by Bob & Wendy
July 7, 2009
Itinerary: west coast of Norway
For our 17th cruise we flew to Heathrow and took the National Express coach bus to our port of Southampton, bookable on the net, 20 UKP return, and 10 UKP for seniors. Get the bus at the Central Bus Station in the terminal 1, 2, 3 area, follow the bus signage. Book ahead, buses to the ports are full. The trip is a little under 2 hours. From Gatwick it's a little over 3 hours. From the bus station in Southampton it's a 4.60 UKP cab to the ship, and 5.60 going back after the cruise.
We arrived at the Mayflower cruise terminal at noon, luggage handling was fast, and we had our ship card by 12:15. Then there was a holdup in boarding like the old days many years ago. After getting ship cards we were sent to a large lounge with several hundred people to wait to board by colored cards handed out. After an hour and 10 minutes our color was called, with about 50 other people. Then we discovered the reason for the holdup. A minor one was the ship's portrait photographers stopping the line for boarding photos, which we declined, and kept moving. The major lineup turned out to be getting security photos done to match our ship cards. This is usually done at the ship card stations, and we saw camera cams there but not in use.
The Crown is a classy, well-appointed ship, similar in décor to the HAL and Celebrity lines, not gaudy like Carnival. We were surprised that a ship as large and new as the Crown did not have a soaring open atrium, but an older style closed atrium extending from deck 5-7. It also had the traditional promenade shops and bars along laneways rather than the newer open air street promenade concept.
There is a quiet adults only area with pool, luxury loungers, cabanas, and green foliage called the Sanctuary, with a charge of $10 per half day and $20 per full day. This is similar to the solariums on the RCL Vision class, which are free, and also has a closeable roof in bad weather which the Crown didn't.
We thought the upper level in the Da Vinci dining room would have an open center area allowing tables a view of the lower level, but it's closed in, permitting extra tables.
One nice little special spot we liked was out the back of the Horizon buffet, up either staircase on each side, where there are about 6 nice glass tables with comfy chairs, lovely stern view. The windows in Sabatini's alternate restaurant look out onto this space. These tables are usually occupied, hard to find an open one in nice weather.
Specialty features on the ship include Movies Under the Stars, which are on-deck giant screen movies night or day, extra padded loungers, blankets, free popcorn. Picture was a bit grainy but watchable, Also a miniputt course. No ice rink, rock-climbing wall, surf pool, or kid's water slide.
Nice to have laundrettes, made my wife happy. And the gym was great, large with lots of equipment, some machines you don't often see on ships. Easy to get on even at peak times, maybe because the folks were mostly older. Outdoor jogging track, 1/16 of a mile, was tight for passing people. No dance area by the pool band, strange, but that didn't stop some people dancing between the loungers, great band.
All together the design of the ship or attractions would not make it a “destination ship” for us, but if you love outdoor movies and don't mind paying for a quiet pool area it could be for you.
THE CABIN (inside Riviera deck 14)
We liked the walk-in closet/dressing area, no doors to mess with, and 2 electrical outlets on the vanity, didn't need the power bar this time. We were surprised there was only seating for 1, just the vanity chair, first time for that, our other ships had some type of side chair or loveseat. Our steward said outside cabins have seating for 2. There was a little round table in the closet, but we couldn't see anywhere in the cabin to put it, so we left it there. Widescreen TV, but can't check your ship account or book tours on it. Lots of storage space, robes, extra hangers on request. Hair dryer was on the weak side, not great for thick hair, bring your own if necessary. Good sized vanity. Loved having a fridge!
DINING/FOOD The dining room food was fine, equivalent to the other major cruise lines. About 10 entrees each night including alternates. We chose Anytime Dining which we love, and if you agree to sit with others they can seat you anytime you arrive. We often needed a table for 2 of which there was quite a few, but in some areas they were pushed so close together, a few inches apart, that there was no privacy. If you want privacy, note the table numbers you like, then call Anytime Dining reservations between 8-4 that day, give them those numbers, and they will attempt to reserve one of those table for you. In Da Vinci the private tables are 480, 481, 484, 441, and 437. Call soon after 8 for best preference. Every time we called early we got our request, and once calling later nothing was available.
There are 2 alternate restaurants that charge a $20 fee, a steak house and Sabatini's, for seafood and pasta. We tried the latter, had a combo lobster and shrimp dinner with a variety of starters and appetizers of which you are brought many samples to try, and it was wonderful, well worth the charge.
The food in the Horizon buffet was fine, but at peak times it was more crowded than other ships we've been on, hard to find a place to sit, and the joke among passengers was how long they had to circle to get a table. The staff try to help find people tables, especially if they already have their food. Ice tea always available, great lemonade, harder to find, but if you ask the staff they will get you some.
The pizza joint was good, several kinds rotated daily, nice thin crust. Burgers, dogs, and fries at the pool were good.
The International Café has an assortment of sweets and tapas, some for a fee. Gillatto ice cream is 3 scoops for $1.50. Free donuts, cookies, brownies, etc.
The song and dance floor shows and other entertainment were fine, but for the first time we've seen, shows were repeated on later days, apparently because the theatre can't seat everyone on the ship in 2 sittings, so they repeat in order to give everyone a chance to see the shows. People we talked to did not like that, wanted more variety.
We tried to get to the famous Pulpit Rock http://www.stavangertravel.com/news/pulpit-rock-norway.cfm), jutting out 2000 feet above the fjord, but with an early ship departure, all aboard was 3:30, we ran out of time about half an hour from the top and had to turn back. To get there you take a ferry across the bay which connects to a tourist bus going there. If your ship arrives in time for you to catch the 7:20 or 8:00 ferry, it will connect with the 8:30 bus, and you will be at the Pulpit Rock welcome center at 9:00. It's a hard, uphill climb mostly over rocks, often little ground to step on, not pleasant, about 2 Km each way, and no way to rush it without breaking an ankle. 100,000 people do it annually. If your ship leaves at dinner time you could do it, there are quite a few buses and ferries through the day. Here's the bus link which also includes some ferry times. There is also a bus leaving Pulpit at 1245 which isn't on the schedule. http://www.veolia-transport.no/getfile.php/Internett/Filer/Rutetider/Bussrute_tau_preikestol_eng%20%282%29.pdf
Here's the ferry schedule, all times are departures, for arrivals add 30-40 minutes depending if it's a speed ferry (bold) or not: http://www.tide.no/uploads/documents/Ferjeruter/Rogaland/Ferjeruter_Stavanger-Tau.pdfTrondheim
The ship offered a $5 shuttle to town, very reasonable since the local bus is about 25 NOK or $4. In the morning we did the 6 Km Ladestien (Lade) hike around the bay, pretty and easy. The #3 bus from downtown takes you there and back. Email if you need details. In the afternoon we walked around the town, lots of interesting historical sights to see. The 2 best pedestrian streets are Nordregate and Thomas Angells Gate. Fjordgate is also mentioned but we didn't get to it.
Again the ship offered $5 shuttle rides to town, 3 miles. In the morning we took the cable car up Mt. Storsteinen, lovely views from the top. To get there take the #26 bus from the stop downtown in front of Pepe's Pizza taking you across the bridge past the famous Arctic church. The driver can sell you combo tickets covering the bus both ways and cable car, which costs 120 NOK and saves about $12 over buying separately. The bus was jammed full, almost completely tourists, only a few locals who had a tough time getting off at their stops. The driver will tell you when to get off, but it's quite evident by everyone leaving. To get to the cable car station walk back the bus route one short block, turn left, and you will see the cable car station. Do this as early as you can, when we came down the cable car late morning there were tons of people in a long line out into the parking lot, with a 2.5 hour wait we heard. We had no wait arriving just after 9. Here's the bus system link: http://www2.uit.no/ikbViewer/Content/97797/THE%20BUS%20SYSTEM%20IN%20TROMS%C3%98.pdf
At the top there is a good open hiking trail up to the next peak, Mt. Floya, takes about half an hour, not a bad trail, uphill but lots of good footing, wide open with no trees going up so good viewing, past snowy patches left over from winter (snowballs in July), great views from the top in all directions. And if you want you can continue to the next peak too.
Downtown Tromso was pretty, and the 2 good shopping streets are Storgata and Grannegata. Cokes are 25 NOK ($4), and a simple lunch like a hot dog with drink is about 60-80 NOK. Free internet for tourists in the library, 2nd and 3rd floor, about 6 stations on each floor.
This port is a 30 minute drive from the most northerly tip of Europe, a cliff 1000 feet above the Arctic Ocean called the North Cape (NordKapp). It's a lovely rugged area to walk around, large reception center, expensive snacks, small bottle of water is $7. The ship tour there is $130, and 8 of us pre-booked a van with Verina at NordKapp Taxi for 1800 NOK, plus 215 NOK entrance, totaling 440 NOK pp ($73). There is also a local bus departing 1045 from the tourist office for 100 NOK, plus entrance fee, return trip leaving the Cape at 1:15. Here's the bus link: http://www.veolia-transport.no/timetables-bus/330-honningsvaag-north-cape-summer-article800-384.html
Honningsvag is a cute town to walk around, there are trails on top of the hills, or you can walk the highway along the coast. Cheap internet at the tourist office, one machine, I think it was 1 NOK per minute.
We took the cable car (Funicular) up Mt. Floyen, lovely views from the top. Get there early to avoid long lines. The station is an easy walk from downtown, about 10 minutes. At the top there is a nice network of trails, well maintained, more like roads, over hills, around lakes, very good signage.
Lots of downtown action around Torget, Torgalmenning, Strandgaten. Everything is expensive, and we were told the locals take the short ferry to Newcastle UK to do their shopping. A local TA told us all the internet cafes are out of business, but there were free stations at the library (Biblioteque), which we found.
We did the hiking trail that follows the famous Flam railway, and took the side trail to the Berkenfossen(?) Falls, very pretty. Flam is a small village, just some tourist shops at the dock, and internet.
From the Fjordcenter we did hiking trail A winding 1000 feet up the side of the fjord to the Vesteras farm, good trail, and from there, level side trail B to a great lookout with the ship way below. There are quite a variety of trails from Geiranger. The tourist office will mail you a great map, or get it here: http://www.geiranger.no/map_of_walks_with_descriptions.html
Small village, no serious shopping.
Very well done, off at 9:00, no announcements, you wait in a lounge and the crew tell you when to leave, by color code. Lots of cabs, 5.60 UKP back to the bus depot. Pre-book your National Express bus, people trying to get on were told they were full till mid-afternoon.
After Cruise in London
After taking the National Express bus to Heathrow, we got the hotel shuttle to the Crown Plaza Heathrow in West Drayton just outside the airport. We got the 4 star Crown Plaza on Priceline for $50. Internet rate was 80 UKP, or about $150. All Heathrow hotel shuttle buses are 4 UKP, no freebees here. After checking in, we got a cab to the nearby West Drayton train station (10 UKP), 20 minute ride to London, faster than the Tube from Heathrow. An all day TravelCard pass for all trains, subways, and buses is 7.50 UKP for off-peak travel (after 9:30 M-F, and all day weekends) in all zones 1-6, which covers Heathrow to London. Each trip by itself is 4 UKP. A peak Travelcard for use before 9:30 costs 14.80 UKP. Buy them at any tube, train, or bus station from the machines.
Speed trains run from West Drayton to London Paddington every half hour, take 20 minutes, and at Paddington you can transfer to the Tube. We took the Tube from there to St. Paul's Cathedral, and then back to Leicester Square and Soho, had dinner there, and then back to Paddington for the train to West Drayton. Soho and Chinatown are a hoot to walk around, tons of people even on Sunday evening, every kind of restaurant, café, and club, as well as the stage shows.
And finally, here's one for the books, the licensed cab drive from the hotel didn't know where the train station was, and the cab driver from the train station didn't know where the hotel was. They are about 1.5 miles apart.
Also, wait to get home to change your UKP back to your currency, the rate at Heathrow was about 15 percent worse than at home.
And lastly, at the Crown Plaza we overheard a guest complaining about being charged for minibar articles, and they were told there is a sensor in the bar, and if you move anything it's assumed you used it and are charged for it. Really.
Email us if you need more info: Bob7 (at) Canoemail dot com
-Bob and Wendy Evans