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Our Havila Coastal Voyage, Part I: Lighthouses, Waterfalls and Midnight-Sun Ports

a ship on the water

With no casino, shows, spa or dress-up night, the scenery is the star of every single day on a Havila Coastal Voyage in Norway. Each day brings a surprising amount of variety, as the landscape changes and excursions take passengers on short forays away from the coast. The food is also a highlight, but I’ll write a whole ‘nother post about how Havila serves delicious meals drawn from each region of the journey. But my favorite part of every single day on board the Havila Castor, even more favorite than dinner? Watching late-night sunsets from the jacuzzi, while sipping prosecco. (You know what wasn’t a highlight? seeing the Northern Lights. Know why? Because it has to get dark out to see the Northern Lights, and it does not get dark out in Central to Northern Norway in July!)

Here’s a run-down of the first half of the seven-day Havila Coastal Voyage we took in July 2023:

Day 1: North from Bergen

Embarkation day (for us, Sunday, July 2) was all about the bustle of boarding, checking out our cute and comfortable cabin and enjoying our first meal at the Havrand restaurant.

For most passengers, the sailaway from Bergen was probably also a highlight, but we accidentally missed that because we were in the restaurant when the ship left the terminal.

As we headed seaward through a series of inlets from Bergen,low-lying green islands flanked both sides of the ship, with some gentle hills. We ended Day 1 with what became our every-night tradition on board the Castor: In the jacuzzi with plastic glasses of champagne, purchased from the Deck 8 outdoor bar, sold by the ship sommelier, Antoine.

Day 2: Floro-Alesund-Gerainger-Molde

a small Norwegian port with a field full of livestock
Our first of many adorable rural ports, Torvik.

We slept through 15-minute stops in the towns of Floro and Maloy. Upon waking at 8:30 a.m. I saw my first port town, Torvik, from the cabin window: red barns, yellow farmhouses, grazing black and white sheep, and what looked like a single trim fishing junk bobbing on the water.

a port in Norway
Our only peek at Alesund, unfortunately.

Later, we caught just a glance at Alesund, the city where Havila offers an excursion kayaking through town — but, alas, only in winter, spring and fall. In summer, instead of spending time docked in Alesund, Havila switches to battery power silently glides into Gerainger Fjord. I asked the crew if I could disembark at Alesund for just a few minutes, but they explained that through passengers don’t get to disembark for stops under half an hour.

Since I had slept through breakfast, I had a cold waffle with jam from the cafe. Like the Havrand restaurant, food at the Havly cafe is free to passengers taking the whole trip from Bergen to Kirkenes. (They charge for packaged items like candy bars, though.) There aren’t a ton of breakfast items available there; mostly just pastries. I brought my coffee from the machine at the other end of Deck 6, because coffee from the cafe costs money. (Or maybe it would have been free if I’d asked for it as part of my breakfast? I was never quite clear on this.)

A smiling woman on a cruise ship with green banks outside the window.
Mom and Dad enjoying the scenery as we entered Gerainger Fjord.

The view kicked up a notch as we entered the fjord. Pyramid-shaped islands that reminded me of Thailand started popping up. Soon tree-covered slopes flanked both sides of the ship. Here and there, a tiny settlement nestled in a bit of flat land between hills. Although these isolated communities must have been connected to civilization — we even saw a couple of parked cars at one farmhouse — we couldn’t see the roads. Waterfalls began appearing with increasing frequency.

yellow buoys and hoops on the water in front of a stone cliff
We saw a number of fish farms up and down the coast.

We saw our first salmon farm: it looked like giant hula hoops on the surface of the water. It began to rain around midday, which did not bode well for the eight-hour scenic bus ride we’d booked. At points, the fjord narrowed so that we almost felt we were going through a tunnel.

The prow of a ship under gray skies.
Heading into Gerainger Fjord.

Through all this, heavy gray clouds pressed down upon the hills, lending an air of drama to the scene.

waterfront in a Norwegian coastal city
Check out the lit-up windows in the building right on the harbor — looks like a cool apartment!

When we returned to the ship post-excursion, in the port of Molde, I stood on deck to check out this surpringly modern-looking city I’d never heard of, and to appreciate the pinkening sky just beyond the hill backing the city.

A man, woman, boy and girl on a dock.
I watched this little family until I lost sight of them.

I noticed a family — Dad, Mom, a boy and a girl — who must have stopped just to watch the cruise ship. (At first I thought they’d just disembarked, but they didn’t have any luggage.) I ended up watching the little family for at least 10 minutes as the ship pulled out of the harbor. They were walking through town along the waterfront, and they’d disappear behind a building, and just when I thought I’d lost them, oop, they’d pop up again. I even used my binoculars? Creepy? Sure! Entertaining? Quite.

A man with a towel over his shoulder on a cruise ship with the sunset in the background.
We got back to the ship late after our excursion — but it’s never too late to hot tub under the midnight sun.

It was around 11 p.m. by then, but we were happy to learn that the indoor bar stays open until midnight, so we could acquire the prosecco we needed for the hot tub.

Excursion: Gerainger and Trollstigen. We disembarked at Gerainger — onto a tender, seen above — to take a bus tour of the windy mountain roads in the area. We were supposed to see breathtaking vistas at Trollstigen and other points. I’ll write a separate review of this 8-hour trip, but here’s the tl;dr: We couldn’t see many of the vistas due to fog, but what we could see was beautiful.

Day 3: Kristianund-Trondheim-Rorvik

I slept through our 2:45 a.m. stop in Kristiansund, which made me sad because in 1994 I visited some very kind Norwegian relatives there and I would have liked to have seen if the sight of the port jogged any memories. But we did see this adorable tiny island as we headed into another fjord to dock at Trondheim:

tiny island with a house
According to my phone this island is near the village of Stadsbygd.

After re-boarding in Trondheim at about 12:40 p.m., we ran up on deck to watch the sail-away. After missing the initial sail-away, I was determined to witness as many port arrivals and departures as I could. This time, we saw heavily forested hills with scatterings of farms in green clearings, and several tiny isolated lighthouses on islands.

A small village in front of bare rock mountains.
As we traveled North, the scenery changed, with fewer trees.

Late in the afternoon, low mountains of bare rock with only thin patches of green replaced the tree-covered hills. I was thrilled to receive a message from a Norwegian relative, Marit, that she would be able to meet us in Tromso!

Trondheim is the only opportunity to disembark on Day 3, which left us with half the day “at sea” (although always in view of the coast). I was grateful for some quiet time with my journal, after the busy embarkation day followed by two excursions in two days. However, the crew did break up the long afternoon for us.

a red octagonal lighthouse surrounded by water
Kjeungenskjær Lighthouse

At around 3, Askjay, the excursion director, called us to Deck 6 to see the Kjeungskjaer Lighthouse and to sample the mussels served in the restaurant. As we passed the lighthouse, Askjay told us, first in English then in German, how the lighthouse keeper and his family would live there in isolation for up to 20 years at a time. When a family with children lived there, a teacher would join them. When it stormed, Mrs. Lighthouse-keeper had to make sure to plug up the sink, or seawater would flood the kitchen.

small boat on slightly rough gray water
We saw these guys fishing in this tiny boat. Does not look like a fun time to me.

As afternoon turned to evening, what had started as tiny slivers of blue developed into big patches of cloudless sky. This was the night we upgraded our meal to the fancy restaurant, Hildring, where all the tables have a window, and we enjoyed watching the sky clear up as we slowly enjoyed our courses.

A boy smiles with a piece of cake with a Norwegian flag and the words "Happy Birthday!"
We had brought candles and asked to have them lit in Toth’s dessert, but Antoine, who was waiting on us, told us he was the ship’s fire marshall and could not allow an open flame.

It was Independence Day, which of course meant nothing in Norway, so we celebrated Toth’s 14th birthday a week early instead. By the time our dinner ended, the sun low in the sky at around 10 p.m., we saw more blue than clouds.

A bridge in Norway
We didn’t mind the slow dinner since there was so much to look at.

We passed under a large bridge and came to Rorvik, which looked like a perfect blend of modern city and quaint village.

After 11, we experienced the most spectacular sunset of the trip — from the hot tub, of course.

Two men and a woman in a hot tub on board a cruise ship.
The hot tub sunsets just got better and better

Excursion: We took a vintage tram through part of Trondheim out to a scenic lake.

A cathedral with a hanging pot of flowers in the foreground
The Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim

Then a bus took us to the cathedral. I’ll write a separate review of this.

dAY 4: bRONNOYSUND-Sandnessjoen-Nesna-Bodo-sVOLVAER

A tiny Norwegian village with a wooded hill behind it.
My Great Grandma’s village, Visthus, is actually on an interior fjord, but this picturesque village is in the same region.

I had planned to wake up at 3:30 a.m., between Bronnoysund and Sandnessjoen, to see the ship pass near Visthus, where my Great Grandma Ulrikke Jensen had lived. However, I accidentally set my alarm for 3:30 p.m. I woke up on my own and went up to the deserted viewing area at about 4:15 a.m., but by then we had already passed by the fjord that led to Visthus. We were now heading toward Sandnessjoen, some 30 miles north. Still, I looked at the small farms hugging the coast, backed by rounded hills covered in closely-packed fir trees, and told myself that Grandma’s farm probably looked a lot like that.

Indoor waterslide in Norway
We saw a number of indoor pool and waterslide facilities like this one in Sandnessjoen. Makes sense when your winter is 10 months long!

In Sandnessjoen, one lonely car sat in the port parking lot, and two people sat on a bench with a couple of suitcases, waiting for the boat. Since I was up, I decided to watch for Great Grandpa Peder Jensen’s village, Velsvag, in about an hour. I tried not to bother the lone crew member, a young woman with a blond ponytail, who was vaccuuming the empty lounge.

A rocky ridge with water and an island in the foreground.
As close as I could figure to my Great Grandfather’s village.

The mountains briefly turned jagged, all rock with no green, then softened and once again broke out in trees. As we approached the Velsvag area, I saw my first patches of snow. It was July 5. Here there was very little flat land at the seashore, but tiny farms clung to what land there was. Seeing what a great country Norway is today, sometimes I’ve wondered why my great grandparents left in the first place. Seeing this beautiful but austere place, I now understood how hard it must have been for my great grandfather’s family to eke out a living. I remembered hearing about how Great-Grandpa’s father had died, and how teen-aged Great-Grandpa had taken over for 10 years, before emigrating.

The port of Nesna, Norway, viewed from a ship
Nesna, Norway

At around 6 a.m., we docked in Nesna, a picturesque town wedged between a tree-covered mountain and the sea. Nesna had straight roads with no sidewalks and a tidy little marina. Later, a cousin told me that Great-Grandpa had likely embarked from right here when he traveled to America. Of course the place has changed since the early 1900s, but I’m still glad I now have a picture in my mind of Nesna, Norway. After watching the crew on deck below me throw the ropes down to the waiting dock worker, I went back to our cabin and woke up Toth so we could watch a forklift unload boxes from the ship into a small building on the dock, then load other boxes onto the ship. The loading door was very near our cabin, which made for prime viewing. (I’ve heard other passengers say it’s noisy to be near the cargo area, but it never woke us.)

people clinking champagne glasses through a window
Toasting some friends from Wales who we’d met on the Gerainger excursion, during the Arctic Circle ceremony.

I went back to bed, and awoke a few hours later to taller mountains. Midmorning, Askjay invited us all to Deck 8 for an Arctic Circle crossing ceremony. They had a crew member come out dressed as Njörðr, who Askjay described as “the god at sea up here.” Njörðr showed up with a silly wig (that conveniently hid most of his face so he wouldn’t be recognized) and announced himself first in English, then in German (but not in Norwegian). Then the crew put a ladleful of ice and water down the collar of anyone who was willing to receive it, and handed out small shots of something like a bloody mary, but with akavit. Erik and I, knowing that there would be ice water, wore our bathing suits to this ceremony and jumped in the hot tub right after. When they were done dumping little scoops of ice water on passengers, they hazed the newest crew member by dumping the whole bucket on him. He took it well.

A photo of a man in a hot tub showed on a large TV.
I think by showing this the crew was trying to encourage more people to try the jacuzzis. They were usually empty, probably because the water wasn’t quite hot enough.

As we continued north, the coast become more and more exotic, with naked boulders bordering the sea and tiny islands popping up everywhere. I attended the daily lecture, where Askjay recapped the day, including showing Erik’s photo, then told us all about the fishing area of Lofoten, which we were now heading into. That night on Deck 8, the bar sold spiked warm apple juice in Havila souvenir mugs, and of course we bought one.

Just before midnight, we passed a few high rock peaks absolutely covered in snow, making us feel that we were truly in the Arctic now.

A ship surrounded by mountains in a narrow fjord.

After midnight, we entered Trollfjord, the absolute highlight of the trip, which I described in a previous post.

Stairs leading up to a door labeled "Banken" and a statue of a deer.
I liked this deer sculpture at the bank in Bodo.

Ports: We had no excursion scheduled on Day 4, but we explored the city of Bodo on our own. It was nice to finally get off the ship with no itinerary, and do a little shopping. We visited a beer shop and a pharmacy, as well as an ice cream shop. We admired a little public art in Bodo, and stopped at the tourist info office, but in general it was not a very exciting town. Tip: If you’re looking for a public restroom like I was, stop at the library.

A street with wooden buildings on each side and mountains in the background.
Downtown Svolvaer, Norway, doesn’t have any souvenir stands.

After 9 p.m., we arrived at Svolvaer, which was my favorite port of the entire trip. We were now in the Lofoten archipelago, an important fishing area and now also an adventure tourism destination. Only Toth and I disembarked, and I instantly wished we were staying here to head out on a backpacking or kayaking adventure. The town had only a few streets before sawtooth mountains, shrouded in mist, took over.

Wooden drying racks stood to show how stockfish were caught and dried by the thousands here during the years that the Hanseatic League bought and sold them in Bergen. Toth noticed a seagull flying up into the air and dropping sea urchins into the road to crack them open. We dragged our feet back to the ship just before the crew closed the door.

In my next post, I’ll share about Days 5 through 7 of the cruise, when we meet our relatives in Tromso, see reindeer, meet a Sami family and finally find a state-run liquor store.


How the Havila Coastal Voyage is Different from Other Cruises

Everything You Need to Know About Boarding a Havila Coastal Voyage

Day 7 Part II: Boarding the Havila Castor

Day 7: Last Day in Bergen

Day 6: Exploring Bergen

Bryggen Walking Tour Review

Moxy Bergen Hotel Review

Day 5: Reykjavik to Bergen

The Iceland Phallological Museum (NSFW!)

Reykjavik Airbnb Review

Reykjavik Lebowski Bar Review

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

Day 4: Iceland’s Golden Circle

Day 3: Reykjavik in a Day

Day 2: Arriving in Reykjavik

The Blue Lagoon

Day 1: Traveling from Chicago to Reykjavik

My Iceland Recommendations

Overview: Multigen Trip to Iceland and Norway Cruise

Travel book review: Welcome to the Goddamned Ice Cube – The Miles Mom

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