Longtime Cruise Specialists Voyage Hosts, Wendy and Steve Bodenheimer recently hosted 67 guests on a Distinctive Voyage aboard Holland America’s newest ship, Rotterdam in Northern Europe cruising roundtrip from Amsterdam to Eidfjord, Skjolden, Åndalsnes, Honningsvåg, Bergen and Sandnes in Norway and to Lerwick, Shetland Islands, United Kingdom.
Wendy and Steve Bodenheimer are travel enthusiasts with years of experience traveling aboard ships and exploring the world’s ports. They create a warm atmosphere on board, escort shore excursions, host onboard events and are always available to assist guests onboard should any issue or concern arise. Here are just some of the highlights they shared with us from this incredible voyage.
After welcoming our guests on the beautiful Rotterdam, we invited them to join us for a private Welcome Reception in the Crow’s Nest, located at the very top of the ship. Everyone enjoyed complimentary drinks and elegant snacks while engaging in friendly conversation to get to know one another. There was also plenty of excited chatter about the ship and the interesting ports on this itinerary.
Sightseeing near Eidfjord
The next day we entered the Hardangerfjord, cruising to beautiful Eidfjord. We have visited Eidfjord many times and opted to rent a car to do some sightseeing. We started by driving to Dyranut. It is situated at the highest point along RV 7, the national tourist road, to enjoy the panoramic view over the highest mountain plateau in Northern Europe. We then drove back to Sysendammen, one of Norway’s largest stone fill dams. We walked across the top of the dam to catch a glimpse of the water being released at the spillway. We caught a better look at the scope of this huge dam from the highway. It is 1,160 meters long and has almost 4 million meters of stone and fill material. It is a remarkable site to see with the mountains creating a stunning backdrop.
After a few scenic stops further along RV 7, we headed to Hardanger Bridge. Rotterdam passed under it on our stop here, so this was our chance to see it from another angle. It is Norway’s longest suspension bridge with space for walkers and bikers. It is quite beautiful and the tunnels on both sides that lead to the bridge are wondrous. Where have you ever seen a roundabout inside a tunnel through a mountain!
New Port: Skjolden
Skjolden is a small scenic village at the end of the longest navigable fjord in the world. Sognefjorden extends more than 120 miles inland. Here the fjord meets the glaciers and Norway’s highest mountains. Stunning high peaks surround the pretty glacial green waters. Snow is still visible on most of the mountain tops. Tiny groups of houses and small farms line the fjord where there seems to be no road.
We docked at a modern and spacious cruise pier with a bit of a walk into the village. There is a hotel, a grocery store, a few cafes and bars, a small beach, a marina, camping facilities and a community center to see once you reach the village. Visitors can leisurely stroll around this village and take it all in within just a couple of short hours. Excursion options included visiting the Jostedal Glacier National Park, driving through the Jotunheimen Mountains, or walking with llamas at the local llama farm.
New Port: Åndalsnes
We hadn’t even heard of this destination before seeing it on this itinerary. Any new port is a great port for us, so we happily anticipated our arrival.
Is there a descriptive word beyond spectacular? The peaks here are gorgeous, still snow covered in July and the highest we have seen. They rise over this wonderful little town and provide some of its most important tourist attractions.
The Romsdalen Gondola is right on the pier in front of the ship and offers a scenic ride to the top of the very steep peak that looks down on the town. There is also a popular path for hikers to walk up. One of the guests in our group took the hiking path. He is a very experienced climber and said it was challenging even for him. There is a restaurant on top offering amazing views. The Visitor Center, also right on the pier, is a huge modern building in the shape of a whale (we think). A modern train station is just steps away. Hiking and climbing are very popular here as are the scenic train and bus rides through the mountains. One can take the unnerving Troll Road excursion with its dozen hairpin turns from here!
After walking the small downtown, we headed further out of town, into the residential neighborhoods, where we found a delightful path along the fjord – totally dominated by the steep, snow-covered peaks. Just an amazing landscape, we really enjoyed the scenery.
Trondheim City Sightseeing
Trondheim is the third largest city in Norway and is known as the Norwegian capital of knowledge. The city is an interesting mix of old and new with a distinctly young vibe, created by the presence of the many students from the large NTNU Technology University. It is very easy to navigate with lots of pedestrian only areas, making it a walking-friendly location.
We enjoyed a Distinctive Voyages Shore Event, “Trondheim City Sightseeing.” 57 of our 67 guests joined us in two comfortable buses as we toured the city and made several interesting stops. An inside visit to the Nidaros Cathedral was special for everyone. Dating originally back to the 12th Century, it is known for its ornate Gothic décor and amazing stained-glass windows. A short photo stop on the way to our next tour stop gave us a dramatic view over the city. Then it was on to the Sverresborg Trøndelag Open Air Museum. Authentic period buildings from around Norway have been re-assembled here. In addition to fun stops like the old dentist office, milliner’s shop, and apothecary, one of the few remaining stave churches was a highlight. The terrain is hilly at the museum, so we were all ready to sit down for coffee and delicious cinnamon rolls before continuing our sightseeing through the city.
Our guests seemed to enjoy the tour- a good mix of sights and not overly long!
After our tour, there was time to walk around the city. We found ourselves back at the Nidaros Cathedral, this time having a chance to walk around the spacious and well-manicured grounds. We then walked the historic harbor, up one side and down the other, where the old wharf buildings have been preserved and refurbished into businesses and residences. Although big cities are not usually our favorite places, this one is a keeper.
Honningsvåg in Northern Norway
Surprisingly, for such a small town, Honningsvåg is a major port in Northern Norway and the largest cruise port. It can accommodate 4 large cruise ships close to the town center and we hear they get about 100 ships in a season!
As we approached Honningsvåg, you couldn’t help but notice the big mountain sitting right behind the town. And if you looked closely, you could see a path that went all the way to the top. We couldn’t tell if it was stairs or smooth gravel, but it was very steep in places.
The town of just over 2,000 residents is dominated by the fishing industry, with a whole fleet lined up in the harbor. We enjoyed a stroll along a walking path that took us out of town a little over a mile along the coast, then back through town and out the other end of the main road.
The big attraction for cruisers is an excursion to the North Cape or Nordkapp, located about 30 miles north. It is the furthest point of land on the European mainland with a giant globe to mark the special nature of the spot.
Lerwick, capital of the Shetland Islands
By 8:30 am on day 11, we were on shore in Lerwick, Shetland’s only town, and started our drive north. It was a pleasant drive through the countryside, with the most noticeable features being the complete lack of trees; goats everywhere; the occasional Shetland pony; and the extensive fields where they still dig up peat to use as winter heating fuel.
The highlight of the tour was our visit to the Eshaness Lighthouse and the remarkable geological formations that are found in that area. As a result of volcanic activity and erosion, there are spectacular cliffs, sea stacks, natural arches, and caves.
Rain greeted us and was expected to last the day. So, we suited up and were so glad we ventured out. Sandnes turned out to be a gem of a small city. Lots of building is going on so it seems to be growing. The Sentrum, or city center, has a beautiful plaza full of flowers, a modern City Hall, sports facilities, an easily accessible train station, cafes, restaurants and shops, sculptures galore and the longest pedestrian only shopping street in Norway. It’s all super clean, modern, inviting, and felt quite upscale.
We wandered into a great park with a theme about the universe with educational materials about the planets scattered throughout. Playgrounds, workout stations, picnic areas and wide comfortable paths made it an excellent place to spend some time. A big surprise to us was that families come to the park and the playgrounds in the rain. Everyone, including the toddlers, was all suited-up head-to-toe in rain gear and didn’t seem to mind the rain at all. The city is walker and biker friendly – in large part flat as well. It made a terrific final stop for our Distinctive Voyage.
We enjoyed the time we spent with our Distinctive Voyage guests, our time on Rotterdam and touring Norway and Lerwick. Two weeks is not enough time to get to know people as well as we do on Grand Voyages, but we think our guests enjoyed our company and we enjoyed theirs as well.