Travel: The best way to see Scandinavia is by sea

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After nearly a week of trying to find silver linings for 2,000 passengers tired of all the dark clouds, the skipper of Cunard’s Queen Victoria went on the intercom to deliver a puckish platitude on the penultimate day of a 7-day Scandinavian cruise.

“You don’t go to Norway to get a suntan,” Capt. Tomas Connery deadpanned during his daily announcement that made it clear that the skies still weren’t.

Nasty weather was as menacing as a mythical Norwegian troll during our journey through the country’s bucket list-worthy fjords. Strong winds thwarted our first port of call, Stavanger, and the fog was so thick atop Sognefjellet Mountain the following morning that those with early bus tours got zero payoff for braving three hours of a winding road claimed to be Norway’s highest.

In fairness to Captain Connery, Cunard, the cruise industry and Mother Nature, inclement weather should not be a surprise to anyone who does their homework and still books a Norwegian cruise in August, the country’s wettest month. But instead of pointing out the obvious to any grimacing guests, Queen Victoria’s shipmaster used his people and maritime skills to successfully navigate through prickly conditions inside and outside the ship.

Cunard’s Queen Victoria anchored in Skjolden, Norway. (Photo by David Dickstein)

The beauty of a cruise to Norway or pretty much anywhere in Scandinavia is, well, the beauty. Even when it rains, between the drops is a visual of one of the most picturesque places in the world. And since nearly all major cruise lines avoid sailing to this desirable destination during the harshest months of November through February, rare are itineraries that get scrapped entirely. Give or take a port or two, there’s perhaps no better or easier way to see Denmark, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden — collectively considered as the broader Scandinavia — than by cruise ship.

Continuing with the when, which can be just as important as the where and who, while June and July make up the peak season for cruises in this subregion of Northern Europe, April and May generally see the first signs of improved weather. Spring also offers less-crowded ships and ports, especially with schools being in session. As with late August to early September, March is a climatic crapshoot. However, travelers on a budget may not mind getting soaked as they soak up savings.

South of the cruise port of Skjolden is Feigefossen, one of the biggest waterfalls in the Norwegian fjords. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Most cruise lines flee the Norwegian fjords and symbiotic Nordic region by October, leaving the likes of Hurtigruten and Fred. Olsen cruise lines as stalwarts to capture the Aurora Borealis in the bitter cold of late fall and winter when nights are long. From the Northern Lights to holiday lights, some cruises specialize in visiting Christmas markets starting in late November. Holiday shopping at the gateway of Santa’s HQ must be cooler than the North Pole itself.

Delving deeper into the where, Scandinavia offers water-crossing wanderlusters a smorgasbord of itineraries. Nature lovers have their pick of routes — those that take them to Norway’s fjords, the enchanting archipelagos of Sweden, the glaciers and ice fields of Greenland, the massive waterfalls of Iceland and the serene coastal landscapes of Denmark, to name a few.

Idyllic Skudeneshavn, Norway, is an early 19th-century herring village with old-world charm. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Scandinavia is also home to charming fishing villages, Norway’s idyllic Skudeneshavn for one, and large cities steeped in Viking history. Shore excursions in Oslo take passengers to the nearby Norwegian Maritime Museum with a 9th-century Viking boat and another vessel believed to be the oldest in the country at 2,200 years old. An overnighter in Stockholm is nirvana for Viking buffs who can spend an entire day in the Swedish countryside exploring such landmarks as Arkils Tingstad, one of the best-preserved Viking public assembly sites in the world, and the dramatic church ruins of St. Olof that date to 1120 AD.

Scandinavia is rich in museums displaying artifacts from the Viking Age. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Another tour, this one no less spiritual for superfans of HBO’s fantasy drama “Game of Thrones,” transports folks from their cruise ship in Reykjavik, Iceland, and into a world where tales from Norse mythology were retold a millennium later for the TV series. If you’ve ever dreamed about standing at the very waterfall where Daenerys’ dragon eats a goat after going on a fiery rampage, then your Viking ship has come in with this tour.

As riders dangle above on Himmelskibet (Star Flyer), a brakeman controls the speed of Rutschebanen, one of the world’s oldest wooden roller coasters at Tivoli Gardens. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Speaking of fantasy and pop culture, a favorite shore excursion on cruises that include Copenhagen is a visit to Tivoli Gardens. Opened in 1843, the third-oldest operating amusement park in the world contributed greatly to Walt Disney’s vision for Disneyland. Tivoli’s thrill rides are off the chain, figuratively speaking, of course, and how amazing that the undisputed adrenaline champ on these hallowed grounds is a wooden roller-coaster over a century old. Rutschebanen is not only one of the oldest coasters in the world, but it was an inspiration for the Matterhorn Bobsleds ride in Anaheim.

Turning to the who, as in which cruise lines hit the mark in Denmark and know their way through Norway, Scandinavia is a buyer’s market. Besides offering a boatload of ships, this destination is rare in that large liners will dock next to small villages and modest vessels make calls to major cities. Nearly every age, level of ambition, focus and budget has a match when looking for a Scandinavian cruise.

Ultra-luxury cruise lines generally skew toward seniors as a market segment, but Scandinavian voyages tend to attract a slightly younger demographic. Whatever the age, though, these ships promise the best of the best, as they should with fares in the five digits … per person. Crystal (, one of the elite brands, will have both of its recently rebuilt ships stretching their sea legs in Scandinavian waters over the next two summers. On the Crystal Symphony, guests in August 2025 will have the rare opportunity to visit Longyearbyen, Norway, the world’s northernmost settlement and famous for its high probability of seeing the Northern Lights as the place is completely dark and far removed from artificial lighting.

Lakeside Jostedalsbreen National Park Center in Stryn, Norway, is as charming as it is educational. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Ultra-luxury Regent Seven Seas ( has a “North Sea Odyssey” scheduled in July that includes Sweden and Denmark, and a “Norwegian Summer Sojourn” in June 2025 that goes to Oslo and deep into those grand fjords. Both voyages are 18 days. Other tony brands that serve Scandinavia include Ponant, Seabourn, Scenic, Silversea, Viking and Windstar.

The widest selection of voyages is from ships flying the flag of cruise lines in the premium category. Holland America Line ( has a variety of Scandinavian cruises from April to October in both 2024 and 2025. Itineraries range from 7 to 42 days with most weeklong sails being roundtrips out of Rotterdam, Holland. A few voyages to the region start in Boston or Fort Lauderdale for those who prefer to leave out of the U.S.

The cruise season is a bit longer for Cunard (, which makes runs to Norway as late as November and, to the delight of experimental palates, puts a strong emphasis on serving indigenous dishes. Wild Norwegian Reindeer Pie, anyone? The vast majority of Cunard’s Scandinavian sails originate from Southampton, as did ours, and while it’s quicker to fly there from the States, early birds can board the Queen Mary 2 in Brooklyn for a luxurious transatlantic add-on to and from the English port. Roundtrips from the Big Apple range from 23 to 31 days.

Grilled Norwegian langoustines is a tasty starter on select Cunard itineraries. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Princess Cruises (, another premium-class brand, will sail two ships in 2024 — Caribbean Princess and Sky Princess — with trips of 7 to 28 days, all out of Southampton. During calls to Copenhagen, Princess offers an exclusive “Beer Walk” tour that celebrates the surprisingly fresh and unorthodox flavors for which the city’s breweries are known.

Celebrity Cruises ( navigates the region’s waters with journeys of 7 to 13 days from May to August. The line’s Apex and Silhouette ships set sail from Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Southampton. Other premium-category brands that sail to Scandinavia include Azamara, Disney, Lindblad/National Geographic and Oceania.

Mainstream cruise lines have the highest-density ships, but often the lowest prices. These brands do have their advantages even for folks who prefer not to make thousands of new best friends while on vacation. With boundless entertainment, activities, food options and services, there’s always something to do onboard should there be little happening onshore. That’s particularly nice when Mother Nature isn’t cooperating or your funds for off-ship fun are exhausted.

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Looking at the better mainstream lines, Royal Caribbean ( has four ships positioned in Scandinavia in 2024 and 2025. In addition to roundtrips of 7 to 15 days starting in Holland and England, the 2,476-passenger Serenade of the Seas will make a 22-day journey from Amsterdam to Miami in August. The route goes from cold to hot with Iceland and Greenland at the top of the schedule, then after stopovers in Newfoundland and New York, passengers will thaw out completely in Bermuda and the Bahamas before making sad faces in Florida. Norwegian Cruise Line ( is sailing a handful of ships in Scandinavia from May through September over the next two seasons. The workhorse in the fleet will be the 3,100-passenger Norwegian Prima, which set the bar for the value category when it debuted in 2022. Prima, and its younger sister, Viva, blur the line between mainstream and premium.

The when, where and who of a Scandinavian cruise are critical in making a sound decision that for many will be the trip of a lifetime. How wonderful, then, that no matter what dates are circled on the calendar, or where the passport is stamped, or which ship gets you there, spectacular scenery, fascinating cultures and unsurpassed adventures await in one of the most magical places on Earth.

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