Wednesday 1st November 2023. In the Arctic Circle. We sailed into the port just before 9.00am. It had clearly been snowing and all the hills and mountains surrounding us were covered in snow. No sign of the Northern Lights yet but fingers crossed for later today!

After breakfast, we all made sure that we had layers of sweaters, scarves, hats and coats on and then ventured down the gangway. It was minus 5 degrees!

I had organised an adapted taxi from Tromsotaxis which we couldn’t find initially, but the driver found us. He quickly loaded us up. The vehicle had a lift at the rear to get Jane aboard. He was an excellent driver and again, very careful and courteous.

We were quickly in a tunnel which took us under the fjord for about a mile, and then, ahead of us was the Arctic Cathedral.

It was impressive, but it is not the only Cathedral in Tromso.

This is the other Cathedral

We then travelled in a circle along one side of the fiord where, in the main, it appeared to be a series of residential areas.

He then took us across a modern bridge

to the other side which was less developed.

Suddenly the driver turned right from the main road into what appeared to be the drive of a private house.

He drove a short way down the drive and to our right was a field with reindeer grazing.

He said the reindeer grazed in that field until the middle of the day and wandered off up the hill in the afternoon. It was clearly a regular stop on his Tromso tours.

Queen Victoria hidden amongst the trees

By the time he had returned us to the ship it was lunchtime.

Of course for many the reason for joining this cruise was the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights. As I write, some people are leaving the ship to go on tours that might give them a better chance of seeing the Lights. It appears to be a cloudless sky which is a good sign. The locals think the chances are good (but they would say that wouldn’t they?).

We are going to dinner on 3 deck in the main dining room at the aft end of the ship at 8.15pm tonight and taking our warm kit with us. If it is announced that the Lights are in the sky we will rush up six decks in the lift to the open 9 deck where the ships lights will be dimmed. Fingers crossed.


The Northern Lights

The dining room was half empty. Hundreds appeared to have chosen the Northern Lights ahead of food. We knew that Casey and Nadia were on an evening tour in search of the Lights. The two Marks were with us. I’ve just found a copy of the photo of them in their masks taken the night before (the Masquerade Ball on Halloween).

But back to Tromso. At about 10.00pm, after dinner, we moved up to 9 deck which was dark. All the ships lights were turned off. The decks were salted and we were all looking to the sky. From time to time Ian Redpath, from the Royal Astrological Society, would tell us where to look and after a time this was spotted

It gets better

There may be more tomorrow. We are still inside the Arctic Circle.



The port

Our visit here didn’t start too well. I had booked adapted taxis at all four Norwegian ports back in September and had confirmed the bookings on line a few days before each visit.

In Narvik on Friday it was very cold (minus 6). Jane was well bundled up and we set off along the pier to the spot where coaches, buses and taxis were assembling. There was no sign of our taxi. After 15 minutes we managed to contact the taxi company to be told that the taxi had gone to the wrong port. Classic.

We went back to the ship for a coffee. Jane and Kim decided to stay aboard. The town was up a steep hill and there were no adapted shuttles (in fact no shuttles at all, it would appear) so pushing Jane up the hill was not an option. We always take a manual wheelchair ashore because of the risk to the electric one from cobblestones and a lack of dropped kerbs.

I decided to venture up to the town. It was a long hard climb. By then it was getting dark (3pm!). I bought a few items from my list and had a look at the Museum which was about to close. The walk back to the ship was easy.

The Narvik Museum
Return to the ship

As we were still within the Arctic Circle, the Aurora was still on the agenda. In Tromso and in Narvik, evening tours in coaches to likely viewing sites were very popular. Our dining companions Casey and Nadia missed dinner on both evenings to search for the Aurora.

The Aurora was elusive. We ventured onto the darkened 9 deck after dinner but there was no sign of the Lights and I gather that the 400 or so passengers who went off for the evening in coaches had no joy either.

The last of the coaches arrived back at the ship at 12.30am and we set sail half an hour later.


Captain Karl Shepherd

Master of Queen Victoria

Today, the 5th November 2023, I had the honour, at the invitation of Captain Karl Shepherd, to sound Queen Victoria’s whistle from the bridge to indicate 12 noon. The Captain then broadcast his daily message to the passengers and crew.

Earlier the Captain had given us a tour and had introduced us to the officers and crew manning the bridge.

Jane was astounded by the amount of navigational equipment!

It was a great occasion for me, because I first sailed on a Cunard ship, the Queen Mary, in 1965. For the last 20 years, after our children grew up, Jane and I have been at sea with Cunard for 675 nights and this was our first invitation to the bridge.

I have to say that I am not the first member of my family to do this. In September of this year, my sister Liz Cracknell was on Queen Victoria for her second Cunard cruise and she was invited to sound the 12 noon whistle. She beat me to it!

You will appreciate that these occasions have arisen because our father was a Cunard Captain back in the sixties and seventies – Captain George E Smith. He was one of only 3 Captains who were Masters of both the original Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2). He was the second ever Captain of QE2. In addition, during his career with Cunard, he was also Captain of Mauretania, Franconia, Saxonia, Ivernia and Carmania.

Captain George E Smith

With Captain Karl Shepherd, Master of Queen Victoria

My thanks to the Captain’s secretary Crystal for setting up this visit for me, Jane and our companion/carer Kim. Our thanks also to the bridge team and of course to the Master of Queen Victoria, Captain Karl Shepherd our thanks for giving up his valuable time. It was a great pleasure meeting him.

The head too big or the cap too small?


We arrived here just before 8.00am on Monday 6 November. The Captain had said to us the day before that the forecast was for high winds on Monday and that he would have a tug standing by to help with berthing Queen Victoria.

In fact it turned out to be a fairly calm morning, and when I woke up we were alongside, port side on. I guessed that a tug had not been necessary.

When we went ashore we found the adapted vehicle without too much difficulty. Veronica was the driver. Despite her very English sounding name her command of the English language was minimal. But she was smiley and had a plan for the 2 hour tour.

As we drove through the old town, we found a very clean and tidy place with very little traffic.

We did get stuck behind a “Noddy” train at one point and as the streets were narrow we had to crawl along behind it. Luckily it was aiming for the same attraction as us – Norway’s national monument, Haraldshaugen. It is said to be the site where Harald Hairfair (the first King of Norway) is buried. It was erected in 1872 during the millennium celebrations of Norway’s unification into one kingdom.

The areas around Haugesund were considered by the Vikings to be lands of power. At the time the King lived 5 miles away, in Avaldsnes, known as the homeland of the Vikings.

Veronica then suggested that she drove us up the nearby “mountains” (her word, we would have called them hills). We took a winding road/track through woods and lakes.

The views were fantastic.

And inevitably there was our home in the distance.

QV partially obscured!

Veronica then drove us to a small village, Visnes, once home to a prosperous copper mine. It was one of the most active mines in Norway and one of the biggest in Europe.


Visnes is said to have supplied the copper used to make New York’s Statue of Liberty and a small version sits in the water in the village.

A more dubious claim relates to Norma Jean Mortenson, otherwise Marilyn Monroe. Haugesund claims that her father emigrated from the town to the US, where she was born, but there are doubts that the man was actually her father. But a statue of her sits in the town!

Finally we were taken to Avaldsnes and to the ancient church which was surrounded by graves and headstones.

And then it was back to the ship for one more day at sea before our arrival in Southampton.


Aurora Borealis

October/November 2023

When I booked these 2 cruises a year or so ago, the Northern Lights didn’t really enter my mind. I don’t recall Cunard marketing the Norway cruise on the basis of the Lights.

It soon became clear that many of the passengers who boarded Queen Victoria on Friday 27 October were there to see the Lights. One of the speakers that Cunard had lined up was Ian Redpath of the Royal Astronomical Society. He spoke in the Royal Court Theatre on most sea days and he was always on deck 9 on the evenings when there was the chance of a sighting.

We struggled in the early days to pick up sightings with our eyes. Cameras and mobiles were better, but things improved as we moved further and further into the Arctic Circle.

I can’t claim ownership of all these images. Most of them came from Mark’s camera. He’s on the left.

And here’s another photo with Jane, Kim, Me and the two Marks.

And finally we have the end of cruise photo of our dinner table for the Norway cruise. A fun bunch!

Mark 2, Mark 1, Me, Casey, Nadia, Kim, Jane