Travel: Fantastic Fjords and Luxury Travel; Mike Smith Discovered the Best Way to Enjoy Norway's Spectacular Coastline Was by a Very Special Ship
Byline: Mike Smith
THERE is really only one way to enjoy the natural splendours of Norway. And that is by boat.
But you have to be careful which one you choose.
If the vessel is too large you cannot get in to some of the more picturesque fjords; if too small the luxuries disappear.
For some, a cruise ship is just a convenient floating hotel while for seemingly ever-growing numbers of others it is part of the holiday itself - if not the main attraction.
While the 1,400 passenger Balmoral is the largest cruise ship in the Fred Olsen line at 44,000 tonnes, it is just about small enough to fit into many of the waterways around the Norwegian coastline.
So much so that our captain became particularly excited one day as he carefully manoeuvred his vessel through a narrowing and told us we had experienced a little bit of maritime history being on the largest ship to have entered that particular fjord.
Yes, indeed a handsome ship that holds a secret. Well, not much of a secret as you can watch a video of the former Crown Odyssey being "stretched" and refurbished in 2007. It was actually cut in half and an extra section added and then all "glued" back together.
A week's cruise is just about the right length, unless you are heading for sunny climes and want to spend time lounging in the sun by the ship's pools.
The day's sailing across the North Sea gave us time to get to know the ship and indulge in a frenzy of organised activities before waking up to find ourselves off the coast of Norway.
Our stopping off points included the beautiful and very manageable city of Bergen, which can either be the start of one of many excursions offered during the cruise or a handsome and interesting day's exploring in its own right.
As it is by far the largest town you will visit compared to the much tinier ports or just landing jetties at Olden, Flam and Eidfjord, make the most of its landmarks, shops and markets.
A wide variety of excursions are offered, some very reasonable, some reasonably expensive, ranging from a tour of Bergen to a great day out, including a scenic train journey, traditional lunch and a mesmerising coach journey along and across fjords.
If it is fjord scenery and life on ship you enjoy you could forgo all excursions.
I had not quite realised just how vast some of the fjords actually are - and that even a ship the size of The Balmoral can sail for hours past mile after mile of exquisite scenery. Such is the splendour of the scenery as the vessel passes tiny fishing villages, fearsome craggy passes and perfectly still calm waters creating picture postcard reflections. …