beauty and drama, ending in the cosmopolitan, yet quaint city of Bergen.

Now that I am returned, I know I am going to miss rising at 5.30 in the morning to witness the Queen Elizabeth make her swan-like, majestic way up Norway's mysterious fjords. Miss my adorable, fun dining companions. Miss our endlessly kind, room steward, Nestor. Miss the opportunities for activity and friendship. Miss Captain Alistair Clark's sonorous daily announcements as to ships' news and procedure.

When I win the Lotto I'm definitely contacting Thomas Cook Cruises to book Cunard's round-the-world tour.

One can dream.

GETTING THERE

Thomas Cook Cruise Ireland offers a 7-night Fjords cruise on board the Cunard Queen Elizabeth from €845 per person, departing August 10 2013 (July dates also available). Cruise leaves Southampton with ports of call in Norway to Stavanger, Olden, Geiranger and Bergen. (Prices are based on two sharing an inside stateroom and include meals, gratuities and entertainment on board. Tax included. (Flights, transfers and gratuities are extra.) Upgrade to an outside stateroom from €200 per person. In December the Queen Elizabeth departs on a Northern Adventure, taking in Bruges/Brussels, Belgium, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Gothenburg and Oslo from €999 per person sharing. Thomas Cook Cruise Ireland is the preferred partner of Cunard in Ireland. For more information on Queen Elizabeth sailings or for any other cruise queries simply call its dedicated cruise department on 01 514 0336 or log on to www.thomascook.ie. Thomas Cook offers a wide range of cruises and represents all major cruise lines including Celebrity Cruises, MSC, P&O, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and can organise your full cruise package holiday to include flights, transfers and cruise.

Irish Independent

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