August 12, 2017
In 2017, Alex and I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to basically pick any vacation we could dream of, and actually do it. We chose to take a cruise with Princess in the Norwegian Fjords. The short version of the story: it was amazing!

Background: In late 2016 and into early 2017, Alex participated in a program at work that rewarded their engineers and coordinators when completing assessments for their customers. They weren't directly rewarded with money, but with a points system. At first, she earned a few points and we bought various small-to-medium things that would make our lives a little better. Eventually Alex figured out that each "site" counted separately for an assessment, and she completed a project for a school district, with many different schools which each counted as a separate site. This netted her millions of points, which we were unable to even figure out what to do with that many. I was browsing the reward site and noticed that it said they had travel options, but nothing specific listed. We thought about it for a while and decided we should request a quote for a cruise, eventually choosing the fjords of Norway as our destination. Alex requested a quote from the rewards travel agent and we found that it was easily affordable with the points she had acquired through her site loophole! So we booked it.

So our planned trip rolled around in mid-July and we were on our way. It started out with a 10.5 hour flight from LAX to London-Heathrow in the UK. The cruise was to depart from Southampton, so we had a private car (thanks points!) drive us from the airport down to the Grand Harbour Hotel in the port city. We got there a bit too early for check-in, so we checked our luggage with the concierge and did a walking tour of the part of the city we were in. We saw really old walls, monuments to the Mayflower travelers, and more. We got hungry and ended up near the TGI Friday's that Ryan and I ate at back in 2007. I decided that wasn't a good idea though, and so we instead found a mall with a food court. None of the food seemed very appetizing after our extremely long and tiring flight, and so we ate at the Subway. It was crap; possibly the worst Subway I've ever had. Eventually we made it back to the hotel after walking some of the older parts of Southampton and prepared for our prepaid dinner at the hotel restaurant. The choice wasn't great, but I was able to sub in a burger from the main menu instead. Exhausted, we went to sleep to the sound of rain falling on the roof and windows, excited for the adventure that was about to begin in the morning.

The next day we took a taxi down to the docks. Originally we were going to walk, but decided against that because of the weather. We weren't sure if we'd make it before it started raining on us again, and the ground was soaked, which is not so good for dragging a big piece of luggage through town. The check-in process for the cruise was fairly uneventful, and we were eventually on-board the Crown Princess and ready to depart. Like our last cruise, we stayed up on the top deck as we embarked on the journey, but the weather wasn't great and eventually decided to go in and get some dinner and then crash for the night. Our bodies were still adjusting to the timezone change.

The first full day on the ship was at sea. We crossed the North Sea at a fairly high speed, and with minimal rocking. We slept in, and then did various ship activities throughout the day. In the evening it was raining, but that didn't stop us from going for a swim, entertaining the various guests who thought we were crazy.

After some more sleep, we awoke to find ourselves docked in Stavanger, Norway. With no plans for this city, as the excursions offered by Princess didn't really catch our fancy, Alex and I just wandered the city for a few hours, seeing as much as we could. The layout of the city was strange: there seemed to be districts with similar restaurants/shops. There was a convenience store street, a burger street, a cafe street, and more. It was raining for part of our visit, but the rain was rather refreshing to walk in, not cold at all, and quite enjoyable. The food options didn't appeal, and so we found ourselves back on the ship to eat a late lunch and just hang out, preparing for our hikes in the morning.

Tuesday rolled around and we were in Olden, Norway. Olden was a very small town, but it was probably my favorite part of the whole trip. Our plans for the day included hiking up to view two glaciers. Well, technically they were just arms of the same glacier in Jostedalsbreen National Park. The hikes were quite a way up the valley from where the ship was docked, so we enjoyed a fairly pleasant bus ride up the small roads. Our guide was very fun and entertaining, telling us stories about Norway and the Norwegian people. They love their trolls in Norway! Our first hike started from what seemed like just some random person's farm. It was a pretty neat climb from the valley floor up the mountains to get a spectacular view of the glacier, whilst being surrounded by tons of sheep! Along the way, the guide pointed out wild strawberries and various other plants. At the top of the hike, there was a gorgeous view of the valley below, holding the cold, placid lakes of Olden, and waterfalls in almost every direction.

The second hike was much more crowded, as it was in the national park itself. There were tons of buses and people from all over scrambling in and around the gift shop. Part of the excursion was lunch, and so we sat with some friendly Canadians and Texans while we ate. The main course was fish and salad, so I gave mine to Alex and just had some bread and coke zero. After lunch, we headed up the mountain to see the other arm of the glacier. While hiking, we were continuously passed by "troll cars" which were basically off-road golf carts that could carry 6 people up the trail instead of walking. That wasn't part of our excursion though, and so we hiked all the way up to the lake just below the melting glacier. The water was very cold, and a very pretty blue color due to the particles suspended in it. We got some more amazing pictures and headed back down the trail, running through the mist of a huge cataract to avoid getting too wet. On the bus ride back down the valley, the guide told us a story about a troll. It was funny but sad. Olden was an amazing small town, and Alex and I both would like to return some day and spend more than a few hours there.

Our adventure continued the next day in Geiranger. We arrived in port a bit later, and did not have much time to fully explore the small town. Our excursion for the day was a ride around the fjord on a Zodiac. We've done Zodiac rides before in both Hawaii and the Caribbean, but this was completely different. They had us dress up in these crazy suits to keep us warm (even though it was 70°F outside) and the boats had real seats across their beam. In the past, we've just sat on the pontoons on the side, holding on to ropes, so this was strange to us. It was a fun ride, if a bit short, and we saw the Seven Sisters waterfalls, as well as the Bachelor. There are farms up on the cliffs of the fjords, which is amazing in itself, but the way they transported goods up and down from the water's edge was crazy. Each farm had a cable that they could slide things up and down instead of having to carry them all by hand up the steep trails. On the way back to the ship we stopped into a local cafe and had a light snack. Alex had a pancake and coffee, I had a $4 bottle of Coke. As the ship was about to depart for the next port, someone on-board had a medical emergency and needed to be transported to a hospital. Due to Geiranger being so small, they actually had to fly them to a hospital via helicopter because the drive was 2+ hours. This delayed our departure by a couple of hours, which was a bummer, but it all worked out in the end.

Our final day on land was in the city of Bergen. Due to the previous day's delay, we got into port about an hour late. The captain adjusted the schedule accordingly, and we were still able to make our final excursion, which was a hike and ride on a funicular. The funicular ride was crowded and not as exciting as expected, but the hike was great. We were told to go at our own pace, and this being our third hike of the week, we were well behind the rest of the group for most of it. As we reached the top of the hike, it started to rain, and by the time we were heading back down, it was coming down quite heavily. Luckily we had water resistant jackets and hiking boots on, and so weren't completely soaked by the time we got back to the bottom. After riding the funicular back down the mountainside, the guide took us through the various streets on the way back to the ship, pointing out things like the fish market and older buildings and such. Bergen would be another nice place to come back to and visit for more than a few hours.

With our land excursions behind us, we just rested up on our final day at sea as we crossed the North Sea again. We arrived in Southampton early in the morning and prepared to disembark the ship. Getting off the ship was uneventful and we found our way onto the bus that would transport us back to Heathrow. The driver took us through Windsor so that we could see the castle from a distance before dropping us at the airport. We were at the airport quite early, so we spent a few hours eating and reading in the terminal and then boarded our plane back to LAX.

Trip rating: 11/10. Would do again!