Explore Norway, Northern Lights with Hurtigruten Cruises

We’re all looking for the next best experience when it comes to cruise travel. If you’ve ever wanted to visit the breathtaking fjords of Norway or see the Northern Lights, traveling with Hurtigruten Cruises looks like a memorable vacation. A special thanks to Hurtigruten Cruises for sponsoring today’s discussion and inspiring me to hop on a Norway cruise to be a part of the unique landscape and culture.

Amazing aurora

I’m a seasoned cruiser, but ready for a different kind of itinerary. Ever since a friend and her family cruised the Norwegian fjords and posted breathtaking photos, I’ve had my eye on a cruise to Norway. What I didn’t realize, however, is that cruising Norway doesn’t just have to be a summer fling. If you’re truly seeking unique, I recently learned that a winter Norway cruise from Hurtigurten is one-of-a-kind and a great way to see the Northern Lights in person. I’ve checked out all of their winter itineraries and love the distinctive flavors and feel of each.

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Winter Wonderland Itineraries, Awesome Savings

In winter, snow-covered Norway provides the perfect backdrop whether you’re looking to capture your own National Geographic quality photos of the Northern Lights or take selfies while on a husky sledge adventure through the Arctic wilderness.

I’m not a huge fan of living in cold weather, which is why I call Southern California home. However, I’m an adventurous girl at heart and actually enjoy visits to cold climates. With the right winter gear, I’d love a chance to experience a Norway cruise to see the Northern Lights!

Fotos immer wieder  ...

My favorite itineraries

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Winter Coastal Voyages

  • 6, 7, 11, & 12 day Voyages
  • From only $965 per person!

(Tip: Hurtigruten Voyages operates on a variable pricing system. Translation: Select Winter Coastal Voyages have savings up to 30% off brochure fares… go grab the savings while still available!)

In Search of the Northern Lights Package

  • 6-Day Voyage
  • 1-Night Hotel
  • From only $879 per person!

This is a Norway cruise to see the Northern Lights! The itinerary gives you a taste of the Arctic in search of the Northern Lights. Pick your start: Bergen to Tromsø or from Tromsø to Bergen and sail through the Vesterålen and Lofoten Islands. Along the way you’ll see the Seven Sisters Mountains and visit the quaint towns of Bergen, Tromsø, Ålesund and Trondheim.

The "bridge-town"

Cool Excursions

I’d happy sign up for any of these Norway experiences on any of the Hurtigruten small ship cruises:

Polar History Walk (with beer!)

Tromsø is the largest town in northern Norway and it’s “brimming with history” and beer! This tour covers both. Enough said. Cheers!

Dog Sledding

Hop aboard a sled and enjoy the polar night as huskies pull you over the frozen landscape. They provide clothes and footwear. If you’re lucky, look up at the Nordic starry ski as the magical Northern Lights make an appearance. The excursion ends with an open fire and an unspecified hot drink (mulled wine would be awesome, right?) in a Sámi lavvo (tent).

Kirkenes Snow Hotel

Check out the scene at Norway’s largest ice bar and taste an ice-cold crowberry shot, locally known as “Rudolf’s Revenge.” Your guide will give you a tour of the Snow Hotel before strolling over to the reindeer park for photo ops with Rudolf and his reindeer crew. Who’s ready for a selfie with Dasher, Dancer, and Prancer?

Tromso

Taste Norway’s Coastal Kitchen

Hurtigruten’s menu changes with the seasons and itineraries. The kitchen is called “Norway’s Coastal Kitchen.” Chefs prepare lavish buffets for breakfast and lunch, then a thoughtful three-course dinner with a comprehensive selection of red and white wine pairings. The perfect ending to a cold day, in my opinion. Expect plentiful seafood, vegetables, and delicately flavored sauces. Food is sourced through a partnership with the Norwegian government and hundreds of local food suppliers. What other cruise line offers this type of experience to guests while helping several local economies?

Trondheim - Rorvik

To learn more about a Norway cruise from Hurtigruten, head over to the Hurtigruten Cruise website and check out the spectacular itineraries, cool excursions, and awesome savings. Ok, so if I had to pick a favorite, the Northern Lights Norway cruise looks particularly appealing to me… but which itinerary is calling your name?

Travel Links: Flying with Four Seasons to French Flamingos

Each week I’ll be publishing a few of my favorite travel reads. Enjoy!

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Sexy, sleek, and glamorous. TravelingPanties takes us inside the Four Seasons Private Jet.

How a woman’s bucket list saved her life. Even if you don’t have a life-altering illness, it serves as a good reminder to keep moving and travel.

A couple blogs about their 60km hike along Mexico’s unspoiled beaches. Think: no other tourists, turquoise water, white sand, and lots of coconuts!

Things only travellers understand.

Santorini is a beautiful place to go wine tasting. You’ll fall in love with Assyrtiko.

Cowboys, walled cities, and salt flats teeming with pink flamingos… in France?

Happy Travels,

Katie

Luxe Travel: Business Class Comfort on Blue Star Ferries

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The interior of the Business Class Lounge on the Blue Star Ithaki, Blue Star Ferries 

Headed to the Greek Islands on Blue Star Ferries? A Business Class ticket is worth every extra euro. When I traveled to Syros, a Business Class ticket on the Blue Star Ithaki was about €12 more than an unassigned Economy Class ticket. A nominal fee for guaranteed comfort, in my opinion.

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The view from the Business Class Lounge on the Blue Star Ithaki.

By the time I had my Business Class ticket in hand and boarded the ferry, the late arrivals with Economy Class tickets were having a hard time finding places to sit. I quickly bypassed the madness and headed to the quiet, spacious luxury of the Business Class lounge. I found a couch and table, ordered a green tea from the waiter, and made myself at home for the next 4.5 hours. Nobody sat in my immediate vicinity, which gave me ample space to spread out.

Travel Tip: Each ferry has a different layout, so know before you go or ask at the ticket kiosk. 

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Breakfast and Tea: Waiter service is offered in the Business Class Lounge, Blue Star Ithaki

On the way back to Piraeus, I purchased another Business Class ticket on Blue Star Ferries. Feeling hungry, I took advantage of having a waiter and ordered dinner from the a la carte menu at my table. Then I took advantage of that long, spacious couch to nap and didn’t wake up until we were docking in Piraeus.

I give Business Class on Blue Star Ferries two thumbs up for travel comfort!

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The Blue Star Ithaki arriving in Syros, Greece 

8 Tips for Visiting Thomas the Train at the Discovery Cube

A few weeks back, I was making the drive from San Diego to Los Angeles on 1-5 when I noticed the Discovery Cube in Orange County is currently hosting a Thomas & Friends: Explore the Rails exhibit. This hands-on Thomas playground is in Santa Ana from October 4, 2014 to January 4, 2015. If your child loves Thomas and trains as much as our Little Guy, he or she will be in choo-choo heaven.

Our two-year old son loves Thomas and we hear about this train and his adventures nearly every waking moment of the day. When it’s time to sleep, we read the Little Guy a bedtime story, typically Goodnight Thomas, and tuck him into bed with his beloved Thomas the Train. Clearly, we couldn’t have picked a better exhibit for our first visit to the Discovery Cube!

If you’re considering checking out this exhibit with your kids, here are a few tips based on our personal experience:

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1. Parking: The Discovery Cube Orange County in conveniently located off I-5 next to a Westfield Mall. There’s construction happening around the museum. so parking is limited. Thankfully, we had no trouble finding parking at the nearby mall and the walk over was easy.

2. Lunch and beer: We stopped for lunch at California Pizza Kitchen and enjoyed a beer before heading over to the Thomas & Friends interactive exhibit. The mall has a number of restaurants and a food court, all within walking distance to the Discovery Cube.

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3. Weekends are crazy: If you do decide to visit the Thomas & Friends exhibit on a weekend, just know what to expect. We went on a Saturday afternoon and it was crowded until about 30 minutes before closing time. All the kids love playing with the giant train set, but unfortunately there aren’t enough trains for everyone. This can lead to attempted train grabs and tears. Be prepared.

4. Visit on a weekday and call the Discovery Cube before you go: Asking is an easy way to avoid the crowds.

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5. Bring the camera! You’ll get some great pictures of your little one exploring his or her favorite world. Grandma is expecting a photo!

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6. Stop glancing at your phone and get hands-on with your kid: I can’t believe the amount of parents I saw looking at their phones and completely ignoring the kids. This is family time!

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7. The exhibit is perfect for Thomas lovers of all ages: While our guy is a bit young to rebuild Percy’s wobbly wheel, he still had fun messing around with the parts and getting up close with another favorite choo-choo.

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8. Beware the departure tears: Have that bribe ready or another activity lined up that excites them… it’ll make your departure so much easier.

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#ImAnAthenian: A morning in Athens that changed my life

Taking in the city from a sidewalk café.

#ImAnAthenian Athens Sidewalk Cafe

As a tourist with limited time, it’s tempting to rush from museum to landmark and back to another museum. Yes, you’ve checked a plethora of things off your Athens Bucket List, but have completely missed experiencing the soul of Athens, one of the most beautiful and charming cities in Europe.

“Athens, one of the most beautiful and charming cities in Europe.”

On my first morning in Athens, I left my accommodations on the early side to have an opportunity to explore the streets and watch the city come alive for the day. I roamed the streets around Monastiraki and found myself drawn to an empty sidewalk café. I ordered a thick, strong Greek coffee and resisted the urge to ask for the WiFi password. Instead, I sat in silence and watched the square go from quiet to a bustling thoroughfare of commuters and visitors. I noticed that despite the area being popular with tourists, it had a distinctly local feel. Athenians, young and old, would stop to greet neighbors and exchange a few words. A group of women found their way to the café to meet friends for coffee. I’d get friendly greetings as they’d walk by to join their friends. “Yes, I’m an Athenian too!” I felt at the core of my being.

“…despite the area being popular with tourists, it had a distinctly local feel.”

Eventually, I found myself chatting with the owner about economics and the current state of tourism in Athens. Kostas told me about how his business struggled with the economic crisis, when weary travelers avoided Athens due to sensationalized media reports. Today, things are looking up and he affirmed “You can’t let news from 3 year ago affect where you travel today.” He continued, “Things have always been fine for tourists [regarding safety] in Athens, but unfortunately the media wants to sell news and it’s not good for the rest of us.” He urged me to spread the word and bring more tourists to Athens.

“You can’t let news from 3 year ago affect where you travel today.”

#ImAnAthenian sidewalk cafe

It’s fascinating how after an hour at a café in gorgeous Athens, the cradle of western civilization, I felt the embrace of my newly adopted city. It was only the first morning, but my mission for the week was abundantly clear: To grasp the pulse of the city and encourage more tourists to consider Athens as a destination.

“…I felt the embrace of my newly adopted city.”

The following week, as I was preparing for my departure from Greece, I received a message on the TravelPlusWine Facebook page, “Greece is very high on my bucket list…and your pictures and posts put it even higher! Safe travels home!”

“Greece is very high on my bucket list…and your pictures and posts put it even higher!

Although Athens might not see a flood of tourists tomorrow, the medium to long-term trickle effect of posting pictures and messages about Athens across blogs and social media channels, promises to be huge. #ImAnAthenian is emotional and the feeling is in the air… spreading across the globe, in part, thanks to a dynamite group of #TBEX bloggers.

“#ImAnAthenian is emotional and the feeling is in the air…”

Welcome to Athens! It offers visitors a 6,000-year history of worldly significance and glory. Today, the city is inviting us to become a part of its history. Yes, #ImAnAthenian. And I can’t wait to return.

“Today, the city is inviting us to become a part of its history.”

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