THE WORLD OF
NORWAY TO THE
TOP OF THE WORLD
PLANNING: Prices in May 2013 start at $2,605 per person for an
outside-window cabin. www.cruisenorway.com
IN THE FALL OF 2008, my wife Diane and I and two friends cruised up the beautiful west coast of Norway to above the Arctic Circle, only a few miles from Russia. It was an 11-night cruise on the MS Finnmarken, a
combination passenger, mail, and freight vessel. The Finnmarken is
454 feet long with a beam of 70. 5 feet, but twin bow thrusters and
azimuthing stern thrusters make short work of docking. She has cabin
capacity for only 638 passengers. In addition to passengers, the ship
transports 1,100 square meters of cargo and 47 cars. There are few
car dealers in north Norway, so people order cars, then wait for them
to arrive on the ship.
Finnmarken offers many comforts. Fish was part of every meal, all
very good and tasty. While the bar prices ($14 for a beer) didn’t faze a
lot of passengers, we acted on advice and got our wine and spirits at the
government liquor store before we left Bergen. As might be expected
of Power Squadron members, we requested a tour of the bridge. It’s
manned by two people at all times, and even though a paper chart is
available, the officer at the helm has a GPS chartplotter with a screen as
large as my home television. We also toured the engine room, which was
spotless. For the gearheads reading this, the ship has a 9-cylinder and a
The Norwegian coast is made up of hundreds of fjords, and around
75,000 offshore islands that the ship winds in between. Often you come
within 200 feet of shore. The scenery goes from broadleaf trees around
Bergen, to hardier pines, until you cross the Arctic Circle, after which
the vegetation turns to mosses and stray shrubs. At one point, we saw
a herd of reindeer running along the shore. You see occasional fishing
boats and fish farms, mostly unmanned and completely computer-con-trolled with automatic feeders, only needing to be visited occasionally
to collect the adult fish.
One of the high points of the trip north took place at 10: 30 p.m.
one night when we entered the Trollfjord, a fjord only 100 meters wide.
The ship is 21. 5 meters wide. Out on the bow it was pitch black with
only the silhouette of the mountains ahead of us. The Finnmarken was
doing her normal 15 knots when, all of a sudden, she slowed and a
single spotlight shone down from the bridge onto a small point of land.
The ship made a sharp turn to port. In darkness we entered the fjord,
and traveled the two kilometers to the end. At that point, the ship spun
90 degrees and they turned on the floodlights at either end. It looked
as if you could touch the rocks at both the bow and stern. The occasion is celebrated by drinking a special Trollfjord soup on deck. It’s an
admirable bit of seamanship and I was so happy we all got to see it.
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GAUGUIN
BY JIM & SHEILA MAJKA, VIRGINIA
AFTER TAKING A FEW CRUISES on 1,000-foot gigantic cruise ships with more than 5,000 passengers, we decided to try a cruise in French Polynesia onboard a smaller ship, the M/V Paul Gauguin, with only 300 passengers. Our “all-inclusive” cruise package began and ended in Los Angeles, with two days at the beginning to acclimatize to island time and tour Tahiti before boarding. The ship was exactly as it was described — beautiful with large staterooms, dining rooms with exquisite food and drink, activity areas, Polynesian hosts who, by day, were our guides to activities on the islands and, by night, performed magnificent Polynesian dances on the ship’s stage. The islands we visited were Raiatea, Taha’a, Bora Bora, and Moorea. At each island we went snorkeling, windsurfing, or kayaking — all part of the package. The ship never had a crowded feel. There were no lines for meals, quiet decks in the evenings, and beautiful empty beaches. It almost felt like you had a private yacht and crew on call at all times. We did take a couple of “pay as you go” land tours, set up by the ship’s staff, and guided by local folks born and raised on the islands. We were told the islands are much as they were nearly 100 years ago — uncrowded, unspoiled, and inhabited by self-sufficient Tahitians. We learned more of the his- tory of the area and the people than we ever came close to on all the other cruises we’ve been on. We’re already starting to fill the piggy bank to fund another trip to Tahiti!
PLANNING: Promotional fares for a seven-night cruise to Tahiti and the Society Islands
start at $4,495 for a porthole cabin in
February and March 2013. www.pgcruises.com