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19th March, 2014

Alta, Norway

Saga Sapphire spent Sunday 16th March at sea and we crossed the Arctic Circle at approximately 3:00pm. We had been struggling to keep to schedule due to strong head winds and seas since leaving Andalsnes. However by making a few adjustments to the passage plan, we were approaching the berth only 30 minutes later than expected. It was a beautiful calm evening as we slid into the berth and were all fast alongside at 7:30pm in -10 degrees temperatures ! Our passengers were ready and waiting in the Britannia Lounge for this evening’s exciting tour. 


As soon as we were alongside, a local guide, Trgve Nygård came on board to give an Introductory talk about the Northern Lights as well as an in-depth look at the weather forecast. For this tour, there are three possible sights to go to, depending on the weather forecast and which sight has the clearest skies. The ‘Hunting the Aurora Borealis Tour’ is included in the price of the cruise and available for all passengers to attend. The ship was split in half and the first half of the ship went on tour this evening. The first coaches left at 8:15pm and the second group left at 9:00pm. The site was called Souluovopmi and was situated high up into the mountains, with no light pollution, it gave us the best chance to see the lights. There were camp fires and a never-ending supply of hot chocolate and cake. Not only was this the perfect site to see the Northern Lights, but also a great place for star-gazing. This tour did not disappoint and passengers witnessed the incredible natural phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis. On returning to the ship, The Food & Beverage Department had prepared a special late night buffet for those who were peckish or wanted to enjoy some hot food and drink after a chilly night of sub-zero temperatures.

Saga Sapphire remained alongside in this port for the next two days. People have been attracted to the community of Alta for thousands of years and prehistoric rock carvings discovered in 1973 can be seen at the Alta Museum. During winter, with heavy snowfalls, sub-zero temperatures and clear dark nights, Alta becomes the arena for dazzling displays of the elusive Aurora Borealis.

The next two days are packed full of exciting tours with ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities for passengers to enjoy. The first tour departed the ship at 7:15am and was a visit to North Cape. The tour began with a sight-seeing tour of Alta alongside the River Altaelva which is one of the best salmon rivers in Norway. Passengers travelled through the North Cape Tunnel to Magerøya, home to the North Cape and is Europe’s most northerly point. Passengers were able to walk around the famous globe monument and take in the breath-taking ‘lunar-like’ landscape.

The ‘Tirpitz and WWII’ tour took passengers to the Tirpitz museum in Kafjord which exhibits a host of World War II artefacts including many associated with the Tirpitz.Tirpitz was a German battleship which spent much of WWII in Nazi-occupied Norway. Known as the ‘Lonely Queen of the North’, she was the sister ship of the Bismarck and at 52,600 tonnes, was the largest battleship ever built in Europe.

Alta, Norway

A very popular tour was the ‘Dogsledding and Sami Adventure’ which began with a visit to the Holmen Hundesenter dog sledging centre where passengers were taken on a ride in a wooden sledge pulled by a pack of huskies under the control of an experienced ‘musher’. After the exhilarating ride, passengers learnt how the energetic huskies are trained for the annual Finnmarkslopet, a true test of stamina in which the dogs compete in a 600-mile race, the longest in Europe. Passengers enjoyed hot refreshments and cake in a ‘lawu’ tent and after this, passengers boarded their coach and visited Boazo Sami Siida, a traditional Sami settlement of reindeer herders located close to the Alta River. During the tour of Siida, passengers learnt about reindeer herding, looked at the utensils used by the herders and met the reindeer themselves.

For those passengers who stayed on board today, we were delighted to welcome children from Elvebekkan School. The adorable children talked about their lives in Alta in the Britannia Lounge, before exploring the ship with a special visit to the bridge.

After a busy day of Shore Excursions, those passengers who were on the evening tour had just enough time to have dinner before getting ready for the ‘Hunting the Aurora Borealis’ tour. At 6.45pm. They visited the same sight as the previous night, however the display was not as spectacular. Although many passengers did get a glimpse of the Northern Lights, many felt that the display the previous night from the ship was more impressive.

The evening entertainment was the same for both evenings so that passengers did not miss any entertainment whilst they were out on tours. In the Britannia Lounge we had a ‘Movie Night’ screening ‘Iron Will’. And in the Drawing Room, The Crystal Palace Quartet performed a concert entitled ‘Baroque Masters’ which included works by Bach, Purcell and Handel.

After what was a very late night for many, passengers were up early and ready for another exciting day in this beautiful port. Passengers on tour today went ‘Reindeer Sledding in the Maze Sami Village’. This tour travelled to the village of Maze which is reputedly the purest Sami village as all but a handful of the 350 inhabitants are Sami. Sami are the indigenous inhabitants of Lapland which covers northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Their culture is very traditional and their isolated way of life is a distinctive characteristic to their nomadic and subsistence lifestyle. A small herd of specially trained reindeer took passengers on an old fashioned sled ride, travelling through the pristine winter landscape. After the sledding, passengers enjoyed a traditional Sami meal and listened to stories about the Sami people, their history and their way of life.

Alta, Norway
A very popular tour was to the ‘Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel’ Passengers could choose to simply the visit the Hotel during the day or if they wished, they were able to spend the night in this magical ice-built hotel. The structure is made entirely from ice and snow and can accommodate 60 guests who sleep on reindeer furs to keep warm in the icy temperatures which usually average between minus 4 and minus 7 degrees Celsius. The hotel is decorated with ice sculptures carved by local artists and has a bar, lounges and even a chapel. Passengers who visited the hotel during the day enjoyed a drink of vodka served in a glass of ice. And those passengers who were staying overnight were served a two-course dinner of either locally sourced reindeer or salmon.

For the more adventurous passengers, there was the option to go Snowmobiling. Passengers had a lesson on how to operate a snowmobile before being led by an experienced guide along an old trade route towards the Sami Village of Karasjok, taking in the breathtaking landscapes of forest, valleys and snow plains along the way.

Saga Sapphire
After a wonderful two days in Alta, all were back on board and ready to sail at 4:30pm. The weather has been particularly cold over the last few days, reaching temperatures of minus 26 degrees centigrade. We have experienced brilliant sunshine as well as blizzards and we will certainly be taking away some special memories as we leave this port. As we came to let go, the blizzards started again but luckily we were well wrapped up on the bridge wing. As I slid the ship aft, away from the berth, we again made contact with the Airport as we were manoeuvring inside the flight path of the runway. I was told an aircraft was due so to continue to manoeuvre and the plane would slow down. So all the way through the swing, I could hear through the snow, the engines of the plane coming towards us, but we had turned and were away before out of the snow came the scheduled Aircraft on final for Alta Airport!!

This evening was Cabaret Showtime in the Britannia Lounge at 9:30pm. The Explosive Singers & Dancers performed their show entitled ‘All You Need Is Love’, a tribute to the music of the legendary Beatles.

Passengers retired to their cabins to get a good night’s sleep and recover from the excitement of the last few days and prepare for another day in port tomorrow.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.