Cathy Bartrop joins a Noble Caledonia cruise on board the MS Serenissima.

With a theme of ‘Vikings, Sagas and Fjords’, this was a chance to not only explore the beauty of the Scandinavian coastlines and its inlets and fjords, the cities of Copenhagen, Oslo and Bergen as well as to learn about the Viking period by visiting a number of historic sites and museums. Read more about Cathy’s experiences on board…

It was somewhat disconcerting to discover that the ship I was sailing on was the same age as me! We were both introduced into the world in 1960 although I can boast she has changed her name and had a few more makeovers than I have over the years 😉

Serenissima has not always been a cruise ship – she was built in Norway as cargo/passenger ferry and sailed for many years in the same region as the Harold Jarl. Then, in 2003, she was bought by the current owner, completely revamped and renamed the Andrea, before her most recent refit in 2013 when she became Serenissima and, subsequently, one of Noble Caledonia’s most popular chartered small ships. Because of this unusual history, she is often described as a ‘quirky’ ship. Until you get used it, the layout is unconventional, the cabins and public areas are all odd shapes and sizes and navigating the deck space involves switch backs and stair climbs. But despite that, as Captain Etienne, her no.1 fan, tells anyone who will listen she is a ship with great soul and character – they really don’t make them like her any more! As a small ship, carrying no more than 100 passengers, what may at first seem odd, quickly becomes familiar after a few days. Visit the engine room (with the original engine still going strong), chat to the captain up on the bridge, sit out on the teak decks and you too may find yourself getting nostalgic for the good old days of ‘proper’ ships.

Serenissima is an ideal ship for the type of destination focus cruises in which Noble Caledonia specialise – the ship is perfectly comfortable but its not really about the ship at all, she is simply your convenient transport from one interesting port to the next. Her size means she can sail pretty much anywhere which allows for the creation of imaginative itineraries that will take you from big cities to tiny fishing ports, into fjords and within bird watching distance of intriguing coastlines.

Our cruise began with 3 days in Denmark, starting in stylish Copenhagen before uncovering the smaller university town of Aalborg and the holiday resort of Skagen. We then hugged the coastline of Norway from Oslo around to Bergen, in between visiting smaller ports like Stavanger, Kragero, Lillesand and sailing right in to the famous Lysefjord.

Each day we would have at least one half day excursion, sometimes two. We visited Viking burial sites, wonderful museums with original Viking ships and artefacts, ancient churches and castles, all in the company of informative local guides. All of that was fascinating but there were plenty of lighter moments too – in Bergen for instance we were treated to a goosebump inducing piano recital at Edvard Grieg’s house and museum and, in Skagen, we took the tractor driven ‘Sandworm’ out to the sand bar that marks where the Baltic and North Seas collide – a chance to dip a toe in two oceans at once.

Serenissima arrives in port early and leaves late, giving passengers maximum time ashore – this is a huge advantage over larger ships. You never feel rushed and there’s always plenty of downtime to just have a wander about independently. The excursions are all included in the cruise price but, of course, there is no obligation to go on them all. In Skagen for instance, having whizzed by in a coach earlier in the day, in the afternoon we hired bikes and cycled back to the sunset view beach in the impossibly pretty holiday resort of Old Skagen. And on a lazy afternoon in the lovely little port of Kragero we sat with a drink and listened to some amazing jazz street musicians. The days on this type of cruise are full and fly by.

Back on board there are three meals to consume from extensive buffet breakfasts and lunch through to 4 course a la carte dinners, not to mention afternoon tea. The food is not gourmet and the evening menu is fairly limited but it is all freshly prepared, tasty and always, always served with a smile from the delightful restaurant staff. Lunch and dinner are washed down with a choice of decent house wines, beer or soft drinks.

Unlike larger ships, there is no regular entertainment programme which for most (me included) is a blessed relief. Chatting over a quiet drink, the odd quiz night, a game of cards or scrabble or turning in with a good book is much more the Serenissima style. When we docked alongside the Queen Elizabeth in Stavanger there was a generally murmur of disapproval for those ‘big ships’ and their fancy all singing, all dancing programmes. I suspect the feeling is mutual!

It just to goes to show the enormous variety of product within the cruise sector. there really is a ship and cruising style to suit pretty much anyone. If you want a relaxed holiday, seeing a wide variety of ports in some depth, with an educational bent and the emphasis very firmly on a more mature audience, Serenissima might just be perfect for you.

Cathy travelled as a guest of Noble Caledonia.
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