After nearly 2 years since making the initial booking, during a worldwide cruise suspension, plus a ship change and a date change, I really hoped that this was a holiday worth waiting for! I love a hot, sunny holiday as much as the next person; but I’m also a big fan of hiking, water-sports and spending time in the mountains, so the Norwegian Fjords has always held quite an appeal. After watching Phil (our CEO) and Co. enjoying themselves in the super sunny Fjords (on Sky Princess) during the previous week, I was pretty hopeful that I would also be treated to the same temperatures and sunshine…
Checking In At Southampton
Unbelievably, this was going to be the third time checking in for MSC Virtuosa in the space of six weeks… On the previous occasions it was for party cruises (2/3-nighters), and there were some issues that delayed check-in (one with an X-Ray machine at Security that involved several fire engines, and the other to do with a major computer glitch. Both were completely out of MSC Cruises’ control, and I have to say they dealt with them admirably.
Third time’s a charm, right? Right.
I had a check-in time of 10am, and arrived at the Horizon Cruise Terminal Car Park around 9:30am. There were still people disembarking from the previous sailing, but we were able to get in line for check in, and the security doors opened just before 10am. I had everything I needed – Passport • printed Cruise Ticket & Health Declaration Form • on my phone I had saved in pdf – Covid Vaccination Records & Insurance (including evidence of Covid cover). I was onboard, with a Strawberry Daiquiri in hand, by 10:45am! Winner!
Day 1 – Southampton & Sail Away
Rooms were ready around 12:30, so after enjoying the Daiquiri out by the pool, a visit the buffet filled the time nicely.
Bags arrived at the room about an hour later, which gave time for unpacking before visiting the spa for the FREE Massage Taster. Yes, that is a thing. We would always recommend checking the planner thoroughly for complimentary services and limited time promo offers on the first day.
The Thermal Suite tempted me in after the tour; and, although it’s £70pp for a day pass or £105 for a couple, there’s an amazing deal of £255 per couple that covers unlimited entry for the week!
Around 4pm it was off to the Sail Away Party at the Horizon Pool… what an atmosphere! After watching Celebrity Silhouette set off down the Solent, and Sky Princess toot out The Love Boat theme as she passed, it was MSC Virtuosa’s turn to make way under the beautiful Southern sun with fantastic tunes blasting from the DJ!
I was on a mission to not gain any weight during the week onboard (no mean feat!). I took myself off for a 5km jog around the track (15 times round for a 5km) around 6pm, which was perfect as half the ship had disappeared for dinner!
I had been allocated the Symphony Restaurant for dinner, and on second seating at 8:45pm, which is really late for me… I’ll see how easy it is to change that to early seating in the morning.
I also made sure that I was prepared to finish this cruise in the right way, and made reservations for the steakhouse, Butcher’s Cut, for the final evening. On that note, we would always recommend booking early for speciality dining, especially for the final evening as it tends to fill up quickly.
Day 2 – Day at Sea
After setting sail from Southampton, across the North Sea, under the blistering sun yesterday we awoke to more of that beautiful weather. Pool day!
Not much to report from our day of chilling out, sipping cocktails and soaking up the sun… unless you want to know my Scrabble score!
Anyway… I did in fact change my dining time for the rest of the cruise! There’s a reception at the front of the Blue Danube Restaurant (deck 5), which is manned for several hours a day. Not only did we move to a 6pm-6:30pm sitting, but we also changed restaurants to the Blue Danube. This was done quickly, and without question. I would imagine that this would be slightly more difficult to accommodate so quickly on a full sailing, but I think the ship was only around 50% to capacity on our sailing.
Quick trip to the casino in the evening, and then off to bed, ready to see some of Norway’s amazing sights from tomorrow afternoon when the ship arrives in Maloy.
Day 3 – Maloy
Looks like Phil enjoyed himself so much in Norway last week, that he forgot to leave some sunshine for us!
I would love to tell you all about Maloy… but I was having such a lovely time onboard, and looking out at the weather it just didn’t hold the appeal. The arrival into the harbour was fun though. It’s a fairly narrow passage in, with a slightly wider bay at the dockside, before the passage continues under a bridge that’s too low for the ship. So that meant the ship had to turn around before leaving Maloy. As the 12th largest ship in the world, and capable of holding every member of Maloy’s population nearly twice over, it’s quite a thing to perform a 180-degree turn on the spot! Amazing!
We treated ourselves to some entertainment in the Le Grand Théâtre tonight, which was a Flamenco-inspired show. Masks were handed out on entry, and although not mandatory most guests opted to wear them in the theatre. The costumes, dancing and singing were all top notch, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The shows only last for around 35-40 mins, and on a full cruise there would be 3 show times to accommodate the various dinner sittings. On our cruise there was just a 7pm or 9pm show.
Day 4 – Geiranger & Geirangerfjord
Cruising into Geirangerfjord deserves an early start, even if you only make it as far as your own balcony. The views are spectacular, and cruising past the Seven Sisters Waterfall is a sight to behold. If you can’t get up early though, don’t worry… it’s the same scenery on the way back out of the Fjord!
I’m seriously not a morning person… however I really wanted to get up early and experience cruising into one of the most glorious fjords in the world. I knew that we had a technical call into Hellesylt, for guests on full day excursions, at 6:45am; and that the Seven Sisters Waterfall would be just around the bend after that. Even if I hadn’t set my alarm, I would have still been awake for this spectacular sight… thanks for this go to my partner, who was already out on the balcony (binoculars in hand) and barely able to contain her exclamations of “Oh my God”, “Wow”, “Jess, you’ve got to see this!”; whilst I tried to prise open my eyes and remove myself from the duvet cocoon I’d created for myself!
And Boy! was it worth it! The sun had most definitely gone into hiding. Whilst we feared that we’d seen the last of it for the week, we reminded ourselves that low clouds make for atmospheric views of the soaring mountains, and rain/drizzle make for even more dramatic waterfalls!
Once we had docked in Geiranger (beautiful!), we donned our walking shoes and went off for a little hike adventure on the Waterfall Trail.
In town, you can see a pretty impressive waterfall without too much effort, and learn some of the history as to how Geiranger became one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
There’s an abundance of tax-free shops in town, cute bakeries and coffee shops, plus it’s a chance to pick up that reindeer hide you’ve always wanted (just £110 here!).
Anyway… back to the Adventure Trek… just start the waterfall trail in town, and carry on up, up, up to Storseterfossen. It’s a decent 5km hike up from town, and the views are absolutely breath-taking! Once you’ve reached your goal at the top, there’s a slightly hidden rock staircase down, which takes you to a ledge behind the waterfall. Funnily enough, this provided us with the first dry rock to sit on all day, so that’s where we had lunch (we made sandwiches in the buffet restaurant this morning to take off the ship!)… behind the curtain of the waterfall.
Once back on the ship, it was hot tub time and chance to soothe our aching legs! Thankfully the rain had stopped, and we were able to enjoy the sights cruising back out of Geirangerfjord (and past the Seven Sisters Waterfall again) from the warm bubbling comfort of the whirlpool, whilst classical music provided the perfect accompaniment to the glorious scenery.
After dinner, the Space Party was about to start in the Galleria, and this was following an epic space-themed display show on the Dome LED screen to Barber’s Adagio For Strings.
We had a lovely day, but it’s early to bed after the very early start!
Day 5 – Flam
Well, the sun finally came out in Flam!
If you’re looking for an incredible way to experience the Fjords up close, and without your thousands of cruise companions, then I recommend you take to the water. We took a tandem kayak out for a half day, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of freedom it gives you.
The ship literally rocks up at Flam’s centre, with shops and the train station on the doorstep, and paths leading through the lovely waterfront park; so it’s perfect for accessibility.
We were told that the train journey is one of the most scenic in the world, but, with the sun bursting through the fluffy white clouds we knew we wanted to be outside.
The kayak hire is just a short walk across the park, and cost just shy of £100 for the two of us for a 4hr rental. That includes hire for wetsuits, spray jackets, PFDs and pretty much anything else you can think of that you’ll need!
It was an amazing experience… feeling completely dwarfed by the surrounding mountains, paddling to where the waterfalls crash into the fjord, and checking out the wildlife (we stumbled across a group of goats asleep, sunbathing on some rocks).
I was tempted to take a stand up paddleboard out after, but after a few hours on the water in the kayak my arms were pretty tired and I was sure I’d just be a liability!
On returning to the ship it was brilliant to see that that the ship’s chefs had set up a crew barbecue in the park. Really wonderful to see them being able to enjoy some downtime in such a beautiful location.
We took advantage of a quiet ship (whilst other guests were on excursions) and headed straight for the hot tubs and comfy sun beds at the Horizon Pool. We spent the rest of the day soaking up the sun… just in case we didn’t see it again!
We did however pop down to the Galleria for a proper gelato. As with all Jean-Philippe Chocolatier venues, this isn’t included in your cruise fare, but it’s certainly value for money. Aside from being hands-down delectable… the servings are HUGE! Just take a look at my ONE scoop waffle cone:
Day 6 – Kristiansand
Okay… so Kristiansand, Norway. I’ll admit that I did very little research on this, other than I knew it was Norway’s fifth biggest city and therefore not one of the original reasons that I booked the Norwegian Fjords cruise… but I LOVED it!
From the scenic sail in, past tiny unpopulated islands, lonely lighthouses, and rock faces that you could tell were popular climbing routes; this “city” certainly offers a stunning first impression.
Walking off the cruise you’re met by a Norwegian Moose (photo op!), and the start of what you’ll discover to be the abundant urban artworks of Kristiansand.
It’s a pretty walk into the centre, through the harbour and past the fish market. Make sure you take a look in the water at the amazing marine life here… so many Lions Mane and Compass Jellyfish!! It’s very clear that water-sports are one of the most popular pastimes for city dwellers too.
Head for the cathedral in the centre of the main shopping street (there are some decent shops also worth visiting!), and don’t forget to keep your eyes open for all the artwork.
Visit the Old Town and see the beautiful streets of traditional wooden housing. Then maybe take a lazy meander to the beach, and waterfront park, where you can watch the sail boats, feed the ducks/swans, and maybe cool yourself off in the fountain.
I just love it when places surprise you, and, for me, Kristiansand was certainly a very pleasant surprise!
Day 7 – Day at Sea
Hello sunshine my old friend!
Today we grabbed one of the comfy double sun beds at the back of the Horizon Pool (we were up early!), and spent the morning here just chilling (or baking!).
Fancy a coffee?
Top tip… keep your eye on the schedule for when they do a coffee demonstration in Jean-Philippe Chocolatiers… if there aren’t many people watching (there were just 4 of us at our demo) then you might snag yourself a free Caramel Latte, Hot Chocolate, or Rocky Road Hot Chocolate!
Now, we had saved the high ropes course for this afternoon, and in hindsight this was a bad decision… it was a tad too windy and therefore the ropes course was closed. So after three sailings aboard MSC Virtuosa, unbelievably I am yet to try this out for myself! However! The Savannah Waterpark was open… so we did what all adults should do and took to the slides and bucket drops! So much fun!
If you’ve made it this far reading… you may remember back on day 1 that I made reservations for the steakhouse, Butcher’s Cut. I absolutely love a steakhouse and have always been impressed by them on cruise ships (Princess’ Crown Grill, Virgin Voyages’ The Wake, Royal Caribbean’s Chops Grille to name just a few).
I went for the 3-course Dining Package at £39, choosing the Burrata & Beets Salad, the 14oz Sirloin, and New York Cheesecake. My partner shared the starter and dessert with me, as she really wanted a Rib Eye… however this only available on the A La Carte menu, and is a whopping 20oz! Unfortunately for all steak-lovers out there (and much to our server’s dismay), she likes her steak well done. I know, I know… but hey-ho!
Regardless… the meal was absolutely delicious, and deserves its place in my top steakhouses of all time. Worth every single penny!! Definitely needed a little nap after that!
Day 8 – Ciao For Now
Time to go home, and don’t worry… I’m not going to bore you with details of my journey back up the M6. Instead I shall give you a little bit of info regarding disembarkation.
If, like me, you prefer to get off the ship and be on your merry way as soon as possible then do NOT put your suitcases out for collection the night before.
If you prefer to enjoy every last second of your time onboard and take in a leisurely breakfast, whist your luggage is magically transported to inside the terminal building, then DO put your suitcases outside your cabin door (with provided labels attached) by 11:30pm the night before. You will be allocated a disembarkation group, but be warned… these run in 10 minute intervals right up to 9:40am, so ensure that this wouldn’t make you late for trains, planes, taxis etc.
I had an amazing time onboard, and the Norwegian Fjords were everything I hoped that they would be; I’ll definitely be back again for different ports of call!