Transatlantic "Voyage of the Vikings" on Holland America Line

Geiranger, Norway - Port of call on Holland America Voyage of the Vikings
••• Geiranger, Norway - Port of call on Holland America Voyage of the Vikings. Linda Garrison
  • 01 of 15

    Overview and Embarkation in Boston

    ms Maasdam of Holland America Line in Geiranger, Norway
    ••• The Maasdam cruise ship of Holland America Line at anchor in the Norwegian fjord at Geiranger. This was one of four ports in Norway, along with stopovers in Iceland and Newfoundland on our "Voyage of the Vikings" cruise itinerary from Boston to Amsterdam. Maasdam in Norway (c) Linda Garrison

    Sailing across the Atlantic is a dream cruise vacation for most of us who love to travel on cruise ships. There are three basic transatlantic routes--the southern route between the Mediterranean and ports in the southern USA, the Caribbean, or South America; the traditional fastest route between New York City and Southampton or other ports in the British Isles; and the northern route, which traces the route used by the Vikings connecting Norway, Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland with mainland North America.

    I crossed the Atlantic from Boston to Amsterdam on a memorable "Voyage of the Vikings" on the ms Maasdam of Holland America Line

    Although the cruise was in July, we had weather issues that forced the Captain to change our original plans. The published itinerary included stopovers in Labrador, Greenland, and a second port in Iceland. In addition, we were supposed to spend a day cruising the scenic fjords of Greenland, but that day was cancelled also. However, the Captain...MORE and his team did an exceptional job of explaining why they were changing our schedule, even including a briefing with the latest weather charts shown on a large screen in the main lounge. During this meeting, they also patiently answered many questions from the guests. By the time the meeting was completed, about 99 percent of the passengers were satisfied with the modified itinerary. (You can't please everyone.)

    As a result of these changes, the Maasdam out-ran a mid-summer storm that was blowing from west to east, and we ended up with extra time in Reykjavik, securely tied to the dock overnight in a protected harbor while the worst low pressure July storm in Iceland in over 50 years raged outside. The ship also added another port of call in Molde, Norway, which ended up being a very pleasant surprise for us. It's funny how sometimes things just work out. We were all disappointed to miss Labrador and Greenland, but missing the storm and adding Molde to the itinerary somewhat balanced things out.

    This travel log provide details of our cruise.

    Boarding the Maasdam in Boston

    My long-time friend Claire and I took a very early morning flight from Atlanta to Boston, grabbed a taxi, and were at the pier by 10:30 am. Check-in took about 5 minutes, but we had to take a number and wait about an hour to board the ship. While waiting (we were in group 3), we got acquainted with some of our fellow cruisers. I was surprised to learn that of the 1,200 passengers onboard, only 200 of us were doing the 18-day crossing; the rest were on the 35-day round trip. Many of the guests had either taken a train or driven to Boston. Although the Maasdam used the northern Atlantic route for both crossings, different ports of call were visited on each voyage, making it attractive to retirees or those who could afford to be away from home for 35 days.

    We didn't wait long to board the ship and were in our cabin before noon. Claire and I visited the Lido deck buffet, and had a nice lunch before doing a short tour of parts of the ship. The Maasdam was built in the early 1990's, so this mid-sized ship doesn't have a lot of the amenities or public rooms found on newer/larger ships. However, the crew seems to work extra hard to make sure everyone has a good cruise vacation.

    The ship also doesn't have as many balcony cabins as newer ships, so Claire and I had a window oceanview cabin on deck 9. It was classified as a spa cabin since we were just two decks down (and directly underneath) the Greenhouse Spa and Salon. We received spa amenities such as Elemis toiletries, had a yoga mat, and even had one of those "waterfall" machines (guess it's supposed to be a soothing sound) in the cabin. We disconnected the gurgling waterfall after our first night since neither of us cared for the sound, but I'm sure some people would enjoy the white noise. Given the generally rainy and windy weather, the cabin and bathroom were just right for us, and our stewards did an excellent job of keeping the place clean.

    Our luggage arrived about 2:30 pm, so we were unpacked and even had a short nap before the 4:15 pm life boat drill. We didn't have to take our life jackets to the drill, but we did go outside and stand under our lifeboat. After the drill, Claire and I leisurely walked for about an hour around the Promenade deck while we sailed away from Boston, stopping occasionally to take in the view. It's four laps to the mile and has a covered teak deck, a feature missing from many newer cruise ships.

    We went to the Mix Martini bar for a drink before dinner. They had a nice selection of martini-like drinks, so Claire and I both enjoyed one.

    Dinner for us was open-seating in the Rotterdam Dining Room, so we could go any time between 5:30 and 9:30. The meal was the first of many in the various dining venues of the Maasdam. I especially loved the tuna/salmon tartare appetizer and the cold white gazpacho soup made from pureed pear and cucumber, pineapple juice, and jalapeno. Very interesting flavors! Claire had a rich eggplant risotto and I had pan-fried rainbow trout for our main courses. Both were very tasty.

    Before bed that night we had to bump our clocks up one hour. The next two days we would be at sea.

    Continue to 2 of 15 below.
  • 02 of 15

    Two Days at Sea - Boston to Corner Brook, Newfoundland

    Cabin on the ms Maasdam of Holland America Line
    ••• This comfortable cabin on deck 9 was our home for the 18 days we sailed on the Maasdam from Boston to Amsterdam. Maasdam (c) Linda Garrison

    Sea Day #1 on the Maasdam

    After our embarkation in Boston, the next two days were at sea as the Maasdam sailed north for Corner Brook, Newfoundland. I always love to have the first day of a cruise at sea. It gives everyone a chance to get acquainted with the ship and to rest up a little after getting ready for the vacation. Every day at sea on the Maasdam I was impressed with the number and variety of onboard activities.

    Our first sea day, Claire and I got off to a good start, walking for three miles (12 laps) around the deck before going to a late breakfast at the Lido Restaurant. Walking on the promenade deck was a popular early morning (and all day) activity for this group of cruise passengers. I was especially impressed by how busy the gym and walking decks were. This ship was definitely full of many active seniors trying to stay healthy.

    Later in the morning, I went to hear one of the expert speakers talk about the Vikings. His name is Dr. Thorsteinn Hannesson, and he has a PhD in...MORE theoretical chemistry and works in industrial research and development. He previously taught at the University of Iceland and is an Iceland native. His presentation was relevant and interesting as he spoke about "Scandinavia and the Viking World". He talked about the explorations of the Vikings. I never realized how far-flung those little wooden boats with the dragons on front sailed. For example, 120 Viking ships sailed into Paris via the Seine River in the 9th century. The King of France paid them off in silver coins to get them to leave. Dr. Hannesson said that many people consider the Vikings the first terrorists, but since they were his ancestors, he thought of them as great explorers.

    After the speaker, Claire and I dashed off to the Culinary Arts Center to see the first cooking show, where they made the lobster salad and creme brulee served at the Le Cirque dinner at the Pinnacle Grill. Another cooking show followed soon after that featured chocolate and raisin bread pudding and baked Alaska with cherries jubilee topping. The chefs and party planner who led the cooking shows were funny and quite entertaining.

    There was another expert speaker at 2 pm, so we skipped lunch since we had tried samples at the cooking show. His name is Paul Eschenfelder, and he talked about how North America was settled, not touching too much on the Vikings since Thor was covering that topic. I had almost forgotten that Asians crossed the Bering Sea into North America on an ice bridge over 20,000 year ago. He touched a little on the Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows on Newfoundland. It dates back to the 10th century, long before Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in the 15th century!

    We stayed for the next lecture presented by the onboard naturalist. It covered marine mammals we might see on our cruise. I'm impressed that all three lectures were standing room only. Definitely not a bunch of cruisers just looking for a party; these travelers are into educational opportunities.

    After the lectures, we went to tea since we had skipped lunch. Following tea, we went to a lecture on "Why Tai Chi" and I learned something about this form of exercise/meditation/martial arts. Claire has taken Tai Chi in the past and liked it. They had it every day, and it was free, unlike Pilates, which was $12 per class. The onboard lifestylist did a short lecture on Tai Chi, and then Claire and I went to her 5 pm class. After the class, it was time to get cleaned up for our first formal night.

    We returned to the martini bar and tried two different martinis before dinner. The Rotterdam Dining Room was packed since it was formal night. We took "first available table" hoping we would get another big group, but ended up at a table for two. We both had lamb chops for our main course. I had a shrimp cocktail, salad, and a cherry crunch for dessert. Claire had a Caesar salad, grilled scallops and shrimp appetizer, and a chocolate/mocha/coffee thingy for dessert. Good thing about having a table for two; we were done by 9:30, with plenty of time to make the show in the theater.

    The show was a good one--two female and three male singers and two female dancers. All were very talented, and the costumes were gorgeous--all designed by Bob Mackie especially for this show called "Bob Mackie's Broadway". Since I love Broadway, it was quite good.

    In bed by midnight. The Maasdam had another sea day the next day as we head towards Newfoundland.

    Sea Day #2 on the Maasdam

    The next day was Claire's birthday, so she started it off with a 3-mile walk and 30 minutes of Tai Chi. Good to still be in such good shape at her advanced age (she's 5 months older than I am). Breakfast in the Lido buffet followed the exercise. We sat out by the pool, and they had it covered so the weather seemed nicer inside than it actually was outside. Having the sliding sun roof is a nice feature, and the water is heated in the pool and the hot tubs.

    Since it was Claire's birthday, she had a nice "special" omelet for breakfast in the Lido Restaurant before heading off to to the cooking demonstration where they made New England Clam Chowder and mussels in white wine sauce. After the cooking show, Claire was off to get a massage, and I went up to the buffet with my book and sat "outside" in the sun room and had iced tea and a taco. Was still full from our late breakfast. Then, it was time to go to another presentation on Vikings and how they settled Iceland, Greenland, and (for a very short time) Newfoundland. Got back to the room about the same time Claire did. She conked out after her massage, and I napped a little, too. Nothing like a "busy" day at sea.

    We went to a different bar -- the Ocean Club -- before our 8 pm dinner reservation. This bar had a live band with ballroom dancing, and since there were "gentlemen hosts" onboard, there were lots of dancers. This bar doesn't feature the variety of drinks or the premium liquors, but the martinis were only $6 or so--almost $3 less than at the Mix Martini bar.

    At 8:00 pm, we went to dinner in the Rotterdam Dining Room and found that the maitre d' had given us a very nice table for two overlooking the wake of the ship for dinner. Claire had requested no singing and no birthday cake, and the cruise line honored her request. Hardly anyone was in the dining room--most people must have gone to an early dinner. We both had a smoked salmon appetizer with wasabi sauce for an appetizer, and Claire got a cold yogurt soup for her second course while I had a salad with nuts and cranberries. My main course was a poached cod, which was just okay, and Claire got the "order anytime" salmon and said it was delicious. We both got the chocolate Charlotte for dessert, which was very good.

    The next morning, we would be going ashore in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.

    Continue to 3 of 15 below.
  • 03 of 15

    A Day in Corner Brook, Newfoundland

    Brook in Corner Brook, Newfoundland
    ••• I guess it should not be surprising that a place named Corner Brook would have a brook flowing right through the town. This small town in Newfoundland was a nice introduction to a part of Canada that not many North Americans get to visit. Corner Brook, Newfoundland (c) Linda Garrison

    After over two days at sea, the Maasdam sailed into the long fjord leading to Corner Brook, Newfoundland, early in the morning. The weather was warmer, but threatened rain all day. Claire and I walked a mile around the promenade before dashing (not really, but it felt like it) the five decks up to our 8:00 am Tai Chi class in the Crow's Nest observation lounge.

    Like many people, I usually don't eat a big breakfast at home, but sure eat one when on a ship. I especially like a buffet for breakfast so I can control the amount I eat, so we chose the Lido Restaurant almost every day. This day I enjoyed fresh fruit, scrambled eggs/grits, and bacon. After breakfast, we exited the ship and walked towards the free shuttle bus stop. Holland America had several shore excursions, including trips to Gros Morne National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage site), a bus tour that rode you around the small town (25,000 residents) of Corner Brook and its outskirts, a walking tour of Corner Brook, and a...MORE bus tour that focused on Captain Cook, who visited Corner Brook a couple of centuries ago. (Yes, the same Captain Cook who explored Hawaii and the South Pacific).

    We figured we could do our own walking tour at our own pace, and it worked out well. The line for the shuttle bus was kind of long, so we asked one of the locals who was providing maps and information on the town how long it would take us to walk. When she said 10 minutes, we were off, taking a nice trail that led into the downtown area. Corner Brook is surrounded by low mountains, one of which has the Captain Cook monument on it. However, the most dominant feature of the town is its large paper mill, which was spouting steam high into the sky. Fortunately, it smells (at least the day we were there) like fresh Christmas trees since the area surrounding the mill is piled with logs.

    When we reached the town, another trail followed a mountain stream inland. After a while we reached a large dam with a fish ladder for Atlantic salmon (no fishing allowed, but they do run up the stream). On the other side of the dam was a lake with swans and ducks and sea gulls. The lake had a man-made island in the middle that served as a swan refuge.

    On one side of the lake was the historic Glynmill Inn, a large hotel built back in the 1920's. It burned down just a few years after it was built, but was rebuilt in 1929. Corner Brook also has a college, but the paper mill and hospital are the two largest employers.

    After walking around the lake, we headed back along the creek into town so I could look for a refrigerator magnet. We strolled the streets, checking out some of the stores and a church that was having a fascinating art exhibition/sale. They had put wide boards across the tops of the pews, and visitors could walk up and down the aisles to view the artwork. Great idea, and the natural lighting inside the church was terrific.

    We found a small emporium that had something for everyone--old books, hand made wool gloves and scarves, artwork, knick-knacks, post cards, and magnets. It even had both an Alaskan husky and Newfoundland dog lying out in front, napping in the 73-degree cloudy weather. We browsed in this shop for a while; I bought a magnet and a few postcards, and Claire bought some cute gloves.

    The people of Corner Brook were so friendly--everyone on the ship noted that they really went out of their way to make us feel welcome. A woman stopped us on the street to ask us what we thought of Corner Brook. She told us that up until a few weeks ago, they thought the paper mill was closing, but it was saved at the last minute. Two other paper mills in Newfoundland are closing, but not theirs. No wonder everyone was in a good mood!

    We were back on the Maasdam by about 2:15 and went up to have lunch. Since we thought the buffet was closed, we got a taco at the Terrace Grill. (We later found out we could have had a salad inside.) The taco was very good, and we think we walked enough to cover the calories!

    The Maasdam sailed away at 5 pm and we went out on the deck to watch the sail away. It was way too cold and windy (and started raining), so we went up to the Crow's Nest observation lounge. As expected, it was packed, but we found seats. Unfortunately, soon the fog had encapsulated the ship and we couldn't see anything.

    After peering out into the fog for a while and sipping a cucumber and lime martini (vodka for Claire and gin for me), we went back to the cabin to get ready for the Captain's VIP cocktail party at 7:15. While getting dressed, the captain came on the loudspeaker to announce some bad news. Due to the heavy fog and amount of ice in the area surrounding Red Bay, Labrador (our next port of call), we were going to have to skip Red Bay and head straight for Greenland. The ship had to sail much slower in the fog, so we would be sailing through some very bad icy spots in heavy fog, and the cruise line didn't want to risk that. In addition, the Captain said the radar doesn't work as effectively in fog. The good news is that the seas were very flat (no wind), so our voyage thus far was much smoother than I feared it might be.

    The VIP party was packed with frequent cruisers. The Maasdam had over 300 onboard who were 4-diamond Mariner Society members, which means they have sailed over 200 days with the cruise line. The captain stopped by our table for a moment and asked if he could do anything for us, and I quipped, "you could find us a whale". He said, "well, there's one now, you just have to look for them". Sure enough, we got a glimpse of one very close to the ship (couldn't have seen it otherwise because of the fog). Needless to say, we all had a good laugh, and I was just a little embarrassed. I didn't tell him that we had searched unsuccessfully for one every day during our walk around the promenade deck.

    We had dinner in the Rotterdam Dining Room after the party, joining a woman from Australia who was traveling by herself. Our waiter was especially witty. When I ordered a Caesar salad, he asked in a very serious, professional-waiter-voice, "And, will you have dead fish with that?". After a second, we all laughed heartily when we realized he was asking if I wanted anchovies on my salad! In chatting with the waiter, we learned he also taught the Origami classes on the ship. With his personality, I'm sure they would be entertaining.

    After dinner, we strolled by the piano bar and stopped to listen to Barry, the pianist. He's quite good and had a different theme each night. One night it was sing along with Frank Sinatra tunes and that night it was ABBA. Since we weren't going to be in Red Bay the next day, we had another busy/lazy day at sea.

    Continue to 4 of 15 below.
  • 04 of 15

    Three Days at Sea

    Foggy day in the north Atlantic on the Maasdam
    ••• Almost every day looked just like this -- foggy, gray, and rainy -- during our first week on the Holland America Maasdam in the north Atlantic between Boston and Iceland. Maasdam (c) Linda Garrison

    Sea Day #3 on the Maasdam

    The next morning after leaving Corner Brook was another gray day. The fog was so dense, you couldn't see more than about 10 yards off the ship. The foghorn was on a timer, and it blew continually about every 10 minutes or so --really irritating when you were outside. And, the sound is so forlorn. We were disappointed to not be in Red Bay, Labrador, but safety comes first, and this fog was horrible. Lucky for us, the Maasdam had plenty of onboard activities to educate and entertain the guests while we were at sea.

    Claire and I got up just in time to go to our Tai Chi class in the atrium on deck 6. The 8 am class was well-attended, with over 40 participants most mornings. After the class, we walked our 3 miles around the promenade deck (12 laps), followed by breakfast in the Lido Restaurant and then the cooking show, aptly titled "Rolling in Dough". We learned to make cinnamon rolls and sticky buns. Of course, they had samples at the end, but they...MORE weren't hot. To get the hot ones, you have to be up very early.

    After our late breakfast and cinnamon rolls, we decided to read a while rather than attend one of the onboard lectures. One of the morning lectures was on the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, and the other one was on the Age of Discovery and the colonization of the Americas. We went to a late lunch and enjoyed tea time in the afternoon. Holland America does a good job of serving tea. It seems so civilized.

    The thick fog continued outdoors, and made everyone on the ship a little lazy. With no wind, the seas were certainly calm. We were so lazy that we decided to just eat dinner at the buffet. The Lido Restaurant was set up with tablecloths and served many of the items on the menu in the Rotterdam Dining Room. We both had a salad, grilled cauliflower, and short ribs with fries. Claire tried the navy bean soup, and we both had ice cream for dessert. The Lido is much quicker than the Rotterdam Restaurant, so we were done dining in time to go to the main lounge for the nightly show.

    The show was the "Divas of Motown", three young black women from Atlanta who performed a variety of songs from the Supremes, Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin, and Tina Turner. They sang well together, and the crowd enjoyed the music selections.

    The next day we would be at sea again on the way to Greenland.

    Sea Day #4

    Our days at sea began to seem almost like a broken record--gray and rainy. This day was different because the wind had picked up significantly. Not good news. Claire and I went to the 8 am Tai Chi class, returned to the cabin and put on our heavy jackets and rain gear. The temperature outside was in the low 50's, but was very windy so we thought we might need more protection to walk on the promenade deck. As we started walking, we noticed two things: (1) they were moving all the heavy teak lounge chairs onto carts and toting them to a protected area on the front of the deck and tying them down, and (2) they were re-stocking the life boats with "emergency water" rations. Not a good sign.

    About midway through our walk, the Captain come on the loud speaker and announced another change to our itinerary. There was a major storm running from the southeast to the northwest, and we were currently ahead of it. (Later, we heard many people had noticed we had appreciably sped up during the night.) They expected it to be gale force 10-11 winds and very high seas. The Captain consulted with Holland America headquarters during the night, and the bridge officers consulted several weather forecasts for the next several days. They concluded that if we continued at this "high" speed, we could reach Iceland before the storm caught us. Therefore, we were going to miss Greenland altogether. Bottom line--instead of two days visiting Greenland via land and sea, we would sail directly for Iceland.

    Since he knew many guests onboard would have questions, the Captain announced a meeting in the main lounge at 10 am where he would explain the situation further. Claire and I finished our 12 laps just in time to catch the presentation. Soon after we went indoors, they closed the outdoor decks due to safety concerns.

    The Captain and his staff officers gave a thorough presentation explaining exactly what the situation was with the weather and our alternatives. Although I'm sure many passengers were disappointed (as we were), they made the right call. They showed weather charts on a huge screen, which looked very ominous behind us, but also showed how we would stay ahead of them. The Captain promised to pass along the final information later, but he thought we would arrive in Reykjavik, Iceland two days early. The Maasdam would stay two nights at the dock in Reykjavik and add another port of call somewhere in western Norway. One guy stood up and thanked the Captain for thinking of our safety first, noting that we would all go wherever he went! That got a good laugh.

    After the Captain's presentation and question and answer session, we had a light breakfast of fruit. Although the wind continued to blow very hard, it was behind the ship, so the Maasdam didn't rock or roll too much. After a light lunch, I went to the wine tasting, and she went to the origami class. I left the wine tasting and went straight to tea. Claire went to a movie that was being shown in the same location as the Culinary Arts Center. With the additional sea days, the staff added more onboard activities to keep us entertained.

    Dinner in the Rotterdam Dining Room was excellent and one of the best meals we had there during our cruise. Prior to dinner, Claire and I went to the Ocean Bar and had a drink with two couples we met earlier from San Diego. The "drink of the day" ($1 off) was a grapefruit cosmopolitan, a favorite of mine. We went to dinner about 7:30 and had a nice table for two. Everything we ate was delicious. We both enjoyed a salad (Claire's was Caesar and mine had pears, apples, and nuts on it), soup (corn chowder with peppers in it for Claire and a wild rice with chicken one for me) as appetizers, then dove into the "land and sea", which was two large, perfectly cooked prawns and a small filet mignon, also cooked just the way we ordered it. Mashed potatoes (loaded with butter) and vegetables accompanied the main course, which we followed up with passion fruit sorbet (me) and tiramisu (Claire).

    The show was called "Unforgettables", and featured the six singers (four males and two females) performing songs from "The Hit Parade" years of the 1940's-1960's. They did a great job. With the time change, it was after midnight when we got in bed, and Claire stayed up late to finish her book. I conked out quickly despite the rocking of the ship.

    Sea Day #5

    Guess it shouldn't have been surprising that the next day was gray, windy, and rainy, with temperatures in the low to mid 50's. The clocks were set up another hour, so we slept in until almost 9 am and missed Tai Chi and walking!

    Since we missed the 8 am Tai Chi class, we went onto breakfast at the Lido Restaurant and planned to walk the deck before the 5 pm Tai Chi class. Claire attended a cooking demonstration on making grilled prawn bruschetta and steak Diane, and I wandered the ship to make photos of the indoor decks. With the inclement weather, they didn't open the sliding cover over the pool deck since we left Boston, so it was used like a sun room the entire cruise. The pool area is warm and toasty, almost making you forget the temperatures/conditions outdoors. The pool and hot tubs were heated and stayed busy.

    That afternoon, Claire and I walked on the very wet, windy deck. Although it was covered, we still got wet from the blowing rain. Tai Chi class followed our walk.

    Dinner at the Pinnacle Grill was fantastic. The restaurant manager, Colin, from India, was very accommodating to us and we got samples of many of the menu items. Needless to say, we ate way too much. It was a terrific meal, and didn't end until almost 11 pm. Claire and I ate salads, soups, lobster and steak, asparagus, potatoes, and dessert.

    After over three quiet, relaxing days at sea, we were happy to see Reykjavik the next afternoon.

    Continue to 5 of 15 below.
  • 05 of 15

    Reykjavik - Walking Tour of Downtown

    Sailing into the Reykjavik, Iceland harbor on the Maasdam
    ••• Sailing into the Reykjavik, Iceland harbor on the Maasdam. Reykjavik (c) Linda Garrison

    After three and a half days at sea, the Maasdam arrived in Reykjavik about 2:00 pm, and we were off the ship, standing in the rain (of course) for the $10 round trip shuttle by 2:30. The line was pretty long, so we didn't get into town until almost 3:30. It was over a 2 mile walk along the harbor, and with the wind/rain, we decided it was easier to wait. Some people took a taxi, but we wanted to know where the shuttle bus would pick us up in town.

    The town of Reykjavik was very interesting, despite the rain. Over half of the population of Iceland lives in Reykjavik (about 130,000 in this capital city). So, you can't get too lost. The shuttle bus dropped us off in the center of town near the Information center. Claire and I picked up a map and some information, and off we went on foot. The rain had lessened to a drizzle, so window shopping on the main street was fun. It's not surprising that everything looks very Scandinavian, with clean straight lines and very simple...MORE designs. It's also not surprising that everything was very clean--no litter anywhere, although we saw a little graffitti.

    After window shopping for a while, we made our way to the city's tallest (and most famous) landmark, Hallgrimskirkja, a Lutheran church that is the country's largest (most Icelanders are Lutheran). Most of the homes in Reykjavik are colorful and relatively small; this white, concrete church is huge. Construction was started right after World War II, but it wasn't finished until the 1980's. The inside is Gothic, but very plain, with a dramatic organ that is almost 50 feet high and has 5000 pipes. Claire and I took the $6 elevator to the top and had great panoramic views of the city and surrounding area.

    Outside the Reykjavik church is an interesting statue of Leif Eiriksson, which was donated by the USA to Iceland in 1930. On the statue it acknowledges Leif as the discoverer of Vinland (North America). I can't help but wonder how many people graduate from high school without knowing that the Vikings landed on the shores of North America over 400 years before Columbus did.

    Leaving the church, we walked back down the hill towards the busy pedestrian shopping street. We stopped in a small pub that had free WiFi and a toilet. Got very lucky. It was "happy hour", with 2 for 1 drinks. So we got two local beers (Viking -- what else-- brand), and it was less than $7. Good price even at home for a half pint (each) of draft beer. Two couples from Canada who stood in line ahead of us at the shuttle bus stop came into the pub, and we had fun sipping our beers with them. Also got lucky with the rain. While we were in the pub, it poured down rain outside, but stopped before we left.

    We left the pub a little before 7 pm. I always love the summers in northern Europe; the sun didn't set until after 11 pm and rose again at about 4 am. We missed the 7 pm shuttle, but caught the 7:30 one, and were back on the ship by 8 pm. Ate dinner in the Lido since we didn't feel like dressing up and then I did laundry (almost no one was onboard--or at least they weren't doing laundry), and read my book, while Claire soaked in the hot tub in the midnight (almost) sun.

    All in all it was a nice day. Guess we finally got used to the 60 degree weather, wind, and rain. The next day we had a full day tour of some of the highlights of southern Iceland. It's called the Golden Circle tour and is the country's most popular driving tour.

    Continue to 6 of 15 below.
  • 06 of 15

    Reykjavik - Golden Circle Tour

    Golden Falls in Iceland
    ••• Gullfoss, or the Golden Falls, is a spectacular waterfall included on a tour of Iceland's Golden Circle. Golden Falls in Iceland (c) Linda Garrison

    The next morning we awoke in Reykjavik. It was a little weird sleeping while securely tied to the dock rather than slowly rocking as we had done the whole week. Claire and I had a full day tour scheduled called the "Golden Circle", which was a bus tour of many of the most popular tourist sites near Reykjavik. When we boarded the bus, our guide curiously asked how we had slept. Guess it was good we outran the storm that cancelled our stop in Greenland. It hit Iceland during the night, and was the worst low pressure storm to hit the country in July in over 50 years. The country had tons of rain and wind, and a hiker in the highlands was blown off his feet and broke his leg. The Maasdam was securely tied to the dock in a sheltered harbor. We neither heard or felt anything.

    Our Golden Circle tour was a great itinerary, but we felt very rushed the entire time, primarily because either some of our group didn't listen well or our guide did not provide clear, specific instructions....MORE In hindsight, we probably should have rented a car and driven the route ourselves. Taking the tour was easier, but we wanted to stay longer at almost every place we stopped.

    The bus left Reykjavik about 9:30 am with 49 passengers and a guide and driver. We first drove northeast towards Thingvellir, Iceland's most important historical site. Geologically, this area is very interesting since you can actually see both the European and American continental plates, and the rift valley where they are being pulled apart. This rift stretches the length of Iceland, but can be easily seen for about 10 miles as it stretches from the lake to a volcano northeast of Thingvellir. The rift is about 2 miles wide and over 120 feet deep, so you can't miss it. Of course we all had to take a photo! The rift is widening each year by about 2 inches, so at some point Iceland will be split into 2 pieces, but none of us will be around to witness the event.

    This site is also interesting because of its historical significance, which is probably why the area is a national park. The first Althing (General Assembly) was held in the rift valley in 930 AD, making it the oldest parliamentary assembly in Europe. The general assembly was held for two weeks each summer, and Thingvellir was the site of Icelandic government for over 800 years.

    A drawing of how tents were set up down in the rift to have the assembly was quite interesting, as was the drowning pool, which is a deep pool in the river that was used to drown 16th century women who had children out of wedlock or were considered witches. Men were supposedly beheaded for similar crimes, but one guide said the men were not punished for getting a girl pregnant. One group said their guide told them there were 19 documented women who were drowned in the pool. Doesn't sound like many, but the whole country of Iceland only has 85 people in prison today (out of about 300,000 residents.) It's always interesting to me how guides will often provide different statistics or tell different stories to their tour groups. Guess they don't know everyone compares notes back on the ship!

    Leaving the rift valley, we were delayed because five people did not hear the guide tell us to follow the path through the area and meet the bus at another parking lot. We didn't hear her tell us that either, but were following the crowd and asked her if we were to keep moving forward on the hiking trail and she said yes. The bus waited a while in the pouring rain for the five people and finally drove back to the other parking lot and there they were--wet and a little miffed.

    The fun was not over. Our next stop was Gullfoss, the Golden Falls on the Hvita River. The falls are quite spectacular, but we didn't get a chance to hike along them as much as we would have liked since we were rushed. The bus dropped us at the visitor center/shop/cafe/bathrooms, and we had a choice -- either reboard the bus in 15 minutes to ride down to the falls, or walk down the hill to the falls and meet the bus there in 45 minutes. Of course, when we all got back on the bus in the parking lot at the bottom of the hill near the falls, two people were missing--a man traveling alone and a guy's wife. I would excuse these folks since there were about 20 buses in the parking lot, but ours was the only one that was not white--it was a garish green! The wife finally turned up about 15 minutes late and we started to drive back to the visitor's center. Suddenly there was a sickening crash--the bus had ran into another bus! It wasn't a bad accident, but it delayed us another 30 minutes while the paperwork was completed.

    We rode back up to the visitor's center and there was our missing man, with a couple of shopping bags. We never heard the story, but assume he wanted to shop and not walk down the hill to meet the bus. He rightfully guessed we would return to pick him up. I thought when you are sailing with seasoned travelers they would be more considerate of their fellow guests, but I was wrong.

    Since we were running so much later than the other two buses on the same tour, we only had 15 minutes at our next stop instead of almost an hour, since we needed to have lunch with the entire group. The visit that was shortened was Geysir, an area of geysers and steaming, bubbly pots of sulfur water. Since I had been to Rotorua in New Zealand, this area wasn't much different, but I felt sorry for any on our bus who hadn't seen a place like this before. The Strokkur Geyser is the most reliable, shooting up about 100 feet every 10 minutes, so we got to see it, but that was about all.

    Lunch was mostly good--a bland soup that reminded me of cream of consomme (if there is such a thing), followed by delicious grilled salmon, boiled potatoes, and mixed vegetables. We also had some yummy bread sticks and cream puffs for dessert. We left the restaurant promptly at 3:15 for our last stop, one of the geothermal power stations that Icelanders are so proud of. This one was just completed in 2008, so it had many high-tech things and was a gorgeous building. Since 95 percent of Icelanders use geothermal energy to heat their homes, these plants are very important. The bus was to leave at 5:15, but (of course) we had to wait about 10 minutes for yet another straggler.

    We got back to the ship after 6 pm, and Claire and I cleaned up a little and went for a drink and dinner at the Rotterdam Dining Room. We sat with six other people at dinner and had a nice meal. Claire had a seafood appetizer, salad, and blackened tuna steak, while I had a summer roll with peanut sauce, salad, and the blackened tuna. All were good. I had the lemon sorbet for dessert, and Claire had the coffee ice cream.

    Since we were exhausted from our stressful day, we went back to the cabin and bed after dinner. The Maasdam was at the dock in Reykjavik for a second night. We would sail the next afternoon, but not before Claire and I went swimming in the Blue Lagoon.

    Continue to 7 of 15 below.
  • 07 of 15

    Reykjavik - Swimming in the Blue Lagoon

    Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik, Iceland
    ••• The Blue Lagoon is a milky blue color due to the high concentration of minerals and silica in the water. It's a marvelous place to soak away the aches and pains of traveling. Blue Lagoon Courtesy of Claire Johnson Cline

    After spending our second night at the dock in Reykjavik and recovering from our day touring Iceland's Golden Circle, Claire and I had a fun morning. We took a tour to the Blue Lagoon, the one place in Iceland most of us have heard of. It's the country's most famous geothermal spa. The Blue Lagoon is actually an artificial pool; it was dug out of the lava fields which stretch for miles in all directions. The 25-mile ride from Reykjavik is almost eerie--the landscape is flat and covered with black lava, most of which is also covered with green moss or lichen. It's very irregular ground and impossible to hike or drive on without a road.

    The pool is filled with the very hot outflow of the nearby Svartsengi thermal power plant. This hot water is chilled by sea water seeping down into subterranean hot pots before emerging into the Blue Lagoon. The water temperature is about 100 degrees and very comfortable year round, although your hair freezes in the winter after it's...MORE been dampened by the vapors.

    What makes the Blue Lagoon different from other thermal baths is the color of the water--it's an opaque, milky blue color, much like a glacial stream (only blue rather than gray). Everyone is required to shower before you don your swim suit and enter the water. In addition, admission includes a high-tech magnetic locker and towel. We bobbed around in the large lagoon for about an hour and a half, smearing our bodies with the silvery-gray silt, which is supposed to cure all sorts of ailments, but probably is mostly just an exfoliant. We both loved the "waterfall", where you let hot water beat down on your shoulders and back (and head). The only issue with the whole experience is that the minerals in the water are horrible on your hair. We didn't take a swimming cap and used tons of conditioner on our hair for the next several days. It was a fun experience and thankfully we didn't have to wait but about five minutes for the last couple to get on the bus.

    One important note for those planning a day at the Blue Lagoon. It took us about 45 minutes to get out of the water, showered, dressed, etc. and back to the bus since the place is so popular.

    The bus got back to the ship before 1 pm, and we sailed soon after. We were ravenous, so ate lunch and rested in the cabin. That afternoon we went to the Tai Chi class since we had missed the past two days because of tours. In the bar before dinner, we had drinks with a man who had sailed over 1,500 days with Holland America. Now that's a dedicated and loyal Holland America patron.

    For dinner, Claire and I ate with the couple from New York whose son worked with me over 25 years ago in Atlanta. Small world, isn't it? We enjoyed our dinner with them as we all cleaned our plates of salad, soup, and main course. I loved the yummy crab cakes with cilantro/cheese/jalapeno grits as my main course. After dinner, we went to the "Road House" show, which was very cute and done by the six singers and two female dancers.

    While we were dining, the Maasdam sailed along the scenic southern coast of Iceland for our next port of call, Djupivigor. The ship left Reykjavik about 48 hours after we arrived. It felt very weird to be at sea again!

    Continue to 8 of 15 below.
  • 08 of 15

    Cruising the Southeastern Coast of Iceland near Djupivogur

    Mountain and waterfall on the southeastern coast of Iceland
    ••• The southeastern coastline of Iceland near Djupivogur is a study in geology. Only a few hardy souls live in the area, but they are connected to the rest of Iceland by the road that encircles the entire island. Iceland (c) Linda Garrison

    We were all sad to leave Reykjavik, the Golden Circle, and the Blue Lagoon, but it was time for the Maasdam to head east for Norway.

    By the next morning, we were sailing along the southern coast of Iceland for the small town (300 residents) of Djupivogur. (Unpronounceable and impossible to spell!) The "gur" at the end is very guttural, rolling of r's, and it was entertaining to hear the Captain and cruise director slaughter the pronunciation. Dr. Hannesson, our Icelandic speaker the first week, pronounced the small town's name way different than it looks phonetically.

    As we neared Djupivogur, it was cold (43 degrees) and the winds were howling, but at least it wasn't raining. The Maasdam was surrounded by gorgeous mountains covered with the ubiquitous green mossy lichen/moss. A few small houses dotted the tiny bit of flat shoreline, and we could see a car now and then on the road that encircles the island.

    Sea Day #6 on the Maasdam

    As luck would have it, we ended up...MORE with another day at sea. We weren't too surprised that we didn't get to go into Djupivogur, given our continuing bad weather. At least everyone could say we saw the normal northern Atlantic in the summer -- windy, wet, and chilly. We reached the town (and could see it very easily), but the wind was whipping down a nearby glacier, and the Captain rightfully didn't want to risk sending the tenders ashore. I felt very sorry for everyone, but especially the townspeople who lost out on some greatly needed tourist dollars. The Captain held the ship in place for about an hour, but finally gave up, and we sailed back along the coast towards Reykjavik so that we could see the gorgeous mountains and get a peek at Europe's largest glacier.

    Since we weren't going ashore, Claire and I went to Tai Chi and then walked some around the deck (about a mile), but it was too cold and windy, so we ate breakfast and watched the spectacular scenery from a variety of places around the ship--the Crow's Nest bar, outdoors on the deck, and the Lido buffet. Lazy morning, but we all saw some amazing mountains and lush scenery.

    While we were sailing along the southeastern coast of Iceland, the staff were busy re-doing our daily program. The day was supposed to be a day in port, but now it was another sea day! They soon had a revised schedule put together, and as expected, the onboard activities had something to appeal to everyone who wasn't content to just read, nap, play games or cards with friends, or knit.

    Dinner in the Rotterdam Dining Room was another special one. It was "international night", and we had four separate menus to pick from. The four menus were (1) North and South America (2) Europe and Africa (3) Asia and Australia, and (4) Chef Rudi's (the Holland America executive chef de cuisine) selections. I had the Vietnamese spring rolls, shitake salad with sesame-ginger vinaigrette, sauteed shrimp provencal, and baked Alaska. All were delicious. Claire had the brie in phyllo pastry with apple-cranberry chutney, Scandinavian style seafood and potato chowder, Lebanese lamb shank, and cheesecake topped with warm cinnamon apples. She loved her meal, too. They had the dining room decorated with flags from around the world. Another memorable dinner.

    The show was an Italian tenor, but we decided to call it a day and head for the cabin. We had to move the clock up another hour for the last time, having "lost" six hours during our crossing. The lucky 1,000 who were doing the round trip back to Boston would "find" those hours on their return.

    The next day was a sea day as we motored towards Norway.

    Continue to 9 of 15 below.
  • 09 of 15

    Sea Day - Iceland to Norway in the North Atlantic

    Totem glass tower on the Maasdam cruise ship
    ••• This large glass tower, named the "Totem" is the signature piece of artwork on the Maasdam. Located in the atrium, it stretches from deck 6 to deck 8. Maasdam (c) Linda Garrison

    Sea Day #7 on the Maasdam

    After moving the clocks up another hour as we left Iceland, Claire and I slept in the next morning on the Maasdam. We had a typical day at sea--lectures on the diverse topics of whale watching, space travel, and our upcoming ports of call in the Norwegian fjords. As usual, the presentations were well-attended and interesting.

    This day was also the Mariner Society Brunch in the Rotterdam Dining Room. It was an elegant brunch served from a menu with appetizers of either grilled salmon salad (delicious) or a white gazpacho appetizer made with apples and pears, topped with passion fruit ice cream (those who got it said it tasted like apple sauce). Main course was either short ribs, or pan fried sole topped with capers and leeks and served with rice and carrots (very good), or a broccoli cheese quiche, which also looked tasty. Had a yummy key lime tart topped with shaved white chocolate for dessert. Very good. Of course, we had free champagne. Nice way to start the...MORE day!

    Following the brunch, Claire was off to a "Service Club" meeting since she's in Rotary in her home town. It was a good way to meet some more of our fellow travelers. Later in the afternoon, I peeked in at the Mixology class in the martini bar and the Indonesian Tea ceremony in the Rotterdam Dining Room. As usual, lots of onboard activities on the Maasdam.

    Dinner was followed by an excellent pianist, Hyperion Knight, who played a good variety of tunes. I think everyone on the ship was ready to see Molde, the first of our four ports of call along the Norwegian fjords.

    Continue to 10 of 15 below.
  • 10 of 15

    Molde - Norwegian Fjords and Hiking to the Varden Viewpoint

    Molde Panorama on the Norwegian fjords
    ••• The Molde Panorama, as seen from the Varden Viewpoint, which is 407 meters above the sea. Molde (c) Linda Garrison

    The ship reached the continent of Europe on day 13 of our cruise. Although the Maasdam had plenty of onboard activities on sea days, we were all ready to dock and go ashore. Since we didn't dock until about 10 am, Claire and I had time to enjoy breakfast, and she went to the cooking demonstration to learn how to make a perfect omelet. The secret ingredients were butter and Grand Marnier. She then stayed for a "healthy living" seminar, which must have not sunk in much, since (like me) she continued to enjoy all the food and drink the Maasdam had to offer the rest of the cruise.

    The Maasdam docked in Molde (pronounced Mol-dah), Norway, a little before 10 am, and Claire and I wandered into town to the Information Office, which also offered free WiFi. We discovered there was a trail that snaked up the mountain to an overlook at a location called Varden, which is over 400 meters above sea level (i.e. you have to walk up over 1300 feet to get there).

    We returned to the ship after...MORE exploring the streets of this quaint, pristine, small town and ate lunch. The Romsdal outdoor folk museum provided a good look of life in rural Norway, and the cemetery was filled with blooming flowers and offered good views of the fjord. After lunch, we struck out for a post office and a hike up the mountain. Needless to say, it was not easy for two seniors to do. We did meet several of our shipmates along the trail, and were surprised so many were able to make it up and down. The ship offered a tour that included a bus ride to the top of the Varden viewpoint, followed by a walk back down. Claire and I (and the others who did the round trip independently) were happy with our choice.

    We started up the mountain about 2:30, and got back down the trail about 3 hours later. Of course, we stopped many times along the trail to take photos of the Molde panorama and catch our breath. A beer ($10 each) at the Varden viewpoint was definitely in order, and we celebrated our accomplishment with a couple from Toronto who we caught up with about three-fourths of the way up the trail.

    Returning to the ship, we hit the hot tub immediately. The downhill walk was almost as bad as the uphill--our hearts hated the uphill, and our legs hated the downhill. The hot tub and showers helped some, but I predicted we would walk like little old ladies the next day in Geiranger.

    That evening, we enjoyed a memorable dinner in the Pinnacle Grill. Once each cruise, the dining venue is transformed into "An Evening at Le Cirque", with different table settings and menu. The wine pairing dinner featured three wines to drink--prosecco, chardonnay, and merlot. The 2008 Feudi del Pisciotto IGT chardonnay, was the darkest, oakiest, butteriest chardonnay I've ever tasted. It was as dark as Pilsner beer, and was a little heavy after the prosecco, but grew on us. We liked the merlot the best. It was also a 2008 and from the same company.

    Our Le Cirque dinner started with a delicious grilled Maine lobster salad and went up from there. Claire had the butternut squash soup with huckleberries, and I had the cold yogurt melon soup with two grilled, curried shrimp on top. The soup was also lightly drizzled with curry oil. Gorgeous to look at and interesting flavor. Colin (the restaurant manager) knew we wouldn't be back on the next cruise, so he insisted we try two main courses each--we loved the rack of lamb the most, followed by the chateaubriand, and then the poached black cod. We would have probably loved the cod and beef, but were actually both full after the lobster appetizer! He also brought out three desserts--a creme brulee, chocolate souffle with vanilla gelato, and a Napoleon with rasperies. All were delicious, but we really didn't enjoy them as much as if we hadn't eaten anything. Needless to say, this Le Cirque dinner in the Pinnacle Grill was delightful and very special.

    After that marvelous dinner, we were both ready for bed, but realized we needed to set the alarm to get up early for the sailing into Geiranger via the Geirangerfjord.

    Continue to 11 of 15 below.
  • 11 of 15

    Geiranger - A Day in Norway's Most Spectacular Fjord

    Maasdam at anchor in the fjord at Geiranger, Norway
    ••• Maasdam at anchor in the fjord at Geiranger, Norway. Geiranger (c) Linda Garrison

    Although we were tired from our hike in Molde the day before, setting the alarm for 6 am to get up early and see the sail-in to Geiranger was a good idea. This small town of about 300 residents sits at the very end of the Geirangerfjord, about 70+ miles inland from the sea. It was overcast and a little foggy as the Maasdam made its way slowly up the fjord, passing by numerous waterfalls and small farms high on the cliffs overhead. Some of the farms are only reachable via boat and a very long, steep walk up a mountain. We arrived in Geiranger about 9 am, and since it was a tender port, Claire and I opted to wait for the crowds to clear out before going ashore. The Maasdam finally got lucky with the weather. Although it was overcast in the morning, the sun came out about 10 am and was a gorgeous day with blue skies until the late afternoon (6 pm) when it rained a little. What a nice change!

    While were sailing along, we walked a mile around the promenade to stretch out our very sore...MORE legs. Not sure why we were so amazed of how tired we were from walking so much the day before on the hike to Varden. Anyway, we ate a leisurely breakfast and took the tender into town. Did some walking around and window shopping prior to our 12 noon, one-hour boat ride around the fjord on a RIB (rigid inflatable boat). They gave us special float suits to wear like the one I wore last year to go whale watching in Quebec. You don't need life jackets or a coat with them. In very cold water, they allow you to live five more minutes (plus you will float) than being without one, according to the guide I had last year. Not sure if that's true, but makes a good story--five minutes alive in the cold water without a suit, ten minutes with a suit, plus you float!

    The boat ride was great fun. About 20 on us were in the boat, and we zipped along the fjord, passing very close to the cliffs and to some of the many waterfalls. We saw small porpoises and some goats on our trip, which lasted about an hour. The weather was perfect (in the low 60's and sunny), and the ride was exhilarating. After the ride, we went back to the ship for lunch and loved the crab fest, which was held by the pool. Ate a bunch of crabs, and Claire sampled the ceviche, which I couldn't eat because it was laced with scallops. We topped off the yummy lunch with one scoop of chocolate and another of cinnamon ice cream. What a nice way to wrap up the fun morning!

    We took the tender back to Geiranger (the Maasdam was staying until 10:30 pm) and walked up the hill to a waterfall near the Union Hotel, the largest one in town. Holland America is very good about providing maps of each port of call, plus the Norwegian tourism people are all very helpful and have even more detailed maps. The tourism bureaus are easy to find and are marked on the Holland America maps. The tourism bureaus have great suggestions for walking, bus tours, etc. if you are not doing a ship's tour.

    Hiking back down the hill, we met a woman from the ship who had taken a bus up the mountain to Dalsnibba and then rode a bicycle back downhill (took over an hour) to Geiranger. She did the trip "on a whim", and her friends she was traveling with didn't even know where she was! She was an experienced biker and loved the ride. We talked to some others who took the round trip bus ride to Dalsnibba, so I plan to add it to my "must see" list. You can also hike up to Dalsnibba, but think it's a whole day's hike--doubt if I'd make it. Claire and I also enjoyed seeing the lovely little church and the outdoor section of the fjord museum in Geiranger. We did a little shopping, but the prices were astronomical. Bottled water was about 40 krone (almost $8), and diet cokes were the same price.

    Claire and I got back to the ship about 6 pm and ducked into the movie being shown in the big showroom--The Hunger Games. We both read the book, but had not seen the movie. The Maasdam used both the big showroom and the Culinary Arts Center to run movies on a big screen. Nice touch and a good way to catch up on some movie-watching.

    We had an 8 pm reservation at the Italian specialty restaurant, Canaletto. After our stuff fest the night before at the Le Cirque dinner, we toned it down a little. We enjoyed a selection of antipasto, some delicious breads (dipped in olive oil/balsamic vinegar), salad, veal and spaghetti, and dessert. I had a delicious lemon mousse topped with limoncello, and Claire had a selection of three different types of tiramisu.

    Since we had gotten up so early, we were in bed by 10 pm. The next day, the Maasdam was in Alesund, Norway, another town on the western coast.

    Continue to 12 of 15 below.
  • 12 of 15

    Alesund - Charming Art Nouveau City in Western Norway

    Maasdam at the Dock in Alesund, Norway
    ••• The view of the fjords and Alesund from the top of Moutn Aksla include this peek at the Maasdam at the dock. Maasdam in Alesund (c) Linda Garrison

    Alesund was our third port of call (after Molde and Geiranger) in western Norway, and Claire and I had a lovely day. The morning started in a leisurely fashion. We slept in until 7:30 am, went to 8 am Tai Chi, had a leisurely breakfast, and Claire soaked in the hot tub while I caught up on email.

    We went ashore a little before noon, skipping lunch. The day was overcast and rainy early in the morning, but never rained on us since we waited a little while to go ashore. We took our maps from the ship, but also picked up a better one ashore at the tourist information center. Alesund was almost burned to the ground in a terrible fire in January 1904 (wood homes and winter stoves don't mix), but was rebuilt in the gorgeous Art Nouveau style of the time. Most of the buildings still have this style, and we loved walking around the city.

    Claire finally did a little shopping (closing her eyes and holding her nose about the prices), buying a gorgeous wool Norwegian vest--black, white, and red....MORE Very nice looking. After the shopping, we decided our legs (and lungs) were up to another hike, so we trekked up to the top of Aksla, the town's signature mountain. We first strolled through the well-kept (and very green) city park, gradually going uphill. We got to the base of Mount Aksla and stared up at the 418 steps to the restaurant/lookout on the top. We huffed and puffed our way up to the summit, pausing to take photos (and rest) occasionally. Believe it or not, the hike was a piece of cake compared to the trek we did from Molde to Varden a few days before. The views from the top were terrific, and although it was cloudy, we could see for miles. We had two bottles of water (40 krone each, or almost $8), which is more expensive per ounce than many wines I have enjoyed. The lesson from this is -- buy water on the ship to carry around town in Norway.

    Returning to the town (hate going down the steps--so hard on the shins!), we walked around the city some more and got back to the Maasdam about 4:30. (All aboard was 5:30). Another great day, and I can see why many of the staff consider it a favorite port for shopping and exploring.

    That evening Claire and I had booked a "Cellar Master's Dinner", which is held once each cruise. It's pricey, but we had a great time and got to experience both good food and good drink. The whole Pinnacle Grill was taken over for this special meal, so about 50 people were there. We first met for sparkling wine in one of the bars before moving into dinner. Claire and I sat at a table for eight. Our companions were all very well traveled, and we had a fun evening.

    The cellar master (head sommelier) and head chef selected the menu and the wines. The portion sizes were much smaller than we had when we ate the regular menu at the Pinnacle and the Le Cirque menu. We started off with an amuse of pastrami and foie gras (rolled up like a jelly roll) and accompanied by a marvelous ginger/carrot marmalade. I don't care for foie gras, but it was edible with the strong tasting pastrami and the sparkling wine. The appetizer was a favorite at our table--perfectly grilled asparagus, smoked salmon, and a wasabi creme. It was accompanied by a white Rioja from Spain. The soup was a hot pureed butternut squash with a caramelized apple and topped with roasted sage. This wine was a red Petite Sirah from California. I'm not much of a butternut squash fan, so this and the foie gras were my least favorites, although I ate both of them since the portions were small. The next dish was Claire's least favorite--a confit of figs sitting in a pool of balsamic vinegar, limoncello, melted lemon sorbet, and a dash of sparkling wine. Claire doesn't like figs, but enjoyed the sauce. I'm not much of a fig fan, but loved how they tasted in the sauce. Claire had the seafood (lobster, scallops, and salmon) and I had the fillet. My wine was red and hers was white. I had an Australian Shiraz-Cabernet and Claire had a Washington Chardonnay. Both were very good and we traded glasses about 1/2 way through since Claire prefers red and I prefer white. Dessert was a huge (way too big) dark chocolate concoction shaped like a boat--dark chocolate mousse, dark chocolate brownie, and a dark chocolate shell. The wine was a premium port, which Claire and I neither one cared for--too sweet.

    It was another memorable day on the Maasdam and in Alesund. The next day was our last port of call--Bergen.

    Continue to 13 of 15 below.
  • 13 of 15

    Bergen - Gateway to the Fjords of Western Norway

    Bryggen Wharf in Bergen, Norway
    ••• Bryggen Wharf in Bergen, Norway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The buildings date back to the 14th to 16th centuries. Bergen (c) Linda Garrison

    In Bergen, the Maasdam passengers and crew almost had our first day in 16 days without any rain. It was sunny/cloudy all day in Bergen, and got windy several times like it might rain, but the rain held off till about 5:40 pm, after we had already sailed. It was just a shower, and we were all treated to a glorious rainbow after the rain. It seemed very close, and each end went into the water just a few hundred yards from the ship. The "ends of the rainbow" were very easy to spot, but finding that treasure in the bottom of the sea might have been difficult.

    Claire and I had a great time in Bergen. We ate a big breakfast and left the ship about 10 am to walk the short distance into town. Bergen is Norway's second largest city, so it has many nice shops, a fantastic fish market right on the wharf, and a picturesque old town area (14th to 16th centuries) right on the waterfront. Eleven of the old buildings are a UNESCO World Heritage site called Bryggen. Bergen also has a...MORE medieval 13th century castle that was used by the Germans as a command center during World War II. A huge ammunition ship was blown up (some say by accident, others say by the Nazi resistance) on Hitler's birthday in 1943. This explosion damaged the old castle and many of the structures along the waterfront, but they have been restored.

    Since the weather was sunny, our first destination was the funicular up to Mount Floyen. It's a 7-minute ride, and we paid our 40 krones each ($8) for a one-way ticket. We loved the panoramic view of Bergen from the top, and since it was a beautiful Sunday (temperatures in the low 60's), many families and people with dogs were on the mountaintop. We did a little hiking in the forest and to a small lake before walking back down the mountain via the trail, following the signs to the city center.

    It took us an hour to walk down, and we met many (mostly locals) who were going up the 1,000-foot hill. We were glad we opted to just walk down--it would have taken us 2-3 hours to walk up, even though the elevation was less than we did in Molde. The path was very long and snaked back and forth down the mountain. We saw many huge trees, lots of moss and ferns, and several babbling brooks. No litter, which was amazing in such a huge, popular park. As we neared the bottom of the mountain, we passed through the high-rent district and loved seeing the colorful homes close up, with their steep, tiled roofs. We weren't sure exactly where we would end up since the path split many times as we neared the bottom, but (miraculously) we ended up right next to the funicular station where we started!

    We stopped at the quaint McDonalds (no golden arches except in the windows upstairs) to use the toilet and for me to use the free WiFi to download email onto my Blackberry. We purchased a small container of French fries, a medium diet coke, and a bottle of water--price was 79 krones or about $15! (exchange rate was a little more than 5 krones to the $1). The bathroom and Wifi were "free", but a big Mac was about $16.

    Claire and I wandered the city, doing some window shopping and checking out the fish market. To finish off our "lunch" we bought a container of huge raspberries, which were "only" about $8. (think it was about 25 cents per berry) Delicious, but costly. We were trying to spend the last of our krones since we didn't know when we might get back. And, we were successful. Claire also bought a couple of more souvenirs and we each bought a cute rain hat. Total Bergen souvenirs=300 krones or about $60. Claire also bought a gift for her son, but she put it on plastic.

    Bergen was as fun as I remembered, but the day was soon over. We stopped and counted our krones and discovered we had about 150 left ($30), so we stopped to get a small local draft beer at an outdoor cafe. Price was 138 krones, so we didn't have to wash dishes (or charge the difference)

    We were tired from our walking all over the town (and down the mountain), so we went to Tai Chi class at 5 pm and then watched the sail away and just ate dinner in the Lido buffet. We both had a big salad, pork chop, and potatoes/veggies. Topped the meal off with the yummy dark chocolate ice cream we've been enjoying on the ship.

    The next day was our last full day on the Maasdam, and the ship would be at sea.

    Continue to 14 of 15 below.
  • 14 of 15

    Sea Day - Bergen to Amsterdam

    Linda and Claire and a Norwegian rainbow
    ••• About.com Cruises Guide Linda Garrison and friend Claire enjoy a late afternoon rainbow over the Norwegian fjords near Bergen while on a "Voyage of the Vikings" cruise on the Maasdam of Holland America Line. Photo Courtesy of Claire Johnson Cline

    Sea Day #8

    Having left Bergen, our last day on the Maasdam was a sea day. It was a quiet day, filled with the onboard activities we had grown to love like Tai Chi, cooking demonstrations, and educational lectures.

    The one new activity during the day was packing and getting ready to disembark the next day in Amsterdam.

     

    Continue to 15 of 15 below.
  • 15 of 15

    Disembarkation in Amsterdam

    Maasdam of Holland America Line at anchor in Geiranger, Norway
    ••• The Maasdam of Holland America Line at anchor in Geiranger, Norway. This was just one of several fascinating ports of call and relaxing sea days on our transatlantic cruise from Boston to Amsterdam. Maasdam (c) Linda Garrison

    The Maasdam arrived in Amsterdam the last day of our transatlantic cruise from Boston at about 8 am in the morning. Although 1,000 of our fellow passengers were returning to Boston on another northern Atlantic voyage via the British Isles, Iceland, and Greenland, 200 of us were disembarking, most after an overnight stay on the ship in Amsterdam. However, Claire and I had morning flights the day we arrived, so a car picked us up, took us to the airport, and we were out of the Netherlands before we even got to see a tulip or a windmill.

    Why did so many of our fellow cruisers stay onboard for 35 days rather than 18 like we did? The primary reason was they got to avoid a long flight back across the Atlantic, and since most of our fellow cruisers were retired, they had the time. In addition, the cost of extending the one-way cruise into a round trip cruise was not significantly higher than the cost of a one-way plane ticket back to North America. So, if you are planning a long voyage across...MORE the Atlantic and have the time, be sure to have your travel agent compare the prices. You might end up on a round trip cruise to Europe. Unfortunately, some of us like my friend Claire still work in an office, so 35 days is not practical.

    As we rolled our bags off the ship, I realized our cruise adventure had come to an end. It was my first crossing of the Atlantic, and the experience on the Maasdam exceeded my expectations. I love sea days, and we had many. However, I also love to explore ports of call, and I would love to return to all those the Maasdam visited on this cruise. The ship and her crew diligently worked to make sure everyone on board had a memorable cruise experience. With so many frequent cruisers onboard, this wasn't always easy, and I was impressed by the attitude and professionalism of all the crew who helped make our voyage a great one. My only regret is that we missed Labrador and Greenland. Guess I'll have to plan another crossing!

    As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary cruise accommodation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.