Norwegian Fjords Disney Cruise Line Report – Day 1
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!
I typed in the last Norwegian phrase you decided to learn into an online translator and laughed so hard that my co-workers came running to see what was so funny.
I was not very happy with you after your review of the “live-action” Beauty and the Beast movie (how could you not be completely mesmerized by Emma Watson?), but that laugh more than makes up for it. Thanks for that, Tom!
Ok, I’m sure I’ll get flamed for this, but …
I wish people would stop apologizing for America or from being from America. Regardless of the Mad Tweeter’s antics and irrespective of political affiliation, this is still the greatest country in the world. This isn’t our best moment, to be sure. However, there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be.
I’ll jump down from my soap box and try hard not to pull a hamstring in the process. 🙂 I’m a huge fan of your work and look forward to reading the rest of your report.
“or for being from America” is what that first sentence should have said.
We are so looking forward to the rest of your reports. We leave on the Magic next week. Your tips are great & your writings are so fun. Please hurry up with the rest of your trip!!
My family was on this cruise as well! I am so sad we didn’t see you guys but it’s probably a good thing as I would have embarrassed myself asking for your autographs! We loved this cruise and did many of the same things as you. I look forward to reading the rest of your report!
It really was an awesome cruise, wasn’t it?! Hope you share what other things you did in subsequent report installments. 🙂
The few key phrases of Norwegian you looked up literally made me laugh out loud, I was not expecting that! I really hoped the rest of your travel was better than its start 🙂
I wonder if the Disney Cruise Line knew who you were and that you were likely to publish a widely read article about the experience. They could have easily added a note to your booking to take extra good care of you, assuming they knew who you were at booking time. Perhaps that is why you got such great treatment from customer service, like the free wardrobe and laundry service? Or do you think they treat every customer in this way?
That’s a possibility, I suppose, but I doubt it. We are not on Disney Cruise Line’s media list, nor have we ever received any perks, special offers, etc. from Disney Cruise Line in the past.
Usually in situations where you’re being “handled” it’s easy to tell that it’s happening. I did not perceive anything like that on this cruise.
We did this cruise in 2015 and really loved it. However, we were rather amused by the Regional Inspirations on the menus. We are German and have travelled in Scandinavian a lot. Norway was the last country to cross off the list. We found that about half of the special dishes on the menu were not really Scandinavian at all, more kind of Central European. But we did enjoy the greater variety and thought it was a nice touch! And the summer berry pudding on the next update is definitely regiona as I assume it was this: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/RÃ¸dgrÃ¸d It Ian really easy to make as well.
I am sorry that Lufthansa failed you so badly! They usually are my airline of choice (considering that they are one of only three major airlines that go to my local regional airport) and I only ever had one bad incident with them, which was weather related, too.
It does not surprise me that a lot of the dishes are not strictly Scandinavian. The regional inspirations are heavy on fish, which is probably a good proxy for Scandinavian dishes in the perception of most guests.
We still enjoyed the menus, and I’ll continue pretending that what we had was 100% authentic Norwegian cuisine! 😉
We had a terrible stay years ago in the Bahamas. My husband, myself and our three young sons were to spend four days there, and then spend five night at the Contemporary. Sounds great, right? Nope. We had one problem after the other, and no one at the hotel made any attempt to resolve the issues.
So, after making a few calls, we left the Bahamas. Luckily, the airline had seats available (not difficult then, as many times they flew “empty”). Even more lucky, the Contemporary had a room. We arrived at WDW in just a few hours. I was so happy and relieved, I wanted to hug the cast member.
Bad experiences, while exhausting and frustrating, should never sour anyone on traveling. I don’t know how I would have handled your situation Tom, but it sounds like you felt the same sense of relief I did when you got to your Disney ship. Your trip report really was “a series of unfortunate events” (pun intended). Thankfully, it worked out. Except for, I imagine, that dollar store underwear.
I really appreciate these reviews. I travel a lot domestically, but go overseas usually once every two years and I always appreciate reading how other people deal with these situations so I’m more prepared when they come up.
I’ve been trapped in Amsterdam on my way to Paris during an airline strike (took the train, but it was definitely not easy to get our bags and handle all of the logistics), had my mother’s suitcase just not arrive in Rome before a cruise, had my flight out of a small town in Africa cancelled because it was raining and the pilot didn’t know how to use the instruments to land in the rain… Any time you travel outside the US, it’s good to to have a plan for dealing with unexpected travel changes. It seems like there’s always something.
I don’t fly Lufthansa anymore after what was possibly the WORST long-haul flight experience ever. (And it didn’t even involve cancelled flights or lost luggage, so I can only imagine how much worse your experience was!)
Oslo is quite a nice city to visit (albeit prohibitively expensive for the budget traveler) so it’s a pity you missed it. But my favourite city in that part of the world is Stockholm. It has everything from ABBA to the Vikings to a World Heritage cemetery!
I think we’ll likely make a return visit to do Oslo and Stockholm later. We’ll likely do winter for that trip, as hotel prices are significantly lower at that time (at least per my research) and I’d love to see the Christmas markets.
Stockholm in the summer is just plain stunning. It is a series of islands whose beauty needs a boat trip and sunlight for full impact.
Excited to read all the posts and “re-live” our trip :). We did the Norwegian fjord cruise this same time last year and it was so magical. We flew Icelandair to Copenhagen the day before and visited Tivoli and stayed at the Tivoli hotel, which we really enjoyed. The only downside of flying Icelandair is now we really want to visit Iceland after watching the promo videos on the plane :). Thinking of the 11 night Iceland/Norway Disney cruise (we assumed Norway was a once in a lifetime trip, but it was so beautiful we want to go back. Plus our trip started off with a (non-travel related) bad event that makes us feel like we kind of deserve a do-over for ourselves anyways 🙂 ).
We’re also now starting to look at some of the other itineraries DCL does in Europe. Not necessarily the Iceland/Norway cruise, but there are a few on our radar. We also assumed this would be a once in a lifetime trip. Funny how that works!