10 Tips for First-Time Cruise Travel in Norway

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Embark on a spectacular journey through Norway’s fjords with our essential tips for first-time cruisers. If you’re looking to discover Norway from the comfort of a cruise ship, read on.

Cruising through Norway’s dramatic landscapes offers an exciting travel adventure. The natural beauty of the Norwegian fjords, picturesque ports, and authentic Scandinavian travel experiences await.

Norway fjord cruise with a pink sky.

As you plan your first voyage into the heart of Scandinavia, selecting the right cruise line and itinerary becomes key to unlocking a truly immersive experience, but that's not the end of the planning.

I've been on several different Norway cruises in recent years, ranging from some of the world's biggest ships to smaller, older vessels.

I've also taken the Norwegian coastal voyage a couple of times, which use smaller ships that gets closer to the coastline and visit tiny rural communities. So, I've learned a lot about which kind of trip is for which kind of person.

Yet it's only been a few years since I first stepped aboard a cruise ship, so I remember very well all the questions I had. After all, you don't know what you don't know!

This guide provides ten invaluable tips to help first-time cruisers navigate the specifics of a Norwegian cruise. From choosing the best cruise line for you, to practical advice on packing and port research, read on for my best advice.

1. Choose Your Cruise Line Carefully

Because most major lines offer at least a few Norway itineraries, selecting the right cruise line is crucial for enjoying the wonderful scenery of Norway.

First things first, there is no such thing as the “best cruise line” because different people want different things from a cruise experience.

Without research, you could find yourself spending a week or more on a party ship when all you want to do is relax, or an enrichment-focused ship with limited evening entertainment when you want to party the night away.

Start by reading reviews on websites such as Cruise Critic, or looking for ship tours on YouTube. These will really help you get a feel for a ship and a cruise line.

MSC cruise ship in Trondheim, Norway. Photo: David Nikel.
MSC cruise ship in Trondheim, Norway. Photo: David Nikel.

Some things to consider include the size and style of ship. For example, would you prefer a large, megaship full of entertainment and dining options, or a smaller ship with more outdoor space from which to enjoy the fjord landscapes?

You should also consider what’s included, and what’s not. Many cruise lines charge extra for drinks, gratuities, and speciality restaurants.

2. Choose Your Itinerary With Care

Take the same amount of care with researching the different itineraries available. One cruise line’s “Norwegian fjords” itinerary will not be the same as another!

Typically, larger ships dock at major cities or fjord ports that can accommodate their size, while smaller ships often provide more intimate scenic cruising experiences, such as navigating closer to waterfalls or through narrower fjords.

This allows for more personalized exploration and a closer connection to the breathtaking landscapes.

Before booking, check if the cruise includes off-the-beaten-path stops, scenic cruising days (an upgrade on a standard sea day), or exclusive excursions that can enhance your travel experience.

For northern lights cruises, compare how many nights different itineraries spend north of the Arctic Circle. Some itineraries also feature overnight stops, which can be a bonus for aurora hunting on land.

3. Consider Booking With a Travel Agent

Specialist agents who are familiar with the specifics of Norwegian cruises can be invaluable. They understand the best times to visit, the must-see stops, and the smaller details like weather considerations.

Their expertise can help you choose the cruise that best fits your interests, whether it’s chasing the northern lights or exploring fjord country.

Family hike in the Norwegian mountains.
Pack well if you plan to hike during your trip.

You may think that you’ll save money by going direct. In some travel situations, that is often the case, but it’s not so with cruising.

Travel agents often have access to special deals that aren’t offered directly by the lines. They are also in a great position to help should you need to alter any details of your booking, saving you time and hassle.

4. Avoid Key Packing Mistakes

For a cruise in Norway, packing the right items is essential. Include warm clothing and layers that you can add or remove as the weather changes rapidly from one port to another.

Before you begin packing though, it’s important to check any restricted items. Appliances with heating elements such as irons and kettles are usually not permitted. Your cruise line will have a webpage detailing the specific rules.

When checking in, your bag will be delivered to your stateroom. However, this may take a few hours, so take any essential items including medication in your hand luggage.

Can you pack alcohol? Most likely not. However some lines do allow you to bring a limited amount of alcohol in your checked bag, for consumption in your stateroom. P&O Cruises is one notable example.

5. Arrive a Day Early

Plan to arrive at least one day before your cruise departs, especially if you’re cruising during the winter months when weather can disrupt travel plans.

This gives you a buffer to accommodate any delays and also allows you some time to explore your port of embarkation. This also applies if you’re taking the Norwegian coastal voyage, so you have time to explore Bergen.

6. Research Your Ship

Your cruise ship will be your home base as you navigate through the fjords or along the coastline of Norway. Familiarising yourself with the ship in advance of your vacation is a great use of your time.

Hiking in and around the Geirangerfjord

In particular, knowing the layout of the ship, especially in relation to your cabin, can help you find your way around more easily during your cruise. Detailed deck plans are usually available on the cruise line website.

Studying these plans can help you identify the locations of key facilities like restaurants, lounges, pools, and spas. This preparation can save you valuable time, especially on larger ships where navigating the maze of decks can be daunting.

Moreover, getting to know the ship's amenities in advance allows you to plan your days better. If you're interested in relaxation, you can find out where the quieter, less crowded spots are.

If entertainment is your preference, you can locate the theatres, clubs, and activity hubs quickly. This way, you can maximise your enjoyment without wasting time figuring things out on the fly.

Knowing the ship’s schedule for shows and activities can also help you plan your evenings. Ultimately, a little research goes a long way in enhancing your cruise experience.

7. Research the Ports

To make the most of your time in Norway, invest some time in learning about each port you’ll visit. To get you started, here are Norway’s 10 most popular cruise ports.

Norway’s ports in the fjord region are often very small, but they are serve as basecamps to natural attractions. It’s possible to visit all kinds of natural attractions from waterfalls to glaciers.

Determine if you’ll explore independently or book excursions through your cruise line. The latter will cost more, but they are convenient and you’re guaranteed not to miss your ship’s departure.

8. Think Twice About Beverage Packages

For some people, knocking back a couple of glasses of wine or cocktails is an integral part of the cruise experience.

Passengers on Fred Olsen Borealis enjoy a fjord view. Photo: David Nikel.
Passengers on Fred Olsen Borealis enjoy a fjord view. Photo: David Nikel.

Beverage packages are usually available that provide a great deal when compared to buying individual drinks, but only if you’re a heavy drinker. Typically, both people sharing a stateroom need to buy the package.

Norway itineraries are usually pretty port-intensive. That means beverage packages might not be cost-effective, especially if you plan to spend a lot of time exploring ashore. Consider your itinerary and drinking habits before purchasing a package.

9. Go for a Balcony Cabin

Usually when taking a cruise, I’m on team inside cabin. I prefer saving money on the fare and using that money to enjoy a drink while gazing at the scenery from a bar or lounge.

I know many people are of the same mindset! However, one type of cruise where a balcony is really worth the splurge is a Norwegian fjords itinerary.

Why? Well, whereas most cruises are about the ports, a fjords cruise is about the region as a whole. The sail-ins and sail-outs, often early in the morning and late into the evening, are truly spectacular.

Having your own balcony allows you to experience these moments in complete privacy and comfort. Imagine sipping your morning coffee as the sun rises over the fjords, or enjoying a glass of wine as the sun sets behind the mountains.

Moreover, the weather in Norway can be unpredictable. Whether it’s misty rain or bright sunshine, you can step out onto your balcony and take in the stunning landscapes without leaving your room.

This flexibility is especially valuable on a Norwegian fjords cruise, where the scenery is continuously changing and every moment offers a new photo opportunity.

10. Pace Yourself

Finally, take the time to truly enjoy your Norwegian cruise. The breathtaking scenery from the deck as you glide through the fjords is not to be missed. Relax and allow yourself ample time to soak in the natural beauty and tranquility of Norway.

This is more easily done on a smaller ship, but even on a larger ship there are opportunities for relaxation.

You don't even have to leave the ship on port days. If you're taking part in a longer itinerary that features multiple port calls in fjord villages, consider staying on the ship one day.

You'll still enjoy the spectacular fjord views from the ship while in port and during the approach and departure, but there's also more opportunities to relax. Spa and wellness facilities often run deals on port days, for example.

Make use of these quieter moments by indulging in treatments or simply lounging by a less crowded pool. If you prefer something more active, consider attending a yoga session or hitting the gym while others are ashore.

Remember, with fewer passengers onboard during port days, you can enjoy a more serene atmosphere and take advantage of facilities that might otherwise be busy.

Keep an eye on the daily schedule provided by your cruise. It often features special activities and entertainment designed to enhance your experience during these quieter times.

Have you been on a Norwegian fjords cruise or a northern lights itinerary? If so, I’d love to hear your top tips that you’d share with a first-time cruiser.

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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2 thoughts on “10 Tips for First-Time Cruise Travel in Norway”

  1. Hello David, Under #7, Research your ports, you should add: Subscribe to Norway Weekly. Last October we booked a cruise- 16 day/9 Norwegian ports including an excursion to Nordcapp on the Solstice. In November, I discovered Life in Norway and subscribed. I feel more prepared for our trip having read your articles as we will be “on our own” in Stavanger, Alta, Honningsvag (8 hours after Nordcapp shore excursion), Gravdal, Trondheim (visiting your city on June 25), and Bergen (visiting on our anniversary). Thank you so much for your information and insights…Nancy


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