Touring 'Frozen' Norway with Adventures by Disney
Rushing water and my 6-year-old daughter's squeals of delight were all I could hear as we roared over the whitewater rapids of Norway's Voss River. It's been a week of non-stop fun with Adventures by Disney, a Disney tour company that makes every corner of the globe accessible to adventurous travelers like me, parents who've now got kids along for the ride.
Once I could just load up a backpack or carry-on and be on my way. Today, with three kids in tow, traveling overseas can seem daunting. What if we have a problem driving in a foreign country? What if I choose the wrong hotel? What if they don't have a kids menu? The what-ifs when traveling with kids can seem endless enough to make you want to pack your luggage away in the attic.
There is an alternative. Tour companies like Adventures by Disney make traveling with kids child's play, reminding you of the joys of travel, instead of the hassles.
Adventures by Disney was created in 2006 for people who don't want to pack away their sense of adventure just because they have kids. The Disney tour operator's most popular itinerary is Italy, but it travels the world, from Asia to Australia, South America and Africa. This year's newest adventure is "Frozen" Norway. Lovers of Anna, Elsa and Olaf can "let it go" on this Nordic tour of the scenic landscape that served as the setting for "Frozen," Disney's largest grossing movie ever.
Movies have long inspired travel. Just ask the town of Salzburg, Austria, what "The Sound of Music" meant for their tourism industry. Our "Frozen" week in Norway began in Bergen, gateway to the fjords, and the model for the movie's Arendelle. We then boarded a bus that took us deep into the wilds of Norway for an adventure into the fjords and folklore of this country whose northern half stretches into the Arctic Circle.
All the daily activities are included in the tour, and days were often packed with more sightseeing than you thought possible. Surrounded by cascading waterfalls and cliffs towering nearly 6,000 feet, we cruised the narrow fjords. Another boat ride got us up close to glaciers, where visible signs of disappearing ice gave us real life lessons in climate change.
We also got cultural lessons, learning about traditional Norwegian architecture by visiting stave churches that inspired "Frozen's" castle.
One day a local folk teller sang traditional Norwegian songs and told tales of trolls who inhabit the forest. My 6 year-old spent much of the trip peering out the bus window for evidence of the mythical creatures. Legend has it that if trolls are spotted when the sun is out, they'll turn to stone, an inventive way to create fairy tales about the country's rocky, mountainous landscape. Rainy days are called troll days, where trolls are free to roam about during daylight. It's another creative way for Norwegians to make the best of their situation, which is often cold, dark and rainy.
"There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes." So the saying goes in Norway. We learned that one rainy day spent on a sheep and goat farm where we learned about traditional farming methods. Our tour ended in the capital city of Oslo, overnighting at the regal Grand Hotel, which hosts dignitaries as well as the annual Nobel Peace Prize dinner. On our last night we gathered for a dinner followed by a performance from the dancers/musicians of the Norwegian Folk Museum. It was a night none of us will forget; it wrapped up all we'd experienced that week.
Worried a group tour means you won't get to pursue your own interests? While you are spending plenty of time with strangers in planned activities, there were afternoons and evenings to explore on your own. Most meals are included, but there are a few nights where you're on your own for dinner. That allowed families to have some time away from the group as well.
Another perk was Junior Adventure night. Like on all Adventures by Disney tours, on one night guides supervise the kids in their own activities, allowing parents to have a quiet dinner and time alone.
As with most Adventures by Disney tours, our group had two guides, an American and a local. It was fun to see our Norwegian guide, Torgeir Skjerdal, point to his childhood home just up the hill from the fjords we were cruising by. Our American guide, Kira Butler, spends half the year touring with Adventures by Disney, the other half as a cast member in Walt Disney World, dancing and stilt-walking in parades. She's an entertainer and adventurer at heart, something that came across during our travels.
Could I have planned this vacation on my own for less money? Yes, but it would involve months of research and emails, with my husband and I left to navigate hair-pin turns along the scenic drive through the fjords. No thanks. The farm visit and dancers from the Norwegian Folk Museum were local connections I couldn't have found on my own.
Our Adventures by Disney tour took the guesswork out of our vacation. They scouted out the hotels, restaurants and activities. If it rained, they'd come up with an alternate plan. It was reassuring to know that if I needed assistance they were there to help. After spending a day chasing goats, making troll crafts and hiking up to glaciers, my exhausted 6-year-old said, "Everything today was perfect, Mom." Couldn't have said it better myself.
• Andrea Guthmann is a Chicago mom of three who writes as Midwest TravelingMom for TravelingMom.com.