Cruising the fjords of Norway
Oh, those crinkly edges: Cruising the Norwegian fjords and coastal Norway in a nutshell
The crinkly coasts of Scandinavia are so stunningly beautiful they once won a major intergalactic award for Slartibartfast. The reason: they are deeply cleft with fjords, long fingers of water worming their way inland, hemmed in by cliffs towering six thousand feet high and laced with ribbons of waterfalls.
Most cruises up the Norwegian coast call at a variety of 34 ports, towns, and gorgeous fjords stretching from the embarkation port of Bergen in the south to Kirkenes, 240 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
(Hint: most people flock here in the summer, but if you cruise the fjords in winter, you have a solid chance of seeing the Northern Lights.)
Booking the best fjord and coastal cruises
Fjords as a Day trip
If you just want a quick taste of the fjords without devoting several days to a cruise (and several nights to a cruise ship berth), the experience you're looking for is called "Norway in a Nutshell" (www.norwaynutshell.com).
It's a reeeealy long one-day trip from Oslo that incorporates a seven-hour series of scenic train rides (truly one of the most spectacular in Europe), a cruise through the granddaddies of Norwegian fjords, then a rather frightening hairpin-turn bus ride up to Voss for the return train journey.
It costs about $335—though about $190 of that is the cost of the roundtrip train from Oslo to Bergen. All told, it lasts about 22.5 hours; you leave Oslo at 8:11am, and catch an overnight train back from Bergen at 10:58pm that doesn't get back to Oslo until 6:26 the next morning.
This is why a lot of people turn this "day trip" into a two– or three-day visit to the region, spending an extra day in Bergen or in Fjordland. The site—recently expanded into FjordTours.com—now allows you to do just that, and to pick other bits of fjords-in-a-nutshall to explore.
Cruise Direct (www.cruisedirect.com)
One of the top cruise discounters in the business, consistently underselling the higher rack rates you'll see posted on the web sites of the cruise companies themselves.
CruiseDirect.com even has a last-minute page with discounts on soon-to-leave ships. These change constantly, but for reference: I just saw an 5-night Scandinavian sailing on the Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas that costs (ready for it?) from $340 for an inside cabin, $571 for an outside cabin—even the top-flight suites cost only $1,101.
This company used to call itself Norwegian Coastal Cruises, giving you a hint as to its specialty. (It changed the name only to reflect that it also cruises to Antarctica, Greenland, the Arctic, and other chilly places.) Six-day cruises up the Norwegian fjords start at $1,205 per person (from $1,781 in the height of summer). An 11-day classic fjord cruise from Bergen to Kirkenes starts at $1,874 per person. They often run early-booker specials that can get you 20% to 30% off, or a companion fare at half price.
Cruise Compete (www.cruisecompete.com)
You know the commercials for LendingTree.com? That whole "When banks compete, you win..." spiel? Well this the same thing for cruises. You put in the date and destination and ship (any or all of those), and it sends your cruise request to a whole bunch of cruise brokers and discounters. Each of them then contacts you with a quote on how little they can do that cruise for you. Basically, it does the shopping around for you, pretty cool, huh?
Cruise Critic (www.cruisecritic.com)
Independent Website devoted to cruising in all its forms.
Small Ship Cruises (www.smallshipcruises.com)
Just what it sounds like: booking with dozens of outfits that offer cruises on small small ships in the Med, Russia, and Scandinavia.