The First Encounter 

A Travel Report from a Freshman Cruiser 

Text: Josefine Spiro

Josefine Spiro, digital content producer for Havila Voyages.

Josefine Spiro, digital content producer for Havila Voyages.

A Travel Report from a Freshman Cruiser

Text: Josefine Spiro

Josefine Spiro, digital content producer for Havila Voyages.

Josefine Spiro, digital content producer for Havila Voyages.

"Ready… Steady… Go!" 

The distinctive British voice belongs to a girl aged no more than four, and is so full of enthusiasm that even a couple of the weariest guests in the medium-long breakfast queue look up to see where the voice is coming from. They are probably eager to see what can possibly make a child so happy – even before breakfast. 

But the girl isn't waiting for breakfast. Instead, she's hopped over to one of the round, upholstered design chairs by the enormous windows overlooking the fjord and the mountains beyond. In contrast to the Germans, Italians and Norwegians seated in some of the stylishly furnished seating areas behind her, she takes little notice of the marvelous scenery beyond the windows.  

"Ready, steady, go!" the girl shouts again, giving the chair a hard shove, and then watches it spin round and round, as the landscape changes behind it. 

Her younger brother – still as bald as he was born – smiles on his father's arm, almost at the head of the queue, as they wait to enter the Havrand restaurant. The little lad manages to get down on the floor and close to the exciting chairs before the maitre d'hotel greets them and informs her colleague where the family is to sit. Then, the family is guided to the table they have reserved for breakfast. This procedure reduces the number of people wandering around the restaurant, leaving the guests to enjoy their meals in peace. 

Almost 30 minutes have elapsed since I boarded Havila Capella at Torvik port, south of Ålesund. I'm excited. Four days ago, I started working as digital content creator for Havila Voyages, and this is my first trip with this young shipping company. This is so special that my husband and our three sons; twins aged seven and their older brother, aged ten, came to the quayside to see the new ship. As I was leaving, I couldn't spot a single tear in their bright eyes; just total admiration for the impressive vessel berthed at the quayside.

The next stop is Ålesund, and then we continue to the famous world heritage site: the Geiranger Fjord.  We'll be sailing completely silently. Yes, you read correctly.

The vessel, which won the "Next Generation Ship Award 2022", has the world's largest battery pack, which means that it can sail for four hours without any emissions. When we aren't running on battery power, the ship switches to LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas).

Combined with effective use of the ship, this reduces CO2 emissions by 40 per cent compared to equivalent vessels on this route. In addition, we reduce NOx and SOx emissions by 90 per cent. Cutting our carbon footprint in fjords and along Norway's coastline in this way also gives me a much cleaner conscience.  

Maitre d'hotel Hege Antonsen says the restaurant is now serving guests who have booked breakfast at 8:30 and 9:00, but if I come back after 9:30, she'll find me a table.

Hege Antonsen works as a butler on board the Havila Capella.

Hege Antonsen works as a butler on board the Havila Capella.

Meanwhile, I take a look around the ship.  Even though it's almost fully booked, there is a spacious atmosphere. The communal areas, furnished with comfortable quality furniture in stylish Scandinavian designs, are bright and airy. The enormous windows, lined up along at least four of the nine decks, give a sense of being surrounded by nature. This isn't just a feeling; we are actually sailing through nature's own forces. The sea can be like a mirror – as it is now – or it may invite us to ride its foaming white horses. In this case, it's good to know that the Rolls Royce Neptune 200-stabilizers ensure that the ship can sail safely and smoothly even on the windiest days. And if the winds reach gale force levels, I'm up to speed with some good tips to prevent seasickness, such as keeping an eye on the horizon, having a little meal, drinking cold water and avoiding sugar. 

The only thing separating my little table from the kitchen island in the heart of the restaurant is an oiled grooved wooden wall. I adjust my ears to the tone of a male voice.  Orders are placed in Swedish. "One scrambled eggs". "One croissant with chocolate topping". "One eggs and bacon". "One porridge". 

The assistant head chef, Oscar Carlander, has his hands full, getting the orders ready for the servers.
(For the record; this photo was taken at lunch time)

A server quickly appears at my table and offers coffee and juice before her colleague arrives to give me a brief introduction to the meal concept on board.

Havila Food Stories - the taste of Norway. During the round trip – from Bergen to Kirkenes and back again – the ship sails through four different "food universes", each of which has its own flavors. The menus – for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – are changed every third day, so that I can get to know the different regions that we sail through. This doesn't mean that there is only a small selection. On the contrary, you can try something new from the menu every single day. There are also some fixed dishes on, so you can pick your favorites throughout the trip.  

The breakfast menu is best described as an "à la carte buffet". This means that I can order what I would like, and it is served at my table. Since I've been upgraded to Havila Gold – the key to a little extra luxury on-board – I'm also free to choose from an extra menu with even more dishes and beverages. Havila Gold also gives me free access to the coffee dispensing machines throughout the ship, which I value particularly today after a relatively sleepless night ashore.   

I have heard that many order more food than they can handle for their first breakfast on board because they want to have a taste of "everything". Therefore, I start with three dishes; soft scrambled eggs, rye bread and ham, which is served at my table after just a few minutes. When I discover that I still have room for more, I add a "five-a-day" bowl of fruit, berries, and vegetables. This should keep me going until lunchtime. 

Item 1 of 10

At 10:00 we leave Ålesund and set course for Geiranger. There are still a few hours to go until we sail into the world heritage fjord, so the on-board expedition team invite all new guests – including those who boarded in Bergen yesterday – to the conference room on the sixth deck. Here, Marie Stömbeck will give us a pictorial presentation of the excursions we can join on the journey up to Norway's northernmost town, Kirkenes. I'm keen to hear more, so I take a seat in the front row. 

Today's excursion is by bus from Geiranger, up to the famous Ørnesvingen (Eagle's Swing), with its panoramic view of the world heritage fjord with the "Seven Sisters" waterfalls, the village, and the mountains. We'll also pass through farming villages, with local ferries across the fjords, and through flowing rivers and up across Trollstigen (The Troll ladder). It has a total of 11 hairpin bends down the precipitous mountainside, so it's quite incredible that a road could even be built there. The largest viewing platform is suspended 200 meters above the road.   


"It's like a dream come true - the very best of Norway", says Marie, and even though it's obvious that she's selling this excursion to the audience, I'm in no doubt that every word is true. But then again, a lot of other elements of this trip are in the same unique category. I've signed up for the excursion to Geiranger and Trollstigen, and I'm really looking forward to it. 

During the next 20 minutes, I learn everything I need to know to be tempted to book a whole bunch of excursions on my way up to Kirkenes.  

On day three, which is tomorrow, I can choose between four different excursions in Trondheim, which all entail at least a glimpse of the famous Nidaros Cathedral.  

On day four, there are no less than six different excursions, such as an RIB (rigid inflatable boat) safari to Saltstraumen and sea eagles in Bodø, hiking in the northern Norwegian nature, and dinner with the "Vikings" in a reconstruction of the longest Viking building in the Nordics.  

On day five, there are three different excursions in the summer season. One of them includes an itinerant theatre in Tromsø, comprising local actors who give a lively presentation of Arctic Ocean catches, Polar expeditions, daredevilry and a thirst for adventure.  

When Marie presents this excursion, a picture is displayed of the first woman to spend the winter on Svalbard and Spitsbergen: Her name was Hilde Fålun Strøm. Marie also mentions other Polar explorers and adventurers, such as Fritjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen. 

Another option is the guided bus tour of Tromsø. However, not much time is spent on the bus. The tour includes the Polaria Arctic experience centre, where you can see native Arctic fauna and also learn about the interaction between all the living creatures in the Polar region (including humans), and take a mountain-lift trip up to the “roof” of Tromsø's, 421 meters above sea level. Here, you can take a short walk in the mountain, or visit the restaurants at the top. 

I, on the other hand, will be taking a bus to the Tromsø wilderness center, to visit their 189 Alaskan huskies. Right now, they have 22 puppies and I hope I'll be able to cuddle some of them.

Day six offers four different excursions during the summer months, including a guided tour to the North Cape plateau, a bird safari, and a visit to a Sámi family. The last-mentioned is my choice. 

"The Sámi people you visit are really lovely. They enjoy telling visitors about their everyday life", says Marie. 

This is just what I was hoping for. 

Day seven, which I will miss out on because I need to leave the ship in Kirkenes to catch a flight home, offers three different excursions. You can go out to the Russian border (but you are recommended not to cross it, as there is a fine of NOK 5,000 to do so). Or you can go king crab fishing from a RIB and then enjoy eating your catch – very fresh – in a classic Norwegian way in a rustic restaurant near the fjord. 

A third option is to visit the Kirkenes snowhotel

"You can see and hear about why the hotel doesn't melt in the summer, and you can enjoy beverages in glasses made from real ice", says Marie. 

 If you want to stay the night, you can sleep on a reindeer skin, on a bed of ice. It's not cold at all, according to the expedition assistant.  

This makes me curious. However, I'll have to save this experience for another trip – maybe when Havila Voyages has put all of their four ships into operation – so that I can take another, southbound ship. Meanwhile, I have lots more to look forward to. 

A few hours later a voice – maybe Marie’s? – announces that we are approaching the Geiranger Fjord, and everyone is advised to go out on deck to make the most of this experience.  

I take my photographic equipment right up to the bow of the ship and stand ready with all the other tourists.

As I stand there with the tripod in my hand and survey the fantastic scenery reminding me of a Norwegian folktale, it strikes me again: We're moving really quietly.

As I stand there with the tripod in my hand and survey the fantastic scenery reminding me of a Norwegian folktale, it strikes me again: We're moving really quietly.

I can hear moving water rather than the ship's engine. When I look away from the fantastic sight in front of us – just to take a little peak at the faces of my fellow passengers to my left and right – I see something else that is just as amazing: The pure enchantment of people living for the moment – with rich enjoyment.  

To be continued …