Scandinavia Trip Review August 9-22, 2013

Summary: This is a great trip for anyone who wants to get a comprehensive initiation to Scandinavia (Swe, Den, Nor). Great sites, very solid accommodations in city centers with a good local hotels and restaurants. Trip guide was excellent (rave reviews for Gideon).

Weather: being that you will be at 59-60 degrees latitude (equivalent to Anchorage) the weather was never warm, and we encountered mostly overcast days with periods of rain most every day . Nonetheless, this did not hamper the willingness of our group to get out and see the sites. I know Tauck asks travelers to evaluate the weather, but it is beyond any persons control, but 70 degree days are very much the exception. So, you may have to get past the idea that you are going to be in shorts/t-shirt every day. Think PacNW fall/winter weather with overcast skies and intermittent rain/drizzling.

Clothing: water "PROOF" jacket is a must, with good (waterproof) shoes, hat/hood and travel umbrella. Do NOT make the mistake of confusing "waterproof" clothing as the rain can be substantial at times, and water-repellent clothing will not make the cut after 20 minutes. Most in the group layered, with golf style shirts and blue jeans/kakies, with shorts on the 1-2 warmer (low to mid-60's F) days. Be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes--anything less will make the experience more difficult. Lot's of walking and stairs at many of the sites.

Hotels: regardless of the country your are in, a lot of the hospitality personnel are from Sweden and Finland--very friendly and accommodating--and they all speak English well. Sheraton Stockholm, Marriot Copenhagen, Continental Oslo, Radisson Bergen) are all centrally located with excellent walking access to all of the sites and museums. Of the major hotels, the Radisson Bergen is ranked #5 of five--smaller rooms, less than responsive staff, less robust morning buffet, etc. But even though it was ranked #5 you do not spend that much time in your room to where it is an issue. It is also in city center and you can walk everywhere. Alexandra Hotel in Loen is great--and they have a nice spa and workout area.

Food: at times many felt this was a restaurant tour with site seeing as a sideline. Overall the dining was very good with a number of exceptional meals. If you do not enjoy fish, then be sure to make that notation for alternatives when you book--but understand that fish is a dietary mainstay in these countries. The Steelhead trout was exceptional almost every place we were served. Breakfast buffets were good (Radisson) to excellent (Sheraton, Continental, Alexandra) with lots of American-style alternatives (omelets, fried eggs, sausage, bacon, pancakes).

Sites: visits to the stave churches, glaciers and the fiord ferry trip were excellent. Copenhagen and Stockholm have great museums but typically you do not have enough time to catch them all. However, they are all within walking distance of the hotels. Be sure to find your way to them. We took the canal tour in Copenhagen, which, when combined with the bus tour, is duplicative. So,if you would rather do something else, pass on the canal tour. Due to a fire in one of the tunnels on our Norway tour, Tauck improvised by scheduling a fjord ferry to make our connection between towns which turned out to be one of the highlights of the tour. Well done by Tauck and well worth it. Waterfall--hundreds of waterfalls and rivers in the fjords.

Expenses: The Scandinavian countries are very expensive when compared to the U.S., and there is no way to avoid it. Alcohol is extremely expensive; so purchase your hard liquor at a duty free store (connecting airport, ferry between Copenhagen and Oslo) and carry it with you. Otherwise, branded liquor is at least 2.5X what we pay in the states and can only be purchased in the state-operated stores. E.g. pizza and four beers ran $115 in Bergen, and after dinner drinks at the Continental hotel in Olso ran ~$25 per person (vs. $9-$12 here). VAT will add 25% to everything you purchase in the stores. However, there is not much tipping involved, so you do not incur that added cost.

Shopping: Be sure to save your receipts and ask the store clerks for VAT refund documents. Be aware of the fact that there are 2-3 different companies that contract with the retailers to manage the VAR refunds (as you depart the country). So if you have a lot of different receipts you may have to interact with multiple refund vendors to get VAT tax reimbursed.

Lots of high end retail shopping in all of the cities. Beware and read labels, as there are a lot of goods made in the Far East although they are of "Scandinavian design". Best times to shop is after 400P when the cruise ships are pulling out as the crowds diminish dramatically. Be sure to carry your ID for credit card purchases. (Each of these countries are moving to cashless transactions, so very little cash is needed--even when purchasing a small item like a Coke ($3-$4)). VISA/MC are the most common cards, and a lot of retailers do not take AMEX. You will incur a transaction fee for each credit card purchase. ATM's are very accessible at all the banks. Traveler's checks are not needed, nor are they worth the hassle--just use a credit card.

Recommendations: extra day in Oslo is warranted. Not sure if there is a reasonable alternative to the Radisson in Bergen that is both centrally located and able to accommodate a large group. Definitely rated below the other hotels.

Summary: A lifetime trip worth doing. The fjords and small towns have to be seen to be believed and the old cities are beautiful. Not sure if this is a trip for children less than high school age. Tauck was exceptional in managing all of the logistics, good food--you will not go hungry. We had a great group (39 persons) who got along well and every one stayed on the schedule. (Versus the chronically late and self-centered complainers who can ruin the trip for everyone.)


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