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Some of you might have never been on a cruise and others might be seasoned cruisers, but there will be one thing you have in common if you're considering setting sail anytime soon: you'll want cruise destination inspiration and the all-important reviews! Well, you'll be pleased to learn that we teamed up with Holland America Line to send Queen of the Instagrans, Grandmother Pukka (Lucia Whitehouse), on a seven-night trip around the Norwegian fjords on their luxury Koningsdam liner - and she had a lot to say about it...
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"To cruise or not to cruise?" - that was the question. So we went with an open mind as cruise virgins to the Norwegian Fjords with Holland America Line (HAL). Our doubts ebbed away after a remarkably smooth check-in to find we were on a floating five-star hotel. We set sail, excited to be trying something so new, and our first stop was drinks on the top deck, with a toast to the adventure ahead.
We woke the following morning to views of majestic fjords gliding by and a knock on the door as a steward brought us a cup of tea. I wanted to reach out to touch the soft, green scene beyond our window. Our first stop was Eidfjord, a small village by the water and starting point for trips to Vøringsfossen, a spectacular 600-feet cascading waterfall, halfway up the mountain. Back at Eidfjord we discovered the charming welcome and local beer at Sjel og Gane, both served up by owner Nina with a warm smile. The harbour of Ålesund, our next stop, is one of the few Art Nouveau towns in the world, rebuilt after a 1904 fire in the style of the time and well worth an amble.
Our highlight was the Geirangerfjord, which literally took my breath away. Words cannot describe the utter purity of the nature surrounding you while you drift past mountains with waterfalls. Bergen was the largest town we visited, where you can admire the colourful wooden houses in the Bryggen area by the harbour. Just outside the town, we took a 10-minute ferry ride from Fusafjord to the hamlet of Holdhus and its tiny 13th-century wooden church, with hand-painted frescoes.
After lunch, we took the Hardangerfjord scenic tourist route to the Steinsdalsfossen, the ‘Queen of Waterfalls’, which you can walk underneath without getting wet. With the late-spring snow melting, the flow is at its fiercest and the sound of crashing water fills the valley.
Back on board, you can eat your way around five restaurants. Our favourite was Tamarind for its pan-Asian food. It was also clear that the ship’s sommelier, Iveci, knew his stuff and we thoroughly tested his recommendations. There are four speciality restaurants plus the giant Lido buffet, which serves meals throughout the day and has cleverly-designed individual seating by the windows.
The entertainment on board was great, and the B.B. King’s Blues Club band were the real draw for us. I visited the spa, which is beautifully appointed - book early to avoid disappointment on sea days. There is Club HAL for children, plus shopping, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and even a running track.
I now understand why people enjoy cruises. You are taken care of from the moment you embark, without the hassle of airports. Walking around onboard never felt as if you were fighting your way through the crowds. HAL cruises are a classic style and enriching experience. It is a great way to see the mind-blowing fjords, which will remain imprinted on my mind for years to come.
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