I took my family of 6 on a trip to Norway, one of the most expensive countries in the world, for under $7,000

vivian johnson norwayVivian Johnson on land in Norway.Courtesy of Holly Johnson

  • Norway is an extremely expensive country to visit due to factors like its VAT taxes, a high cost of living, and its remoteness.
  • A cruise is a great way to experience Norway on a budget since many components of your trip - including lodging, food, and entertainment - are included for one price. I took my family of six on a cruise for under $7,000 including airfare.
  • Norwegian fjords cruises can be affordable, but make sure to shop around for the best pricing and consider more than one cruise line.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Since my husband is Norwegian on both sides of his family, we have always wanted to explore the beautiful and mysterious country of Norway, and especially its show-stopping fjords. The problem? Food, lodging, and goods in Norway are expensive, and VAT taxes push costs up even further.

The VAT tax on many items in Norway is 25%, which means you'll pay that much extra more for hotels, rental cars, and other expenses when you travel there. By some measures, Norway is among the top five most expensive countries in the world.

Ultimately, we decided to go to Norway in June of this year anyway - but only after researching different ways to make our trip affordable. Ultimately, we even found a way to bring our two kids and my in-laws along for a price my husband and I could live with.

If you're considering a trip to the stunning Norwegian fjords, here are some tips to help you make it happen without breaking the bank:

Consider a fjords cruise instead of a land-based trip

First things first. You should absolutely consider a Norwegian fjord cruise over a land-based trip if your goal is saving money. Not only will cruising let you get into all the nooks and crannies (fjords) along the Norwegian coast without spending all your time in a car, but cruises include your lodging, your food, your transportation, and some of your entertainment for less than you'll pay if you attempt a similar itinerary on land.

holly johnson family 1The Johnson family in Norway.Courtesy of Holly Johnson

Taking a cruise can also save you time, since most of your travel takes place at night when you're in bed. You can visit one of the popular fjords all day long, retreat to your ship for dinner and relaxation, and awake in a brand-new destination without all the effort of driving.

Compare cruise pricing and amenities

Cruises in Northern Europe are more expensive than in other destinations like the Mediterranean, which makes it especially important to shop around. We priced out cruises with a bunch of different cruise lines but ultimately landed on the MSC Meraviglia from MSC Cruises. The price of our cruise was about half of what we would pay with a competitor like Royal Caribbean.

Our balcony cabin for four people wound up costing a little over $3,000 for seven nights and stops in Geiranger, Flam, and Stavanger, Norway. We departed from Copenhagen, Denmark, and there was an additional stop in Kiel, Germany where we didn't get off. A similar offer from Royal Caribbean for the same dates was priced at $7,500.

Ultimately, this works out to a little over $400 per night for our transportation, hotel, and all the food and drink we wanted. We also went to nightly shows and utilized the kids' club, which is the at-sea equivalent of "free babysitting." For a small additional cost (about 15 euros each) we also saw the ship's Cirque du Soleil show, which was absolutely worth it.

Considering all that's included, our Norwegian fjords cruise on the MSC Meraviglia was a steal. As a side note, the Meraviglia is coming to Miami this fall and we've already booked it for next year's spring break.

Eat and drink on the ship

I had very specific terms and conditions for my family each day when we got off our cruise ship. "Eat a huge breakfast," I told them, then we can have a snack for lunch and eat dinner on the ship.

With food costs so high in Norway, this is really the best way to save money when you're at port. Make sure you're getting as much free food as you can so you minimize your spending during port days. If you don't, the added costs of daily drinks and sandwiches will add up fast.

Book your own excursions

Also remember that while your cruise ship may offer excursions for convenience, you can often save money by booking them on your own. I booked separate small boat trips off the ship to see the world-famous Naeroyfjord out of Flam and the Lysefjord out of Stavanger, and each of those cruises cost about half of what I would have paid for similar excursions once on board.

norway sceneCourtesy of Holly Johnson

The bottom line: Booking excursions through your cruise carrier is definitely more convenient and can easily be a good value, but don't be afraid to shop around.

Be strategic with airfare

Finally, don't forget that you'll have to get to Europe first before you can cruise the Norwegian fjords. This is ultimately why I decided on airfare before I booked our cruise. I wanted to compare pricing for multiple cruise port destinations before deciding on a ship and departure date.

We ultimately decided we wanted to spend some time on land in Norway before our cruise, and luckily we found cheap flights out of Chicago and into Bergen, Norway and home from Copenhagen on Icelandair for around $600 per person. I then used Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book one-way flights from Bergen to Copenhagen on SAS. That made it easy to book our MSC Meraviglia cruise that left and returned to Copenhagen.

norway waterfallA waterfall in Norway.Courtesy of Holly Johnson

Norway is easily one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to. It's a lot like Switzerland or Scotland, really, but the fjords make the scenery much more dramatic. I probably saw over 100 gorgeous waterfalls during our trip, and the sheer size of the mountains flanking the fjords made them absolutely stunning.

If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change anything about our trip except for one detail - I would stay a lot longer.

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