Category: 09 – Cruise 11 – Chasing the Northern Lights

Our 11th Cruise, chasing the Northern Lights to the top of Norway

Northern Lights Chase

And so we’re off again, this time headed into the Arctic Circle ‘chasing the Northern Lights’ on the Island Princess via Norway. Because we have a few days at sea to start the voyage, what follows is a collection of random observations and tips…

It is worth noting that because Linda is currently using a mobility scooter, this trip will be quite different to those in the past.

  • Holiday Inn Express Southampton M27 is still comfortable and relatively good value for parking.
  • The taxi driver tried to charge me £22.80 for our pre-paid transfer to the Mayflower Cruise Terminal. Not cool.
  • Using the assisted boarding process was seamless, fast and hassle-free – except for security which was still a complete nightmare. Highly recommended.
  • Our suitcases did not arrive at our cabin stateroom until a few hours after we left port.
  • Our cabin stateroom on Aloha deck 12 is perfectly pleasant although there seems to be slightly fewer drawers and shelves. I prefer PR712.
  • The deck overhang means that we may struggle to see the Northern Lights from our balcony.
  • It is possible to perform a 5-point turn on a scooter in the lifts – so long as the elevator is empty!
  • The power points in the cabin stateroom have been engineered in such a way that you can only use one of the two supplied on the desk. There are two additional sockets under the bed, but you will have to unplug your bedside lamp if you want to use them.

This will be our third trip into the Arctic Circle this year, our first on a dedicated chase for the Northern Lights. And it looks like there might be some snow on the way!

Stavanger off, man down

Today is notable for two reasons. First, our stop in Stavanger has been cancelled due to bad weather. A large low pressure system has developed over the Norwegian Sea and we need to outrun it if we are to get above the Arctic Circle. The captain has advised that if we dock in Stavanger, the Island Princess may not get out again.

So, the itinerary has changed slightly. We’re steaming north quickly for an extra day. We’ll be docking in Trondheim on Saturday instead.

The second incident of note is that Linda ran me over with her mobility scooter for the first time. I was holding a door open for her when the scooter lurched sideways on the lintel – and straight onto my foot. Unfortunately she was laughing so hard, she couldn’t free me immediately. *

* CORRECTION: Linda didn’t free me. I had to do it myself. Which she found even funnier.

Top tip: Always stand BEHIND a mobility scooter when holding a door open. Or get crushed. Your choice.

In fact, Linda is still laughing uncontrollably about this incident several hours later <shrug>.

Take it easy in Trondheim. Ish.

After a fairly rough night, we dock in Tronheim where it is very wet and windy. And as we look at the town from our balcony, wet snow begins to fall. Sideways.

Unused to the mobility scooter, particularly in inclement weather conditions, we decide not to take a trip into Trondheim. We’re not sure what to see, so why bother getting cold and wet just to wander around a city we hadn’t intended to visit in the first place?

A view of dark grey clouds over Tromso city centre
Eventually it stopped raining – about the time we were due to leave port

Instead we set up in the Lotus pool area on the top deck of the Island Princess. It’s not particularly warm, but the main deck is swimming in rainwater. With fewer people onboard, WiFi connectivity has picked up so I am able to crank through some tech copywriting projects.

Eventually it did stop raining – about the time we were due to leave. The wind blowing up the fjord is biting and brutal – and we need a tug to pull us back from the quay. Rain clouds continue to brush the surrounding hills, dumping freezing droplets on the ship.

Sailing back towards the Norwegian Sea we pass Munkholmen which may have been interesting, particularly for dark tourists.

A picture of Munkholmen, a small island just off Tromso
Unassuming and historic, Munkholmen sits just off the Trondheim shoreline

Relatively small, Munkholmen has been many things over the years, including execution site, prison, fort and monastery. Which is pretty cool. If we ever come back this way, we’ll probably pay it a proper visit.

The storm we have been avoiding is still making itself felt as we exit the fjord. The swell has decreased a little, but the ship continues to pitch and roll throughout the night.

Just before bed, the sky clears a little and we catch our first glimpse of the Northern Lights!

Our first tiny glimpse of the Aurora Borealis
As you can see, the sea was quite rough overnight!

Next stop, Tromso…

Into the Arctic Circle

Around 5:15 this morning, we crossed the Arctic Circle. The drop in air temperature evidence that we are just 1000 miles(ish) from the North Pole.

A picture of sunrise in the Arctic Circle taken from our balcony on Island Princess
An impressive Arctic sunrise

Today is another sea day so I use it as an opportunity to catch up on some more work. Internet speeds are getting slower, suggesting that satellite coverage in the Arctic Circle is also more patchy. Watching TV on Amazon Prime Video is also getting more laggy, forcing many stops and restarts. At this rate we may have to start watching something provided on the stateroom TV…

This evening is formal night, a great excuse to get dressed up which we both enjoy. We feel that those who choose not to are actually missing out.

Probably the only time we ever see champagne bowls anymore

There’s a champagne waterfall in the plaza and a free glass of sparkling wine to start the evening, which is always welcome.

Top tip: Don’t want to buy a drinks package? Check out our complete guide How To Get Free Drinks On A Princess Cruise

After dinner I go out on deck to check if the Northern Lights are visible tonight – and they are!

There were some stunning colours visible tonight

I rush back to the cabin and Linda and I spend a few minutes in the Arctic cold admiring the natural light show before bed.

Holding the camera still during a long exposure isn’t as easy as it looks

Tomorrow we arrive in Tromso for a 14 hour(!) port stop.

Trolling in Tromso

Because of Linda’s mobility issues, we haven’t really planned a lot for our stop in Tromso. In fact we have just two items on our itinerary – a stop at the local Hard Rock Café and a quick drop-in on one of my relatives.

When visiting Tromsø, Princess ships dock at Breivika, to the north of the city. It is approximately 2.5 miles to the city centre and you have three options for getting there.

Note that there is an underpass at the port which saves the half-mile loop shown on the directions above

First, there are regular shuttle buses run by a local company. Tickets are $19.95 (USD) each and allow you to make unlimited trips to and from the city.

Second, there are local buses departing from a stop just outside the port gates – a 250 metre walk. These buses are much cheaper but may not be suitable for less-mobile travellers.

Third, you can walk into the city – which is what we chose to do. Linda rode her scooter into town and eventually I was able to pick up a hop-on hop-off electric scooter. The journey is quite hilly and, for the most part, lacking in sights. It is also extremely draining on the mobility scooter battery. Thankfully I bought a spare, because the first is almost empty by the time we arrive at the Hard Rock Café.

Visiting the Hard Rock Café in Tromso
Another one off the list – the only HRC in Norway

Linda is pleased to discover Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc on tap – it’s one of her favourite beers. I opt for a Norwegian lager which is insipid and uninspiring. A round of drinks costs over £20 GBP, so one is definitely enough. The café itself is quite small and the memorabilia collection extremely limited – but still better than the one in Amsterdam.

Afterwards we meet my relative in a nearby park.

A picture of me standing in front of Roald Amundsen's statue in Tromso
Apparently we are (very) distantly related

Facing a long walk back if the scooter battery fails, we begin the long journey back to Breivika. This means we have to skip the Troll Museum and Tromso Cathedral which is a shame. However, we do attempt (and fail) two geocaches on the trip to the ship. Thankfully we make it back on board – the scooter’s battery indicator is flashing empty.

Tromso looks like the kind of place we could have spent another day or two exploring. But we sail at 11pm, so maybe we will have to come back one day – once Linda has her hip done so we can try out the snowy mountains. Notably, Wizz Air has cheap direct flights departing from London Luton. And onwards to Gdansk if you want to make a good trip of it!

The sky is quite cloudy overnight and the Northern Lights are mostly obscured. Shame.

A picture of the Aurora Borealis over Tromso (mostly obscured by cloud)
The Aurora over Tromsø

Uninspired by Alta

This morning we arrived in the tiny town of Alta, less than 100 miles from the very top of the European mainland. The surrounding hills are dusted with snow and it is very chilly indeed.

A picture of a surreal mountain just outside Alta
An unreal-looking mountain just outside Alta

After breakfast in our cabin we do the unthinkable – we decide not to go ashore. There are a few reasons for our decision:

First, it’s a tender port and we have not yet tried getting the mobility scooter on and off one of the small boats that will ferry us to shore.

Second, it’s another long walk into town (approximately 2.5 miles) over a rather steep hill.

Third, we can’t actually find anything listed in Atlas Obscura or Tripadvisor that we want to see.

Fourth, there isn’t anything worth seeing anywhere near the tender docking area either.

Again, the local town has laid on shuttle buses into the centre of Alta, but we can’t justify $40 USD to visit nothing. There aren’t even any tours being offered by Princess Cruises that are of interest.

Also of note – we are in Alta for two days, so we can always change our minds tomorrow. There are tenders running until 3am, just in case we decide we want to go and see nothing in the middle of the night!

So instead we decide to take it easy. I have a few copywriting tasks complete and we then spend the afternoon watching TV and relaxing. To be honest, my knee needs some rest after yesterday’s yomp into Tromsø.

Top tip: The power points under the beds on Island Princess are standard Euro-style plugs. If you have any devices that require 220V power, like Linda’s Dyson Airwrap, you will need to use these plugs. The 110V US sockets on the desk do not deliver enough power.

Learn more about sockets on cruise ships in our article, The Problem With Power.

The Island Princess is anchored between the local airport and the town which is quite interesting. watching 737-sized jets taking off and landing on the runway surrounded by snow is a little different.

Later we take part in – and win – the classic rock trivia quiz. Instead of a bottle of sparkling wine, this time the prize is two Princess-branded water bottles. Quite cool, but I have no idea how we will squeeze them into our suitcases.

It is cloudy and a little misty overnight – and there is no sign of the Aurora Borealis anywhere. I check from our balcony and the main deck, but there is nothing. Not even when I look again at 3am.

The town of Alta does look quite pretty after dark though.

A picture of the town of Alta at night time
Alta after dark

It is supposed to snow tomorrow, so maybe we will go ashore at some point after all.

Alta – Part II

After another lazy breakfast in the cabin we finally decide that we really should go ashore and see Alta. Especially as we didn’t bother yesterday. It’s not every day that you’re within 100 miles of the end of the European mainland after all.

We’ve decided we will head for a local gift shop and see what it has to offer – Linda wants a pair of woollen mittens because she forgot her gloves. So it’s down to Deck 4 for security and on down to Deck 3 (which is apparently known as ‘Holiday Deck’) to board the tender. There are just 20 people on board, suggesting that everyone else did their onshore visit yesterday. The ride is quick and smooth and we have minimal problems getting the scooter on and off the small boat.

Apple Maps said that the gift shop was 1.8 miles away, but upon landing at Alta Ferry Terminal it is suddenly 2.6 miles. After navigating the rutted, gravel strewn, ice puddled environs of the terminal, we begin a long uphill trek. The main road into Alta winds round the side of the hill, a constant climb for most of its length. Great if you have a mobility scooter but quite a trek otherwise. Especially as the footpath is covered in hard packed ice and snow…

A picture of Linda riding her mobility scooter up the hill into Alta
This hill goes on and on. And on. And on…

Top tip: One of the local companies offer shuttle buses into Alta town centre at a cost of $20 USD per person. However, should you decide you want a cheaper option, and you don’t want to make the long trek on foot, there is a bus stop just outside the Europris supermarket next to the cruise terminal. Be warned that there appears to be just one bus on that route each hour, so plan accordingly.

Eventually we arrive at the shop (after being stopped briefly by a red squirrel). We then discover that it is a cook shop, not a gift shop. Great if you want to bake a cake, not so good if you want woollen mittens.

A picture of a red squirrel we spotted in Alta
Disruptive little guy

After scrolling Apple Maps for a little while, I discover a nearby fabric shop called Kilden which may have the mittens we seek. It has to be close by because the first scooter battery is already well into the ‘red zone’.

Thankfully they do have mittens, knitted by one of the ladies who works in the shop. They are not cheap, but they are very high quality – and Linda assures me they are warm too. It’s a lovely shop with loads of wool, crafting materials and souvenirs and the staff are very friendly and helpful. Linda says she could have happily spent a fortune in there.

Afterwards we cannot find anywhere for a beer, so we make the long trek back to the ship. The uphill section of the return journey isn’t as strenuous, but the long downhill section is treacherous in the ice. We also have to change scooter battery – I think it lasted about 3.5 miles today. However, travelling downhill seems to be much more energy friendly because the new battery isn’t showing any depletion by the time we get back to the ship.

I hate mushrooms

Back on board, two things happen. First, the Captain informs us that due to a lack of pilots, we won’t be leaving Alta until 4am. Apparently this will have no effect on arrival at Gravdal on Friday.

Second, it starts snowing. Sideways. This is awesome – and the crew who have never seen snow all rush out on deck to snap selfies, which is fantastic.

Gravelly Gravdal

Our penultimate stop on our Northern Lights chase is Gravdal, a small town in the Lofoten Islands. It’s another beautiful area, with snow capped mountains rising out of the sea on all sides of the ship.

A picture of Gravdal and the Lofoten Islands taken at sunrise
A pink sunrise tinges the top of the Lofoten mountains

However, the landscape is the biggest draw here, meaning that hiking and climbing are the main activities on offer. Not so good when travelling with a scooter.

Regardless, we head ashore on the mostly-empty tender for the short ride to the dock. As always, a collection of coaches is waiting to take paying travellers to see the sights, such as the Viking Museum in Lofotr.

Despite bright sunshine, it is quite icy and chilly, so we stand on the dock for a while debating what to do. The port is roughly two miles from the nearest towns – Gravdal and Lesknes. We could walk to either – but then what? Neither has much to offer except shopping, which is not what we classify as sight-seeing.

So we compromise. I climb a small hill and record our only geocache (GC6TKA1) of the day while Linda waits patiently below. Afterwards, we go into the tourist shop located at the end of the pier and buy a Lofoten-themed Christmas tree decoration.

Ben & Linda posing with some drying fish in Gravdal
Posing with the locals

Afterwards we head back to the ship for a lazy afternoon.

Later that evening, the sky stays clear and we are finally treated to some spectacular displays by the Aurora. We also see the red colours for the first time, faintly, as we head into dinner. The Captain has promised to announce any sightings over the onboard intercom – and does so just as we are seated in the dining room. Immediately the room empties as most people surge for the upper decks. Some return later, claiming to have seen nothing.

There are a few more announcements during the evening and the quality of spectacle varies each time. Sadly the celestial wisps are not quite as brightly coloured as they were on Sunday, but they are definitely much, much larger – and easier to spot with the naked eye.

A picture of the Aurora Borealis over Gravdal
Light pollution is a serious problem on a cruise ship
A picture of the Aurora Borealis taken from the top deck of the Island Princess
A shot from the top deck of the Island Princess

Overnight we will re-cross the Arctic Circle – and the weather is set to deteriorate too. So this will probably be the last time we see the Aurora Borealis on this trip. But it has definitely been worth staying up late for.

A photo of the Norther Lights shot from the back of the Island Princess sailing away from Gravdal
Proof that the Norther Lights aren’t just green

Our final stop on this cruise is Ålesund, a port we visited a few months ago. Sadly the weather is looking pretty grim, so we may have to alter our sightseeing plans a little.

Uphill in Alesund

This is our second visit to Ålesund this year but we are a little better prepared this time. We’re going to visit Waldehuset, a house with a very unusual history…

On January 23rd 1904, a devastating fire swept through Ålesund, destroying 850 homes and leaving 10,000 people homeless. In the Eastern district of the city, every wooden house burned down except one – Waldehuset.

A picture of Waldehuset, the only wooden building in the eastern district of Alesund to survive the great fire of 1904
Outside the miraculous Waldehuset of Alesund

Anders Nor, the owner of Waldehuset, was visited by an angel on January 22nd, the day before the fire. The celestial visitor advised Nor that his home, and all who were in it, would be spared. And so it was – everything outside the house was burned to the ground. Photos of the area in the days after the fire clearly show Waldehuset standing unharmed in the midst of acres of debris – it’s not even scorched.

It’s all very reminiscent of the Jesus statue in Le Havre.

Sadly, Waldehuset was closed today. Staffed entirely by volunteers, the museum is now only open by appointment. Thankfully it’s only a half-mile walk from the cruise terminal.

Top tip: Make sure you book a viewing before arriving in Ålesund. You can find contact details and pictures on the Waldehuset website.

Afterwards, we travel back downhill and it begins to rain lightly. Then it begins to hail heavily. Which is very exciting. Or not.

Thanks to the scooter, Linda is more mobile than on our previous visit, we take the opportunity to see a little more of Ålesund. Obviously, the climb up the stairs to the Fjellstua Viewpoint is still out of the question, but it’s nice to look at the rebuilt city. Even if it is very cold.

A picture of one of the streets in Alesund city centre
Parts of Ålesund are quite picturesque

Top tip: Ålesund, like most of Norway, is closed on a Sunday. And when we say closed, we mean CLOSED.

Our route back to the ship takes us past a number of upmarket shops and boutiques, including one selling an extremely well preserved Raleigh Tomahawk bike, much to Linda’s delight. However, window-shopping is as far as it goes. Aside from a two or three tourist-tat shops, everything is closed.

Top tip: The combination of steep inclines and cobblestones makes Alesund particularly punishing on the mobility scooter battery. If you are travelling with a lightweight, folding scooter, be sure to invest in a second battery – and don’t forget to take it with you.

We toy with the idea of hanging around on the dock for the MOLO Brew brewpub to open, but it’s far too cold. Besides, we sampled several of their beers on our last visit, so we head instead for the warmth of the Island Princess.

A picture showing the view across Alesund, looking back to the Fjellstua Viewpoint
A look back across Ålesund towards the Fjellstua Viewpoint

Alesund is our last port call on this cruise. It’s depressing to realise that the next time the ship docks, it will be to drive home.

Random Island Princess Observations

Built in 2002, Island Princess is one of the oldest ships in the Princess Cruises fleet. As a result, she’s a little battered here and there and some of the decor looks dated against her newer sisters. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing – Island Princess has more character than the larger Royal-class ships for instance.

A picture of the Island Princess moored in Alta, Norway
Island Princess moored in Alta

As our journey comes to an end, here’s a few things we have observed about Island:


For whatever reason, lifts on Island Princess are rarely busy. In fact, it is not unusual to travel in an empty lift without stopping between decks. This is great because it means Linda can pull a five-point turn on her scooter, reducing the risks associated with reversing blind onto a (potentially) crowded foyer.

There is one minor annoyance – the glass lifts in the Plaza area only travel between decks 5 and 7. If you want to go higher, you will need to head to the midship lifts instead.

Slamming doors

Cabin Stateroom doors are designed to close for safety reasons – but that doesn’t mean they have to be slammed shut. Unfortunately our fellow passengers on deck 12 (Aloha) still don’t know that after 14 days onboard.


Some of the corridors in the ship have weird ramps, meaning that very few of the decks are perfectly level. There’s no obvious reason why the ramps exist, but they add to Island‘s quirkiness as you travel down the otherwise featureless accommodation decks.


Embarkation and disembarkation typically takes place from Deck 4 when in port. However, a wicked cold breeze blows up the central stairwell when the doors are open, making it very chilly in the central plaza. Take a jumper.

A picture of the Plaza area onboard Island Princess
The Plaza can be quite cold when the ship is docked


Because of her relatively diminutive size, Island Princess is one of only two Princess ships that can fit through the ‘old’ locks on the Panama Canal. If you book a canal transit passage on one of the newer ships, you will be going through the newer, less scenic locks instead.

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