We often hear about onboard activities and outings specifically associatated with expedition cruises, but this week we asked readers about their favourite shore excursions in general; their vivid accounts will make you feel as though you were there.
Letter of the week
From our cruise ship, the railway station looked so small – as if a model enthusiast had gently placed it by the water’s edge. We had sailed up the beautiful Sognefjord to the tiny Norwegian village of Flam, tucked seductively between the fjord and the mountains.
It was only two minutes to the station; then, with a toot from the engine, we were off on the Flam railway. The train climbed up to the village of Myrdal, offering spectacular views as we twisted onwards past tiny farms clinging to the fjord sides. The route through 20 tunnels included a 180-degree turn inside the mountain.
Halfway, during a photo stop at the magnificent Kjosfossen waterfalls, we even spotted Huldra, a Scandinavian sprite, as she danced across the cataract – or did we?
This was definitely a “bucket list” excursion and, from over 2,600ft up, our cruise ship, far below, now looked like a model boat – as did the tiny station alongside it.
By David Littlefield, from Tyne and Wear, wins a £250 Sunvil holiday voucher
The best of the rest
Bumping through night-time desert, we slumber in our seats, the teenagers lost in uneasy dreams. The Nile curves to meet us again, the sun rising as we cross the Aswan High Dam. Lake Nasser gleams an unreal blue. Beyond, Abu Simbel crouches, cupped in its mound. Impassive guardian statues are illuminated by golden morning.
Inside, Ramses II – boastful king, proud charioteer – careers across the walls, his story unfolding. He is borne by boats, raises armies, defeats his enemies, sacrifices crocodiles. It is strength incarnate, ultimately ephemeral – a lesson for the teenagers about the grinding power of time. We return to our cruise boat, dazzled, humbled.
Liz Kolbeck, Manchester
The beautiful north
Seven years ago I sat with my 85-year-old father reading The Sunday Telegraph. Suddenly he looked up, waved an advertising leaflet at me and said: “I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland.”
“So have I,” I replied, wistfully. The leaflet advertised a cruise with experts to St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides, Heimaey in Iceland, and the Faroe Islands. Two weeks later, Dad phoned: “We’re going on that cruise.”
“Oh Dad,” I said. “You’ll love it.”
“No,” he laughed. “We’re all going.” I remember bursting into tears.
A couple of months later our party of six boarded the Pearl. Our first stop alone – St Kilda, in all its wild, haunting beauty – was truly breathtaking.
Katherine Hobbs, Hampshire
Cruising off Papua New Guinea, an unexpected detour led us to a small island. Tourists dropping in wasn’t the norm, but the headman and his family made us welcome.
With members of the expedition team, we took a Zodiac inflatable along the coast, finding and following a river inlet into a mangrove swamp where everything appeared untouched and serene. We couldn’t identify the fish, crabs or mud skippers.
On our return, we told the headman about our adventure. He looked astonished and told us we were the first non-indigenous people to have travelled up that river. In the 21st century, how special is that?
And the name of the island? Well, I can’t tell you – because the islanders asked us not to share their secret.
Sue Newth-Gibbs, Essex
Red Sea strolls
Embarking at Aqaba on Star Flyer, we set sail down the Red Sea. One excursion stands out: a trip to Hodeida in Yemen (no tourists now). I remember the warm, proud people – but what a culture shock! We felt like voyeurs in a biblical scene, interrupting peoples’ lives. In the dusty streets and souks there were children everywhere, holding our hands and wanting money.
At Manakhah, in the Haraz mountains, we enjoyed a Yemeni lunch in a sparsely furnished house. Then we travelled up mystical hills to isolated villages, but couldn’t continue as gunshots were heard – a sad reminder of reality. Humbled but fulfilled, we returned to our cruise of contrasts.
Patricia Webster, Worcestershire
Whale of a time
Our expedition cruise to Svalbard didn’t disappoint. We had seen walruses, seals, arctic foxes, huge numbers of seabirds and glaciers galore, but the highlight came on our penultimate day. We had just landed on a fjord beach for a hike and were getting our bearings. Tragically, the beach showed much evidence of beluga whale hunting in the past. Had the hunters returned?
We were about to set off on our hike when the guide called: “Beluga!” And there they were – not a few, but a super pod of up to 300 small white whales cruising past along the surface, feeding in that calm manner so typical of whales, unconcerned by our presence.
They were so close to the shore we could hear their breathing and “conversations” with each other, just going about their daily lives. It was a truly magical and memorable experience.
Christine Packer, York
It was summer 2017 and we were on a cruise of the Baltic, with a maiden call in Kaliningrad – the Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania. For many on board, this was the most anticipated shore excursion.
We arrived at the military port of Baltiysk, with warships lining the approach. Boarding our coaches, we were unsure what to expect. A number of the guides were called Olga – and our Olga was excellent, setting out the ground rules early on: “You can photograph anything. What we don’t want you to photograph will be out of sight.”
This was a tour of many contrasts. We saw opulent amber on sale, observed the preparations of a 2018 World Cup host city, soaked up the seaside experience and had lunch at a lavish venue… not to mention the alternative side glimpsed through the coach windows.
Judi Phillips, Devon