The painted store fronts of Bergen, Norway.

How Maelstrom Spurred An Actual Vacation to Norway

In August 2013, my father turned 65 years old and to celebrate, the whole Ellis clan descended on Walt Disney World to celebrate Mickey style.  It was a great summer holiday spent with my parents, boyfriend, brothers and ten-year-old niece.

I’m an Epcot junkie so a few days in Future World and World Showcase were definitely on the agenda, particularly as I knew that my boyfriend, David would really enjoy the mix of edutainment and world culture.  David had never been to Walt Disney World before, but had been to Disneyland Paris many times in his role as a high school teacher – he’d supervised many school trips!

I love Disneyland Paris – but Walt Disney World just does things a little bit different and a bit bigger – and as I mention, Epcot is just THE place on earth that makes me super happy.  And I was right, David loved exploring Epcot with me and one of the parts we loved the most was the Norway Pavilion of World Showcase.

Now, let me just remind you that this was August 2013 (our first visit to Epcot in the two week holiday was Monday 19 August 2013) so this was all BF – before Frozen!  We loved the Stave Church, enjoying sampling Aquavit and exploring the stores and looking at the crazily expensive (and warm!) woollen clothing!  We also loved Maelstrom and I was really sad to hear that it was shortly to be replaced to house a Frozen ride.

Maelstrom was important as it was just a really fun ride, but also included a brief video segment at the end.  I was always really annoyed to see people ride the ride and just skip out on the video.  Okay, I know all the videos at Epcot, Soarin’ included, could do with a HD upgrade, but they’re super well produced and a nice little snippet of a different culture.  And it got us – it really got us!

So much so that we came out thinking, wow, we should go to Norway!

“The fjords looks amazing!”

“The painted houses of Bergen are just, wow, pretty!”

So as we returned to Autumnal England in September we had this thought in the back of our mind.  It was kinda cemented by a trip drinking around the world in Epcot on Friday 30 August 2013 (Mmmmm, Aquavit!) but it was just there at the back of our mind – and then, in December 2013, Disney magic!  Snow! Ice! Frozen released, and Disney had the biggest hit on their hands in almost 20 years.

As a 31 year old man, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I loved Frozen or Disney (the Disney Infinity Elsa figure my boyfriend David brought me on Christmas Day 2013 was the perfect present!) so David and I watched Frozen at the cinema plenty of times.  I still remember the goosebumps I felt when I first heard “Love is an Open Door” and leaning over to David in the cinema to whisper, “oh my god, this is a masterpiece!” when Elsa ran into the mountains and built herself an ice castle through the most amazing Disney song since “Beauty and the Beast”.

And as we left the cinema, that thought returned to my head.  Arendelle looked gorgeous, and familiar – it looked like World Showcase and the video we sat through when we left the brilliant Maelstrom.  So we decided – lets go to Norway in 2014.  Let’s go see how the land that inspired Frozen!

We traveled to Norway in August 2014 on Holland America Line on part of a week’s cruise from Dover, UK.  We’d leave Dover on the Saturday and spend Sunday cruising towards the arctic circle and Norway up the north sea and then we’d have four great days in towns and cities throughout Norway – Bergen (which the Norway Pavillion most accurately riffs on), Geiranger, Ålesund and Eidfjord, and then on the Friday we’d start our trip back to the United Kingdom past off-shore wind farms and oil platforms.

We were expecting to most enjoy Bergen, as we knew it would look just like the Norway Pavillion, but interestingly we found that the Epcot version of it was less tourist trap and expensive and overall more “controlled” and enjoyable to walk around.  Still, it was a beautiful city.

The painted store fronts of Bergen, Norway.
The painted store fronts of Bergen, Norway.

The cruise was our first cruise too and we enjoyed the ms Ryndam’s many bars, restaurants and clubs and particularly loved formal evenings (how often do you get to dress like James Bond for dinner?!)

“The name’s Ellis…Antony Ellis!”

Tuesday saw us drop anger in Geiranger.  A beautiful little town set against some steep hills and cliffs that housed approximately 240 residents.  It had a long history in clifftop farming but as it became more dangerous to farm on the sheer cliffs due to rockfalls the town reinvented itself as a tourist haven.  David and I hiked up to the highest viewing platform in the town to get a great view of the fjords and the views were stunning.  Other than Eidfjord, this was the landscape that most screamed Arendelle to us.

Geiranger or is it Arendelle?
Geiranger or is it Arendelle?

Ålesund was the third city on our trip and this was probably my favourite.  It felt less touristy than anywhere we’d been so far, and more lived-in than Bergen and Geiranger.  It was a beautiful lived-in city and it was definitely the highlight of my trip.  But it wasn’t very Frozen.

However, it seems that Holland America Line saved Arendelle to the last stop, or more accurately, Eidfjord.  Just look at it – beautiful:

Eidfjord - land of trolls...or troll rocks!
Eidfjord – land of trolls…or troll rocks!

If you’ve ever cruised before you’ll understand that you enjoy yourself a bit too much with great food and drink, so Geiranger and Eidfjord were great opportunities to walk off a few martinis or that extra slice of cake.  Eidfjord was beautiful to walk around, with a gorgeous little church and a viking burial mound just outside of town on a well marked hiking trail.  It was great to spot the landscapes that inspired Frozen too.  We even saw Kristoff’s love expert family!

Troll rocks!
Troll rocks!

So we had one last night in Norway on the ship and then sailed back to England with some amazing pictures and great memories.  We really were thankful to the Disney Company too for encouraging us to the do this trip with Frozen and Maelstrom.  They set up our expectations and Norway delivered.  A gorgeous and interesting country which I’d encourage you all to visit if you can.

We’re already planning our next holiday (honeymoon actually) to New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Anaheim (yes, Disneyland!) for Spring 2015, but we’ll really fondly remember our Disney holiday without Disney.  I’m kind of sad that Maelstrom will soon be no more – but I’m just pleased I got to ride it one last time last year and have a wonderful experience in Norway by taking the time to sit and watch the video showcasing more of the beautiful country.  If you’ve got a trip planned in the next few weeks or a Fastpass reservation, I can understand that the temptation is there to rush onto the next attraction or sight, but please, watch that video.  Enjoy those scenes.  Norway will thank you for it.

If you are interested and want to see the rest of my vacation pictures, you can access them from here.

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