Father-Son Bonding On A Fred Olsen Cruise In Norway
It has been a while since my father, Christopher, developed his sea legs. In fact, the last time he spent a week afloat was a trip on the Norfolk Broads in the late 1950s.
My parents had talked of taking a cruise but my mother was taken ill before they could do so. Now, with my father a widower and turning 75 this year, it was time to cast anchor. If he enjoyed the experience, I hoped he might feel brave enough to cruise again – solo.
A seven-night trip through the Norwegian fjords with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines looked like a suitable toe-in-the-water cruise – gently paced with a good mix of sea and shore days, and sailing from Liverpool (no crowded flights, added expense or long transfers). Many of our fellow passengers came from north-west England and North Wales, and they agreed that embarkation in Liverpool, as opposed to Southampton, was their primary reason for choosing Fred Olsen.
This was my second cruise. The last was a family voyage in the Mediterranean with my two daughters, who were booked on a dawn-'til-dusk Barbie experience.
In total contrast, the well-equipped Boudicca is a much smaller ship, with capacity for around 880 passengers, and appeals to a different demographic – at 43, I was one of the youngest on board. As the ship’s resident comedian, Bob Taylor, clearly a distant cousin of Bernard Manning, observed one night: “I’ve been on a Saga cruise and it looks like a youth club compared to this.”
We set sail on a Sunday evening under the watchful gaze of Liverpool’s Three Graces – the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building – and headed out along the Unesco World Heritage-listed waterfront. The first two days were spent cruising past the Hebrides towards the North Sea. In that time we slowly found our feet on board, checking out the facilities – from the spa to the golf nets – and finding our favourite home-from-home areas of the ship, including the calm of the library.
I made a special effort to avoid the cruise cliches of over-indulgence and instead adopted something of a cruise-detox regime. While some passengers gathered on the pool deck with pints of Boddingtons before noon, I would be nursing a herbal tea.
I eschewed fried breakfasts and extra helpings of chips at lunchtime in favour of fresh fruit and creative salads, including tasty Scandinavian-style pickled herrings. While Dad went to a cruise lecture about the Vikings on day one, I headed for the steam room followed by a yoga class.
By day three something had changed: we relaxed. The calm of fjord cruising and yoga sessions started to pay off and I was breathing more deeply.
For the first time in months, I had no major decision to make apart from whether to finish a couple of chapters of a book by radio DJ Stuart Maconie before lunch or to drift off to the soothing West Yorkshire lilt of a Simon Armitage audiobook.
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Activities & Excursions
My father, meanwhile, was enjoying the unhurried routine of morning mooching on deck and afternoon talks in the theatre. It can be difficult for elderly men travelling alone to make new friends, and while he never says so, I’m sure he must feel lonely without my mother by his side after 40 years of marriage.
I encouraged him to join in some of the daily activities, such as bridge or a bowls game, to meet other passengers. Fred Olsen also sets aside tables where lone travellers can sit together at mealtimes.
We took three shore excursions during the week. Of these, a walking tour of Bergen, with its timber-house back streets, Unesco-listed Bryggen wharf district and bustling fish market, made for an engaging morning ashore. We even had time to dip into the city’s Kode art museums to catch an exhibition of works by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, famous for The Scream.
Another day a tranquil cruise on Lovatnet Lake followed by a scenic coach trip to the Kjenndalen Glacier highlighted some of the lush green landscape of Norway’s Olden region. A morning coach tour around Lerwick in the Shetland Islands, Britain’s most northerly town, was less compelling and marred by bad weather.
We ate a lighter, help-yourself buffet lunch each day but took breakfast and dinner in the Tintagel restaurant, with sea views and fine china. Conversation at mealtimes varied: a rather gloomy woman spent the whole of one breakfast speculating about what the crew would do with her body if she went west while cruising the fjords.
The People You Meet
The next morning, however, a charming elderly lady regaled us with tales of her first cruise as a 17-year-old debutante, sailing to Istanbul with her grandparents in the '50s. “This is far more utilitarian,” she smiled. “While the formality of that era had its own charm, I do like the way cruising has now developed across the generations.”
In many ways, it was more interesting getting to know members of the crew. Most were from The Philippines and each brought their own stories to the journey. Our waiter, six months into an eight-month contract away from his family in Manila, brought pictures of his 11-year-old son to breakfast and spoke to us of talking to his boy by Skype each night after his shift.
The yoga instructor broke off from a cobra pose one afternoon to share his weight of responsibility in caring for his ageing parents back home in Bulgaria. These bittersweet vignettes made me appreciate how fortunate Dad and I were to have this opportunity to spend time together.
By the end of the week we had relaxed and soaked up Norway’s beautiful scenery, while my downward-facing dog pose was coming along nicely. But most of all, my father had officially found his sea legs and learnt that an elderly gentleman can spend a week on board without feeling all at sea.
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This article was written by David Atkinson from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.