Marella Explorer – Land of the Midnight Sun Cruise – June 2019

Day 1 – Embarkation

In my opinion, Newcastle port is not very well organised. The embarkation process was very disjointed and puts a bit of a dampener on the start of your holiday. We (I was travelling with three other ladies on this cruise and cabin sharing with one of them to cut the cost down), arrived at the terminal at around 11.30 having walked from the North Shields Premier Inn which is located at the entrance to the port (so is a good place to stay as the walk is all downhill). We were then sent to the red building to drop off our cases. Because I hadn’t paid £48 to prebook my cabin, I had no idea of my cabin number, so it was then that I learnt I would be in cabin 4078. We queued for around 45 minutes where they attached a label with our cabin number on and took it off to be put on the ship. The next time we would see them was outside the cabin. We then went back outside to wait for a courtesy bus to take us back to check in at the terminal.

Once back at the terminal, we then had to queue again to collect a document and our cruise cards, then wait for our allocated letter to be called to check in and go through security. Because Gill (my cabin buddy was running late, I asked if I could check in without her and was told by one of the ladies that I couldn’t and would have to wait for Gill to arrive. So I sat down with Lesley and Sue (my other two buddies) and waited for our letter (L) to be called. Gill still hadn’t arrive when our letter was called so they went a head and boarded while I waited. After another hour or more of waiting (and I was getting hungry), I asked another lady if I could leave Gill’s card with them for her to collect and they said ‘yes, just leave the envelope’. Why they couldn’t have done this an hour and a half ago, I don’t know, so I carried on to the next queue!!

I queued to get my photo added to my card then again to go through security, then to get on the bus to go to the ship, then finally (having driven the long way around) we were dropped off at the ship and able to board. All in all, the above process could be improved as it seemed very disjointed and unorganised. I am not sure if this is all down to the port itself or TUI, I’ll let you decide!!

Marella Explorer waiting for us to board

I boarded mid ship, deck 5 near the reception area, so to find my cabin, I just went down one level and easily found it as my cabin was midship. I had an inside cabin and (as stated above) was sharing with Gill to save money as Solo travellers tend to be penalised with a ‘solo supplement’. By cabin sharing, I can travel as a solo, meet up with people for dinner but still also do my own thing.

Cabin number 4078 – inside – Deck 4.

The Cabin has a lot of room and wardrobe/drawer space. Bathroom is quite big too. After unpacking and settling in, I met up with Lesley, Gill and Sue for dinner and was joined by two other solos, Jim and Julie. Over the period of the holiday, I did find that there was a lot of engine/air con noise in this cabin – not sure what, but it was quite loud. I was told (by a member of housekeeping) that floor 4 is the worse for this noise!

As always, first night dinners are never brilliant due to my diet, so had to make do with what could be made for me. I had a lettuce wrapped veggie roll with a peanut sauce to start, followed a a vegetable tart (but with no tart) and a lovely apple pie with sorbet for dessert (this was the best bit of the meal).

After dinner, we made our way to the front of the ship to watch the ‘variety’ show which was just a taster of what was going to be shown throughout the cruise. I went to a few of the shows and as always, some were good, some not so – It’s a personal choice, so I have avoided commented on the shows throughout this blog and mainly kept the blog to the tours and ports of call.

The evening was then spent in one of the many bars onboard called the Indigo. There is also a nightclub and casino there.

Day 2 – Sea Day

After having lunch, I spent most of my day in the ships spa, just chilling and relaxing. They had an offer on of £99 for the whole cruise and it consists of using the spa area (no treatments) which reminded me a bit of walking into the spa at Centerparks in Longleat. Beautiful, spaced out and isn’t that busy at all.

Day 3 – Bergen

Bergen is the Gateway to the Fjords of Norway. As a UNESCO World Heritage City and a European City of Culture, the Bergen region has the ideal combination of nature, culture and exciting urban life all year around.

I had a tour booked which was the Monstraumen Cruise. Deep fjords, steep mountains, mighty waterfalls and powerful currents – all year round!
On the way from Bergen you will have a good view of the famous Bryggen, the old city of Bergen along with the rest of Bergen`s harbour basin.

The cruise continues under Nordhordalandsbrua up the 27-kilometer long Osterfjorden in Hordaland province. Innermost in that deep fjord is Modalen, the second smallest municipality in Norway with about 380 residents. Underway, the fjord narrows between the steep mountains as you head through the strong currents of the shallow and narrow Mostraumen strait. You’ll also see waterfalls that can give your face a really refreshing shower at times of peak water flow! We sail our bow right up to a waterfall before turning back in Modalen and retracing our route through the magnificent landscape.

There was a slight problem with this tour for some people (limited mobility and the disabled) as it turned out there was a 10-15 minute walk to get to the dock where we got the small cruiser. Even at the cruise ship, some people left because of this as they were unable to walk. I (and several others in the group), spoke to the excursion rep, Kelly, and we all found her rather rude and abrupt as she was unable to understand that it hadn’t been specified that there was a 10 minute walk to the cruiser on the description. Had this been said, some people probably wouldn’t have booked. However, on the return trip, it was announced that, for those that needed it, there was a bus waiting at the port. I think Marella could have handled it a bit better, but at least they found a solution for the return trip. As well as our cruise ship, there was three others in port, including Fred Olsen’s Boudicca.

Fred Olsen’s Boudicca

Day 4 – Olden

Olden is a small pleasant village at the end of the Nordfjord. A ten minutes walk from the quay will bring you to the centre of Olden, with shops, outlet stores, cafés, ATM and a post-office.

Olden in absolutely stunning. I had a great trip (again organised by Marella). It was called Majestic Kjenndalen. This time, we had a coach ride from the port (after a short tender ride as P&O’s Britannia was also in port today), to a small cruiser to cruise lake Lovatn.

We cruised to our first stop which was a restaurant on the lakeside called Kjenndalstova where we were given hot drinks and waffles. Surprisingly, they were able to do some gluten free/lactose free vegetarian waffles, so for once I managed to eat!! I was very grateful for this as its so unusual on these trips to get anything but this restaurant was very obliging.

We boarded the coach and then headed to see the glacier. The road was very narrow and in places we were high up with very little protecting us from the edge of the road (which went into the lake we had just cruised on. On reaching the glacier, there was a short walk of about 10-15 minutes to the viewing point. Walking about there was some lovely waterfalls either side of us. The Glacier looked fantastic.

Panoramic image from the glacier viewing area.

On the way back, we stopped at the location where there was a memorial for a land slide that had killed a lot of people. You can read about it from Wiki here. It was a very pretty and well looked after place. For somewhere of such devastation, beauty certainly shone through.

A little further down the road we stopped again and had the opportunity to take some photos at the grass roofed holiday homes. When the grass on the roof gets too long, they bring their goats to cut it.

During the trip, I bumped into Jim and we decided to meet up back at the port to do the cable car. While I was waiting, I saw Lesley and Sue and told them about the cable car so they decided to join us. It was quite expensive (£75). We got on the blue bus that took us to the Sky Bar from right where the tender dropped us off. It was a five minute bus ride and we were at the bottom of the rock face we were going to ascend. It looked high up!!

Within 5 minutes, we were at the top and ‘wow’, the views were spectacular. Up the top, there was a shop, cafe and restaurant. There was a horse shoe to commemorate the opening of the sky bar which was in Moi 2017 (May?). They are still working on some of the landscape up there and it looked like there were footpaths to go exploring which I didn’t do, but, if I ever come back, I think I would go up there for the whole day and have a good look around. I was worried about paying £75, but it was definitely worth it.

Panoramic photo showing the lake to the glacier on the left, Marella Explorer anchored in the middle and the way out to the right

We then headed back to get the tender back to the ship. I have put a 5 minute video of the trip back down on my Facebook page.

So today, I got to see a glacier and felt like I was on top of the world – fantastic day. The Marella tour was good and would recommend this one. There is also another organised tour to the Briksdal Glacier which Sue and Lesley went on and they said it was a good trip, so maybe another one to consider. Their tour had a 45 minute walk to the glacier or you could book an alternative tour which included a troll car ride up so you didn’t need to walk as far but could also experience the glacier. This is probably the one I would book if I returned.

Day 4 – Molde

Molde (24.000 inhabitants) is a busy industry and trading centre, in addition to being the episcopate and the administrative centre for the county of Møre og Romsdal. The “Town of Roses” also has various educational facilities as well as offering many cultural activities, including an international literature festival and the famous annual Molde International Jazz Festival.

I had nothing booked for this port as it was visiting the troll wall which I had previously done from Andalsnes. On listening to some of the passengers on board, one of the trips was not that good which was one that included the great Atlantic Road. Sue, Lesley, Julie and Jim had booked one called the Valley of the Trolls and they said it was fantastic.

At night now, it is very light and these photos were taken well into the early hours of the morning!

Day 5 – Sea Day

At 7am this morning, we passed the Artic Circle. Again, I spent most of the day relaxing in the thermal spa. Lots of people have reporting spotting dolphins and whales today. I haven’t seen any, but I never do! I missed seeing them on the cruise I did earlier this year.

Day 6 – Honningsvag

Today was a trip to visit the North Cape (another Marella organised excursion). The trip up was fabulous. Lovely views of the mountains and reindeer. We stopped at a Sami Camp for a while and had the opportunity to take photos of the traditional Sami with reindeer and their teepee.

The coach then carried on to the North Cape. Our tour was really lucky and we got to get fantastic views and photos and just as we were leaving, the cloud came down and you couldn’t see very well. This remained for the people who were on the afternoon tours. Take a look at my photos and the one around the monument of the seven circles (find more info on this) was one of the last ones I took and you can see how cloudy/foggy it was.

When we (Jim was with me on this tour) returned to the tender port, there is an Ice bar right where we get on and off the tender, so we visited it. It was cold in there, but felt warmer than it did on the North Cape! We had to pay to go in, and were given a drink in a shot glass made of ice. Fortunately, they were non alcoholic drinks and we got to try two. We were then told that when we leave, we throw the glass (made of ice) into the water and make a wish.

As well as the ice bar and some shops, there was a tourist information center with a shop and outside was some trolls and a statue of Bamse, a famous St Bernard dog.

Day 7 – Alta

I had visited Alta in 2018 on my northern lights cruise so opted to do an excursion with Marella called ‘Alta River Boat Cruise’ (it was also £5 for a shuttle to town and it was Sunday and everything was shut). From the description, I was sure what to expect. We had a lovely coach ride to the location (it was at the place where they build the Ice Hotel in the winter). When we got there, we were split into two groups and one had waffles and tea whilst the other group had the ‘river cruise’ trip. When you think about river cruise you think about a small cruiser. Our cruise boat was this;

Not totally what I was expecting, but was a fun and exhilarating trip.

Where we were for this excursion, I could see the slate mine I visited in 2018 up in the mountain. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to have any waffles as they had no gluten free ones this time. It was a great excursion and our guide was really informative.

Day 8 – Tromso

I had a bit of a lazy day in Tromso. Marella charge to take you into town and having visited Tromso previously, I decided to have a spa day. I had really sore head, neck and shoulders so treated myself to an acupuncture appointment which was very through and helped ease my pain. I then had my nails done as mine were chipped. I took a few photos from the ship and instead of being shrouded in white, it was green, so totally different to when I came here in March 2018.

A lovely photo of the Marella Explorer in Alta

Day 9 – Bodo

It is a small town and the cruise ships are only just starting to discover it’s beauty and the residents of Bodo are starting to invest in building hotels and improving the roads etc.

At this port, I opted for another excursion with Marella called Scenic Sights and the Arctic Rail. I was expecting the tour to have booked seats on the rail for all the group to be together, but unfortunately this wasn’t the case and we had members of the general public in the coach we were told to get on. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong side and my views were not brilliant.

After an hour on the train, we got off and headed to Rognan where the Blood Road Museum and some old traditional buildings were. Again, we were split into two groups. One group looked at the museum while the other group went to eat. There was nothing I could eat, so I decided to go outside and take some photos (I took lots!).

We then went on to look around the Blood Road Museum. It is all in Norwegian, but the tour guide gave us lots of information.

The coach driver took us on a scenic coach ride, where we stopped at a cafe and were given a sweet tortilla with some brown cheese (Brunost) that tastes like caramel and is actually brown in colour and very sweet. I didn’t get to try it but had a meringue and bottle of water. Those that I did ask found it very sweet, but different.

We continued in the coach to a location near Bodo where the water forms a mini whirlpool (called Saltraumen whirlpool). Here is a link to the Wiki page about it. It was very interesting to watch although the tide was quite low so not as strong as it could have been.

Panoramic photo of the viewing area

We then carried on back to the ship. We were the last group back and they were waiting for us so they could leave.

Day 11 – Sea Day

I made the most of the spa and had a further acupuncture treatment. I did find that the choice of entertainment on sea days on Marella wasn’t much and preferred to just chill either in the spa or on deck.

Day 12 – Flam (pronounced Flom)

This was a tender port (the only one we were supposed to have had on this trip). Flam is a very pretty place. I had booked a tour called Naeroy Fjord and Stalheim, It was a fjord cruise with coffee and cakes at the Stalheim hotel and then a ride down a very winding road and back to Flam. I took many photos, but I will put a few up here and the rest on my facebook page.

Naeroy Fjord – Spectacular. The boat went right up to a waterfall so a crew member could get some of the water for us to try.

The Stalheim hotel was a red building on top of a hill and had fantastic views. There was also and old world war bunker there. We had a short stop here (coffee and danish too) before heading down the winding road with 11 hairpin bends – again, we had fabulous views and saw a couple of waterfalls.

After this, we had a short trip back to the port.

I had booked a rail ticket to do the Flam Railway independently (it cost £55 for a return on the train) but ended up cancelling it as the train got back at 16.55 and the last tender was at 17.00 and I didn’t want to risk missing it (and not sure if they would have waited!). If you do want to do it, there is a separate queue for independent travelers and you can book when you get there or online. When you get off the ship (or tender), it is a 2-3 minute walk to the ticket office and station so very easy to do independently.

Cruising out of Flam was fabulous and we had some live singing from Pippa Langhorne. Having the scenery of the mountains loom over the ship was absolutely amazing. We had some rain, but that didn’t stop us still enjoying it.

Panoramic of the ship leaving Flam

Day 13 – Sea Day

Another sea day and on our way back to Newcastle. I had a lovely day chilling in the spa and then having my final acupuncture treatment. It has definitely helped with my neck pain (which I knew it would). Tonight was the last night on board and at midnight the ship was pretty quiet.

Day 14 – Disembarkation

I was off the ship by 8.30am and on my way to the train station for a 5 hour train journey back to Bristol.

As always on a cruise, the staff was outstanding. I loved the casino, managed by the lovely Uros, and can’t fault any of the staff on board. They really tried to help with my dietary requirements and most of the time did well. I managed to request that I had the same table every night (or at least the same waiter) and it worked really well.

I hope you found this blog informative and not too long! As always, I will post all my photos on my Facebook page. If you are looking for a cruise or holiday, don’t hesitate to contact me and I would be more than happy to look/book for you.

New Zealand – Sea Princess 2019

I embarked Sea Princess for a trip to New Zealand visiting Wellington, Tauranga, Napier and Auckland. Unfortunately, it was late leaving due to a Cyclone delaying the ship so I didn’t get to visit the South Island.

Due to the Cyclone that had caused issues on my previous cruise with P&O, it still continued to cause problems for my second cruise. I was due to embark Sea Princess on 24th February, but due to the port being closed, I didn’t embark until 27th. Embarkation was plagued with problems due to the computer system not working correctly. The ship was supposed to leave at midday, but we ended up leaving at around 4.30pm. This is the route we were due to take (when leaving on the 24th).

Because of the three day delay, Princess cruises changed the itinerary to leave out the South Island completely so we headed straight to Wellington for our first stop. Although we can’t control the weather, I can’t help thinking that it would have been nicer to have done the South Island and Wellington. I feel I missed out on a lot of the nice unspoilt part of New Zealand. Also, its a long way to go to do the cruise again (and as a solo, I have to pay double! Anyway, I found it a bit difficult to ‘enjoy’ this cruise as much as the other one and it also seemed that the rest of the passengers also felt the same.

Wellington

Wellington was our first port of call after 3 days at sea. The sea was kind to us and the sea days were pleasant. Sea Princesses entertainment team were top notch, but extra thanks has to go to ‘Bingo Matt’ who was a super entertainer and always had a smile (and a joke) with you.

We arrived in the port of Wellington at 8am and I had a tour booked which was to see some of the sights of Wellington and a visit to the Te Papa Museum and a cable car ride. As it was very early in the morning, nothing was open so we made the most of it and visited some of the older buildings.

We then headed off to the Te Papa museum and saw some exhibits. We weren’t allowed to photograph some (mainly from the mauri tribes). It was a bit of a flying visit and we had our own tour guide.

The model of the soldier is 8-9 feet tall and the photo doesn’t do it justice. I wish I’d had longer to have a really good look around (there are a couple more photos of this particular exhibit in the photos on my Facebook page).

On leaving the museum, we then headed to ride up in the cable car. Once at the top, we had a little bit of time to look around, take photos and look at the museum. It was all really interesting and the view spectacular.

We were then taken by minibus back down to the city. We had the opportunity to be dropped off in the town and then get the courtesy bus back to the ship. I did this and had a brief look around the shop before returning back to the ship. This was a tour organised by Princess cruises and was a small group one (so around 12 of us on a minibus). This was nicer as we weren’t waiting around for lots of people to get back/on/off the bus. It was an enjoyable visit to wellington, but if I went back, I think I would opt to look around on my own next time and enjoy what Wellington has to offer.

Tauranga

We left port around 6pm and headed to our next port – Tauranga. Again, I had booked a tour. I was going to Hobbiton!

It was a very hot day. I managed to walk some of it, but not all. Hobbiton was a very interesting place and it was a bit surreal to be there. I am not sure my photos do it justice. I think it was the most relaxing and most beautiful place I think I have ever been to. When you arrive at Hobbiton, you are not allowed to go around on your own – you are put into group tours.

When we arrived, we were treated to drinks and cakes (except me – they didn’t have much that I could eat!)

My group sitting in the shade enjoying their snack.

We all then headed off on the tour. As I said above, I didn’t make it all the way around so headed back as it looked quite a long hike – and I was right!

Once the group had got back, we headed into The Green Dragon Inn for a drink.

After a short break, we then headed back on the coach to the ship. I loved Hobbiton and will go back next time and try and take in the whole tour, but just being there was a lovely experience.

Napier

Napier is a popular tourist city, with a unique concentration of 1930s Art Deco architecture, built after much of the city was razed in the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake. It was a very interesting city.

Again, I opted for a tour and this one took me to a fruit farm, Te Mata Peak and a chocolate factory. The first stop was the fruit farm and we were shown the process that the apples undertake before being sent to supermarkets.

After having a small snack of apples and apple juice (there’s a surprise!) we headed back to the coach to our next stop which was the Silky Chocolate Factory. I bought chocolate (of course). There wasn’t really much to photograph and I took the photo below before realising that we weren’t allowed to take any.

Our next stop was majestic Te Mata Peak at the western boundary of Heretaunga Plains. This was around an hours drive, but it was worth it. As a word of advice; get your driver to stop at the bottom by the toilets as there is none at the top. Once we were up there, I needed to go and was desperate. One of the guys who was directing the vehicles told me I would have to wait, but said if I was really desperate, I could go to the ‘pee tree’, which I did!!

After heading back, I got off in Napier and had a look around the shops.

I then got the courtesy bus back to the ship, and there was some 1920’s vehicle and the owners were all dressed in costume, which was a lovely sight.

Auckland

When the ship arrived, I was feeling a little tired so took the morning to have a rest and recuperate (after all, the last three days were quite busy. When I was feeling a little better, I walked across the small port to the ferry terminal and got the ferry across to Devonport. It was only a 12 minute ferry ride. The cruise ship docks right near the city – and you walk off the ship and its a short walk away.

I had some lunch and a little walk around, took some photos and then took the ferry back to Auckland. That evening, I went to the casino in Auckland and then back to the ship ready for a late evening sail away.

On leaving Auckland, we had three sea days before reaching Brisbane but I was staying on the ship for another 2 days after that where I would disembark in Sydney for a 4 night stay and the start of my road trip. Please join me on my next blog which will be Sydney Part 2!

As always, I will post all my photos on my Facebook page, so please visit if you wish to see more photos. Thank you for reading my blog. If you would like to book a holiday, please don’t hesitate to contact me janinec@travel-pa.com or through my Facebook page.