When you say the word “cruise,” one typically thinks of a BIG cruise ship that holds anywhere from 2000 to 6000 guests and features Broadway style entertainment and lavish midnight buffets.
However, there are a number of cruise lines that walk away from this kind of mainstream cruising concept and provide a different kind of cruise experience. One such line is Hurtriguten that sails up and down the coast of Norway.
We boarded the Finnmarken, a ship that even with full capacity only holds 1000 passengers. Since we boarded on Oct. 27th, during the off-season, there were only about 150 passengers that were going the entire voyage, from Bergen to Kirkenes. By that I mean that although this truly IS a cruise ship with staterooms, main dining room and a cruise director, it is also the ‘coastal ferry,’ whereby the locals (even with their car) can board the ship for just a port or two before disembarking.
These ships also take on cargo and deliver it to various ports along the way. It was quite fascinating to watch – once we were docked, the door of the hold would open up, the forklifts would off-load and load cargo and in the 15-20 minutes we were in port they’d close the doors and off we would go.
With Hurtigruten, a ship sails every day from Bergen going North and that same day, one sails from other the ‘end of the line,’ Kirkenes, going South. So on any given day, their fleet of 11 ships are spread out along the coastline of Norway, some going north, some going south.
Needless to say, throughout our 7-day northbound cruise, we passed a number of other Hurtigruten ships, and of course there was friendly competition to see which ship could get the most passengers out on deck waving as we would pass.
While docked at Rorvik, we were even able to board their sister ship, the Midnatsol, during our 45 minute port stop (of course we had to be mindful of the time in order to disembark and get back to our ship in time).
With a traditional mainstream 7-day cruise, the typical cruise itinerary will call on 3 to 5 ports with some ‘at sea’ days as well. The ship will usually pull into port in the morning, you are in port the bulk of the day and then sail again in early evening.
With a 7-day Hurtigruten cruise, however, the ship calls on 34 ports, yes 34, which means hitting 5 to 6 ports per day! Although some stops are just for 10 to 20 minutes, just long enough to disembark passengers and off-load cargo, sometimes you are in port for a couple of hours, such as Tromso, Trondheim and the North Cape, which was enough time to do a 4 hour, beautiful and informative shore excursion.
Needless to say, the ship is ‘on the move’ pretty much the entire time. Some of the stops were made in the wee hours of the morning. However, I must say that even though the ship pulled into port after we had retired to our cabin, it was never bothersome or disruptive to our sleep.
One of the appealing things about this cruise (at least for us) was the casualness of it – there really is no ‘dress code’ and jeans are acceptable, even for dinner in the dining room.
Speaking of dining room, for meals, there was a rather extensive buffet for both breakfast and lunch that varied daily. As one might expect, there were some traditional English items, such as baked beans and kippers available at breakfast, but also a wide variety of homemade breads, meats and cheeses, including Brie and bleu cheese, available at both breakfast and lunch. YUM!
Dinner, however, was usually a set menu with assigned seating, but if you didn’t want what they were serving that night, upon request they would also prepare something different for you. The last night of the cruise, they put out an amazing seafood buffet that included mussels, prawns, a couple of kinds of crab and even lobster!
For entertainment, local performers were often brought onboard, such as a traditional Norwegian fiddler, who played some folk tunes while a young man danced. Another night, a gal from a Sami tribe came onboard and sang some of their folk songs. Other nights there was a lounge entertainer, but as one might expect, he was barely tolerable, but that was OK since most everyone was outside trying to catch the Northern Lights anyway.
Although not for everyone, for us, the Hurtigruten experience was pleasant and provided us a relaxing weeklong cruise with a taste of Norwegian everyday life, close up views of majestic snowcapped fjords and the ability to see the Northern Lights up close and personal.