Day 3 of our Norwegian Fjords cruise aboard the Disney Magic had our first port stop, in Stavanger, Norway (click here to read our report on day 2). I’m going to do this installment of the cruise report a bit differently, with mostly planning-oriented info regarding port recommendations, followed by our anecdotal account of what happened. (This is to make things easier for me when I compile this all into a Norway Disney Cruise Line Planning Guide.)
Before we start into that, I have to admit that I was a bit nervous about our port days. One thing that gave pause about doing Norway with Disney Cruise Line was the time in each port. When traveling, I like to burn the candle at both ends, and be in control of my own destiny. Usually, this means being up for sunrise, sunset, and night photography.
No matter how we toured Norway (in the summer at least), being up for all of those things would not be possible—it’d mean 2-3 hours of sleep per night! However, the windows of port time would be tested by our plan for Stavanger. There were a few things I wanted to do in Stavanger, and not enough time to do them all…
Stavanger is a fascinating city because it has a rich history with commercial fishing, but has transformed in the last ~50 years to become Europe’s oil and energy capital.
In 1969, the first Norwegian oil field was discovered at Ekofisk south in the North Sea, which made the Stavanger region a key player in the Norwegian economy. The oil industry in the region has made locals and Norway quite wealthy in the process (Norway’s wealth management and fiscal policies are themselves fascinating, albeit beyond the scope of this report).
Today, Stavanger seems to be a blend of old and new, with a small town university feel and also features modern and old world charm. It’s a town we would’ve visited on the Norway in a Nutshell tour, too.
There would be no sleeping in this particular morning. I was up at 5:30 a.m., and quickly got ready before heading up to the top deck to watch the ship arrive into Stavanger.
I expected a large crowd for this, but there were only a handful of other guests up this early. My gain, I suppose.
We saw a lot of rocky islands like this, and I was always on the lookout for puffins when we cruised past. Spoiler: we saw 0 puffins over the course of the entire trip.
Oh well, guess that means we have to go back to Norway…
As with many of these port cities in Norway, Stavanger has a compact layout and is easily walkable. For the majority of things you might want to do in port, there’s no need to rent a car, use a taxi, or rely on the various forms of public transportation. There is one notable exception to this, which we’ll cover below.
Based upon my research, we could do both museums and Old Stavanger, or Pulpit Rock and nothing else. While the museums sound fascinating, Pulpit Rock was the clear winner for me.
Disney Cruise Line offers a Port Adventure for hiking to Pulpit Rock, but the goal of the Norwegian Fjords cruise for us was to save money over what a non-cruise trip to Norway would cost, so that was out.
Instead, I did some research and found what appeared to be a relatively easy way to do this hike on your own via public transit.
That’s what we ended up doing, and if you’re visiting Stavanger on a future cruise, I’d highly recommend it.
Disney Cruise Line’s Port Adventure is (in my opinion) overpriced for minimal added convenience—you’re paying for piece of mind since they are less likely to leave you if you’re on an “official” Port Adventure.
The threshold question before that, though, is whether hiking to Pulpit Rock is for you. This is a moderately intense, 4.4-mile hike with an elevation gain of ~1,000 feet. There is no scrambling involved, nor is the hike unsafe at any point (aside from the ledge at Pulpit Rock).
Despite Disney Cruise Line requiring guests be 12 years or older, the hike is appropriate for people of all ages who are physically fit to a reasonable degree. You will need hiking shoes, and I’d also recommend athletic attire and a hydration pack.
I’d also recommend a thin, waterproof and windproof jacket (think GORE-TEX). You won’t need any insulating layer because you’ll be on the move.
As far as strategy for getting from the cruise port to the trailhead, we’d recommend purchasing a Tide Ferry & Bus ticket and doing it yourself. With that ticket in hand, be ready to get off the ship 15 minutes before the official ashore time and run to the ferry, which is about 12-15 minutes away.
We were ashore by 7:45 a.m. and the first ferry was at 8 a.m. We literally ran through Stavanger (along with a couple dozen others), and made it onto the ferry at 7:58 a.m. The boat left promptly at 8 a.m. Running was of the essence, and if we were cleared to go ashore just 2 minutes later, we would have missed the ferry.
There was another ferry at 8:40 a.m. that others, including Disney’s Port Adventure, caught, but I think making the 8 a.m. ferry provides a huge advantage.
Not just that 40 minutes, but also in terms of crowds on what can otherwise be a busy (and narrow) path. I’d hazard a guess that we saved over an hour of time of by virtue of catching that first ferry.
From the ferry, Tide has buses that are synchronized, so it’s a simple matter of stepping off the ferry and lining up for the bus. All told, the ferry and bus take around 70 minutes to get you to the Pulpit Rock trailhead. From there, the hike is roughly 4 to 4.5 hours roundtrip (about the same amount of time up as down, albeit less intense down), plus however long you want to spend up at Pulpit Rock.
Due to the above time constraints and transportation schedules, it’s advised that you begin the descent from Pulpit Rock by 12:30 p.m. in order to make the last bus. Tide is one of two bus services operating at the trailhead–if you’re tight on time, you may have to purchase a ticket for the other bus. No big deal.
While we encountered many people on the cruise who fretted about having to turn around before making it to Pulpit Rock, or worried about worst case scenarios involving paying for a taxi from the trailhead to the cruise port.
These hypotheticals are unlikely. You should have an adequate window to make it up there whether you’re on the first or second ferry, so long as you’re in reasonably good shape.
Ultimately, I would highly recommend the hike to Pulpit Rock to anyone visiting Stavanger, Norway. I love to hike, and have done some incredible hikes in the Canadian Rockies, Yosemite National Park, Swiss Alps, and many other locations.
I would put the hike to Pulpit Rock among the top 5 hikes I have ever done. It’s a fun experience, and even though it’ll consume most of your time in Stavanger, the hike is well worth it.
Alright, with that generalized planning info out the way, let’s spice things up with an anecdote about our experience. Joining us (or perhaps we were joining them?) on the hike by Stephen and Tammy Whiting, who has a lot of great posts about cruising on TouringPlans.
We’ve “internet known” Tammy for close to a decade, which probably sounds creepier with air quotes around it, but whatever. (Also–she took many of the photos of Sarah and me in this post, so credit to her for those photos.)
Hiking with them definitely improved the experience. More importantly, it also would’ve helped from a strength in numbers perspective had we encountered Norway’s infamous anorexic polar bears that were featured in Maelstrom.
Frequently, I use “we” and “I” interchangeably on the blog when conveying our/my experiences. If you know English good, you might find this perturbing. (No one ever claimed this was the paramount of the written word.)
When I refer to past hikes above, I mean my experiences. Sarah enjoys hiking and has gone on a few hikes with me, but she’s more casual about it. Details about strenuousness and dangerousness of hikes I do are sometimes omitted when I tell her the stories from my hikes. (Just kidding, dear. )
I mention this because Sarah and I have different opinions on the strenuousness of the hike to Pulpit Rock. I’d describe it as moderate, whereas she’d describe it as intense. Thankfully, she found a blog that described the hike as “easy” while we were researching the trip. To the badass Norwegian who thinks this hike is easy, I am eternally grateful. I think Sarah would have been discouraged from doing the hike had she read more about its intensity. On Page 2, I’ll share our experience with the hike, its intensity, and the rest of our day in Stavanger and evening back on the Disney Magic.