"So, how many cruises have you done?” I asked our new-found friends Kris and Paul from the Isle of Man.
“Thirty-five. This is our 36th.”
This is not an uncommon exchange when you get chatting to people on an ocean cruise. There is a kind of club of those who adore the cruise lifestyle. Once bitten by the bug, they don’t seem capable of dreaming of any other kind of holiday.
And I can see why. From the very first moment we stepped gracefully aboard the Enchanted Princess at the dockside in Southampton, I struggled to find anything wrong. Around the necks of every passenger hung a lanyard with an electronic medallion. Staff members beeped us all in, smiled, and signalled for us to continue to the central point of the piazza. Our jaws dropped and our necks craned upwards to a dizzying spectacle of gilded, spiral staircases; glass-fronted elevators; ornate, curved balconies and glittering chandeliers. Resident musicians played, while bars and restaurants beckoned beyond.
After checking out our sumptuous cabin (bedroom, bathroom, lounge area, sliding doors out to the balcony), it was up to the 16th deck, where the sun was emerging and where crowds were gathering around the main swimming pool for the Sail Away party. The resident DJ and cruise director orchestrated the fun from the deck above.
The air reverberated with beats, and an overpowering wave of emotion swept over the enormous ship as it pulled away from the dock with rippleless ease. The build-up from the previous two and a half years of being told to stay at home was palpable among the 3,000-plus passengers who were sailing away on a 330m, 20-storey ship to Nordic lands.
As our ship ploughed through the choppy waters of the North Sea, there was not the slightest feeling of a swell in what felt like a five-star hotel floating along at 23 knots.
You are never bored on the Enchanted Princess, for even if you don’t fancy finding a quiet corner and reading a book (which is surprisingly easy despite the thousands of people on board), there is a long list of activities going on at any given time. You can go for a dip in one of the many pools, have a poolside drink or snack, and chat to people. Everyone’s in great form on a cruise, especially when the sun is shining, which it invariably was on our trip. You can go for a walk or a jog around the running track on Deck 20, or book some time in the multi-sports outdoor pitch, where you can play tennis, football or basketball. There was also talk of a gym somewhere, to which (to use a nautical term) I gave a wide berth.
I did enjoy my walks around the track, my swims, and the occasional spot of table tennis. A certain amount of self-imposed discipline is definitely advisable on board a cruise, because food and drink are available everywhere on the ship and at all times. Relaxing in the huge theatre that occupies two decks and watching a rock musical? Just order your G&T and it will arrive shortly. Sitting back on your sun lounger on your balcony? Your chips and prawns will be with you in a jiffy, Sir.
After a thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable day and a half at sea, our first stop was Kristiansand in Norway. Named after the dynamic Danish King Christian IV (who also built the Norwegian capital, Oslo), it’s a pleasant port town of grid-patterned design, which was mainly rebuilt after fire destroyed its erstwhile wooden structure in the late 19th century. We took the tour of the preserved/reconstructed village just outside of town, where a guide told us how the earliest people of Norway used to live and of their transition from playful pagans to austere Christians.
Our next port of call was Copenhagen. Here again we availed of a ‘best of’ tour of the city by boat and foot. When you’re only there for the day, it’s a good idea to pack in the best of the city within the time allowed. Plus, you leave the responsibility of getting back to the ship on time with someone else. For, as we seafarers say, time and tide wait for no man.
The Danish capital was magnificent in the warm summer sunshine (why is it that the Nordics get better summers than we do?) — a mixture of regal splendour, cool Scandinavian vibes and heavenly hygge harbour sides.
Next up was the town of Skagen. Situated on the precariously flat stretch of sandy land that ends in a narrow tip at Denmark’s most northerly point, this village of red-roofed homes and a semi-sunken church is still an important fishing port. It was a magnet for a group of Impressionist-style artists in the 19th century, and today it is second only to Copenhagen as the top Danish tourist destination.
Our last port of call was Oslo. We arrived in the early morning, sailing up the long fjord (nothing like the spectacular fjords on the west coast, but stunning nonetheless) and docking at our city-centre berth.
Oslo struck me as a thoroughly inviting, relaxed city, with an innovative mixture of architecture, the highlight of which is its impressive opera house. Its white marble form seemingly slides into the water like an iceberg, and all over the roof, people happily roam.
The other major highlight of the city is Vigeland Park — stunningly populated by hundreds of themed sculptures from Gustav Vigeland. The journey through the extraordinary stone bodies is a moving experience. We also visited The Fram Museum, a building constructed around the famous ship (the Fram) on which Roald Amundsen and his crew made history at both poles of the Earth.
The last night of our return to Southampton dock was a lively one — the imminent end of the cruise seeming to push people into a state of added excitement and, perhaps, a realisation that they hadn’t used up much of their 15-drinks-a-day allowance up to that point. The ambiance was infectiously festive. As we pulled into Southampton, we were already dreaming of the next cruise.
The entertainment. Our cruise happened to be comedy-themed, so there were a number of well-known entertainers on board, including Rory Bremner, Lucy Porter and our own Ardal O’Hanlon. Other shows included musicals, a mentalist and a hilarious ventriloquist. Quiz nights on board are great ice-breakers.
Princess Cruises (princess.com) has a wide range of luxury cruises worldwide. The seven-night Scandinavia Cruise starts from €776pp (based on two people sharing an inside stateroom) on May 27, 2023, on the Sky Princess. Book before October 31, 2022, to get a deluxe balcony for €1,159pp and be upgraded to a mini suite for free (fares don’t include flights). To book, speak to your local travel agent or call 1800 939 608.
The Enchanted Princess moves to the Mediterranean next year, where you can get on board for €649pp including flights (based on two people sharing an inside stateroom). The itinerary includes Barcelona, Marseille, Corsica and Gibraltar. To book, visit clickandgo.com or call 01 699 5158.