For as long as I can remember, there have been two places that my dad has wanted to visit – New Zealand and the Norwegian fjords. His dream of seeing the former was realised when my brother moved to New Zealand and my parents made it out for a three-week trip. But the fjords have always been a more complicated issue. Predominantly because of my mum – the woman could get seasick in a dinghy on Windermere on a calm day.
So when I first mentioned my plan to her, it was a trepidatious answer that came out of the other end of the telephone. “Yes. I guess I’ll come,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to miss out.” It was just the positive attitude you want to hear when inviting someone to come along on holiday with you.
My dad’s reaction was decidedly better – I don’t think I’ve seen him that shocked since he realised that he preferred Yorkshire Tea to PG Tips, a lifelong habit and significant adjustment to his daily routine. We gave him the tickets for his birthday, and he immediately headed to the computer to begin plotting out the route on Google Maps, looking at the stops we’d make. The four of us – my partner, my parents and I – were set to travel with Viking and all of us were first-time cruisers.
After finding out that I’d managed to talk Mum into getting on a ship for almost a week, my three siblings instantly began teasing her. I tried to reassure her that she would be fine, that the ship would be travelling mostly through the still waters of the fjords, and that it was fitted with stabilisers. But one against three was not a fair fight, and she seemed increasingly anxious as our July departure date crept closer. Thankfully, the weather forecast was fairly benign – cloudy with a few showery patches – as we flew into Bergen to begin our journey into the midnight sun.
Checking on to our ship, Viking Sea, was like checking into a hotel, only one with passport control. “Whatever you do, do not lose this card,” we were instructed, in a matronly way at the desk. “It acts as your ID and your passport. If you misplace it while you’re out, it will be tricky to get back on again.” No pressure there then, for someone prone to misplacing important objects.
I needn’t have worried. I only lost it twice, both times in our surprisingly spacious and comfortable cabin. We’d opted for neighbouring Penthouse Veranda staterooms, and the balcony alone was worth it. We leaned over the partition and clinked our glasses to our first night on board. And to the fact that, although the ship hadn’t technically moved yet, mum hadn’t felt seasick once.
The first thing we learnt was that the initial hour or two of any cruise should really be pencilled in for exploring the ship. Sharing Viking Sea with 926 other passengers, we were surprised at just how much room there was. And how many restaurants there were to try – over the duration of the cruise we sampled all of them at least once, and some of them twice, just to make sure that the food was as good as we remembered.
On our initial recce, dad made friends at the putting green, while mum and I unsuccessfully tried out shuffleboard before working out where the best spot would be for snapping photographs as we departed Bergen the following day. We chose the aft (the back) of the ship and, creatures of habit that we are, this is where we could be found most evenings with a drink in hand, watching the world go slowly by.
The first evening at dinner (still in port), mum arrived sporting a fetching pair of grey anti-motion sickness wristbands. Thankfully, the Viking dress code is relaxed. She’d been popping the Stugeron, and had come armed with a supply of sleeping tablets to knock her out in case things got really bad. She did, however, refrain from packing her arm bands, so at least she wasn’t worried that the ship would go down.
When I’d originally looked at the schedule, I was disappointed to see that the ship left port at 6pm almost every night, lamenting the time lost at each destination. But as the journey progressed, I understood why. Sailing was just as stunning as any of the ports that we visited. Small rocky islands, red wooden houses, snow-topped peaks and vast bridges all slipped by, and the night lasted ever longer the further north we went.
We had been worried that it would be all elderly customers, but we soon discovered another family on board taking a trip with exactly the same goal – ticking off a lifetime dream and spending some family time together.
Our days were spent trying out the free excursions – all coach tours, but interesting none the less – and exploring on foot where possible in an attempt to combat the mountainous amounts of food and drink we were consuming. Other excursions were pricey, and we could have easily spent another £1,000 each on these alone. In the end, we selected just one, the Geiranger RIB ride.
At first, I thought the Michelin-man-style suits that they decked us out in were a tad overkill. It was 19C (66F) in Geiranger and we were sweating at the dock. But as the small RIB got up to speed, I could see why they were necessary – especially in cooler months and on soggier days.
As we cruised out towards the famed Seven Sisters waterfall, a sea eagle was spotted overhead – a rare sighting in this part of Norway, and a lucky omen according to our guide. The same grins we’d had on for most of the trip were wider still as we disembarked the RIB and wandered up the nearby waterfall walk to Storfossen to stretch our legs.
On our final night, we stayed up for the event we’d sailed all this way for – the midnight sun. As the minutes ticked closer, the world turned a stark orange, with incredible washes of purple, and we celebrated in a style reminiscent of New Year’s Eve as we tried to photograph our watches in the almost daylight.
We returned home with some fantastic memories, and Mum, the sailor who gets seasick on a dinghy, is planning her next cruise. Just a gentle river cruise on the Rhine. She’s not ready to tackle the high seas yet.
How to do it
Viking Cruises offers the 15-day Into the Midnight Sun Bergen to London voyage from £5,490pp, based on two sharing, departing June 8 2020 (0800 298 9700; vikingcruises.co.uk).