Rollercoaster Mum: Family Friendly Holidays with the Kids 2 - Cruising the Norwegian Fjords with Cunard

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Thursday, 27 June 2013

Family Friendly Holidays with the Kids 2 - Cruising the Norwegian Fjords with Cunard

This time last year the girls were getting very excited about our cruise on Cunard's Queen Victoria. Much shopping and planning had to be done for all those fancy frocks, sparkly shoes and jazzy jewellery - and that was just for them.

Cunard funnel
Cunard's distinctive red funnel
On the face of it this was another unlikely holiday for us. Once upon a time I had thought cruising was for a bunch of old people and anyone who really didn't want to see that much of the world - disembarking en masse at a port and being herded here and there like so many sheep. We were, however given the opportunity (not through blogging I hasten to add - this post is not sponsored in any way) to go on a cruise at a very good price. We had a choice and decided that a short cruise to somewhere like Norway would be good as then if we hated it, it was only a week and we were unlikely to explore Norway's Fjords any other way any time soon.

Olden, Norwegian Fjords
Cunard Queen Victorian in Olden - part of the beautiful Norwegian Fjords
I must admit I was quite looking forward to being waited on for a week - no washing or cooking or any form of housework for a whole week - yay! The girls were very excited about the idea of dressing for dinner every night and living on a 'big boat' (you shouldn't call them that really - they are 'ships') for a week and I think Rollercoaster Dad was simply looking forward to seeing Norway. Living not too far from Southampton getting there was a breeze and it was great to be on holiday as soon as you got on the ship - the initial checking in was a bit like being at the airport but without the queues. Our luggage was taken from us and delivered straight to our cabin and we had our pictures taken for our cards that you carry everywhere on board so that you don't have to carry money - just show your card and drinks and stuff are charged to your cabin. Not that you have to pay for much - all the food is included, you can get tea, coffee and some soft drinks from the buffet restaurant (the Lido) as well. There are of course all manner of exotic cocktails, long wine lists and extras that you can pay for if you wish. We had a bottle of wine with dinner every night and the odd wee dram but not too much extra.

Cunard Southampton
Excited about leaving Southampton.
However I digress. Once we were on board we headed straight for our cabin to check it out. I have to admit I had been a bit anxious that it would be minute as we were just in the cheapest inside cabin (no windows) but I was pleasantly surprised. It was really quite spacious even with four of us. The girls had sort of pull out bunk beds on one wall, we had a large double bed and there was loads of ingenious storage under beds and in the massive wardrobe so all suitcases could safely be stored away. The ensuite shower and loo was smallish but functional and there was also a desk/dressing table, a small fridge and a TV. It certainly didn't feel too cramped. The only thing that I would have liked is a kettle so I could make my own coffee. Cunard say that you don't need this as you can get free room service 24 hours a day and tea, coffee and most food is included in this (you'd have to pay for wine!) The room service is efficient but with 2 kids I was scared the knock might wake them so generally lived without.

After we had checked out the cabin it was time to explore the ship which is a bit like a large self-contained floating hotel - we had just about got to grips with where everything was by the time a week was over! To the girls it was an exciting maze of opportunity with decks, swimming pools, shops, restaurants and theatres round every corner.

Cunard Queen Victoria
Mickey Mouse made from a serviette!
Having two small blonde girls we were a fairly recognisable bunch and the waiters and entertainment staff soon got to know us. The staff were without exception amazing and always went the extra mile. Special mention goes to Carlito and Aurelia who were our waiters every night in the Britannia restaurant. You have a table or seat at the same table reserved every night for dinner in this restaurant (you can choose between the early sitting of 6pm or the later one of 8pm.) We were on the earlier one as 8pm would be too late for the girls and in any case I think unless they are over about 10 or 12 they don't allow kids on the later sitting so that those who aren't keen on the little darlings don't have to sit with them. You have the same waiters every night and they were brilliant - helping to keep  the kids entertained, remembering what you might like, making mice from serviettes and remembering a cushion for Little Miss Sunshine so that she could see over the table!
You can choose to eat in the Lido restaurant if you wish but we went to the Britannia every evening and just ate at the Lido for lunch and most breakfasts.
Marching round the deck after dinner
There were a lot of late nights for the girls as after dinner they never wanted to go straight to bed. There was always a myriad of things to do from shows in the theatre, dancing in the ballroom, films to watch, music to listen to in the many bars or if nothing else a bracing walk on deck to admire the scenery of the Norwegian fjords. This is where we discovered that a longer cruise might have been better as we only had two 'sea days' - basically days where the ship chugs along and you don't visit a port. I thought these would be boring but actually they were an opportunity to chill out and relax, take a late breakfast, a dip in the pool, watch a film and generally catch your breath. All the other days were a whirlwind of activity. We were up and out exploring almost as soon as the ship had docked, popping back for lunch (well it was included and Norway is expensive!) and then changing for dinner as soon as we had left port.

dressed for dinner! 
Changing for dinner was a big thing for the girls and they loved the whole dressing up bit - I'm not so sure it would be popular with boys but if you have girls they will love it. Some nights are more formal than others - so I had been shopping too and Rollercoaster Dad was forced into squeezing into his old DJ but it was all part of the fun and nearly everybody on board does dress for dinner - even if they are eating at the Lido. We could have given the girls the children's tea and put them in the kids club but it didn't seem very fair and they weren't that keen on the kids club. There was nothing wrong with it - it was free and operated whenever the ship was not in port and you can even leave them there to watch films and stuff in the evenings but the main problem was the age bands as Little Miss Star fell into the lower band (age 2-7) so their room was very much kitted out for younger kids and I think she would have been happier with the older ones. Some kids loved it but ours aren't big on kids clubs - much as we would have liked an evening to ourselves we didn't get it!

Enjoying the show in the theatre.
Norway itself is stunning - much as we had expected. You can of course take a tour excursion organised by Cunard but this is by no means compulsory and we made our own way each time. Other than the little daily newspaper and fliers about the tours delivered to your cabin these are not pushed on you so you never feel under pressure to take them.

Oil museum, Stavanger
Fab playground, Stavanger
We stopped at Stavanger which has a really pretty old town, all painted in white, to explore right by the dock and if you walk a little way to the Oil Museum (yes really) there is the most fantabulous playground which we discovered quite by accident - there were tunnels from old pipes, giant swings from oil rigs and giant orange balls (old buoys I think) to climb over - plenty to keep the children entertained.

Flam, Norway
Snow in August from the Flamsban train
The second stop was at Flam (pronounced Flom) from which there is a famous train ride up the mountain and back, which of course the entire ship wanted to go on. We, like many other passengers, wanted to go on the train but we had been forewarned so raced ahead to queue for tickets. We were lucky but I'm not sure everyone was. Our train ride wasn't until the afternoon so after checking with the very helpful tourist office we set off on a short walk which took us up to a beautiful waterfall with a wonderful view over the Fjord. The train ride was pretty spectacular and even the girls didn't really have time to get bored.

Awesome Briksdal Glacier
Port three was Olden, which was basically just a small village but the main reason for stopping there was so that passengers could go for a trip to the Briksdal Glacier. You could of course have booked a tour but we got a sort of bus/taxi thing with some other people and after about half an hour or so's spectacular drive we got to the entrance to the National Park. It was then a decent walk of about 3.5km to the glacier. You can take a 'troll car' (a bit like a large, glorified golf buggy) if you don't want to walk but the walk is not that hard - even Little Miss Susnhine managed (aged 4), although she was pretty unimpressed. Little Miss Star was rather more blown away by the awesomeness of seeing a glacier but at 4 you don't really understand these things! It was certainly spectacular scenery. There wasn't much else to do in Olden other than more walking which the girls weren't that keen on so we went back on board and relaxed.

Trolls in the forest, Bergen
The final port of call was Bergen. This was the one we had been the most excited about. The ship docked further out of town this time and in these cases Cunard lays on free coaches to take you into the centre of town. From there we headed straight for the funicular railway for a view over Bergen. We were lucky and got there before the queues (when we came down there was a massive queue for it!) Once you are at the top there are also several walks you can follow as well as great play area with giant trolls everywhere. We did a short circular walk to a pretty lake and then took the funicular back down (you can walk but once again not so easy with small children). Once down we didn't have much time for lunch in the outdoor fish market and a short walk around the colourful old town before we had to head back. The ship was disembarking quite early which was a shame as we would have liked to explore more of Bergen

It certainly was Norway in a nutshell. The girls both loved Queen Victoria and the cruising and Little Miss Star enjoyed Norway but Little Miss Sunshine declared it 'a bit boring' (she's not overly keen on walks and the scenery was a bit lost on her). The highlight for Little Miss Star was Afternoon Tea on the ship. This takes place every afternoon in the spectacular Queens Room and is complete with white gloved waiters, cucumber sandwiches and cakes. She loved this - especially the cakes!

pudding
pudding!!
Would we go cruising again - definitely given the chance. I would probably try and book one with more relaxing sea days this time but the girls enjoyed it and if you could get your kids to go to the kids club you might even get some Mum and Dad time. The food was excellent and the staff amazing and I never felt the kids were a bother to people. Quite the opposite as we often got more of a fuss made of us because of them. There was plenty of things to do and see on board. They loved the shows (which were excellent and very slick) and there was so much we didn't do - there's a sports deck, a library, jigsaws to do  - we certainly weren't bored and there is something quite appealing at seeing new places every day and it is a great way to see some of these places with kids as going to stay there for a week with kids would probably be too much. Oh and if you do go in the summer hols the prices are pretty good for an all inclusive holiday away as a cruise believe it or not doesn't seem to change in price like other holidays so it can turn out to be pretty good value.

The swimming pool - popular even when it's a bit chilly!
The real test of course is that the girls still talk about it and are still asking to go on another 'crew boat' holiday so it must have been a success. Well done Cunard but perhaps you might consider having a kettle in the cabin!

Disclosure: I was in no way compensated for this post, the holiday was paid for in full and all words and pictures are my own.

3 comments:

  1. Lovely write up. Can really get a feel for what a cruise holiday would be like. The afternoon tea look particularly tasty!! The train ride sounds amazing. I love all the photographs. I have been to Stavanger many years ago now and my FIL did a cruise just like this in Norway and absolutely loved it too x

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  2. I truly enjoy looking through on this website , it holds fantastic blog posts.

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  3. It is really interesting post. Amazing entertainment ideas and spots for kids and adults can also enjoy this.

    ReplyDelete

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