A Norwegian fjords cruise is a worthy addition to anyone’s travel bucket list. Here are essential tips on how to do it and what to expect, with a full review of my experience onboard P&O’s HMV Britannia.
A pound for a pee? They must be bloody joking!
The restaurant at the summit of Alesund’s Aksla Hill echoed with the woman’s estuary tones. She removed her sunglasses and took another look at the offending sign, to check if that would make a difference to the price. It didn’t.
Here’s the thing. Norway can be an achingly expensive country to visit.
The cost of living is over 50% higher than in the UK. You will be lucky to get change out of a tenner (£10; 13 USD) for a pint of beer. A one-way ticket on local transport costs around £3.
That said, Norway is an astonishingly beautiful country that should be on everyone’s travel bucket list. Taking a Norwegian fjords cruise insulates you from these prices and is a more affordable way of seeing the country.
Moreover, a cruise gives you the opportunity to visit diverse towns and cities in a short space of time, and to cruise along some of Norway’s most scenic fjords. My cruise to Norway on P&O Britannia ranks amongst one of my most memorable travel experiences.
But how should you plan a cruise in Norway? And what can you expect from a cruise to Norway on P&O Britannia?
To help you do plan your cruise, here are my essential tips for cruising Norway’s fjords, guides to exploring each of the ports of call and a comprehensive review of my cruise as a solo traveller in May 2018.
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Plan your Norway fjords cruise
Packing a guidebook to allow you to explore Norway’s ports of call independently is a wise move. I’m a big fan of Rick Steves and this edition is packed full of useful information.
Norwegian fjords cruise: essential tips
The best time for a Norwegian fjords cruise
The main Norway cruise season runs from May to September.
In the winter months, Hurtigruten offer cruises along Norway’s fjords. But the days are short in Northern Europe at this time of the year and the coastal waters can be rough. Other operators offer a handful of cruises to Norway in the winter to catch the elusive Northern Lights.
As it is impossible to predict the weather in Norway, this should not determine which month you travel.
Norway can be very wet and I have friends who have done a fjords cruise and it poured with rain every day.
My experience was very different. When I visited Norway, the country was three weeks into a heatwave with the mercury nudging 30 degrees. The weather is so unpredictable!
The peak time for cruising in Norway tends to coincide with school holidays in July and August when it will be more expensive, and ships will be busier with vacationing families.
Therefore, if you are not confined to the school holidays, I suggest that the best time to go to the Norwegian fjords is either May or September. I went at the end of May which was just about perfect.
Picking the right Norwegian fjords cruise
As there is considerable variety in itinerary lengths, ports of call and types of ship, you will need to do a little homework to pick the cruise that is right for you.
The duration of Norwegian fjords cruises generally ranges from seven to 14 days. Those heading further north into Arctic Norway can last for up to three weeks.
Like most cruises, you need to think about the ports of call.
Many itineraries include other Northern European cities or Baltic states. Whilst it is a great opportunity to check out places like Rotterdam and Warnemunde, the flipside is that there are fewer Norwegian ports on the itinerary.
But unlike other cruises, the scenery as you sail from one port of call to the next is an important consideration. To identify these scenic sails along the fjords, examine the itinerary closely and take a look at a map.
There is a spectrum of ships that sail in Norway, accommodating all budgets, from mainstream behemoths to smaller ships offering a boutique experience (and that can slip into the smaller fjords). Just pick the one that is the right fit for you.
I cruised to Norway from Southampton with P&O Cruises on HMV Britannia. Sailing with P&O is neither a splurge nor a budget cruise, but is a touch of affordable luxury. The itinerary included four ports of call – Stavanger, Flam, Alesund and Bergen – and a few scenic sails over one week.
What to pack for a Norwegian fjords cruise
Clothing to pack for a Norwegian fjords cruise
Given the unpredictability of the weather, pack for all seasons by bringing layers. Pack for the worst weather but hope for the best.
For exploring the ports of call, wear t-shirts, jeans, jumpers, and a waterproof jacket. And ditch the stilettos for sensible walking shoes or trainers. But based on my experience, in the spirit of optimism, also pack a few summer dresses and a pair of shorts.
And don’t forget your glad rags for the formal evenings on board!
Other items to bring
Camera – Do pack the best camera that you have. Norway’s fjords and the ports of call scream out for the finest camera lens that money will buy.
Binoculars – A small pair of binoculars will also come in handy. The views as you sail along the Norwegian fjords are sensational, and a set of bins will allow you to pick out details from afar.
Book a balcony cabin
This is my top tip for cruising the Norwegian fjords. Booking a balcony cabin is worth every last penny.
Unlike some cruises, a large part of the appeal of a cruise along the fjords of Norway is the scenery as you sail by. And where better to take in the view but on your own private balcony, perhaps with a G&T in hand?
However, if you like a 100% dark room to sleep in, you may wish to reconsider.
One of the advantages of cruising in Norway in summer is the long days. But the flip side is that the sun may be streaming through your window in the wee small hours.
Having said that, early morning light does wake me up but this was not a problem in my balcony cabin on this cruise. I guess that the cabins on P&O Britannia have excellent blackout blinds.
A final cautionary note: not all cruise cabins are equal. Therefore if you don’t want to end up under the promenade deck or next to the laundry, research your cruise cabin before you book.
Exploring ports of call on a Norwegian fjords cruise
Exploring the ports of call on this Norwegian fjords cruise was a piece of cake. For each stop on the itinerary, the ship docked in the centre of town and the main sights were easily walkable.
However, if you want to explore further afield and you feel that may not able to do this under your own steam, take a look at the shore excursions on offer. If you have your heart set on a particular day trip, book this early to avoid disappointment.
Another option is to book a shore excursion with an independent operator.
But before you book an excursion, check the weather forecast for your desired destination. Norway can be very wet. If there is a risk that the longed-for fabulous view is cloaked in mist and rain, will it be really with the effort and expense?
Cut costs by eating onboard the ship
Make no mistake. Scandinavia can be ludicrously expensive. For this reason alone, visiting Norway on a cruise makes perfect sense as this insulates you from these high costs.
Therefore fill your face with the food on board, which you have already paid for. Set yourself up for the day with a big breakfast and bring a few snacks to keep you going.
P&O Norwegian fjords cruise review: Itinerary & the best things to do in the ports of call
This one-week cruise included four ports of call: Stavanger, Flam, Alesund and Bergen. Let’s take a look at the itinerary day by day.
DAY ONE: LEAVING SOUTHAMPTON
At 8 pm on a balmy Sunday night, Britannia let go of her mooring lines and we were underway.
Passing Fawley oil refinery, silhouetted against the setting sun, the ship continued along the Solent following the eastern coastline of the Isle of Wight. It then took a sharp turn at Portsmouth to enter the Dover Strait.
Gin & tonic on the balcony, moonlight on the water.
DAY TWO: AT SEA
The rig-dodging day.
P&O Britannia continued along the North Sea, edging towards Norway. Hardy Brits on board settled themselves by the pool, slathering suncream to the accompaniment of blasts of the ship’s foghorn. The maximum temperature on deck was a damp 13 degrees.
DAY THREE: STAVANGER
Lovely Stavanger is the first port of call.
The fortunes of this pretty harbour town on Norway’s southwest coast have centred on fish canning and, more recently, the discovery of oil off its shores. With its exquisite wooden buildings, cobbled lanes and rich maritime heritage there is plenty to occupy even the most restless soul.
Where did P&O Britannia berth?
Right in the centre of town alongside Gamle (Old) Stavanger.
What can you do in Stavanger?
- Visit the Norwegian Canning Museum for some fishy tales
- For all things nautical, visit the Stavanger Maritime Museum
- Wander around Gamle (Old) Stavanger
- Hunt for Antony Gormley statues
- Visit the cathedral (Domkirke)
- Visit Skagen’s cafes housed in psychedelic buildings
- Check out Stavanger’s street art
- For a thoughtful exploration of Norway’s offshore oil industry visit the Norwegian Petroleum Museum (Norsk Oljemuseum)
How can you get around Stavanger?
The main sights are close to each other. Stavanger is very walkable
DAY FOUR: FLAM
The approach to Flam was sensational, sailing along the Sognefjorden, one of Norway’s most stunning fjords. You will have to be up and about shortly after 5 am to capture this view though!
Tucked between two mountains at the head of Aurlandsfjorden, Flam (Flåm to be correct) is a community of around 400 souls, less than 10% the total occupancy of the ship. Although the hamlet is a good base for hiking and has a visit-worthy 17th-century church, its main tourist draw is the Flam Railway.
Where did P&O Britannia berth?
Slap bang in the middle of Flam. It makes the hamlet look like a model village.
What can you do in Flam?
- Get on board the Flam railway for the ride of your life
- Take a hike on one of the many walking trails around Flam
- Increase your adrenaline levels by riding a RIB
- Rent a talking car (yes … really)
How can you get around Flam?
Flam is tiny. The railway station is around 5 minutes walk from the ship.
DAY FIVE: ALESUND
Alesund, a fishing town and port on Norway’s west coast, is architectural heaven.
A devastating town fire in 1904 resulted in a hectic reconstruction project, replacing the charred wooden buildings with those built in an Art Nouveau style with a local folkloric twist. The result is a collection of stone and brick buildings with a myriad of turrets, spires and medieval ornamentation, including intertwined animal and human faces, dragons and elaborate flowers.
Where did P&O Britannia berth?
Again … right in the thick of things.
What can you do in Alesund?
- Take a walking tour to admire Alesund’s Art Nouveau masterpieces
- Climb the 418 steps to the top of Aksla Hill for a panoramic view
- Wonder at the wooden buildings of Molovegen
How can you get around Alesund?
The main sights are close to each other. Although Alesund is very walkable, there are lots of steep cobbled streets. Leave the stilettos in your suitcase.
DAY SIX: BERGEN
The final stop on this Norwegian fjords cruise was Bergen.
Formerly the capital of Norway, Bergen is beautifully situated on a promontory, surrounded by seven hills. The self-proclaimed Gateway to the Western Fjords, it is also an attractive and enjoyable city in its own right.
Where did P&O Britannia berth?
Yet again, the ship parked up close to the city’s main sights at the entrance to the harbour.
What can you do in Bergen?
- For panoramic views and nature trails, ride the Floibanen funicular to the summit of Mount Floyen
- Explore picture-perfect historic Bryggen
- Grab a seafood snack at the fish market
- Check out the street art along Kong Oscars Gate
- Learn more about Norway’s fight against leprosy at the Leprosy Museum
- Discover the story behind the resistance in Bergen during World War II at the Bergenhus Festning Museum
- For a spot of medieval splendour, visit Bergen City Museum at the Rosenkrantz Tower
How can you get around Bergen?
The main sights are close to each other. Bergen is also very walkable.
DAY SEVEN: AT SEA
Waving goodbye to Norway, the Britannia retraced her journey through the gas and oil fields of the North Sea into the busy Dover Strait, reaching the Solent waters in the early hours of Sunday morning.
During the cruise, Britannia had travelled a total distance of 2323 nautical miles.
Now let’s take a look at what the experience was like onboard P&O Britannia
P&O Britannia: Ship review
Barely three years old when I sailed on her, HMV Britannia had a fresh-out-of-the-box feel. P&O’s only British registered vessel, it has 1,376 staff for its 3,600 guests.
She is enormous. Spread over 15 passenger decks, it is 232 feet high, 330 meters long and weighs a whopping 144,000 tonnes. To put it into perspective, it is twice the size of the largest hotel in the world.
The central space is the starburst atrium, decked in gleaming Turkish porcelain, covering three floors. But as gorgeous as this space is, I found that it had a peculiar lack of atmosphere.
There were a few design aspects that I found puzzling.
There are no publicly accessible stairs at mid-ship, creating pressure on lifts. Also, customer services and shore excursions are buried down on deck 5.
P&O BRITANNIA CABIN
I had a balcony cabin, which was decorated in tasteful moss-green, beige and brown tones. The large, comfortable bed had good quality linen.
A large wall-mounted TV had a limited choice of channels but a decent, mostly free movie library. There were a small fridge, a kettle and tea and coffee supplies, which were replenished each day. Three-pin (British) sockets were plentiful.
The small bathroom was well-designed, using the available space wisely. White Company toiletries were provided; shampoo, conditioner and body lotion in portable 100ml bottles, and shower gel in a fixed dispenser.
A major plus point is that there was a proper shower cubicle, not just a shower tray with a nasty nylon curtain. However, at busy times, water pressure was poor. A hairdryer was available. Towels were pleasingly white and fluffy.
The balcony on P&O Britannia is compact, accommodating two reclining chairs placed at jaunty angles, and a small table.
FOOD AND DRINK
There are bars-a-plenty on P&O Britannia with 13 to choose from, each with its selling point.
The Glass House, matching food to wine; Brodies, modelled on a British boozer; The Blue Bar with its extensive martini list. Or my favourite, The Crow’s Nest, the ship’s signature gin bar offering 21 different varieties. Drink prices were reasonable.
The food in the main restaurants – Peninsular, Meridian, Oriental – was of good quality but could be on the tepid side.
The food from the buffet service for lunch and dinner at the Horizon Restaurant was OK but unexceptional. Breakfasts were very good, with an extensive choice from freshly made omelettes, the great British cooked breakfast, fruit, cereals, pastries, cold meats and cheeses and yoghurt. Afternoon tea at The Horizon was also very good.
Speciality dining was available on P&O Britannia for a supplement (e.g. Sindhu, Epicurean).
The Grab-and-Go fridge on the Lido deck is a great innovation.
RELAXING ON DECK
There is a busy main pool on the Lido deck (16) but quieter pools are also available. Pool towels were provided in the cabin. There were plenty of sun-beds dotted throughout the ship.
Disappointingly, as the Britannia does not have a promenade deck, you cannot walk or run a circuit of the ship. However, there is a well-equipped gym.
There are golf nets on the Sports Deck (17).
ENTERTAINMENT ON P&O BRITANNIA
There was a full programme to suit all tastes. From live shows and recent films in the well-equipped main theatre to line dancing and magic workshops.
P&O CUSTOMER SERVICE
This is where I feel Britannia fails.
Although many of the staff were friendly and welcoming – my cabin steward was exceptional – too many others were disinterested, bordering on surly. Don’t expect banter.
Who can you expect your fellow passengers to be on P&O Britannia?
Gone are the days when cruising was the preserve of older people, squandering their children’s’ inheritance. On P&O Britannia, there was a much younger crowd with a significant number of multigenerational families.
The vast majority of those I spoke to were British and not what I call ‘serial cruisers’. For many. this was their first cruise.
What was it like to be a solo traveller on P&O Cruises?
A Norway fjords cruise on P&O was an excellent solo traveller experience.
Cruises are very social environments but there are also plenty of opportunities to be alone if that’s your preference. P&O Britannia had lots of organised activities during the day – the cruise line’s sail-away parties are famous – and entertainment laid on at night. It’s entirely up to you if you want to participate.
All of the Norwegian ports of call felt safe, and the main sights within easy walking distance of the ship.
A downside is that cruises for solo travellers can be expensive. However, at a cost of £1300 for a week’s cruise, I consider this to be good value.
Norwegian fjords cruise – final thoughts
I paid just over £1300 for sole occupation of a balcony cabin for this Norway’s fjords cruise on P&O Britannia. At around £180 per day, I consider this to be good value for a trip to Norway.
It was a fantastic itinerary. Each stop had something different to offer and sailing along the fjords was sensational. I should add that we were blessed with balmy weather which showed off Norway at its best.
A Norwegian fjords cruise is also very easy. As the ship berths in the centre of each of these towns and cities, there is no need for a transfer. Unless you wish to venture further afield, there is also no need to take an expensive shore excursion.
P&O Britannia is beautiful and feels fresh, although a few design aspects were occasionally frustrating. The cabin was well-designed and comfortable, although its balcony was compact. Food was generally of good quality. Variability in the levels of customer service was disappointing.
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