Crossing the Arctic with Fred
This was our first trip to Norway and our first with Fred Olsen Cruises. We had picked this particular trip because I wanted to go to Norway but didn’t want to go down south to pick up the ship – and this one went from Rosyth. In retrospect I wish I had researched more because some of the ports of call in the north were less than interesting and the more southern areas of Norway were nicer. The holiday started well. Check-in was incredibly smooth and quick – nothing like an airport – and our luggage was taken directly from the car to our cabin. The cabin was very roomy and comfortable with loads of wardrobe space. We were greeted with afternoon tea more or less on arrival – there were a few places to eat and drink, and plenty of lounges and bars to sit and watch the scenery glide by. Our first evening meal was a great success despite being too much of it (five courses!) There was sufficient vegetarian choice each night: two vegetarian main courses, and further options were offered or could be adapted. We never had to resort to an omelette! We were pleased to see tofu on one of the main courses and we found the food both tasty and imaginative. We were also pleased to see Quorn on many of the menus. So many establishments just substitute cheese or egg for the meat option so it was good to see so much variety. In 12 days of lunches and dinners we never had the same meal or the same soup twice, which was quite an achievement! The next day we were at sea all day, and a remarkably smooth sea at that. Breakfast – open seating – was good, with plenty of cereal, fruit and fresh bread. The cooked breakfast offered veggie sausages so we were happy. It was a pity though that no veggie bacon was available. The ship used Quorn mince and chunks so were obviously familiar with their product range. There was plenty of fresh bread and Danish pastries as well as the continental breakfast, various cereals, lots of fresh fruit and yoghurt and a good range of juices and hot drinks. Soya milk (and ice cream, but not at breakfast!) was also available on request. There was a schedule of activities while we were at sea to keep everyone occupied: talks, activities on deck, concerts. We went to a lovely Celtic harp concert in the afternoon. Lunch was again very good with a Quorn crumble, but our evening meal – taken in the Secret Garden open seating buffet – was a bit more limited. It was a formal night and my husband never wears a tie so we were not allowed into our normal dining room. He had a shirt and jacket and frankly I find this sort of snobbery outdated in these days but I suppose we, at 61 and 64, were among the younger set. The average age was 72 and one lady on ship was 100, so perhaps things will change as a more relaxed generation books in the future. We did get a couple of glasses of champagne as a consolation prize at the Captain’s welcome party but no veggie canapés left for us. On Tuesday we arrived at Alesund, definitely the nicest port on our trip. The ship docked conveniently close to this compact and decorative town. It is full of wonderful art nouveau buildings and so easy to walk around with very little traffic. We visited the Art Nouveau museum, which I can recommend, and were able to nip back to the ship for lunch. This was just as well because Norwegian prices are very high around £13 just for a pizza. Norwegian food is also heavily fish-based so not an ideal place for vegetarians to eat. On Wednesday we arrived in Kristiansund. We went on a half-day trip to the dramatic Atlantic Road, crossing over many little islands to a 13th century wooden stave church where we treated to some very pleasant Norwegian singing. The food continued to be good with a pasta with paprika sauce and Quorn that night. There were really some lovely soups, too, and all desserts in the main restaurant were marked as to whether or not they were vegetarian. Gluten-free and sugar-free options were also marked and available and soya milk and ice cream were readily available. On the second day the chef had a meeting with anyone who had a special dietary requirement to ensure that everything was okay. We found the range of soups to be particularly good, from clear soups to creamy- and even chilled-ones – I had a lovely one with watermelon and port. As with the main meal none of the soups seemed to be repeated: we had mushroom, asparagus, parsnip, roasted garlic, ratatouille , tomato and basil, fennel and many others, all of which we enjoyed. At each main course there were also two salad options in the evening, and at lunch you could help yourself to salads or be served at the table in the Four Seasons lounge. We found the volume of food far too much so seldom had more than three courses at any meal, and often only two. The late night suppers were all themed, including Italian, Indian, Chinese, Western, and others. There were always veggie options but somehow eating at 11.00pm does not really appeal to me. We only once made it to a late night supper – a Russian one where we had a lovely mushroom stroganoff- style pie and mushroom pizza. Not very Russian, but surprisingly pizza never made it to a main course menu. Thursday was another day at sea, en route to Leknes and the Lofoten Islands. We were given an excellent new cabin – a junior suite midship – because of noise problems we had had with the previous one, so spent a lot of the day moving things. It was well located near the stairs to the dining rooms and lounges. We initially had a problem with keys but this was resolved and we later had a basket of fruit delivered to the room. The scenery, always lovely, was particularly good that day. The captain detoured into a fjord so that we could see the amazing black glacier close up. We also crossed the Arctic Circle that day and have certificates to prove it – but we were underwhelmed by the experience, which entailed the ship sailing around a tiny island and us all having mulled wine. It did mean however that for the next few days the sun never really set, which was very strange but lead to some lovely evening skies. The next day we went to a wonderful Viking museum not far from Leknes. We also visited a wooden stave church at Buknes with art nouveau decoration, and a pretty fishing village. The scenery was again wonderful. Back in time for lunch. The evening was misty but cleared up in time for us to sail into the Trollfjord – scenic with high mountains and waterfalls. Not all ships are small enough to fit in so Fred’s smaller cruise ships were a bonus here. The next morning we arrived at Tromso. There was a good shuttle bus service into this city so we enjoyed a couple of pleasant museums, and the main street had an event with classic cars. On Sunday we arrived at Honningsvag, the furthest inhabited place in North Europe. I am so glad I don’t live there. It had one main street and that was it really. The miserable weather and rain did not help, and my other half would not even get off the ship. We had a pleasant surprise that evening though. The chef sent a bottle of wine and strawberries dipped in dark chocolate to our room – no idea why. Two days at sea were ahead before our last port of call. As ever the scenery was stunning. We continued to reduce the amount we ate. There seemed to be a continual round of meals and I don’t know where everyone put the food. We both gained a few pounds on the trip despite restricting ourselves and walking up and down all the stairs rather than taking the lift. We discovered that 50% of those on the ship were repeat bookers: indeed some had been on six or more trips, so obviously Fred Olsen has a winning formula. We did come across quite a few fellow vegetarians and none of them had any complaints about the food. The next day we were very lucky to see a sea eagle flying over the ship. We had been disappointed with the lack of wildlife: no whales or dolphins and few birds except gulls. On the Tuesday evening the crew put on a great show with song and dance from the Philippines and Thailand, which we found much more entertaining than the standard shows. The crew were really pleasant and helpful in general. On Wednesday we went to our last port of call, Molde. This appeared to be a very attractive city – modern, but with lovely traditional wooden houses and lots of shops. Because we had booked a full day trip we could not really spend any time there. The trip – up the Rauma Valley and on the Rauma railway was fantastic – it was the best scenery we had seen yet, and an excellent way to finish our experiences. The mountains were dramatic, loads of amazing waterfalls, and a fast flowing river. The train was fast, comfortable and smooth and had an English commentary. They even slowed down to allow pictures of the more dramatic bits. We had lunch as part of the trip and were pleasantly surprised by our tasty stuffed peppers with vegetables and lovely crème caramel. Much better standard than the usual food included in excursions and a lovely mountain ski-lodge style venue to eat in. It was a real jewel of a day. Our last day at sea, rather choppy in the North Sea, was spent packing , resting and catching up with emails as we came nearer to the UK (reception on the ship was poor and the ship’s own internet was slow and expensive). Disembarkation was as quick and smooth as it had been at the other end and all too soon we were back on the road to home – was it all a dream? So would I go with Fred Olsen again? Definitely. I had previously cruised with Cosmos and Royal Caribbean (Norwegian cruise line to the Med) and found the food on both these trips to be inferior to that provided by Fred Olsen. I was all for booking a trip to the Baltic capitals because there were extra discounts for booking while on the ship, but my other half did not fancy it. I think the size of the ship was excellent, the staff right up to the captain were friendly and helpful, and the food was better than I expected.
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