Self-planned tour of Norway

In September ’03 I took an independent tour to Norway traveling solo. When I began my planning in June, I had three main objectives in mind: visiting the cities of Oslo and Bergen, sailing the Geiranger Fjord and crossing the Arctic Circle. With a limit of 10 days (including the days for travel to and from the U.S. to Norway), I knew it would have to be a tightly constructed trip.

Having read several articles about Norway in past issues of ITN and doing some reading in a Fodor’s guide, I determined a travel plan. After arranging for round-trip flights using my Continental frequent-flyer miles, I put together an itinerary: fly Houston to Oslo via Amsterdam (on Continental and KLM); stay two nights in Oslo; travel to Bergen via the “Norway in a Nutshell” tour; overnight in Bergen and sail out the following night on Bergen Line’s Nordnorge.

I would spend three nights aboard ship, visiting Ålesund, Geiranger Fjord and Trondheim and crossing the Arctic Circle, then disembark in Bodø. I would return to Oslo via a night train to Trondheim and a day train to Oslo Airport, then take an evening flight to Amsterdam, have an overnight stay in Leiden and finally catch a late-afternoon return flight to Houston.

In reviewing several different tour companies’ independent itineraries online, I didn’t find one that included the three main items of my trip, yet I didn’t want to spend as much time as it would take to piece this itinerary together myself. Several tour companies offered to put together independent travel itineraries, so I sent e-mails to three of them. One responded immediately: Passage Tours (239 Commercial Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33308; phone 800/548-5960 or visit

(Eventually, the other two did respond but with a notice that there was no single-cabin availability on the Nordnorge sailing I wanted.)

Passage Tours indicated that it would be possible to put together my requested itinerary, including my desired sailing. Knowing about Internet scams, I decided I had better check up on this company.

When I saw they were not affiliated with ASTA (phone 703/739-2782), I became concerned. In checking an e-mail response from them, I noticed a Ft. Lauderdale address, so I checked the Ft. Lauderdale Better Business Bureau’s Website, where I found them registered and with no complaints lodged against them. With this assurance, I proceeded with my planning.

Throughout the planning process, the Passage Tours agents (initially Roald, then Tove) were most helpful in accommodating my travel requests. They put together exactly what I wanted at a moderate price for Norway (a little over $1,300 including all land and sea arrangements except my hotel in Leiden).

My travel documents arrived in plenty of time. Along with all the necessary vouchers (with clear instructions about which to use when and in what combination), the packet included a wonderful assortment of informational materials, a detailed itinerary (which contained transfer information for each stop along the way as well as touring information for the different cities), maps, brochures and the name of a local contact in Oslo.

While I was in Oslo, Bergen Line sent an e-mail message to Passage Tours telling them to alert me about a change in the sailing schedule of the Nordnorge and of some alternative tours being offered (free of charge) in lieu of the change. The Passage Tours representative, knowing where I was staying, forwarded the message to me at the hotel. I really felt “cared for” by this company and highly recommend them.

Both hotels in Norway, “Silver” level hotels (the lowest level offered), were most accommodating, clean and comfortable. They were included in my Passage Tours price, but I looked up the rates online for this report.

In Oslo I stayed at the Rainbow Astoria Hotel, less than a 10-minute walk from the central train station. Rates range from $63 to $168. In Bergen I was at the St. Agustin Hotel, a 20-minute walk from the train station and centrally located. It has beautiful hardwood floors and very artistic inlaid wood doors to each of the rooms. The rate is $144.

The Nordnorge is a beautifully decorated ship with very comfortable cabins. This “working vessel” had the feel of a cruise ship. The overnight private cabin on the night train was also very comfortable. (It is possible to have a private toilet and shower on this train.)

I broke my trip up with an unplanned stopover in Lillehammer, choosing to spend the additional two hours of waiting time there rather than at the Oslo Airport. (I was able to do this spontaneous stop because Passage Tours had made my rail travel plans with a Norwegian railpass.)

For my overnight in the Netherlands, I chose to go to Leiden, one stop down the rail line from the Schiphol Airport in the opposite direction from Amsterdam. A smaller city than Amsterdam, it afforded me a wonderful day of wandering in what I found to be a very aesthetically pleasing city.

Because of my late-evening arrival and a late-afternoon departure, I chose to stay at the Golden Tulip Hotel just across the street from the train station. I made the reservation myself via the Internet. The cost was a little over $100 for the night. It was a very pleasant hotel.

The trip was very physically relaxing and visually stimulating. The beauty of the cities, the coast and the interior of Norway delighted me immensely.

Houston, TX