Embarking on the 7 day voyage ‘Fred’s Favourite Fjords’ on MS Balmoral in July 2016 I had high expectations of the time that was ahead of us – I had a vivid memory from childhood of sailing on a glass like surface of a fjord with steep green cliffsides sliding straight down into the water. One of the most incredible things I had ever seen – and planted strongly and picture-like into my memory.
I now know my childhood memory was just the start of it. Cruising the fjords is utterly awe-inspiring and the scenery is absolutely amazing as every nautical mile passes.
Fred. Olsen’s Balmoral is not the most modern of ships though it was looking smart and a comfortable place to be – it’s at the smaller end of cruise ships and enabled access to some incredible places: a road bridge across the entrance to Lysefjorden was cleared by just 4m – we all held our breath as we sailed under!
A Fjords cruise can be a variety of things to you depending upon your holiday priorities – a picturesque backdrop to your time in the hot tub or swimming pool, an ever changing view while you exercise in the gym at the front of the ship, a geology and geography lesson before your eyes if you’re interested, a photographers paradise. There are must-see jaw-dropping sights with gushing waterfalls, steep-sided cliffs, mill-pond like surfaces, and a palate of incredible greens and blues as the forested mountainsides play against the vivid colours of the water. These scenes can be so picturesque you do actually feel you’re standing in a well-painted picture.
We were amazed by the villages, churches, farms, isolated smallholdings and chalets along the way and the enterprise and dedication of those who had built them. We wondered for some of these Norwegian settlements and dwellings how they’re accessed mid-way up a mountainside.
Whether you know them or not, you can’t help but talk with your fellow cruisers about your wonderful shared experience.
We often sailed overnight to the head of a Fjord – to small towns and villages, such as Skjolden, Olden, and Hellesylt. These were communities which were delighted to welcome the cruise guests. After the opportunity to take an adventurous excursion or explore the villages, we sailed back down the fjords heading towards the sea during the afternoon and early evening.
Some of these sailings provided an wide range of scenic cruising (given that the longest fjord Sognefjord reaching into Lustrafjord, is 127miles in length), and we were taking our place at the late sitting of dinner before reaching the open sea.
You can be amazed at how close to the mountainsides you seem to be as you sail through these incredibly formed special gems of nature, and there’s plenty of big scenery to take in. At its deepest, Sognefjord is 1,308 m (4,291 ft) deep and the mountains at the sides can rise up to 1,000 m (3,281 ft).
Whether on a larger ship with more facilities sailing the bigger fjords, the smaller kind of ship that we sailed on, or even more intimate journeys through the fjords on yet smaller ships, there are incredible sights to be seen and much to be appreciated in sailing the stunning Norwegian Fjords.
Our weather conditions were very varied – we had some hot sunny times as well as spells of misty drizzly patches – so you do have to be prepared for anything. There is a benefit of this for the photographer – standing still on deck with a camera will generate the possibility of a portfolio of stunning holiday pics and atmospheric shots.
Many of the itinerary calling points are very small villages – but there’s also Bergen with its shops, attractions and amenities as well as charming historic sectors and it has a bit more hustle and bustle about it.
One of our highlights was the stunning Briksdal Glacier excursion from Olden – we were taken by coach into the glacial valley and walked a path to the lip of the glacier scooping down over the mountaintop. This destination was a good example of different activity levels being catered for on slightly different excursion variants – whilst we walked down the valley past gushing waterfalls, some had a carriage-ride part way down the valley to enable the less firm of foot to be able to get-along to catch a better glimpse of the incredible blue ice and small glacial lake. Others took the option of sailing a raft on the glacial lake as we walked alongside. We did note along the way the marker positions of the glacier at various points in recent history.
Another highlight was the excursion from Hellesylt to Geiranger over the mountain tops taking incredibly windy roads with countless hairpin bends. This brought us to a high mountaintop view over Geirangerfjord with our cruise ship as a smallish dot just discernable way down below.
Cruising the fjords gives you the opportunity of a multidimensional experience of the fjords, that cannot be matched any other way. It is to be highly recommended!