MS Finnmarken is one of Hurtigruten's newer vessels and exceeded our expectations in terms of space, cleanliness and food quality. We'd never cruised before and didn't want to have to dress up for dinner, etc, and this ship fitted the bill. It's a working ferry, catering for the local population wishing to travel from one port to another as well as tourists and the shp called at over 30 ports although some stops were too short to disembark or they were in the middle of the night.
We flew from Gatwick to Bergen to join the ship and took the Classic Round Voyage to Kirkenes and back, taking 12 days in all. When we arrived at Bergen we were ushered on to a coach for the pre-paid transfer to the ship. The checking-in procedure took quite a time as there was so many of us and once we got into the waiting area we had to hang around for an hour before we could go on board but once that happened our bags were outside our door.
Cabins: We were pleasantly surprised at the size of our standard outside cabin which was on the highest deck. The porthole was large and rectangular with curtains and a blind. The two single beds can be folded during the day, one completely against the wall and the other converts into a seat but as there was still enough room to manoeuvre we kept them both down as beds. The cabin had a fridge and a TV, despite being told neither were provided, there was plenty of storage space including a double wardrobe, lots of shelving, a large space under the fridge for cases, and a desk with 2 electrical sockets. Two pillows, a duvet and blanket for each bed were provided. The bathroom contained an excellent shower, toilet and basin with double cabinet over. Liquid soap/shampoo dispensers were in the shower cubicle and over the basin, there's a small washing line and waste bin, and the bathroom has underfloor heating so underwear dried quickly.
Food and Drink: The food was excellent. Breakfast and lunch are buffet-style with plenty of choice and you can sit where you like. Dinner is a set menu which is displayed outside the dining room at breakfast time. If you don't like the look of any of the three courses all you have to do is mention it to the staff and they will do their best to provide an alternative. Pick up their interesting booklet which should be on the table outside the dining room called "Coastal Flavours". This lays out the menu for each day and the history behind it. The food at dinner is cordon bleu style and absolutely delicious. Although there's a lot of fish, there's also meat so plenty of variety. As we were half board we weren't entitled to attend lunch but one day when the sea was due to be very rough we asked if we could swap dinner for lunch and there was no problem at all. Alcohol in Norway and on the ship is extremely expensive. Fortunately, Hurtigruten is probably the only cruise line which allows passengers to take alcohol on board so we had our full duty-free allowance with us! If you like tea and coffee it's a good idea to purchase their "coffee deal". For Â£28 you get a thermal Hurtigruten mug which you can fill with tea or coffee 24/7. It sounds a lot but when you pay Â£4 per cup it's a good deal over 12 days.
On-Board Entertainment: Not a lot. Most evenings there was either a pianist or singer in one of the bars but as we're never interested in evening socialising it didn't bother us.
Fitness Activities: There's a well equipped gym and sauna on board. There's also a swimming pool on the open deck which my husband braved and a hot tub which he enjoyed leaping into after emerging from the pool. It wasn't so good coming out of the hot tub though into the arctic winds!
Excursions: It's advisable to pre-book excursions because as well as guaranteeing a place on a trip you want to experience, it's also cheaper than waiting until you're on board. We did dog sledding in Tromso, in what turned out to be a blizzard! Although we enjoyed it, I wouldn't recommend this if you have any sort of back problem because going over bumpy ground on a wooden sled isn't a comfortable experience! The huskies are amazing dogs and can't wait to take off and make a terrible row when they're excited and about to start running. We also visited the North Cape (recommended), the Snow Hotel at Kirkenes near the Russian border which is a very odd place. There are 22 bedrooms but you'd have to be mad to want to stay there. The toilet and washing facilities are in another building which would put a lot of people off, not to mention the obvious low temperature.
On-Board Information: The Tour Manager did a wonderful job of telling us what was happening every day. Information sheets were available every afternoon outlining the programme for the following day. The sheets detailed the times we were due to arrive at and depart from various ports, any interesting information on the sights we passed, and when we were due to sail on stretches of open sea (important to know when to have the pills and wrist bands available!) We sailed in March which is the worst month for rough seas so we were told! On the first day we picked up free booklets on the available excursions and the routes we were sailing. These were very interesting and worthwhile having. In addition to written information the Tour Manager made various announcements over the intercom during the day so we didn't miss anything. He spoke Norwegian, English and German fluently and could have made a living out of being a stand-up comedian.
The Northern Lights: We didn't really see them, despite being in the right place at one of the best times according to the experts. We couldn't see any change in the colour of the sky although when people took long exposures there was green in the picture so I suppose the lights were there.
We had a ceremony each time we crossed the Arctic Circle but I won't go into details as I don't want to spoil the surprise!!