Welcome to the first installment of our Disney Cruise Line Norwegian Fjords Report. This recaps our experience in Norway aboard the Disney Magic, and will be something of a hybrid trip report and planning guide. Actually, I’m going to try doing something different with this cruise report–I’ll be pulling out the portions that are relevant for planning, and adding them to a makeshift Disney Norway Planning Guide at the end. So, if you’re planning your own Disney Cruise Line Norway adventure and don’t care to read me blather on about other stuff, you might wait for that.
For starters, background. Even as of earlier this year, we had no intentions of doing Disney’s Norwegian Fjords cruise. A trip to Norway has been on my bucket list, and it’s actually something we started planning earlier this year for this Christmas-time, as airfare from Los Angeles to Oslo is absurdly low (~$250) that time of year, and hotels are similarly low.
After finding the airfare deal, I had done a ton of research into the Norway in a Nutshell tour, and also how to incorporate Stockholm and Copenhagen into our itinerary. We had held off booking that trip, primarily due to some hesitations about the amount of daylight, cold weather, and other potential schedule conflicts, but were still pretty confident it was going to happen. That is, until we inadvertently stumbled upon a deal for Disney’s Norwegian Fjords cruise a little over two months ago…
As we mentioned in our 101 Disney Cruise Line Tips post, we routinely scour DCL’s site for last minute deals, and we found one such offer for an IGT rate. After crunching some numbers, it was only slightly more expensive to do this cruise than to pay for hotels, meals, and rail tickets out of pocket. On the plus side, this would allow us to visit in summer, which seemed much more desirable than winter. On the downside, no Oslo.
Airfare was prohibitively expensive, but there were two workable options with miles, so we decided to go for it. My preferred option was arriving several days early, and actually flying into Stockholm before taking the train to Copenhagen, the port city for the cruise. However, due to other travel plans, we deemed that a bit excessive, and scaled back, arriving directly into Copenhagen a day before the cruise was to begin.
We did quite a bit of research for this trip, reading a ton of blog posts and checking out several books from the library (the best ones were Rick Steves Snapshot Norway and Eyewitness Guides Norway). Even though the vast majority of Norwegians have fluency in English, we also learned a few key phrases of Norwegian, such as “hei” “tusen takk” and “Vi stemte ikke for den oransje buffoonen, men vi ber om unnskyldning for Amerika.”
Fast forward to the day of our flight. I’ll warn you in advance: this is a long story about our mis-adventure in getting to Copenhagen, the conclusion to which is foregone given that you’re reading this report. (There are also almost no photos in that story.) If it does not interest you, please click here to skip ahead to Page 2, which starts out with day 1 of the Norwegian Fjords cruise.
We had used United miles to book via LOT Air, which is a Polish carrier. We were checking out flight status and discovered that our flight from LAX to Warsaw had been canceled. Neither United nor LOT had provided notice to us.
In a panic, Sarah called United, explained the situation, and was told that LOT would have to rebook us. Sarah is really adept at dealing with airlines, and didn’t settle for this ‘passing the buck’ response (it’s almost always the default answer you’ll get when dealing with Star Alliance, and is rarely true). After a few transfers and maybe 30 minutes on the phone, United rebooked us for another flight flying Lufthansa through Frankfort.
While initially disconcerting, this was no big deal. Thankfully, we live near-ish LAX, where there are hundreds of flights to Europe everyday, because we had plenty of alternative options (albeit nothing nonstop). If we were still in Indianapolis, I would’ve been a bit more worried.
It also got us off of LOT and onto Lufthansa, an airline we’ve both generally liked in the past. The initial downside to Lufthansa was at LAX when they weighed our carry-on bags and made us check them. We are big proponents of traveling only with carry-on luggage (a “philosophy” we espouse in our Luggage Tips & Recommendations post), and normally don’t check bags both for the sake of convenience and simplicity.
This whole weight limitation was a curveball, but no big deal–the bags would be checked to our final destination. I was just glad they didn’t weigh my camera bag and try to make me check that, too!
After an uneventful flight, we arrived in Frankfurt, Germany (stock photo above…although perhaps somewhere in Frankfurt looks like this too). As we stepped off the plane there, the scene was chaos. The flight board immediately outside the plane showed dozens of flights canceled (I heard someone near me say 33), which was supposedly due to lightning. These cancelations included our flight.
We promptly headed to the customer service line, which already was quite long. As we did, Sarah called United to be rebooked. Same stock answer as before, that Lufthansa had to rebook us. With a bit of persistence and transfers, Sarah was able to get United to rebook us while we waited in the physical line.
We stayed in this line anyway, as United was only able to get us a flight the following morning, and we wondered whether the in-airport reps might be willing to put us on another airline. By the time we got to the front of the line, everything for that evening was full (which was why we called in the first place–to “beat” the physical line).
Our fear was that if our flight to Copenhagen was canceled the next morning, we would miss the cruise. We quickly analyzed some options via train, and decided that would be the safer bet, even if it would take through the night to get to Copenhagen.
With the decision made, we had to request our luggage from Lufthansa. We did this, and were told the bags would arrive on carousel 16 within 30 minutes.
This is the point in the story where you’re going to have skepticism. I know I would–wondering whether there are just too many coincidences for them to be coincidences, and perhaps the person sharing the experience made some gaffe or brought some of the troubles upon themselves. Assume what you will, I suppose…
After about an hour of waiting down at carousel 16, we inquired with the Lufthansa baggage services desk about the status of our luggage. We were told to keep waiting. Shortly after that, we were told there was a part broken in the tunnel that delivers the bags, and they couldn’t be manually off-loaded because it was in a spot where no one could fit.
In the interim, our window for taking the train (at least, a route that was not incredibly convoluted) closed. Once that occurred, I headed upstairs to the Lufthansa customer service desk for a hotel voucher. This area of the departures terminal was even more chaotic than where we’d previously waited in line, presumably because new customers kept arriving to the airport and Lufthansa was not staffed to handle 30+ flights of passengers with issues.
I was directed upstairs to claim a hotel voucher. Upstairs, I was directed back downstairs to a different line. That line snaked through much of the departures lobby. As I waited in line, I kept overhearing stories about how other guests had waited in that line, only to be told to go elsewhere for the vouchers. No Lufthansa reps were on the floor handling crowd control, which exacerbated the confusion.
As I waited over 2 hours in that line, I was rehearsing in my head what I was going to say if I got to the front and was told to go to a different line. I try to be polite (but assertive) in these situations because I’m sure the rep is having just as poor of a day as me, and it’s not as if they created the situation. I’ve worked in customer service, and it sucks. Truthfully, I’m not sure if I could’ve waited in another line after this. I might’ve just melted down on the spot. Thankfully, receiving the voucher was “painless” (if you exclude the 130 minute wait for it).
Back downstairs, what had been a modest crowd at baggage claim before now was a horde of people. Apparently, whomever was in charge of baggage at Lufthansa had not communicated to someone else that the “tunnel was broken” and more baggage had been added to said tunnel. (This does not even make sense to me–I’m just repeating what we were told.)
Suffice to say, there were a lot of unhappy guests in that baggage claim area.
Sarah had staked out a spot on some nice chairs inside Lufthansa’s baggage office. I joined her there, prepared to wait until midnight (when the office was said to close) to see if our luggage would arrive. As we waited, we heard some interactions that made us say “wow.”
In the past, I’ve generally associated Lufthansa with quality customer service. What we witnessed in Frankfurt was anything but. And it was not because customers were being unreasonable or unpleasant. It was incredibly disappointing.
After overhearing an interaction with other guests that led us to believe our luggage was not showing up that night, we went up and spoke with a CSR who seemed to be one of the “good” ones. He was polite, filed a report and took our flight info down for the following morning, assuring us that our bags would be on that plane…but also that we should come check their office before our flight the following morning just to be sure.
We took a taxi to our hotel in downtown Frankfurt, and got around 2 hours of sleep before heading back to the airport at 4 a.m. We had to wait for Lufthansa’s office to open, but once it did, a very nice CSR informed us that he had traced it to being “en route” to our plane.
At that point, there was nothing we could really do aside from hope for the best. We boarded the plane, both assuming there’d be a 50/50 shot that our luggage was waiting for us in Copenhagen. At least the weather was looking good that morning…
Lufthansa’s in-flight magazine included a pitch for All Star Sports, home of Dynamic Duck. Seems odd given that Pandora is the big marketing push right now, but perhaps the Germans really like sports and cheap motels?
We arrived in Copenhagen (small victory!), and that 50/50 prediction was more or less right. Sarah’s bag arrived, but mine did not. Unfortunately, we did not follow the basic (and very wise) advice that you should mix up your clothes among multiple pieces of luggage in case a piece is lost. Normally, it’s a non-issue since we carry-on everything.
We followed up on our lost luggage claim there, and the CSR in Copenhagen was incredibly friendly and helpful. She promised me that they’d do everything they could to deliver the bag to the Disney Magic in Norway, and even showed us the book of cruise itineraries (unprompted) and their port cities, presumably to allay our fears that the promise was total B.S.
This is actually a somewhat condensed version of the events, but it’s already pretty long and I’ve probably lost most of you by now. Ultimately, it did sour us on Lufthansa a bit (particularly the interactions we overheard at the baggage desk), but we also understand that it was a pretty chaotic day for the airline. Some of the accommodations made and interactions were great, others…not so much. This also wouldn’t be the last of our canceled flights for the trip (if you can believe that!). Okay, enough travel problems…let’s get to day 1 of the Norwegian Fjords cruise on Page 2!