Our 4th stop is Trondheim, which is the 3rd largest city in Norway. It is a big University city so there are lots of young people around. There wasn't any excursion in particular that jumped out us and I had read that Trondheim is a very walk-able city so we decided to just get off and explore on our own. This was our first stop that really looked like a big city. As we got off the ship we were downtown so we had to walk a little bit get to the old city but it was well worth the walk. Old town has cute cobblestone streets and houses that back up to the canals. We got to the old bridge which was a site to see in it self and that took us over to the cathedral which is where all of Norway's Kings are crowned still to this day. It was another beautiful day so we grabbed a drink and a seat and just did some people watching in old town. We just happened to sit across the street from an interesting invention. There was a very steep hill going up the old fortress and this hill had a bike ramp which was sort of like a ski lift on a mountain. People would ride their bikes up to the ramp and then sort of lock the bike in while they sort of stood with the bike as it took them up the hill. We noticed that had to keep their balance or the bike would come off and they would either have to walk the rest of the way or start again. It was fun to watch.
Sea Day...turns into Sea Days
We were headed north to our next stop, Hammerfest, and a sea day was needed in between to reach that location. At 11:28 am we crossed over the Arctic circle! During this time of year the sun does not set at all above the arctic circle so it was strange to be awake after midnight and still see the sun in the sky - but then the name land of the midnight sun makes sense. Hammerfest and our next stop of Honningsvag sort of have a dispute over which is the northern most city in the World. Hammerfest used to be called the northern most city but in the 90s a new ruling came out that to be a city you needed 5,000 or more residents which Honningsvag did not. We were scheduled to visit both so either way we could say we visited the northern most city in the world! However, we got a little bad news, due to strong winds we were not going to be able to get into Hammerfest. We found out later that we were going to call on Tromso instead. We spent the day relaxing after 4 straight port days which was much needed.
We woke up the next morning expecting to be in Tromso but unfortunately the strong winds and high seas had moved a little south and meant we couldn't get into port that morning so we were getting another sea day. Then later in the day we got some more bad news that we were not going to be able to keep going north to Honningsvag due to the weather so we were heading south again. We were all very bummed since we were looking forward to the northern most stop.
As someone that has cruised many times and had my itinerary changed many times I understand that this is always possible but it is still disappointing. The captain and cruise line always has safety at the top of the list but they do the best to keep everyone as happy as possible too. We were already scheduled to have 2 sea days after Honningsvag so now that means we are looking at 5 sea days which can be a bit much if you were not already prepared for that. During our second unplanned sea day the Captain told us they had worked very hard to find us an alternative and as of now it seems to be working out that we will cruise through Sunnylvsfjord to Hellesylt. That means if it all works out we will have just 4 sea days before getting to our next stop. I am writing this during our 3rd sea day so still hoping this new plan works out and then we can continue on with the original scheduled itinerary. Of course the ship internet doesn't really work for posting blogs so I will have wait and see if our global hotspot works in our next port so I can post then. That brings me to a good point - do you want to be connected while on vacation or do you look forward to being unplugged? Cruising is a great way to unplug, especially on a sea day. For me travel is work and staying connected to my business is also part of my traveling so I need to stay connected. I am glad to have found Skyroam which is the global hotspot we use when we travel. If you only want to be partially connected you can either plan to use the cruise ship internet, which seems to be getting much better than it used to be. Another option would be to plan to just find wifi hotspots while in port. There almost always is somewhere very close to port that offers free wifi. You can always ask the crew as they pretty much know where all the free wifi can be found and you will see many of them gathered there using it.
*Update we made our new stop of Hellesylt and are enjoying this cute little village today!
Our first stop in Norway was Stavanger. It was a busy day in port as there were 3 other large ships in port along with is and unfortunately it was also a national holiday so almost all the stores and restaurants were closed. The Stavanger region has many scenic attractions, among them the Lysefjord, Sola beach and the world famous Preikestolen (“the Pulpit Rock”). Some of the excursion options were a helicopter ride to the pulpit rock, a bus and then hike up to the pulpit rock, or a fjord cruise either on a rib boat or a large ferry type boat that would go by the pulpit rock. We hadn't booked an excursion ahead of time but the weather was so perfect that we couldn't resist a boat ride down to see the Pulpit Rock. We bought a ticket from a local company and it was a nice ride with lots to see and plenty of sunshine too. Stavanger is a very walkable city with lots of shops and things to see all very close to the port.
Our second stop was the tiny town of Flam which has just about 400 residents. Flåm, is situated innermost in the Aurlandsfjord and is home of the Flåm Railway. It is a very popular attraction and I had read it can sell out in advance. I had checked and saw that there would be another very large ship in port at the same time as us so I decided to book the ship excursion in advance that included a reserved car for the train ride up and then a hike back down part of the way. We did have to tender into this port but it wasn't too bad. When you get off the tender you cannot miss the train station as it is really steps away. We met up with our tour group which was a very nice size of just 14 guests with 2 guides. We boarded our reserved car on the train and had plenty of space to move around which was nice since there were amazing views all around. One tip I would give for anyone riding the Flam railway would be to choose a seat at either end of a car since they have windows that can open and you can get better photos. It was interesting to learn that instead of building bridges over the water that flows down the mountain they instead re-routed the water so that went around the tracks. There were amazing waterfalls and other beautiful scenery all around. The train made a stop at a very impressive waterfall where we could all get off the train and take photos. At the stop where our group got off there was a hotel nearby that we went into and had a snack and a drink before making our 6 mile hike down the mountain. Luckily the weather was perfect again and we had a very enjoyable hike. Our journey out of Flam included going back up the Sognefjord which was breathtaking. The fjords are UNESCO World Heritage Landscape. The further north we go the later the sun stays out. Tonight it was almost midnight before it was dark and the sun was due to rise around 4:15 am.
Our third stop was Alesund. Ålesund is a port town on the west coast of Norway, at the entrance to the Geirangerfjord. It’s known for the art nouveau architectural style in which most of the town was rebuilt after a fire in 1904 that destroyed almost every building. We hadn't planned anything in advance today so we thought we would just see what the day brings. In Flam we saw a little electric car that looked like ti would be fun. When getting off in Alesund we saw them again and thought let's try it out. The 2 seater electric car had gps and a tour loaded that talked to us as we drove around town. The nice part we wanted to get to the top of the look oup point which would have been a 400 stair climb and after yesterday's hike my legs were not really feeling like doing that many stairs. With the little car we drove right up and were able to get out and check out the amazing view of the whole town. We also explored more and got to see a lot. It was another perfect weather day so knock on wood the weather stays with us!
We sailed out of Rotterdam which I quickly saw how it used to be considered the World's largest port. It was pretty impressive. Our room is rather interesting in that we have a sliding door that you would have in a balcony room but instead of going out to a private balcony ours goes out onto the promenade deck where everyone can walk around. At first I thought I wasn't sure if I would like that but the doors are designed so that you cannot see into the room but we can see out which makes for some fun people watching. I guess that is why it was called a lanai room vs a balcony room. As a travel agent I think it is important to try out many different room types so I can say from experience what I think of a particular room type. Usually I would say the inside room is my favorite since I enjoy how dark they are so I can sleep late. On this itinerary though I am thinking the scenery as we go through the Fjords will make having a view from the room worth it. We also have 2 nice wooden lounge chairs outside our room that are reserved just for us. These are usually my favorite reading chairs so I am looking forward to having a warm day to sit out there. When we came back to the room after dinner our room host Ari had created a wonderful honeymoon towel animal along with some rose petals and chocolate covered strawberries in honor of our honeymoon! Overnight we sailed through the North Sea headed for Norway. It was pretty foggy and that was the first time on a cruise where the ship I had keep sounding the horn every so often due to fog.
Our first day is a Sea Day which is nice for recovering from jet lag and exploring the ship. This is my 5th cruise with Holland America and each time I have sailed on a different ship. This time we are on the Rotterdam which I quickly realized is very similar to the Amsterdam that we sailed on 2 years ago when we went through the Panama Canal and up to Alaska. I really like the size of these ships as they are not too small and not too big holding around 1200 guests. There is plenty to do and plenty of comfy places to hang out. One of my favorites is the Lido pool area with the retractable glass roof it can be nice a cozy warm when the sun is out and the roof is closed even when it is chilly outside. It was still pretty foggy for half the day and it was strange to be up on the 8th deck and look out the window and all you can see is white.
Photos are taking too long to load on this internet so I will add them in later. In the meantime you can check out our Instagram or Facebook page as we seem to be able to get photos posted easily there.
Our honeymoon cruise is departing out of Rotterdam, which is just a quick train ride from Amsterdam. Until recently, Rotterdam was the world’s largest port. This seaside location helped to grow the city into the largest economic center in the Netherlands at the turn of the twentieth century. Bombing ripped out the heart of the city during WWII, and instead of aiming to rebuild what was lost as many other leveled cities have done, the city council took the opportunity to create a new and better city instead. We have walked around and explored the city a bit and it does have a totally different feel than Amsterdam. Rotterdam doesn't have the canals and you can tell when they rebuilt they chose to go in a modern direction. There are lots of high rise buildings and shopping areas. Locals are all very friendly and when they ask about our travel plans and we say we are getting on a cruise they all seem very excited for us. Most have asked if they can join us. It sounds like Rotterdam doesn't get a lot of cruise ships so I am guessing that is why the locals all seem excited. When we depart Rotterdam we will have a sea day as we head towards Norway. Having a sea day first is really nice since it will give everyone a chance to get over any jet lag and relax a bit before the fun of exploring ports begins.
You have spent a lot of time planning your vacation and have been looking forward to that day when your vacation officially begins. It would be great if vacation mode could start as soon as you leave home but you first need to make it to your destination. Many times you will be flying to your vacation destination which adds a bit of possible problems. Your flight will most likely go as scheduled without any hiccups but it is good to be prepared for what to do when it doesn't. Having a great travel agent can be key. For my cruise clients I always recommend they fly in at least a day prior just in case. I do heed my own advice for my own travels as well. Yesterday I was booked to fly out of Orlando to get to my cruise that will depart out of Rotterdam. My flight was supposed to depart Orlando with a connection in Newark before arriving in Amsterdam. Due to bad weather we were delayed in Orlando and unfortunately we were already on the plane and out on the tarmac so there wasn't a lot we could do. I did have the app for the airline I was flying and was able to see they were offering me the option to change my connection flight since it was pretty sure we would not be making it to Newark in time. When looking at alternate flight options I could see there was nothing else to Amsterdam that same day so that would mean having to stay overnight somewhere in Newark and then cutting it a bit close for getting to our ship. I did know that Brussels was about the same distance and an easy train ride to Rotterdam as it was from Amsterdam so I checked for a possible flight into Brussels and we were in luck. There was a flight to Brussels that left about an hour later than our original flight to Amsterdam. At that point it seemed like we would make it for that time so I changed our flight. It did take a little longer to land and get to a gate than expected so we had a few moments where we thought we were not going to make our new flight. It would be nice if when the flight attendants made the announcement that asked people who are not trying to make a connection to please stay seated and allow those who do need to run to a gate to get off first but that didn't happen on our flight. We ran to our gate which thankfully was only 5 gates away and they were just about to shut the door! I was just so glad to be on that plane that I didn't worry to much about anything else at that time. However, when we got to bag claim and our bags never arrived I realized that while it was great that I found an option literally on the fly maybe it would have been better to not have picked a flight that didn't leave much time for us to get to the plane. Now of course the complicated part of explaining what happened and where we need our bags to be begins.
The moral of my story is that it is key to leave yourself enough time to allow for possible delays and have a plan. I tell all my clients that they can call or text me anytime so I would hope that if any of them were in the situation I was in they would know they can contact me for help. I also always pack a carry on that has at least a few key things like a change of underwear so that if my checked bags get lost or delayed I have something else I can wear. It is also important to stay calm and try to solve the issues but remember you are on your way to a vacation so eventually you will be relaxing and enjoying your travels.
**Update** We took the train back to the airport and were so happy to see that our bags did actually get on the next flight and were at bag claim waiting for us!**
It seems like about 15 minutes after the travel embargo to Cuba was lifted in January of 2015, I started hearing about people jetting off to this beautiful island. Soon I was seeing photos pop up everywhere in my social media feeds — those iconic streets with old cars, the gorgeous lamp-lit city squares, views of the water, images of colorful and exotic foods, the beautiful arts, dance, and music scenes, the unique architecture ranging from Baroque to Art Deco. It is truly a captivating place!
Acknowledging the existing uneasiness that some still have with this new development, I want to make sure my readers know the facts surrounding the rules themselves. If you think you might want to visit Cuba —what does it mean for you?
Restrictions are lifted for U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents only, though you can be a non-U.S. citizen and still purchase a ticket if you are physically in the U.S. at the time of purchase.
In August 2016, airlines were authorized to fly into some smaller provincial towns, and then shortly thereafter into Havana for the first time in five decades, and Cuba hopes to host over 5 million tourists in 2018 "The liberalization of travel…will make it easier for people to visit Cuba, but tourist travel is still prohibited by law," said American University professor William LeoGrande, an expert on U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America.
So, you can book a flight — provided you fit into one of the 12 designated travel categories set by the Federal Government. These are:
These designations are quite wide-ranging, and certainly there would be rich opportunities to see many of the wonderful things Cuba has to offer visitors under any one of these categories.
In the end, if Cuba is on your bucket list, now is a great time to explore the possibility of visiting. When you work with me, I can help you navigate any paperwork needed to self-certify that your trip falls under one of these 12 categories. I can work with airlines and cruise lines. Rest assured that we as experts in the travel industry are paying close attention to new trends and developments, and we are working closely with travel representatives in Cuba to ensure the best possible travel experiences.
If you’d like more info, have questions, or are interested in planning a trip to Cuba, I’d love to hear from you!