I’m currently aboard Hurtigruten’s Finnmarken, sailing the line’s northbound Norway coastal voyage from Bergen to Kierkenes. It’s both my first time to Norway and my first time sailing with an expedition line that focuses mainly on destinations, rather than onboard bells and whistles.
Read on to see what I’m finding most intriguing about the ship and its Norwegian Fjords itinerary.
1. Embarkation is super relaxed. Forget metal detectors and pat-downs. When I boarded Finnmarken in Bergen, there were no security lines. In fact, there was no security at all. I was able to check in, get my cruise card and walk directly onboard after viewing a short safety video (which took the place of a muster drill). In one port, I bought a bag of cherries and carried them on with me without a problem. In another, I walked back onboard with an open bottle of apple juice and an entire pizza, and nobody said a word. It was a breath of fresh air to be able to come and go and eat/drink what I wanted, where I wanted, without being treated like a criminal.
2. Finnmarken is a working ship. Sure, it carries cruise passengers, but it also carries cargo, mail, cars, daytripping backpackers and other passengers who might only be onboard for a couple of days as they travel between ports. There are constant comings and goings, with several port calls taking place in the dead of night, sometimes for as little as 15 minutes until something (or someone) is brought onboard or offloaded.
3. I’m not bored. One of my biggest reservations about trying Hurtigruten was the lack of diversions to keep me busy — no shows, no music, no trivia, no casino, no mini-golf tournaments or belly flop contests. What’s a girl to do? As it turns out, Finnmarken stops in 34 ports during its six-night Norway coastal voyages, leaving little down time for anyone hoping to explore even just a handful of the most interesting ones. In my miniscule number of free minutes, I find myself actually relishing the opportunity to read or — gasp — work. The slower pace is much nicer than what’s afforded by ships that leave you scurrying to and fro to avoid missing bingo and dance lessons and that movie you’ve been dying to see on the pool deck.
4. You won’t find chicken, but the fish isn’t bad. I’ve never been a big fan of fish, but that’s pretty much all you’ll find in Norway (well, that and reindeer). Pickled fish, dried fish, smoked fish, fish in an astounding number of sauces (red, mustard, curry), fish cakes — all in a number of types, from cod and halibut to trout and salmon. After five days of eating it, I’m actually starting to like it, but I do miss chicken – although eggs are plentiful on most breakfast menus, chicken isn’t a staple in these parts.
5. Expensive fares don’t mean there’s more included. Travel on Hurtigruten doesn’t come cheap. The good news: laundry and Internet are free. The bad news: The Internet speed and connectivity are awful, and you’ll end up paying extra for lots of things that many other, less expensive cruise lines include in the price — like water, room service and round-the-clock access to food.
Yes, with the purchase of “full board” cruise fare, you’re entitled to breakfast, lunch and dinner in the dining room at no extra cost, but breakfast and lunch are repetitive buffets, and dinner has one set option each night. If you’re craving something different or something after hours, other options are available for a fee at a 24-hour onboard cafe, but you’ll pay for the privilege of choice, and it’s expensive. (Two small bags of candy, a snack-size bag of chips, two Norwegian candy bars, a large chocolate chip cookie, six sticks of reindeer jerky and a bottle of water set me back about $60. And, no, it’s not all for me!)
The biggest gripe for every fellow passenger I’ve asked is that drinks aren’t included with dinner. If you want even so much as a swig of water, you’ll have to shell out more than $4 for a bottle or purchase a $40 package that entitles you to one bottle at both lunch and dinner each day. Throw in pricey shore excursion offerings (sometimes as many as two per day, depending on the ship’s itinerary), and your bill can quickly add up.
6. There are lots of Americans. According to a fellow cruiser who works for Norway’s tourism office, American travel to Norway is up 40 percent this year, thanks to — wait for it — Disney’s “Frozen.” That’s right: An animated story about two sisters and a snowman has nearly doubled the country’s appeal for those from the U.S. What’s nice is that, although Norwegians, Germans and those from the U.K. make up the rest of the bulk of the passenger base, you’ll never have trouble communicating onboard (or ashore) in English. Everything from signage to tour guides is easily understood. All onboard announcements and literature (including excursion lists, menus and daily schedules) are in English, as well. Be warned, however, that because announcements are made in three languages — Norwegian, English and German — they do get a little excessive at times.