Cruising around the fjords of Norway aboard Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth is a wonderful way to explore the country.
Waterfalls plunge down towering crystalline rock walls; wispy clouds shroud the soaring peaks; glaciers glisten beside blankets of lush emerald forests that stretch down to the shimmering grey-green water.
The fjords of Norway
Norway’s fjords are a glacier-carved wonder of nature that has survived the Ice Ages. Two of the country’s fjords – Geirangerfjord and Naeroyfjord – are on the World Heritage list.
The fjords are serene and beautiful, with steep-sided walls soaring towards the heavens.
The top of the mountains are 1400m above sea level while the bottom of the fjords are 500m deep.
They are so deep that a huge ocean liner like the Queen Elizabeth can cruise close enough to the coastline for its passengers to admire the fjord up close.
Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth
I board the Queen Elizabeth in Bergen and for the next nine days, we cruise up and down the Norwegian coastline, first to Geiranger then across the North Sea into the Arctic Circle.
From Honningsvaag, which is Norway’s northernmost city, we head back down south docking at Tromso, Olden and Stavanger.
Every port is a visual feast. There are glaciers, fjords, waterfalls, mountains, peaceful farms and tundra plains.
The towns and cities are picture-book pretty, with markets, churches, museums and colourful timber buildings that house craft and jewellery shops.
There is a choice of excursions in every port but in some, like Bergen and Tromso, where many of the sights are within walking distance, it’s more enjoyable to wander around on your own.
Bergen and beyond
Bergen’s historic Bryggen precinct is picture-book pretty at street level but the view from the top of Mount Floyen is jaw-dropping.
In small ports, such as Geiranger, Olden and Honningsvag, joining a half-day or full-day excursion is essential as the most stunning scenery is a fair distance away and needs to be accessed by bus or ferry.
At Geiranger, I join the Fjords & Mountains shore excursion. The bus twists and turns up narrow roads and hairpin bends to Mt Dalsnibba.
We stop at Flydalsjuvet where cameras snap furiously at the picture book views of the ship anchored in the fjord and surrounded by mountains.
Then we board a ferry at Hellesylt and cruise back to Geiranger past snow-covered peaks, timber cottages and a myriad gushing waterfalls.
I expect to be impressed by Norway’s scenery but it takes me by surprise that Norway’s majestic scenery is pushed to the background by the grandeur of the Queen Elizabeth.
As soon as I step aboard, I feel like I’ve tumbled through a looking glass into a fantasy world of ballrooms and big band music, sweeping staircases and cigar lounges where women strut around in fabulous ball gowns and men look dashing in their tuxedos.
There’s croquet, lawn bowls and daily afternoon teas served by white-gloved waiters carrying trays of cucumber sandwiches and scones.
It is a floating world of marble, polished brass, wood and glittering chandeliers that sweeps me off my feet.
French champagne and flowers
There’s a bottle of French champagne, a bouquet of flowers and a basket of fruit waiting in my britannia balcony stateroom, which is luxurious but compact (perhaps a touch small).
It has the furnishings and amenities of a five-star hotel room and the room is well designed with plenty of wardrobe and storage space.
There is an en-suite bathroom, a small sofa and lounge table, flat-screen television, minibar and writing desk.
A good-sized balcony with two chairs and a table is a handy spot to sit and watch the scenery float by.
There are high-quality toiletries, bathrobes, slippers and an attentive steward to make the bed, change the towels and keep the stateroom looking spick and span.
Remy, my steward, greets me cheerfully by name every morning and replenishes my fruit bowl, picks up my dry-cleaning and ensures that my gowns are pressed and hung in my wardrobe.
Yes, a dress-code applies from 6pm each night and most people make the effort to adhere to it.
Like most guests, I’ve arrived with an extra suitcase packed with ball gowns and cocktail dresses for the three semi-formal and two formal nights.
On semi-formal evenings, its cocktail dress for women and jacket and tie for men while on formal evenings, men are required to wear tuxedos and ladies go all out to show off their best gowns.
All dolled up, I feel like I’m an extra in a 1920’s movie, clinking champagne glasses in the chandeliered Queen’s Ballroom as the dancers twirl around the floor.
After dinner, the three-deck 832-seat Royal Court Theatre gets a good workout with shows ranging from a double bill of scenes from Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple to West End-style musicals and dance extravaganzas.
The daily onboard programme is overwhelming. From 6am, the programme is packed with classes, competitions and social gatherings covering a range of subjects as diverse as bridge and paddle tennis, whiskey tasting and bingo.
There’s a book shop, casino, card room, a well-stocked library with 6000 books and a shopping arcade with well-priced clothes, souvenirs and jewellery.
Most nights, I dine with the majority of guests in the formal Britannia Restaurant but Guests in Britannia Club and Grill staterooms have separate dining rooms that are more intimate.
Alternative dining choices, available to everyone, include the fine-dining Verandah Restaurant and the cafeteria-style Lido Restaurant, which is on deck nine and has the best views.
As we dine and wine, Norway fills the ship’s picture-glass windows with a panoramic slideshow of its best scenery.
The ship is a spectacle in every port. At 294 metres long and the equivalent of 21 storeys high, the Queen Elizabeth is a floating city that dwarfs the low-rise timber buildings in every port.
In some places, it’s almost seems as if a space ship has landed.
With 2,068 passengers and 996 crew, the number of people on board is almost ten times the population of Geiranger, which has 300 people, and three times the population of Olden, a community of 1000 farmers and fruit growers.
Even in the bigger cities like Stavanger, which is wealthy from the discovery of North Sea oil, the ship is still a sight to behold. Locals rush out of their homes to wave, gawk and take photographs.
Stavanger’s whitewashed wooden houses, medieval cathedral and historic harbour wraps itself around the ship like an IMAX theatre on steroids.
On the starboard side, the view of Stavanger’s historic Straen reveals cobblestone streets, old-fashioned lamp posts and Europe’s largest collection of 18th-century wooden buildings filled with workshops, craft shops and homes.
Cats are small dots sleeping in the sun and people are tiny figures working in their flower gardens.
I peek at this storybook scene through big glass windows, feeling a lot like Alice in Wonderland.