A Preview of Norway with Chuck & Cynthia Swindoll
What makes a trip unforgettable? For some, it’s the location: the spectacular Alaskan coastline or the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean. For others, it’s the focus of a vacation, like a Christian concert cruise or tour of the Holy Land. But regardless of the scenery or ministry partner on an Inspiration cruise or tour, one thing almost always stands out among our guests: the experience. We strive to provide an exceptional travel experience every time we apply our name to a cruise or tour—and that means months of planning ahead.
For instance, I just returned from what our team calls an “inspection trip.” It’s part of our planning process for our upcoming Norwegian Fjords cruise with Chuck & Cynthia Swindoll. This is a brand-new destination for us, so along with the Swindoll’s, their Insight for Living team, and members of the Inspiration family, we recently gave the trip a preliminary “trial run” in order to ensure every part of the vacation met our high standards. We weren’t disappointed. In fact, Amsterdam and Norway exceeded our expectations.
Like the cruise will next summer, our trip began in Amsterdam, where our guests will arrive before boarding the ship at the nearby port of Rotterdam. Because many guests will visit one or two days early to take advantage of local extension tours, we did the same in Amsterdam. Our trip began as we checked in to the modern hotel where our guests will stay. The staff was helpful and courteous and every room has a view of Amsterdam. The city itself is exciting, delightful, historic…and there are bicycles everywhere adding to the charm & personality.
Before (or after) the cruise, our guests will have the option of enjoying a few of Amsterdam’s most interesting Christian tours, so we made sure to schedule these, too. We visited Anne Frank’s house and museum, which was powerful and thought-provoking. To think she and her family spent so long in that secret annex. Another “hiding place”—and another home-turned-museum in Amsterdam—belonged to Corrie Ten Boom, whose family helped Jews escape the Nazi holocaust. The tour of their home was just as inspiring. Both of these museums are “must-see” destinations for anyone traveling through Amsterdam.
On embarkation day for the Norwegian Fjords cruise, our guests will have the opportunity to tour the Noah’s Ark exhibit in Rotterdam before boarding the ship. This ark is amazing! It was constructed by a Dutch builder to the exact dimensions as Noah’s original ark, just as outlined in the book of Genesis. To imagine a wooden ship of this size being built 4,000 years ago—without modern tools—is astounding.
After these tours, we boarded Holland America’s MS Rotterdam just as our guests will in 2014. As usual, we were impressed right away with the condition of the luxurious ship, its spacious rooms, its delicious food, and the attentive crew. This was my first time to meet Chuck & Cynthia Swindoll, along with their Insight for Living team, and they were everything I expected…and more! I came home sincerely impressed with Chuck’s kindness to the staff on-board and everyone around him. He exudes graciousness and fun everywhere he goes, and I especially loved seeing him interact with his sister Luci, who also joined us. What a hilarious household that must have been when they were kids!
As for cruising the Norwegian Fjords, it almost felt like cruising through Yosemite National Park in California, with the addition of rolling green hills dotted with cute homes and boat houses strewn about the impressive granite rocks and towering trees. I’m used to beautiful things and scenery—as part of the Inspiration team, I’ve been able to visit a number of our cruise locations—but Norway was entirely new and absolutely gorgeous. From the jellyfish which thrive in the cold waters of the fjords…to the charming architecture of Oslo…to the quaint seaside villages…to the grandeur of the landscape, Norway was almost overwhelming in its beauty. It reminded me of God’s creativity and majesty and compelled me to worship. It took my breath away.
The best locations on earth are those that engage each of our five senses, and Norway did just that. I’ll remember the smells of the Norwegian bakeries in Stavanger and the squawking seabirds near the Kristiansand fish market. I’ll never forget the mouth-watering roast beef sandwiches at Flam’s Fretheim Hotel, the row of quaint white buildings on the cobblestone streets of Stavanger, or the feel of sunlight warming my skin with Oslo’s green hills in the distance. And the deep blue of the sky and water—that’s the color I’ll associate with this cruise. Cool, crisp, and so reflective of the Creator.
We came back immensely excited about this trip and the destination. Simply put, Norway blew us away, and we can’t wait to introduce our guests to it in July 2014.