Jun 2019 - NCL Pearl - Northern European Tour - Part 1 Departing Amsterdam

Every now and again you browse the NCL website and wonder why on earth you didn't spot this itinerary before; how could we have missed it and at such a bargain "sail away price". It could have something to do with the terrible design of the website or it could be that some of the reposition/one off cruises don't get released to the UK/EU markets at the same time as the US.

Ever since we sailed on the Favolosa from Copenhagen (click here to see) we have always looked for any excuse to return to Norway and see more. Geiranger has always been a must see so when this cruise on the Pearl suddenly caught our attention it was an absolute must.

One slight headache was the fact we booked this as a 'sail away' price whilst  NCL were offering the old "all inclusive "offer; they then changed this completely the following week. To summarise, same base price but now drinks are included and five premium dining choices for £99pp + grats, but way cheaper!

Day 1 Fly to Amsterdam

We flew Flybe airline early on the morning of the cruise from Manchester. Its a short hop across (1hr) and on a normal day should give you the easy option of jumping on the train to Amsterdam Central and walking to the Cruise Terminal. A full on storm meant we had to sit on the tarmac at Manchester for about an hour waiting for a slot as Schipol had become backed up  with traffic due to the weather.

On landing in Amsterdam the same storm had decided to deluge the entire city in a months worth of rain so we took a taxi (A gullwing model X Tesla no less). Embarkation is smooth and the storm we are reliably informed has passed (though not the gusty winds)

We take lunch onboard - unpack - meet the cabin steward (the excellent Haj) - complete the muster - explore the ship (its basically the same as the NCL Jade (Jewel Class) which we have traveled on twice before. Before you know it, its time to head on to the promenade deck and watch the sailway..... Or maybe not... We can tell watching the tug boat that there area few issues with the wind and its not long before Captain Paul is on the PA telling us its a bit too windy for the ship to tackle the tight canal and locks back out to the North Sea and we will try again at 7pm.

By 7pm we are in the MDR enjoying a lovely dinner washed down with a few glasses of Malbec when we have a further announcement to tell us we will be leaving at 2am. Having been up since about 5am I think we'll give this sailaway a miss. In fact we are fast asleep by 10pm.

Day 2 Sea Day Amsterdam - Newhaven, Edinburgh UK

Captain Paul has told us this morning that despite the late departure nothing will be affected as we have a sea day for the first day and there is ample time to catch up. Who knew a storm passed through yesterday as the North Sea this morning is like a mill pond with bright blue sky to match.

It's a usual relaxing sea day. Lunch, wine, cocktails and a nap in the afternoon and a good book (Peter Swanson). Tonight we eat at Cagneys on deck 13.

Oysters Rockefeller for myself and Lobster Bisque for Jack followed by rack of Lamb and the Veal cutlet.

Everything is superb ( I would like to say as usual but I do find Cagneys can vary in quality from ship to ship)

Jun 2019 - NCL Pearl - Northern European Tour - Part 2 - Edinburgh - Glamis Castle - St Andrews

Day 3 - Newhaven (Edinburgh)

We are tendering at Newhaven so the NCL Pearl does its transformer routine to create the dock which can be accessed from deck 4. Its a sunny morning and we have breakfast in the MDR - smoked salmon eggs Benedict - to start the day with a wee taste of Scotland.

We are holding position quite some distance from the port (20mins or so) but luckily we dont have to rely on just our lifeboats for tender. Two passenger ferries have also come alongside to help shuttle the passengers to shore.

We have previously visited Edinburgh so have a private tour that will take us to Glamis Castle (pronounced Glarms - because us Brits like to do that with the English language - Belvoir Castle anyone?). Glamis was a home of the Queen Mother, the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth and birthplace of Princess Margaret. Its about an hours drive north of Edinburgh.

Its a beautiful and architecturally Scottish/French looking building and is still the private home of the 19th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne Simon Bowes-Lyon.

Guided tours take place on the hour so we have a little time to explore the gardens first. Once inside for the tour there is strictly no photography. Definitely worth a visit, a great guided tour through  several rooms.

After a coffee in the cafe we set off towards St Andrews on the coast road stopping off at Easthaven for a walk on the beach where Princesses Elizabeth & Margaret used to play as children, then onwards to Broughty Castle a 15th C keep on the banks of the river Tay.

A short drive brings us down to St Andrews, the university town where Will met Kate - you can even visit the cafe they first met (allegedly). Most foreign tourists  are taking advantage of the exchange rates and buying golf clubs from the plethora of shops dedicated to the sport.

At the end of the main street stand the 12th C ruins of St Andrews Cathedral.

A fleet of lifeboats await us at Newhaven for the trip back across the Forth which has now decided to get rather choppy. An officer in whites from the engineering team has decided he wants an afternoon driving the lifeboat. He spends most of the time bobbing back in and out from the top hatch as  wave after  wave crashes over the bow of the lifeboat. Do they have lifeboats for the lifeboats I find myself thinking.

Jun 2019 - NCL Pearl - Northern European Tour - Part 3 - Invergordon, UK - Haugesund, Norway - Flam, Norway.

Day 4 Invergordon, UK, Day 5 Haugesund, Norway & Day 6 Flam, Norway.

A lovely meal in the MDR last night and another excellent breakfast finds us gliding smoothly up the Moray Firth into the Cromarty Firth to dock at Invergordon. Firths and Forths are slightly confusing as they mean different things depending on the use of the word. For instance Firth is estuary and Forth means a place (which could be an estuary). Just to muddle it up even more you have a river called Forth that runs into a Firth. Aaarrgghh.

We booked a scenic tour via WOW Tours which must be authentic because all the drivers wear kilts.
Our first stop is the partly ruined, Beauly Priory - a sturdy red sandstone church, built around 1230AD by a little known order of French monks. It's rather oddly famous now as it is a location used in the Amazon series "Outlander".

Our driver takes us to higher ground for a view of the Cairngorm mountain range to the south.Wow indeed!

We had been to Inverness before (from Lancashire via London but that's another story click here). We spend an hour here which is quite a decent time to at least explore the cathedral (we missed last time) and do a little shopping. I now have a Harris Tweed wallet!

We had visited Loch Ness before from Urquhart Castle on the north side, but this is the south side which looks totally different (I think).

Next we are taken to the Clava Cairns. A group of bronze age circular chamber tomb cairns, surrounded by standing stones that have stood so long its estimated that at least another third of the stone must reach underground. They are a bit of a mystery for despite their size only one or two  human remains have ever been found inside - totally at odds with normal Neolithic practice.

But enough with fact; more importantly its also another major site that has a connection to Outlander  and even I know from episode one its where the posh lady falls through the stone, goes back in time and presumably meets someone less boring than her husband.

Jack gave it a try (as did practically everyone else) - but I'm still hereApparently these are the exact stones that are described and used in the original books but apparently when the location crew turned up they decided they weren't pretty enough so they filmed some plastic ones near Perthshire.

Next stop is Culloden battlefield where the Jacobites faced the final battle. The Jacobites wanted to reinstate the House of Stuarts as Great Britain's monarch rather than the Hanover House which we still have to day. Here the Stuarts were defeated  and it was the last battle ever fought on British soil.

We leave Invergordon at 4pm, piped off by a local band who we salute with a glass of malt whisky. Bistro for dinner tonight so we head to the Magnums to enjoy live piano music with Campari & sodas.

Day 5 Haugesund, Norway

A relaxing morning as we arrive into Haugesund, Norway at 11.00am. A shuttle is available to take you into the town centre but its a pleasurable walk  if you want some fresh air. A nice little town and one in which we have decided  to have a day off from traveling and just relax in the town.

Its a pretty town with a cute little museum devoted to life around this area - notable for its shipbuilding, fishing and rural life and those Vikings in general.

Haugesund is very proud of its ship building complex (blue building), there's even a scale model in the museum and it was quite odd this morning as we walked past it to see all the parts of a huge ship laid out like some Airfix kit in the yard - it dominates the town (its taller than the ship) but in some ways it seems to just fit and not spoil the look of the town.

The large brick church of Var Freslers sits in the centre of the town - red brick and in some ways quite austere. Its an important building to remember though because this is where the free shuttle drops and picks you up.

Built in 1901 its a quite domineering structure with  its arrow straight spire and redbrick exterior but is worth visiting for its very Norwegian mix of simplicity and complexity in the ceilings hints of maritime architecture.

Haugesund has been a great place to relax - this is quite an intense cruise with 10 ports & 3 sea days.  Tomorrow we will be in Flam.

Day 6  Flam, Norway

Next morning we sail down the Sogne-fjorden and dock in Flam. We were in Flam last year on a Norway/Danish cruise (you can click here for details) - that time we rode the iconic Flam railway and if you have never been before it is an absolute must. This time we are the only ship in port, so were able to dock at the pier right in the centre of town.  If there are multiple cruise ships during your visit to Flåm, you may need to tender.

From the bow of the ship halfway up the mountainous valley side can be glimpsed the Brekkefossen waterfall. From the Tourist Office/Railway Station you can tear off a hiking map with several routes laid out including the climb up to this falls.

It is quite a climb up and can get muddy the higher you go - the views though are worth the journey. Allow yourself an hour to complete the circular route  or an hour and a half if you intend to do the climb up to the falls.

 Back in the tiny town we explore the little railway museum and the cake and pastry shops.

The sail out of Flam this evening is every bit as exciting and magnificent as we remember. There are times when the  sheer cliffs of granite tower above the ship; the perspective making it appear the fjord walls are within touching distance of the sides. 

That evening we have dinner on the top floor seated against the floor to ceiling windows just watching life in the fjords go by.

There is something amazing about being on an ocean cruise liner but sailing in such close proximity to land.

The fjords are a constant hive of activity as ferries are the most accessible means of transport to reach some of the more isolated towns. Passing the town of Unredal, we have a long way west still to go tonight until we reach the open sea again to head north along the Norwegian coast to the UNESCO fjords areas of Hellesylt and Geiranger.

Click here for part 4