An entire region defined by the unique ebb and flow of seasons; shaped by handsome cliffs, glistening rivers, and mighty glaciers; and peppered with countless glorious panoramas – The Norwegian Fjords could well be mistaken for the Garden of Eden.
That’s all I could think of as our cruise ship pulled into Olden. Olden? Where?
This tiny village at the end of Nordfjord, Olden, is also known as the gateway to Norway’s glaciers. I must’ve spent an hour staring at the sublime landscape surrounding our cruise ship – Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas – when we first pulled into Olden. Here glacial lagoons surrounded by dramatic cliffs are punctuated by quaint cottages and bright green pastures.
“This is just the beginning” a fellow passenger whispered to me as I stood contemplating the dramatic landscape visible from the topmost deck of the ship over a cup of coffee. “Surely it can’t get prettier than this?” I mumbled! “Oh it does – this is my third time cruising the Norwegian Fjords, and I can tell you now – this is just the beginning” he smiled knowingly.
And so it was. Over the next one week, we witnessed countless panoramas straight out of fairy-tales at 4 ports – Olden, Flam, Alesund, and Stavanger. We marvelled at valleys peppered with delightful hamlets at Naeroyfjord, hiked up the frozen Briksdal Glacier, experienced one of the prettiest and steepest train rides in the world in Flam, hopped between tiny islands at Alesund, ran out of words at UNESCO protected fjords and some of the prettiest natural sites in the world, and spent an entire day walking through the historic and incredibly romantic cobble-stoned alleys of Stavanger.
[box] But the best part was sitting in the balcony of our cabin and drinking in all that Norway has to offer. Every morning we would stare as our ship sailed past the Norwegian Fjords swathed in dreamy fog as we sipped on our cups of coffee. Every once in a while a cloud would come floating into our balcony as we nibbled on breakfast.[/box]
Evenings were no different. Since we were so close to the Arctic Circle in the month of June, the sun would set only at midnight (they don’t call it the Land of the Midnight Sun for nothing!) We spent most nights contemplating the beauty of Norwegian sunsets from our cabin’s balcony over mojitos. The sun would set at midnight but the bluish twilight continued till 3 am – aah gorgeosity!!
As far as ships go, Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas is a gorgeous vessel. We’ve been on 6 cruises in the past 4 years, but this would have to be our favourite ship so far. Explorer of the Seas has recently been refurbished and boasts of a mini-golf course, a rock-climbing wall, and surf simulator in addition to usual facilities like hot tubs, pools, and spas. But the pièce-de-résistance is the open-air cinema on the topmost deck of the ship. After all who can argue with watching a film while soaking in a hot tub under the Norwegian sky?!
The cabins are spacious and well-equipped with towels, toiletries, fresh fruits, and snacks. We were chuffed to see electric kettles in each cabin (a rarity on cruise ships!). Cabins are serviced twice daily and stewards ensure you have the best possible holiday. Room service is free for all guests, so you indulge yourself all you want without leaving your cabin. I have to admit the views from our balcony seduced us into spending quite a few evenings holed up in our cabin with enough food and drink to feed an army 🙂
Of course, it would be a crime to limit oneself to the food on the room service menu – after all, the variety of dining options are always the highlight of a cruise holiday. Explorer of the Seas has a vast buffet restaurant,Windjammer, for expansive breakfasts and lunches. There’s nothing you won’t find here. Dozens of breakfast cereals, fresh fruits, fresh juices, salads, breads, pastries, meats, tea, coffee, and shakes are on offer from 6.30 am – 11.30 am. Lunch comprises cold cuts, cheeses, breads, flatbreads from around the world, curries, bakes, meats, pastas, salads, fruits, and dozens of desserts.
If you get the munchies at an odd time of the day, soft serve ice-cream is available 24X7 in addition to drinks such as lemonade at no extra cost. Cafe Promenade on Deck 5 has a large variety of snacks, fruits, and desserts available for guests throughout the day (and night).
The promenade area resembles an American high street with shops selling perfumes, duty-free goods, jewellery, sunglasses, and everything in between. I loved the fact that we could buy Starbucks Coffee (yay, I hate bog-standard filter coffee and this was a pleasant revelation!) and Ben n Jerrys ice-cream (peanut-butter cup and chocolate anyone?) on board Explorer of the Seas – a small yet thoughtful touch.
Sit-down dinners at the Sapphire Dining Room were a right delight – well-thought out menus complimented with an excellent selection of wine were the highlight of dinners on Explorer of the Seas. Stand-out dishes included Aubergine Tartare (great option for vegetarians!), snails in garlic herb butter, banana crème brûlée, and Elderberry mousse. We opted for a table overlooking the sea so we had an excellent view of the Norwegian Fjords every night. That might be why we chose to linger on in the dining room, over wine and cheese, almost every night.
On my birthday, we decided to sample one of the speciality restaurants on board. Izumi, the Japanese restaurant on Explorer of the Seas, is the on 15th deck. It affords an amazing view of the ship and the surrounding sea. But it’s the food, not the view, that is the true hero here. The rich gyoza dumplings, filled with pork and cabbage were slick and satiating. The assorted sashimi platter and the truffle lobster tempura roll were the stuff of dreams. We also tried cooking our own seafood on a steaming hot rock, ishiyaki – Vid cooked succulent scallops and perfectly-marinated prawns on the table (video coming up soon 🙂 ). We wrapped up the meal with a platter of Mochi ice-cream in 3 traditional flavours – green tea, strawberry, and mango. The outer shell, made of sticky rice, is what makes this quintessential Japanese ice-cream unique. Make sure you try it.
Every single dish at Izumi was garnished to perfection with micro herbs and fried noodles. If you’ve been reading Bruised Passports for a while, you would know I love well-presented food. At Izumi, the kaleidoscope of flavours on the plate were presented in an almost poetic fashion. The exquisite attention to detail made the dishes seem like edible art – highly recommended!
We wound up our cruise holiday with a delectable Italian meal at Giovanni’s, the other speciality restaurant on board Explorer of the Seas. The meal kicked off with flavourful scallops cooked in a garlic butter sauce with a dash of lemon juice. For dinner, I had scrumptious herb-encrusted prawns while Vid opted for veal tenderloin, cooked to perfection. The rustic Italian meal was accompanied by a bottle of Chianti, which transported us to the vineyards of Tuscany within seconds. Dessert was homemade tiramisu and cannoli with chocolate rum cream which was brought out in a dessert cart :-). Just writing about it now is making me VERY hungry 😉
Rest assured, it won’t be very long before we find ourselves on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship again – after all, who can say no to a holiday that boasts of delectable food, caters to all your needs, helps you unwind at a spa, gives you the time to soak in a hot tub and relish 5 course meals every night, and drops you off at a new and exotic destination everyday…….who?
- Cruises to the Norwegian Fjords stop at some of the prettiest destinations in the world. As far as cruise ports go, this itinerary is as good as it gets.
- The weather is unpredictable and it can be quite chilly even in the summer. So sunbathing isn’t exactly a possibility unless you go in July-August.
- Explorer of the Seas is a gorgeous ship – the highlights, for us, included the open air cinema, 24 hour hot tubs, surf simulator, and the rock-climbing wall.
- Free Room Service means you can have a cup of tea or snack at odd hours. Score!!
- Opt for a sea-facing table at Sapphire Dining Room if you go on a cruise on Explorer of the Seas
- You MUST eat at Izumi, the speciality Japanese restaurant, if you book a holiday on Explorer of the Seas. The food is magnificent, to say the least!
- Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas starts in Southampton, a short train-ride away from London. We found this incredibly convenient – no flights, no fuss!
- Prices start at £600/person for an inside cabin. More details on www.royalcaribbean.co.uk
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