Located off the coast of Kristiansund, the island of Grip is expected to become popular with cruise guests in future
The first day of Norway Day comprised a series of presentations reminding delegates of the remarkable natural and cultural adventures that can be found in one of Europe’s favourite destinations. Speakers also provided some insights into the country’s time frames and conditions associated with restarting cruise operations. The second day gave European cruise executives and selected media representatives the opportunity to attend virtual one-to-one meetings with Norwegian port and destination leaders. Day three (on 11 May) will repeat day two for US-based cruise executives and press.
The Norwegian Government’s imposed suspension of international cruise calls, which was reassessed on 1 May 2021, is expected to effectively cancel the summer cruise season with restrictions likely to remain in place until September. However, Norway Day participants appeared confident that 2021 might be somewhat saved by a strong winter season, a period which had dramatically risen in popularity in the years preceding the onset of the pandemic.
Despite an absence of ships, Norwegian ports and destinations have been busy during the pause with both infrastructure and shore excursion improvement projects continuing unabated.
The views on arrival in Arendal by cruise ship have been significantly enhanced with the completion of major building works. The newly refurbished inner quay complex going into Pollen looks more inviting and restores the picturesque pause that I remember fondly during a walking tour of the city.
Recent dredging work at the Port of Mo i Rana, home to The Man from the Sea (a granite stone sculpture by the English artist Antony Gormley), has increased its accessible draught to 10 metres. While there is a 2,000-passenger limit guideline in place, exceptions may still be negotiable after Saga Cruises was given approval to dock last year with 2,700 passengers. Sadly, the pandemic caused this visit to be cancelled.
Like everywhere else in Norway, there is an abundance of activities to entertain, educate and otherwise stimulate visiting passengers. The most popular activities in the vicinity are mostly outdoors, perhaps led by the hike to discover Marmorslottet, a naturally formed marble castle.
Dredging has also been underway in Bodø and when completed later this year will provide a minimum draft of 9.5 metres along the quay and within the 450-metre turning basin. The Port of Bodø can accommodate up to three cruise ships (four including the pier reserved for Hurtigruten) and offers shore power for smaller vessels through an NG3 connection.
In 2019, Bodø was awarded the privilege of becoming the European Capital of Culture for 2024, deserved recognition for the municipality’s openly rich heritage. Visit Bodø is currently working on building a selection of cultural concepts to help celebrate this achievement, including some special events in partnership with the striking waterside concert hall. Before then, a new collection of shore excursions is being curated for the forthcoming winter season.
Restrictions on access to the Unesco World Heritage fjords continue to tighten but for now access to Hardangerfjord is more straightforward. Fortunately too, given that the appeal of a cruise to Eidfjord has taken another big leap with the opening of the spectacular floating bridge over Vøringsfossen, the region’s most dramatic waterfall. Unrivalled views of the thunderous cascading water reward intrepid passengers who are willing to brave the 99 steps that connect the valley.
A more sedentary heart rate can be restored through exercising the mind and senses during a visit to the new Ravenheart Hardanger, a fully immersive Viking experience just a short stroll from the port.
It’s never crowded in Kristiansund but the growing allure of Grip, a highly rated island attraction, might be enough to provoke a small wave of new cruise calls. A roundtrip boat excursion from Kristiansund takes 3.5 hours, including 1.5 hours to explore the island. The port and city authorities have taken an active role in readiness initiatives to protect the health and safety of visiting passengers when cruising returns to the country.
Meanwhile in Bergen, Ulriken643 has almost finished upgrading the cable car and extending the mountain top restaurant, and Bymuseet i Bergen is looking forward to welcoming a tenth museum into the group.
At 634 metres, Ulriken is the highest of the seven peaks that surround Bergen. From mid-August, the refurbished cable car will take 50 passengers to the summit in less than five minutes. Once at the peak, cruise visitors will be able to head to the restaurant facility, which has been doubled in size and now boasts seating for 200 people in the main dining area and a private room available to hire that can accommodate 50 people. Ulriken643 has also updated the maps and the walking route to enhance the mountain top experience.
Bergen is blessed with a rich selection of museums and other cultural attractions. Nine of the city’s most popular museums are managed by Bymuseet, soon to be 10 with the opening of the Fire Museum later this year. The facilities offer a diverse perspective of Bergen through the ages – from the macabre of The Leprosy Museum to the magic of Bryggens Museum. But my personal favourite is Old Bergen Museum, offering ‘a breath of nostalgia’ as you wander around what was once Europe’s largest wooden city.
Norway Day also highlighted the emergence of Egersund as a new cruise destination, situated about 75 kilometres south of Stavanger, adding further variety to future Norwegian cruise itineraries. With a 200-metre pier in the town centre, Egersund is best suited for small ships carrying up to 600 passengers.
Boasting colourful wooden houses and a storied lighthouse, Egersund is perhaps most notably acclaimed for its nearby wild, moon-like landscape which led to its recognition as a Unesco Global Geopark in 2015. The modestly sized town offers a host of compelling shore excursion options, including dramatic scenic tours south along the North Sea Route where you can witness huge contrasts in the landscape, and the culture that the land prompted, within a relatively short distance. More active passengers might prefer one of the many hiking trails that lead to dramatic photographic moments, including the somewhat amusingly named Trollpikken.
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