Tag: Island Princess (Page 2 of 3)

Qaqortoq

Today we finally get to set foot on Greenland but we can’t see a thing through the fog – apart from the Danish warship cruising slowly past, checking us out.

Good morning?

The captain assures us that you can see for miles at sea level, but I’m not convinced. Eventually we head down to the tender and make our way ashore.

The mist lingers for a little while and then suddenly burns off as the sun gets higher in the sky. It’s a beautiful day after all.


Top tip: Despite being a Danish protectorate, Greenland is not part of the European Union. This means that you will not be able to use any roaming minutes or data included in your cellphone contract – even if it includes EU roaming. Expect to pay £2.50 per minute to make calls, £1.50 per minute to receive calls, £0.40 per SMS message and £5 per megabyte to use data services.

Bonus tip: Don’t activate your cellular data on land. And don’t expect to find many free WiFi networks either. You’re better off waiting until you get back on the ship to make calls and share photos.


Qaqortoq is a tiny place, especially with two cruise ships in port. Cruisers outnumber locals by about 4 to 1.

Island Princess is moored behind the Zuiderdam

There are a few shops and the supermarket is doing a roaring trade. Some of the cruisers I speak to are upset that the only coffeeshop in town has not yet opened.


Top tip: The café is in the central square near the famous fountain – and it opens at 12pm (so there’s no need to complain). They also sell beer.


There is a local fish market with two traders, one selling very large fish and the other seal meat.

Lovely fresh seal meat

The locals have also set up a series of small stands, selling polished stone jewellery in a vivid pink colour as well as beaded trinkets and polar bear claws. Behind them, local artists have made a series of carvings into the cliffs, one of the few attractions in the town.


Top tip: The local traders tend to accept payment in Danish Krone, Euros and US Dollars. There is a bank in town with a cashpoint if you need it – look for the large black building.


Despite the massive influx of cruisers, the town is surprisingly peaceful and looks beautiful in the sun. I suspect it is quite bleak here in the winter though.


Top tip: The locals offer plenty of iceberg and whale watching tours departing from the dock. Expect to pay around $100 USD per person.


There is a massive queue for the return water shuttle, but thankfully it moves quite smoothly. Once back on board we are treated to the sight of a helicopter dumping water on the local garbage dump where a controlled burn has got out of control.

I’ve seen more fire and ice in Greenland than in Iceland

Our next stop, Nanortalik, is just 75 miles from Qaqortoq, so we will arrive there around 10pm and anchor in the harbour overnight.

Just before heading to bed, I take my chances on the balcony – and finally get to see the Northern Lights. I’ve managed to tick two items off my bucket list – what a day!

Nanortalik

After last night’s light show, there’s not much more Nanortalik needs to offer. Which is just as well because this town is tiny.

There are two surprises when we arrive ashore on the tender. First, there is a sizeable queue of cruisers waiting to return to the ship. Second, it looks like the entire town has turned out to greet us.

This lady just wanted to show off her traditional Greenlandic outfit

There are people selling handmade beaded goods, seal fur, cross stitch and various other trinkets all along the road through the town. It also seems that anyone who owns a musical instrument is putting on their own impromptu concerts outside their houses.

I leave Linda to enjoy the sun and head towards the church where there is a geocache, hidden in a field of massive scattered boulders (GC4JHR9).

There is one pub in town which is doing a roaring trade. Disappointingly they only sell Danish and Belgian beers, so we give it a miss. Out the back, two men are selling local food from a large tent. Sadly I have no cash, so I have no idea what the food actually was.


Top tip: You will need cash for just about everything in Nanortalik – especially if you want to buy something from the locals. Most accept US dollars or Danish Krone. There is a bank in town but it is only open two hours each day (not Sundays) – and there is no cashpoint.


There is also a tourist centre of sorts where you can buy souvenirs, including some awesome looking sealskin boots. They do accept card payments here.

Definitely not cheap, but they look very warm

Otherwise, there is literally nothing here to look at except the scenery.

Once done, we join the queue for the tenders which now extends from the port and up the hill into the town. The dock is so small there is only room for one tender at a time, so the queue takes two hours. Thankfully the cheerful locals continue to sing and entertain, but it’s a very, very long wait.

When we finally make it back on board, we spot a small whale swimming straight towards our balcony which is a nice surprise.

Greenland has been absolutely spectacular and I’m glad we came. The mountains, icebergs and pretty coloured villages have been great and I wouldn’t mind visiting again one day. I just wish I had managed to get a stamp in my passport.

Back at sea

Greenland is receding fast and we’re back out in the Atlantic where the sea is getting a little rougher. The pool inside the conservatory is closed as water sloshes all over the deck.

During his daily address the Captain tells us that he and the ice pilots(!) have never experienced three days in a row like we just had. The weather was fantastic – sunny and warm – with clear skies and no rain. We are blessed.

After dinner we go to the Princess Theatre to watch the cast perform The Secret Silk on its debut performance. Set in China, we are treated to a song and dance extravaganza that includes some impressive puppetry, a tale of a man who rescues a trapped crane and later squanders the blessings he receives in turn.

It’s not every day you get to see a giant luminous green dragon onstage. In fact, the cruise director suggests that the performance was nearly cancelled 15 minutes before the curtain went up due to technical concerns.

Although impressed, it’s the kind of show we would only watch once (unlike Rock Opera). So we’ll probably skip it next time we’re on Island Princess.

It’s now a straight sail back to Southampton, a journey that will take four days.

Kitchen tour

Today is one of the highlights of Princess cruises – the cooking demonstration. The ship’s head chef and Maître d’ cook some dishes on stage and make a show of clowning around. At the end of the cooking part of the show, some of the chefs and waiters come out for a thunderous round of applause. We are also treated to an absolutely astonishing performance by one of the waiters who belts out an opera tune – and he’s far better than the professional singers we have witnessed in the shows onboard.

Afterwards we get a tour of one of the 17(!) galleys on board. It sounds stupid – and it probably is a little silly, but we love the opportunity to see behind the scenes. We also get to meet some of the crew who work tirelessly out of sight. Despite the long hours and thanklessness of many cruisers, these unsung heroes look like they enjoy their jobs.

It’s not unusual to hear the kitchen staff singing as they work

We discover there is one escalator on the Island Princess – and it is in the kitchen, allowing waiters to serve two dining rooms quickly and efficiently.

Afterwards, we head out on deck to watch Albert, our waiter from the Elite lounge, doing his ice carving show. It’s his last day on board before the end of his contract, so he makes the most of it:

And that is pretty much it. Tomorrow morning we will wake up back in Southampton 🙁

A decent disembarkation

As always, the disembarkation process is manic and the cruise terminal is a crazy place. As instructed by the Holiday Inn Express when we left, I phone the taxi company as I collect our suitcases from the baggage hall, quoting the pre-booking reference.

We wait about fifteen minutes before a large Mercedes minibus collects us and out suitcases for the trip back to our car. The queue for non pre-booked taxis at the port is insanely long – those people will be waiting for at least an hour. Probably more.

Impressed by the parking service and taxi transfers, we immediately book the same again for our upcoming trip in October. For slightly less than the CPS rate, we get a night in a hotel and avoid the traffic hassle of driving ourselves to the dock on the day of departure.

Final observations:

  • Concerns about the Island Princess are totally unfounded. It’s a lovely ship with a great crew.
  • The indoor pool area is an excellent place to sit out of the breeze and get some work done – or just have an ice cream.
  • Park-and-ride services from Holiday Inn Express in Southampton are excellent value.
  • Cabin Stateroom PR723 is brilliant – so long as there aren’t any plumbing issues.
  • Greenland is amazing.

We have loved Island Princess – so we’re coming back again in October for a voyage to 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
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