The Case For Cruise Itineraries With Only Smaller Ports: An Interview With Helsingborg’s Monica Frisk

Kullaberg peninsula, a nature reserve. © Ralph Grizzle
Kullaberg peninsula, a nature reserve in the south of Sweden. © Ralph Grizzle

This past week at Cruise Shipping Miami, I repeatedly heard cruise executives talk about the need to offer their guests “authentic” experiences ashore. I couldn’t agree more. If you’re anything like me, you want to get out and meet the people who live in the regions you visit, to see how they live and to experience the way live if only for the short time that your ships set you ashore. You can certainly get some of that experience in the capital cities that cruise ships visit, but in the smaller towns and cities, it’s hard to avoid the authentic.

While in Miami, I interviewed Monica Frisk, who works with destination management for the town of Helsingborg, situated in the south of Sweden, in a county known as Skåne. Her region is representative of what smaller destinations can offer to cruise passengers.

In my view, Helsingborg is one of Europe’s richest and most diverse regions for cruise passengers. I know firsthand. I’ve visited beautiful castles (Sofiero, within a 15-minute bike ride of the town center); I’ve walked its coastal hiking trail, which follows a ridge along through gorgeous forests (again, within minutes of the town center); I’ve spent time strolling Sweden’s oldest shopping street; and I’ve dined at restaurants where the cuisine rivals what you might expect to find in Paris or London or Stockholm — but arguably more authentic in Helsingborg than you might find in those capital cities.

Mountain biking in Kullaberg. © Ralph Grizzle
I enjoy mountain biking in Kullaberg. © Ralph Grizzle

I believe that many cruise passengers want to go beyond the ordinary to experience something memorable and enduring. Frisk says that while there’s always going to be demand for basic tours so that people can orientate themselves to destinations “there is a potential and a need for the authentic, to go behind the scenes and to meet the people in the countryside.”

Moreover, she says that the increasing number of repeat guests on cruise ships present opportunities for cruise lines to develop itineraries featuring only smaller ports. “I think there is a huge potential in actually creating, maybe in the future, itineraries with only smaller ports,” Frisk says.

So what would a small-port itinerary look like in this part of the world? “A combination of Danish and Swedish ports, maybe some Norwegian ports as well,” Frisk says. “Could be Visby (Sweden), Aarhus, which is interesting in Denmark, Helsingborg, the region of southern Sweden with the bridge to Copenhagen, Karlskrona, with their wonderful maritime museum. Bornholm, a beautiful island where you can do the outdoor experience and have a wonderful day.”

Sounds good to me. I’d certainly want to do a cruise that visited those destinations, though Frisk says she’d need to go back and do a little research in order to include the best offerings on an ideal itinerary of small ports.

Helsingborg serves as a good example of what small ports can offer. “The real strength in the whole of our region is the diversity,” Frisk says. “You can have an urban experience, but you can also be in the countryside within 10 minutes on your bike. That’s hard to beat.”

Indeed it is. Helsingborg is increasingly positioning itself as an active destination. “When you talk about the active, outdoor experience, I think we’re getting very, very strong,” Frisk says. “We have a new international trail that was certified last year, which is part of a bigger trail that covers the whole of the country of Skane. Next year, we will have the event, Eurorando, and we calculate 5,000 to 6,000 hikers coming to the region where Helsingborg would be the hosting city. Again, we have the royal history and at the same time, we can also offer a wonderful hiking experience or mountain biking experience within a half an hour reach.”

Along the coastal trail. © Ralph Grizzle
Hiking along the coastal trail. © Ralph Grizzle

Another asset that Helsingborg brings is Hamlet’s Castle, just across the sound. In 2016, the region will celebrate 450 years since Shakespeare’s death. The bard penned The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, which was set at Kronborg (or Hamlet’s Castle). “Our aim is to be the most interesting and natural choice when it comes to another experience than the capital,” Frisk says. “We know we have a lot of interesting stories and history to tell in a wonderful setting where you can have both the urban and countryside experience in one port of call.”

See our video, Helsingborg, The Real Sweden.

Roads with no traffic, perfect for cycling. © Ralph Grizzle
Roads with no traffic, perfect for cycling. © Ralph Grizzle
Hamlet, inspired by Kronborg castle, which can be seen across the sound from Helsingborg. © Ralph Grizzle
Hamlet, inspired by Kronborg castle, which can be seen across the sound from Helsingborg. © Ralph Grizzle
View of Helsingborg from the castle Karnan. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle
View of Helsingborg from the castle Karnan. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle
Beach houses in Viken. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle
Beach houses in Viken. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle
View over the sound toward Denmark. © Ralph Grizzle
View over the sound toward Denmark. © Ralph Grizzle
My personal bike route. I used to ride this route almost everyday. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle
My personal bike route. I used to ride this route almost everyday. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle
Beautiful canola fields in the countryside. © Ralph Grizzle
Beautiful canola fields in the countryside. © Ralph Grizzle
View from Orenas Castle. © Ralph Grizzle
View from Orenas Castle. © Ralph Grizzle
A sampling of traditional Swedish cuisine. © Ralph Grizzle
A sampling of traditional Swedish cuisine. © Ralph Grizzle
Tranquility at Söderåsen nature reserve. © Ralph Grizzle
Tranquility at Söderåsen nature reserve. © Ralph Grizzle
Bikes on the island of Ven. © Ralph Grizzle
Bikes on the island of Ven. © Ralph Grizzle
Roads with no traffic, perfect for cycling. © Ralph Grizzle
Roads with no traffic, perfect for cycling. © Ralph Grizzle

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