Cruise Sale Finder recently sent a delegation to Europe to experience the majestic Norwegian fjords while scoping out the soon-to-be Pacific Aria, Holland America's Ryndam. Meghan has reported what they learned about the refurbishment and transfer to P&O's fleet. Here's what Sarah thought of Holland America, the Ryndam and the Norwegian fjords.
On and off with no worries
Holland America were very efficient with their embarkation and disembarkation process - minimal lines and fuss. Before we knew it, they had registered our credit card for onboard expenses, our Cruise Cards were issued and we were ready to board. The friendly crew were all willing to point us towards our cabin, and our first impressions were very positive.
Disembarkation was equally seamless, thanks to the information provided in our cabins the day before. We arranged a transfer through the line for our same-day flight at Heathrow, and I would definitely recommend this if you are under any time pressure. Even in the weekends there can be long delays on the roads, so it was helpful to have everything pre-arranged and to travel directly to the airport.
A place to sleep
Our cabin was a Vista Suite on the Navigation Deck, and covered around 290 square feet of space. It had 110-volt power points in the US style, so don't forget an adaptor! In 2010, every cabin in every category on the Ryndam got a refurbishment, which included new bedding, drapes, flooring and granite countertops in the bathroom, as well as a flat-screen television with DVD player. There is an onboard DVD library of over 100 DVDs onboard which you can borrow at no charge, great for some quiet time in the suite!
We were very happy with our Vista Suite - the beds were comfortable, and there was an in-room safe and a phone. Ample closet space and drawers meant it was easy to unpack and put everything away. I especially appreciated the curtain between the bedroom and wardrobe area, to afford a little changing privacy for those sharing their cabin with a friend rather than a partner.
There was also a little bit of luxury in the form of a spa bath! These aren't a common feature on the mainstream cruise lines but are available on the Ryndam in suite categories, and it was quite a treat to be able to enjoy the spa jets in the privacy of our own suite - especially good for a cruise in the chillier parts of the world!
Staying busy onboard
There was something for everyone in Ryndam's show lounge! We saw singing, dancing, a comedian and Holland America's famous Dancing with the Stars at Sea competition. There was also plenty to choose from in the bars- one had a live classical music duo, another a pianist playing well-known hits (lots of people enjoyed sitting nearby with a drink and singing along), and in the Crow's Nest there was often a band.
Daytime activities were just as varied. Fitness classes, flower arranging, cooking demonstrations, trivia, bingo and more are put on by the crew, and are a great way to meet other passengers. You can also watch a movie, go for a swim or sit in the spa... the list goes on. A great feature on this particular ship (to be included on the Pacific Aria!) is the retractable roof over the main swimming pool. Even during a cruise in the somewhat chilly Norwegian fjords, we could swim in the heated pool and were protected from the elements.
When we wanted to chill out a bit, the Explorations Lounge was a great spot to read a book and get a cappuccino from the cafe. It was also really nice to sit by the pool at the back of Deck 10 and watch the wake as the ship moves out of port- this was especially stunning in Norway with its beautiful fjords.
Wine and Dine
The Ryndam's main Ã la carte restaurant is called the Rotterdam and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with both flexible and fixed options for dinner seating. The buffet is also open for all meals including afternoon tea and late night snacks. The food was great, and we appreciated the very wide selection. For casual lunches, there is the Dive In next to the main pool- there we could get hamburgers, hotdogs, nachos and similar quick meals.
There were two specialty options and we tried both- so that we could give you an informed review, of course! Pinnacle Grill had a US$29 surcharge and I thought it was well worth it. They specialize in steak and seafood, and it is true fine dining. The second specialty restaurant is Canaletto, serving Italian favourites. The pastas, soups and salads were fantastic, and here the cover charge was only US$10 per person.
Beverage packages are available for purchase on Holland America cruises at the cost of US$44.95 (plus a 15% service charge) per person, per day. This includes everything from wine, beers and cocktails to specialty coffees, with a limit set at 15 beverages each day. If you don't see yourself drinking quite that much, you can use your cruise card to purchase the odd cocktail or glass of wine with dinner.
Norway and the fjords
While the ship was fantastic, Norway really stole the show. I have cruised in New Zealand's stunning Milford Sound before, and the two places are very similar - both gorgeous. The great thing about a cruise like this is that the sightseeing doesn't end as soon as you leave port. There are amazing things to see on the way in and out, too. I would recommend a balcony or oceanview cabin for this reason!
Oslo was our first port of call, a big city with lots of hustle and bustle and also some incredible art and culture. We found it very easy to get around as almost everyone spoke English- perfect for those who are exploring independently!
Kristiansand, Stavanger and Eidfjord were all a lot smaller, and had a lot of European charm with cobbled streets and colourful buildings. Eidfjord is at the head of the Hardangerfjord, and was particularly beautiful to get to. The town itself was also very scenic, tucked away on a small spit of flat land amongst steep mountains.
In Stavanger, we took two of the excursions offered by the cruise line. One was the "Stavanger Old and New" tour which took us to some cool places across the city including a fascinating viking museum and the Sword in the Rock monument, among other bits and pieces. The second was a cruise (on a much smaller boat) through the Lysefjord to see Pulpit Rock, an incredible rock formation which draws a quarter of a million visitors every year. In my opinion, this is a must-do. You won't see it from the ship as it enters and leaves port, and it was great to see not only the rock but also the fjords a little more up close.
Overall, we had a fantastic cruise and both the ship and the destination were all we expected and more, and we are looking forward to welcoming the Ryndam to Australia in her new incarnation as the Pacific Aria. You can see more cruises by Holland America, cruises to Norway and Northern Europe and cruises on the new Pacific Aria on Cruise Sale Finder.
The fjords are a dream cruise destination! If you are keen to see them for yourself, we recommend the following itineraries in 2016 on sale now:
- The Viking Saga is the cruise we did on Holland America, a great week-long look at the southern part of Norway.
- Royal Caribbean's Norwegian Fjords Cruise is another 7-night itinerary which skips Oslo in favour of more small fjord towns.
- The North Cape Cruise is another Holland America itinerary which is a little more in-depth, heading right up to midnight sun of northern Norway over 14 nights.
- P&O UK's 9-night Norwegian Fjords Cruise takes in the best of the fjords from Stavanger to Alesund.
- You can see the scenery in complete luxury on Seabourn's Scenic Norway and Fjords Cruise which is 12 nights of all-inclusive adventure.
Not keen on the long haul to Northern Europe? New Zealand's own fjords are not as extensive but, in my opinion, just as beautiful. Take a look at our website and see what you can find.