Cruise and Maritime Voyages: Norwegian Fjords on Marco Polo
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My first foreign holiday was at the age of 13 when I went on a school trip to Norway and now 60 years later, I was going to re visit the small village on the Stavanger Fjord, Ulvik. Would it have developed into a large tourist attraction? Would I be disappointed?
From boarding MS Marco Polo at Tilbury, the service and standards were very high and I felt like a special person as nothing was too much trouble for any of the crew; I was warmly greeted and guided to my cabin by a steward. The cabin – cheapest available – was spotlessly clean and well appointed; a place for everything and although small did not feel claustrophobic. After unpacking, I explored the many different areas – the large theatre where I would spend many an evening watching superb entertainment and most days listening to expert opinions about the places we would visit; this was very useful and enabled me to make full use of the time spent docked at our ports of call without wasting any time searching for local information made more difficult by language problems – my Norwegian is nonexistent! The lounge areas were ideal for relaxing with a coffee and a book while watching the world go by or for making friends with fellow passengers; the games room, the disco bar, and the theatre were all well appointed. Special events are made more special while on board – my birthday was announced in the Ship’s daily newspaper (no age mentioned!), a birthday card from all the crew was posted under my cabin door and at dinner a group sang Happy Birthday and carried a large cake with candles to my table!
The full day at sea passed so quickly; apart from food being served throughout the day, there was so much more to do – the lecture on the following day’s visit, craft lessons, bridge, quiz games – I won “Countdown” on my birthday - , indulging in the beauty therapies – I found that in no time at all, Dinner beckoned and the evening swung into action.
At Flam which I had visited previously, we were taken off by tender and landed 100 yards from all the activity; the train which runs up into the mountains and provides spectacular views, can be booked quite reasonably as it runs on a regular basis throughout the year for the locals – in winter they bring down the cattle on it! Each carriage has a TV screen which illustrates the route and gives a commentary on what you can see; there is a photo opportunity at an amazing waterfall where occasionally a water nymph sings; at the last point of call, there is a hotel where refreshments are available – the train continues a little further up where it turns round for the return journey; you need to check the time table carefully to ensure you return in time to embark.
From Flam we cruised through spectacular views of snow topped peaks, small villages nestling at the water’s edge and isolated farms clinging to the hillsides.
Ulvik was the next port of call – would my idyllic childhood memories be shattered? Indeed had those memories been greatly enhanced with the passing of time? No, there it was the small village at the edge of the fjord, the island to which we had swum, the hotel and shop, exactly as the picture in my mind but it had indeed been developed – the guide to whom I related my story, said that it had changed – two more houses had been built! Our coach took us up the winding road to the snow level where walked out in glorious sunshine onto pure white snow looking out onto a fabulous landscape and down to the water where the ship awaited our return after we had visited a museum with interesting exhibits and a film of the region.
Back on board and on to Bergen. Here again we were able to walk into the city through the gardens to the Funicular Railway which took us up to a viewing platform overlooking the city and beyond; it was raining but that didn’t dampen a moment of our visit, nor spoil the colourful buildings, local market or our drink under the umbrellas at a city centre hostelry.
Our last night, slightly sad that it was nearly all over but what memories! Fantastic views on all sides, excellent service, so much to do or plenty of time and space to simply do nothing while surrounded by such natural beauty, top class entertainment, superb food with so much choice, served and presented in style – never a dull moment. The atmosphere aboard was of friendliness and warmth; it was not intrusive but inclusive; it provided a unique opportunity for travellers to do exactly as they wanted to do without any pressure.
If you are looking for a cruise that offers excellent service, delicious food in a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, you need look no further than the MS Marco Polo – my next trip aboard her is around the Baltic Sea!
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