Hurtigruten, A Cruise Along the Coast of Norway
This post is a compilation of questions emailed to me after our Hurtigruten Coastal Journey. I tried to answer all of them, but if I missed one, please let me know!
It seems an odd choice for a holiday. Norway? In January? On a ship?
Why Norway? Why January? Norway’s renowned natural beauty, the combination of mountain and water, the fjords, the snow, the people, a culture tightly bound to the sea. The blue polar light, the prolonged sunrise and sunset and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the Northern Lights (a winter-only opportunity in the Land of the Midnight Sun) and a chance to do a little dogsledding and snowmobiling.
Why Norway by ship?. We chose a Hurtigruten voyage because it is classified as a “working ship” instead of a cruise (no dressing for dinner or casino nights). We like the idea of sailing on a Norwegian ship along the Norwegian coast along with the locals. Travelling by ship allowed us to do everything we wanted to do without packing and unpacking every night, which I hate doing. It seemed like a perfect solution.
What about the passengers? A majority of people were between 40 and 65, although there were older people (Hi Ado! 85 years old, 4th? journey) and younger (a large group of 30-ish British friends joined the ship in Tromso). Most passengers were German, British and American traveling as singles, couples and in groups. Most passengers were well-travelled, active, low-maintenance and independent.
Were there children on board? There were quite a few local families with children travelling point to point. We were sailing during the school year and only saw 2 families with young children on the round-trip voyage. Winter temperatures would make it difficult for small children to enjoy the outdoor activities and excursions so summer might be a more popular time for families.
What are Hurtigruten ships like?
Hurtigruten ships are working vessels, a point the company emphasizes to differentiate their voyages from large company cruises. We sailed on the MSTrollfjord, one of Hurtigruten’s newest and largest ships (appx 600+ passengers).
Our ship had multiple lounges and places to sit and watch the world go by, places to socialize and gather with other travelers and plenty of places to hide if you needed time alone.
It had a “library” with television, wireless internet and a cabinet of books to borrow and two or three bars if you fancy a drink.
It also had a sauna, hot tub and a compact gym to help work off the effects of endless buffet breakfasts. I can’t tell you how this compares to a large cruise ship since I’ve never been on one. Sorry! You can check out some reviews by more cruise knowledgeable people on Cruise Critic or Avid Cruiser.
Each ship in the Hurtigruten fleet has a different style and level of amenity. The oldest ship, MS Lofoten, (launched 1964) has an intimate, nostalgic vibe, few frills and a loyal following of repeat passengers. The newer ships have saunas, hot tubs, pools and panoramic viewing lounges.
I expected a “working ship” to have miles of sterile bulkheads and functional spaces and was surprised the ship was comfortable and attractive. Note: Do your research. You can check out ship layouts and interiors here. The virtual tours listed under the “On Board” section of each ship description are really helpful.
What were the cabins like?
There were many cabin “grades” available, inside cabins on lower decks to owner’s suites with panoramic balconies. We chose an outside view cabin (class U, I think) with two twin beds, one of which folded into a sofa during the day. Our cabin had efficient storage, a desk, 2 beds, a bathroom and a large porthole with a good view. I peeked into an inside cabin on the same level and it was identical to ours, minus the porthole. The bathrooms were efficient. Showers had good water pressure, endless hot water and heated floors. I can’t tell you how excited I was about heated floors or how handy they are for drying wet clothes.
The beds were comfortable (really!) with that confusing euro-duvet thing, ie bottom sheet, pillow and down duvet. No top sheet (an American thing?). Cabins are serviced every day (bathrooms cleaned, floor vacumed). Shampoo, soaps are basic and come as an all-in-one product from a wall dispenser.
Note: If you’re sailing on your own, Hurtigruten offers a “no-supplement” single passenger fare at certain times. Hurtigruten also has cabins (limited) for disabled passengers, but no “family” type cabins as far as I can tell. Again, know your needs and do your research before you pick a cabin.
What about the Hurtigruten crew?
We were particularly impressed with the crew and level of service considering their primary job was running the ship not entertaining the passengers. I expected crew members running back and forth dragging hoses over my head, working cranes and doing ship things. No. The crew was personal and personable and while they don’t cater to you, they were there for you if you needed them.
The front desk/reception staff answered questions and took care of cabin questions/issues, the “excursion coordinator” was available to help plan off-ship adventures. We spent evenings talking to Per, the bartender, about his whiskey collection…laughing with Elsa at dinner (and often breakfast) about her family and life onboard…and talking to crew members who weren’t busy doing “ship things.” My conversation with Mads, the gracious hotel director, about life onboard and his love for shipboard life and crew was a highlight for me.
Photo courtesy of Ralph Grizzle & Hurtigruten
What is the food like?Is it all seafood, all the time?
Hurtigruten recently implemented a local food initiative and partnered with small, local suppliers. This initiative highlights the authentic nature of the voyage and ensures the food is fresh and traditional and creates a positive economic synergy with the communities they serve.
Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style (or as we call it…all-you-can-eat style) in the dining room. Breakfast can feel hectic depending on how full the ship is and what time you go, but the food was consistently good…cold meats and cheeses, cereal and muesli bar, fruit, yogurts, eggs, meat, fresh vegetables, various seafood options (this is Norway) and an assortment of pastries along with coffee, tea and juices. By the time breakfast finishes it’s almost time for lunch!
The lunch buffet had a huge choice of hot and cold entrees, soup, sandwich options, salads and desserts. And the pickles and the pickled beets …I ate my weight in those at every meal. They are magical. If you’re going anytime soon, I’d appreciate a suitcase full of either or both. I worried initially that the menu would only have seafood options (which I do love), but found that there were options for non-seafood lovers. Did I mention the pickles?
Dinner was served in two sittings at assigned tables and consisted of a set menu of starter, main and dessert. Groups sat together, and single travelers had at least one dinner companion during the voyage, so no one was lonely or alone unless they wanted to be. My favorite meal was the Roasted Norwegian Pork with marinated red cabbage and roast potatoes. Fabulous. Or was it the Arctic char that was so fresh, it tasted like the ocean. Or, or, or..you can find an online menu example here.
What about Hurtigruten excursions?
Hurtigruten offers multiple off-ship excursions for travelers looking for a well-organized, stress free opportunity to sightsee and experience a little soft adventure. Excursions are not included in the voyage price, so it’s wise to study your options and prioritize. The Mister and I took two excursions during our voyage and decided to explore cities and towns along the way independently. It seemed like a good balance since we didn’t have the budget to do everything offered and we are happy little independent travellers.
Our first was the Wilderness Adventure Camp excursion from Finnsnes, which included a choice of snowmobiling or dogsledding and reindeer sledging. The trip was really well organized and we just rolled off the ship onto a waiting bus. The driver handed out packed lunches, which we ate (immediately) as we enjoyed the gorgeous scenery rolling by. The snowmobile and reindeer sledging guides were wonderful, patient, fun people and we enjoyed sharing a warm drink in the Sami lodge with them after the excursion.
The remoteness of the area made a gorgeous backdrop for both activities. The ship continued its stops while we were snowmobiling, so we met the ship farther up the coast in Tromso. We sailed soon after returning to the ship, so we didn’t get to see the city. 🙁 If were on the round-trip journey, we would stop in Tromso again on the trip south.
The second excursion we took was a dog-sledding adventure from Kirkenes. After a 20 minute bus ride to the Snow Hotel, our group of 60 fellow travellers were divided up into 3 groups of 20 that rotated through the activities. One group toured the snow hotel, one group hung out in the lodge to have a warm drink and the remaining group went to the dog sleds. The ice hotel was fun to walk around (still don’t know if I could stay the night!) and we enjoyed visiting with the dogs before sledding. It felt a bit rushed with groups moving from one spot to the other but it was a good first dog-sledding “taster” experience.
(Note: In the spirit of full disclosure, Hurtigruten paid for our excursion. I accepted their kind offer with the understanding that I would write an honest review of my experience without editorial interference of any kind.)
Is it really that cold?
Yes. It really is, but you’ll be fine as long as you dress well. The Norwegians have a saying…”There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” The temps on deck ranged from 7C to -17C. Thankfully, warmth is only a few footsteps away in the ship’s panoramic lounge or your cabin.
photo via shutterstock/SurangaSL bc my fingers were frozen
How was the weather?
We were really fortunate to have clear nights, ideal for seeing Northern Lights. Most people hope to see Northern Lights during their journey and we were lucky enough to see them five nights of our 7 day journey. This isn’t always the case! My best advice is to *hope* for the lights, but enjoy and appreciate the journey.
What should I pack on a Hurtigruten Cruise?
Everything. No, don’t pack everything. I did, had an overweight bag and ended up being “that guy” in the airport unloading a suitcase and wearing half the contents onto the plane.
During the day (on board) I wore base layers, leggings and shell pants with a sweater/jumper and a pair of boots. At dinner, I would glam it up and change my shoes to something other than boots. Onboard washers and dryers make it easy to take fewer things, so keep that in mind when you pack. The heated bathroom floors are great for drying gloves and hats and outerwear.
In addition to your usual packing, consider these must haves:
Full length down jacket with hood or sensible, suitable outerwear
Hat that covers your ears
Gloves (make sure one pair is heavily insulated and waterproof)
Handwarmers and footwarmers. (I was really thankful for these on the excursions) We bought ours at the local outdoors shop instead of ordering from Amazon, since I am mad at them.
Winter boots, preferably lined
Heavy weight socks
Insulated base layers. I used these…and brought 2 pair. I can guarantee you will look just like the models in the ad if you wear these every day.
Lightweight shell pants (I wore these with base layers and running tights underneath)
Shoes other than boots for walking around on the ship
Hand cream (the air is really dry)
Ice grips for your boots We didn’t end up using ours, but we were lucky with weather. Norway doesn’t shovel snow down to pavement and the decks can get icy. Consider buying them before you go or from the shop on board. Just an fyi, the shop on board was selling them for 190Kr, shops in town were selling them for 220Kr.
A book or two
Downloaded movies (I downloaded a few to my laptop before I left. We enjoyed hanging out in our cabin watching a movie and drinking the wine we brought with us from the duty free)
Laptop/tablet if you feel the need to stay connected, although there were desktops available on board suitable for checking email, etc.
Motion sickness meds 🙂
A few bottles from the duty free. You cannot drink your personal stash publicly on board, but you can enjoy whatever you purchased in your cabin.
Was this helpful? Let me know if I missed anything in the comments below!