FJORD Transit; Scandinavia and the Baltics Are, Says Caroline Hendrie,the Cool Cruise Destinations for Next Summer

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Byline: CAROLINE HENDRIE

Endless days, spectacular views, picturesque ports of call and fascinating history - Scandinavia and the Baltics are perfect for a summer cruise.

So it is little wonder that Philip Price, head of brand marketing at P&O Cruises, has observed an increase in interest in cruises that take in Norway among younger holidaymakers.

'The fjords have traditionally appealed to older passengers but we've seen a significant change in passenger profile over the past couple of years,' he says. 'Many more families and couples in their late 30s and 40s have now discovered this area of outstanding beauty.

'The list of attractions on a Baltic cruise is like a magical mystery tour, with St Petersburg the biggest "wow" of all.' And when you set off from a UK port, there's time to unwind and none of the stress of crowded airports before your holiday has begun.

Here's our selection of some of the best Northern European cruises next summer. Guide prices are per person, based on two sharing and include flights from the UK, unless otherwise stated. The box, bottom right, shows ways of getting the best deals and discounts. So, why not try these cool destinations?

P&O's five ships will visit more than 30 northern ports in 2006. Choose from the dramatic scenery of Arctic Norway or Iceland, the fjords or the Baltic capitals, on a score of itineraries leaving Southampton.

For example, the two-week Northern Explorer itinerary, setting off on July 16 on childfree Arcadia, visits the exciting cities of Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tallinn, St Petersburg and Helsinki, with prices from [pounds sterling]1,739.

Or there is the 12-night Arctic Adventure on family-friendly Aurora, departing on May 26 to explore Norway's fjords, from [pounds sterling]1,079.

. 0845 355 5333, www.pocruises.co.uk Norwegian Coastal Voyage, which is Norwegian through and through, has ships departing every day to meander along the dramatic coast from Bergen to the Arctic Circle. New for 2006 are themed cruises such as Return of the Puffins, visiting seabird colonies and accompanied by expert lecturers.

Legend has it that Atlantic puffins return, in their thousands, to their colony at Gjesvaer at 5.45pm on April 14 every year - and you could be there.

The seven-night trip, departing on April 9, includes cruise and stays in Honningsv...g and Oslo, from [pounds sterling]1,640.

. 020 8846 2666, www.norwegiancoastalvoyage.com An elegant, intimate, nine-day cruise from Bod[degrees] to Esbjerg aboard the 80-passenger Hebridean Spirit and enticingly titled Norway, Land of Dreams, departs on June 27.

The cost, which includes house wines and spirits, shore excursions and gratuities, but not flights, is from [pounds sterling]3,444.

. 01756 704704, www.hebridean.co.uk You can enjoy American-style cruising, with extensive children's facilities, from the home port of Harwich aboard Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas. The 12- night Scandinavia and Russia itinerary, departing on May 14 and 26, with five more dates from June to August, includes four fun days at sea, plus calls at Oslo, Copenhagen, Helsinki, St Petersburg and Tallinn, from [pounds sterling]1,169.

. 0845 165 1010, www.royalcaribbean.co.uk A new 12-night Baltic cruise on Norwegian Dream sails from Dover, with departures from May to September.

Norwegian Cruise Line offers the American-style informality of ' freestyle cruising', which means no set meal times and a wide variety of restaurants to choose from.

. 0845 658 8010, www.uk.ncl.com The biggest cruise ship in the Baltic Sea in 2006 will be 2,600-passenger Star Princess. Her Baltic Jewels cruise, a ten-night round trip from Copenhagen, departs on May 15, from [pounds sterling]1,099.

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