Friday, July 28, 2017

Norwegian Fjords Cruise - 7 nights by Peter Rayner

From time to time I love to add a thorough unbiased review from some of my followers.  Peter has done a few now and here is his next one.  If you have a review that you would like to have posted. Let me know and we can get it up. Vickie

7 day Norwegian Fjords Cruise from Southampton on Crown Princess starting 1st July 2017

Ship in General:

This is the first time we have sailed on the Crown Princess, but we felt right at home, because it is almost identical to the Ruby and the Emerald Princess, both of which we love. 

The ship is looking in good shape and we had no complaints. Our favourite area, outside Sabatini’s on the aft terrace, has some new rattan style furniture with both single chairs and two seaters as well as low tables. Our only disappointment was that half this area is given over to smokers and the smoke still drifts over even if you are sitting at the furthest point away.


We opted for an inside cabin and when we booked there was little choice. We selected R207, which was forward on the starboard side, only 2 or 3 cabins from the end. We noticed that some cabins around us had been reserved for Pilots. While navigating the fjords, some Pilots seem to stay on board for more than 1 port. We never saw any of them though.

The cabin was nice enough with plenty of space. As usual, we moved the little table to the wardrobe area to give us more room. We have never been this far forward before, but we did not notice any real difference to previous cruises. There was some vibration from the thrusters when docking, but nothing we have not experienced before.

Our favourite place on the Aft Terrace

Our Steward was Rudy and he was friendly and up to the usual Princess standard. We discovered that he had been on the Ruby Princess for our Hawaii cruise last year and he knew our Steward from that trip. Extra hangers were requested and delivered promptly, but Robes were not available until the following day.

The ship did not have the new Princess beds, but it already had a pillow top added to the mattress, so it was quite comfortable.


We had no complaints about the food and found it to be very good. On the first day we had lunch in the Botticelli Dining Room, which is hidden away on deck 6 at the aft of the ship. It was not advertised anywhere that this dining room was open. The information given out was that passengers could eat in the buffet on in the International café. Knowing a dining room was usually open, we asked a member of staff and found out that way. One of the waiters had a little joke on my wife. At the end of the meal she asked for decaf when requesting coffee. Another waiter then came over and said “I’m here”. My wife looked puzzled and he said “You wanted decaf…well decaf is my middle name”. It is so nice when the waiters are having a little fun, it gets you into the holiday mood.

We opted for Anytime dining and usually went to dinner around 6pm. Almost every day we were able to request a table for 2 and got it straight away. Every evening they checked our cruise card to make sure we were Anytime diners, which I have never seen before. The only night we decided to share was when they told us a table for 2 would be 1 hour. We can only guess that more people were eating early because a Freddie Mercury tribute act was on at 8pm and he was very popular. The service on our table for 6 was very slow. The waiter seemed to have a lot more tables to serve than usual. It got so late that we skipped dessert so we could get to the show. One reason for the delay was that one couple ordered 4 courses, when the rest of us only ordered 3 and we had to wait for them to finish their extra course. I cannot blame them and they did turn out to be the most travelled couple, so they deserved to take their time.

We dined in Crown Grill on the second formal night because we did not want to dress up. The food and service was great. Jacky was disappointed that we did not get a seat with a sea view, but when I pointed out that we had been looking at stunning views all week and we were now about to be served a great meal, she smiled and said “Yeah, I suppose you are right”.

I am not a great fan of Italian night in the dining room, so when we realised that was on, we decided to try out the Salty Dog Gastropub. Well to say it was a mixed review is an understatement. We both liked the breadstick starter with 2 fondue dips, although we could not detect any difference between the dips. For the main courses, I picked the Ernesto Burger and the Spicy Stout Beef Short Ribs. Jacky picked the Calamari Frites and the Lobster Mac & Cheese. I hated both my dishes and Jacky loved hers. The burger, to me, was tasteless and the Trident Grill option was much more to my liking. The ribs were chewy and not very pleasant. For dessert we ordered the Chocolate Pot De Crème and the Lemon Posset and both enjoyed our choices. The conclusion was that Jacky would be happy to eat there again, whereas I would be reluctant.

The evening we sailed out of Skjolden, we stayed in our favourite seats on the aft terrace and picked up our evening meal from the buffet. We then sat eating while the stunning view of the fjord unfolded on both sides of the ship.

Apart from on disembarkation day, we opted for room service breakfast each day and used the Princess at Sea app to order it. This was very simple once we found where the breakfast order section was. It was not in an obvious place as far as I am concerned, but we got there in the end. The orders arrived correct and on time every day.


Sea conditions and the weather were, for the most part, fantastic. Sailaway from Southampton was in glorious sunshine, but we have done this so many times that we went off to dinner before we had even reached the Isle of Wight.

Dover Castle and White Cliffs

At between 6am and 7am on the following morning, the Captain woke us up with an announcement that was piped all around the ship, including the cabins. He said that we might have noticed the White Cliffs of Dover on our starboard side. This was because we had turned around in the night and were heading for Dover to disembark a medical emergency. We arrived later that morning, but were not allowed off the ship. After a stay of between 1 and 2 hours, we set sail again for Stavanger. No announcement was made, but we later heard a rumour that someone had fallen in the shower and suffered a fractured vertebra in their neck. That might account for why we had to turn around rather than have the casualty airlifted off. 

Later in the day the Captain advised that due to the delay and strong headwinds, we would not now make it to Stavanger. Instead we would have an extra day at sea. We were delighted by this, as we love to relax on sea days and we had been to Stavanger twice before. We did feel sorry for those on their first trip to Stavanger though.


Skjolden – This port was new to us and it provided some stunning views from the ship and while on land. The sun was shining and the temperature was warm. We took the 15 minute walk into town and picked up a walking map from the tourist office. We hiked for around 30 minutes to get to a viewpoint overlooking the town and fjord. It was well worth it and we got some great pictures. We then went back into town and headed out towards a waterfall. 

Skjolden from the viewpoint

Skjolden - the town viewed from the ship

This was about a 45 minute hike along the road. It gave us some great exercise, but the view of the waterfall was probably not worth the effort compared to our hike up to the viewpoint. We walked back to the ship for some lunch then sat on the aft terrace for the rest of the day relaxing before bringing dinner back from the buffet as we sailed out of the fjord. Skjolden is lovely and, if you are reasonably fit, you don’t have to take a tour to see the beauty of the area.

Olden - the view from Mount Hauron

Olden - We had been here a couple of times before and we love the area. Last time we visited the glacier and then hiked up Mount Hauron, but this proved too much for Jacky and she did not make it to the top. This time we just wanted to hike up the mountain and both make it. Another ship was docked, so we had to tender ashore. The wait for the tender was about 20 to 30 minutes and we got ashore around 10am. We picked up a map from the tourist office, but the route was shown from Olden itself, which was 20 minutes in the wrong direction. We knew roughly what the route was and set off following our noses. We soon came across some signs to Mount Hauron and these guided us from here on. 

Olden - another view from Mount Hauron

The hike takes about 3 hours there and back and is quite steep and rocky towards the end. The views from the top are worth it though. We wandered around the top and came across a little cabin that would make a secluded little hideaway, similar to the cabins you find in Alaska out in the wilderness. 

Olden - the cabin at the top of the mountain

The weather was warm and humid, which made the hike quite demanding. You need to be reasonably fit to make this trek. Once we got back to the ship we headed for the aft terrace again and had lunch. We sat there for the rest of the day and for the start of the sailaway before heading off to change for dinner.

 Bergen - the view from the bandstand

Bergen - It was a short stay in port and we were needed back on board by lunchtime. On our last visit we did the usual tourist thing of travelling up to the viewpoint overlooking the port by funicular. This time we just wandered around Bergen and the fish market before going further into town to buy some gifts. The weather again was warm and sunny. Once back on board, we took up our usual position on the aft terrace for lunch and to watched our departure from Bergen.

Bergen - the lake and fountain in the town centre

The final sea day was also blessed with good weather and we sat out on deck most of the day reading and relaxing. The whole trip was fantastic with some great views that can only be matched by places we have seen in Alaska.

Bergen - final sailaway and heading home

Embarkation and Disembarkation:

We sailed from the Mayflower terminal at Southampton and arrived between 11am and 11.30am. There was no queue at the preferred check in line and we walked straight up to get our cruise cards. We expected to be directed to a lounge, but we were told we can get straight on the ship. This was the fastest embarkation we have ever experienced.

The disembarkation at Southampton was also smooth and ran an hour ahead of schedule. We were off and away much earlier than anticipated. We were sad to leave but pleased with the efficiency.

Our next cruise is a 2 day mini cruise on P&O in December, where we are introducing our son and his wife to cruising. The main reason we booked it though is that it will give us enough cruise credits to become Elite for our next main cruise in March 2018. That is on Golden Princess sailing from Melbourne, Australia to Singapore. Bring on the free mini bar and free laundry.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Anniversary Weekend in Vancouver at the Fairmont Waterfront


This weekend we decided to enjoy our 22 anniversary with a little getaway to downtown Vancouver.  

We live about 40 minutes outside of the city and it is always nice to go into town but always a pain to make our way home and also dealing with driving and parking.

A week or so ago Bernie and I decided why not enjoy two nights at one of our favorite hotel brands. So we searched for two nights at the Fairmont.  They have three locations downtown and the Fairmont Waterfront was the perfect spot for us. 

We contacted them directly when we found a better price thru Kayak and they met the price and even bettered it and then suggested we try one of their Gold Rooms.  Which we ended up booking.

Gold Rooms come with some added perks of a special concierge and a lounge for you to enjoy at your leisure and breakfast is offered in the morning and canapes and honour bar in the evening. 

We received an email Friday asking when we would be checking in and we responded back 14:15 (although check in is not until 15:00).  When we got there the room was not available so we went up to the Gold Lounge and waited. After waiting for around 40 minutes we decided to just head out for a bit. 

At 16:00 we received a text that our room was ready.  This was a little disappointing since we were told check in was 15:00.  But we let it go. 

We were given a city view room that was very well appointed.  And that king size bed was to die for.

That evening we went out for a quick bite to eat and then to Yuk Yuks comedy show. We got our tickets for the show thru Tickets Tonight that offers same day tickets for half price. Their location is within the same block as the hotel.

It was so nice and convenient to just take transit everywhere and not to worry about parking or drinking and driving.

When we returned to the room in the evening a bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries were waiting for us along with a lovely card congratulating us on our anniversary from the Fairmont Gold Staff.  Very nice touch.

The next morning we took our time relaxing.  Thankfully the lounge offers orange juice and espresso drinks and I was able to lounge in the room with my coffee before heading out into the public.

We had breakfast in the lounge too and the food was very good, and well presented and continually refilled.  The lounge was busy but the staff made every attempt to accommodate those arriving.  One couple walked and walked around looking for a spot.  We offered them the two spots at our table but they said they did not feel like being social.  Hmmm their loss.

We spent the day walking around downtown acting as tourist and enjoying our city.

The great thing about this hotel is it is just across the street from Canada Place and the cruise ship pier. So both made sure to head out and check out the Coral Princess that was docked on the North Side of the pier.  Sure made me want to get on.

When returning to the room we had naps and sipped champagne and savoured and reflected on our 22 years together.

A knock at the door?  Hmm who could that be.

Well it was our Room Attendants - Chris and Ann who delivered us a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Such a lovely thing.  They said they wanted to thank us for our generosity. Which suprised me as yes we did tip them but I believe that is standard - or is it.  But I know we truly appreciate all that the staff do for us everywhere.  They work so darn hard.  Plus the staff at this hotel are part of the same union we are - Unifor so we do have a brotherhood.

That evening (the actual day of our anniversary) we took the bus to our new favorite restaurant. The Pink Peppercorn.  For those of you who know Vancouver and may remember the Cannery Restaurant that use to be close to Ballantyne Pier.  Well it closed down due to the port security after 911 and the chef from there opened the Pink Peppercorn. 

It is a bit of a distance from downtown but only about a 15 minute transit ride on the #19 bus only two blocks from our hotel.  

The staff welcomed us and remembered us and gave us a lovely table.  Dinner was sharing of calamari and then for me scallops and prawns and for Bernie the halibut.  They surprised us with creme brulee for our anniversary and boy it was one of the best we have ever had. 

We were tired and when we got back to the room we quickly melted away in that luxurious bed and woke at 8 am on Sunday.

We took our time getting ready and we were up in the lounge for another great breakfast.

The staff there took care of all our needs and it was very hard to leave.  

But back to reality and work tomorrow.  

If you are looking for a great hotel in the Vancouver area I highly recommend the Fairmont Waterfront for your stay.  

Of course any Fairmont location is amazing - have never had a bad stay - but the Waterfront is a great location for any cruiser prior or post a cruise out of here.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Cruise Radio Interview - Royal 5 Day Caribbean

Had the pleasure to talk with Doug Parker of Cruise Radio last Fall after our Trans Atlantic and then five day Caribbean trip.

The interview has just gone live.  Here is the link to that interview

Take note that during the interview none of us were aware of what was to come with the announcement of Ocean Medallion.  

Of course in January Princess announced that Ocean Medallion is coming to Princess with the Royal Princess debuting it on January 19, 2017.  Bernie and I will be on that sailing and I will be posting all about this experience as a passenger.