|The following morning, after a very slight lie-in, we stepped on deck at about 8.40 to see the lumbering presence of the FJORD NORWAY appearing in the distance. Having left Hantsholm in Northern Denmark the previous afternoon, Fjord Line's other passenger ship had paused in Egersund before following the same course up the coast as the JUPITER had (albeit without the call at Stavanger) for this morning arrival. From our vantage point beneath the JUPITER's port-side bridge wing, the 'Norway' looked in absolutely immaculate condition, clearly with a very heavy load of passengers aboard and beautifully sunlit. This class of four near-sisters could never however be considered particularly attractive, being perhaps the most extreme examples of 1980s slab-sided curve-free ferry design.
After leaving about an hour to let the FJORD NORWAY's passengers clear, we disembarked the JUPITER and made our way around to the larger ship. Hull painting was in progress (the ship would be in port until 1500) but beneath this, it was just about possible to make out her former names, PETER PAN and SPIRIT OF TASMANIA beneath the current one. One of four broadly similar ships ordered by TT Lines for their own Travemunde-Trelleborg and subsidiary Olau Lines' Sheerness-Vlissingen routes, the PETER PAN entered service in 1986 before being sold as early as 1990 to TT Lines of Australia for operations between Tasmania and Melbourne. In this service she remained until the Aussies revolutionised their services with the acquisition of their first pair of former Superfast ships upon which the ship, after a period in limbo, was purchased by Fjord Lines to beef up their Danish-Norwegian coastal route. I had last seen her in drydock in Frederikshavn in March 2003, still under her delivery name of SPIR and looking decidedly unprepared for her maiden voyage less than a week later - this was later postponed but after that false start she appears to have been a big success, to the extent that this route has now attracted competition from bitter rivals Color Line who are soon to establish a parallel route from Hirtshals-Stavanger-Bergen using the redundant PRINSESSE RAGNHILD.
We were welcomed aboard for a comprehensive tour by hotel manager Roald Tokje. Roald had been with the ship for about a year after a previous career in the hotel industry, and he was the most excellent and amiable host for the hour or so we were aboard his charge. He apologised at the outset for the condition of the ship, as she had of course only just arrived on a sailing which had been full to capacity. Apparently, the ship had recently had her passenger capacity increased by about 200 up to 1,600 thanks to some additional work to meet various regulations and this had been the first sailing at the new limit and was therefore a Fjord Line recordbreaker. His concerns that we might find the ship in a bit of a state were unfounded - the only thing I found out of place was an unattended bucket and mop in the cafeteria, although Roald could be seen quickly ducking in and out of corners, rearranging the flowers and returning curtains to their correct positions before we could photograph them! It was clear that the ship was kept in excellent condition and put her bedraggled and neglected P&O half-sisters to shame. I would also say that she outshines former sister VAL DE LOIRE (ex-NILS HOLGERSSON) although there the advantage is less clear-cut, the VAL being in pretty good condition in her own right.
The FJORD NORWAY follows the simple cabins forward/public rooms aft format and it continues to work well with the public rooms spread over three decks. Starting on the lowest of these, Deck 6, there is the amidships reception desk looking forward on the portside. Running along the port side aft of this is an arcade which bypasses on its inside the main walk-around shopping area before emerging into a very large buffet restaurant, the Lehmkuhl Buffet, the first of no less than five eateries on board. This area on the VAL DE LOIRE is the self-service restaurant (which I have always felt rather cramped, especially in the servery area) and on the P&O pair the International Food Court. On the Fjord Line ship the space has been successfully enlarged by converting a section of galley into additional seats and is very impressive with a centrally located smorgasbord servery.
Moving up a deck, and you are confronted by the rest of the eating options. To starboard is the Prego Italian Restaurant, astern of which is a small and very pleasant looking a la carte option, the Bergensfjord. The Italian is similar only in broad concept to the JUPITER's Little Italy, being furnished to a much higher, kitsch- and Frosties-free standard. Inboard of this is found a broadly open-plan area with Chuck's Steak House, a small coffee shop together with a bar counter occupying the space between Prego and a fairly narrow port-side alleyway. Following this astern leads to the spacious Nautilus Cafe/Bistro aft but before that lies, just off the alleyway, the exquisite small Cuba Lounge. This seems to be a pre- or post-dinner smoking lounge and is quite luxuriously fitted out with discreet lighting and a variety of small tables around which passengers can gather to the sound of live music.