Next To The North Pole
Celia Maughan | June 14, 2018 | Fred Olsen Cruise Lines | Balmoral
Who would want to go to Svalbard in the High Arctic where in winter the sun never rises and in summer it never sets, and where the land mass is 60% glaciers and only 800 miles from the North Pole? Well we would! After consulting with Bolsover on different cruise lines sailing to Spitsbergen, and considering the quotations, we chose Fred Olsen Balmoral sailing out of Newcastle on 9th July – Newcastle is an ideal departure point for us as easy journey from York and the parking there works very well.
We have sailed with Fred in the past and know that their older ships with a reasonable number of passengers suit us. We don’t have a problem with the average age being 67 as we are in our early 60s ourselves – we have met many great people on Fred and the passengers generally seem to be friendly and we have met very few ‘moaners’!
The cleanliness on the ship was superb – we knew there had been problems with norovirus this year (but then lots of ships do have this problem on occasions). Careful cleaning throughout the ship was in evidence and the guests seemed to be taking more care too (although I did have to ‘remind’ one lady to wash her hands when leaving the public toilets). As far as I am aware there was no problem with norovirus on our trip.
Our cabin was comfortable with excellent service from our steward. The food was excellent and we couldn’t fault any aspect of the catering at all -there was so much choice at every meal, I am sure there was something for everyone and special dietary needs seemed to be well catered for.
The itinerary for this trip was superb, perfect for anyone making their first visit to Norway as it featured pretty much everything from the beautiful fjords in the south, scenic cruising along the stunning coastline, interesting towns and cities such as Alesund, Trondheim and Tromso and the magnificent stark beauty of the Arctic, especially Svalbard. We have visited Norway many times before and still found much to delight us – it is a perfect destination for anyone who likes taking photographs.
Svalbard is really interesting – not only because you need a guide with a gun with you if you venture far in case of polar bear attack – but to be fair we have visited twice and never seen a polar bear so I don’t think this is something to worry too much about. As mentioned the scenery is stark and beautiful, would be a very harsh environment in the winter (lowest recorded winter temperature is -46 degrees!) The towns are very basic, Longyearbyen is the main settlement with remnants of the coal mining industry clear to see, a very good museum and some shops. Barentsburg is a current Russian coal mining settlement with around 300 residents and has only started taking calls by cruise ships in the last few years – you have to be tendered in and then there are several hundred steps up to the settlement but worth the effort to see this town. Pyramidden was unbelievable. The Russians abandoned this mining town in 2000 and everything was just left with many of the buildings now in a state of dereliction – the swimming pool was my favourite with its beautiful tiles and the lane ropes still in place and the canteen still had all the baking trays etc., waiting to go in the oven. For anyone cruising to Pyramidden be sure to book an excursion as without this you can only walk for a few hundred yards in the town.
When we returned south one of the highlights was visiting Hellsylt which is much quieter than its near neighbour Geiranger (which was on our original itinerary) and is a really pretty place. We left the ship and walked down a beautiful traffic free valley and onto the hills – it would have been possible to walk for miles. We then sailed down the spectacular Geirangerfjord and saw the Seven Sisters waterfall.
After a relaxing day at sea we returned to Newcastle feeling refreshed and delighted with our journey ‘next to the North Pole’. Think we might return to Norway in the winter …
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