Cruise Review Hurtigruten Nordkapp
We sailed on the Nordkapp from May 5 -- May 10 from Kirkenes to Bergen. We were told there were 300 people on board with the ship listed as capable of holding 622. The ship is well appointed and run with reasonable efficiency. The rooms are small but well thought out.
In general we found the scenery disappointing. It should be noted that Hurtigruten -- as a coastal shipping company - makes no effort to enter fjords for scenic purposes with the exception of the Trollfjord, and that was cancelled due to "bad weather" on our voyage. The most famous of the Norwegian Fjords (Geiranger) is often visited by bus and not on the ship except at limited times. Southbound passengers do not have that option at all. We were going southbound and that's what this review applies to. We have been to Millford Sound in New Zealand, and to the amazing Kotor Fjord in Montenegro. With the possible exception of Trollfjord and Geiranger when visited, Hurtigruten offers pleasant scenery (quite good scenery in Lofoten) but not spectacular scenery as is available in New Zealand, the Balkans or Canada/Alaska. Hurtigruten, when they replied to this letter, said that in the summer months they enter Geirangerfjord in the ship. They also described themselves as a "coastal cruise" rather than a "Fjord Cruise". You should check your cruise specifically if you want to see a classic Fjord and be aware of the high probability of weather cancellation. It is possible that by going in early May we didn't get the full benefit of what can be seen due to the presence of snow over most of the first 1/3 of the trip. Fjords are also more spectacular from above than from sea level. We should have done more research before taking the cruise to discover all of this of course. Note that the word fjord in Norwegian has a meaning that's basically "bay", while in english it's more like "bay with steep cliffs". We heard one other passenger saying "his only regret regarding the cruise is that he didn't see any fjords". Ironic.
In general if you choose not to go for the full 11 days, you should take the Bergen-Kirkenes journey. It's clear from Hurtigruten's effort (there are 18 Excursions going north and 10 going south) that the southbound journey is an afterthought after the journey north. You might get on at an entry point after Kirkenes if you are going south. The Lofoten islands are worthwhile and the highlight of what we saw. From Kirkenes to Tromso the scenery was unimpressive, and a better southbound cruise might be Tromso to Bergen.
We found the endless quest for revenue by Hurtigruten disconcerting. Unique in our cruise experience, they charge for water (19 kr) at dinner. There is no free dinner drink (water, coffee and tea are free at breakfast and lunch). The tour of the bridge is 80 kr -- all other bridge tours we've heard of and seen on cruises are free. Everything on the ship is expensive, but it is Norway. The highly lauded 250 kr drink/cup offer is a good deal, but you should try the coffee first to make sure that it's to your taste (the coffee in the cup is the same as at the first buffet, so you can get a sample). Coffee on the ship is different than anywhere else I've been in the US, Europe, Asia or Africa.
The Hurtigruten literature specifically says that there is no tipping. Someone should inform the crew of this. Every single Hurtigruten voucher has a line for a tip. The snack bar and bar upstairs have "tip jars". Further at the "mandatory" disembarkation conference Johan, the cruise director (I don't know if that's his official title) made an impassioned plea for tips. Tour guides for Vantage and Grand Circle also instructed their passengers to tip. The service is competent, but it is devoid of any charm. Most of the crew would clearly prefer a cruise without passengers. In any case the original instruction (Cut and paste from the Hurtigruten 2012 brochure):
"Hurtigruten Norwegian Coastal Voyages has a non-tipping policy. However, if you feel that crew members should be rewarded for providing exceptional service this is entirely at your discretion."
The dinners are inventive -- some are good, some are not as good and all are interesting. My wife is a vegetarian, and they handled that well. We asked for early dinner seating, and it turns out that's basically only for the tour company passengers (Grand Circle, Vanguard etc). The breakfast was disappointing (fried eggs in the buffet only once, and scrambled eggs perhaps twice). You can forget about pastry unless you pick it up yourself at one of the local towns. Norway has wonderful bread, but the bread on the ship is not as good as the Norwegian average. We saw a number of people picking up food at the local coop grocery stores which are usually a short walk from the pier.
The Wifi is exactly as Hurtigruten says -- present in the lounge but slow. It was operational for most of the voyage and Johan did reset the router immediately when needed and requested. The cell phone service on the Norwegian coast is amazingly good. We had good cell phone conversations, and good smart phone email service the whole way without exception. This supplemented our wifi as needed.
The rooms are made up once a day unlike many cruise ships where they are made up twice a a day. We can verify that the lower sheet is not changed throughout a 5 day voyage since it had a stain on it when we first saw it, and it had the same stain every day. On some cruise ships they prepare the room by putting down the beds but not on Hurtigruten. That said the beds are very easy to put in place.
The departure from the ship was strange. The cruise director (?) Johan described a complex procedure at the "mandatory" disembarkation briefing which - if followed - would have lead to a peaceful relaxed disembarkation from the ship. The procedure involving waiting to leave the ship until the luggage from your floor was about to get on the conveyor belt. He said announcements would be made and went over them in great detail. In the end, no announcements were made. After all how could they be -- Johann was the first person of any type off the ship and his pleasant red haired assistant was close behind. If you have been on travel excursions (cruises, tours, rail journeys) you will remember seeing the crew greet you as you leave the ship. The crew doesn't do that on the cruise for the simple reason that every member of the crew who can leave the ship leaves the ship before the passengers. The disembarkation and luggage claim was the usual "free for all" although it must be said that the luggage delivery at the terminal was fairly quick. I'm still puzzled why Johan described that procedure in detail if there would be no one there to make the announcements. He could have spent even more time talking about tipping instead.
Hurtigruten did reply to this letter with the main response being:
"We do not operate cruises in the conventional sense as the main purpose of the Hurtigruten is for the ships to operate as working vessels collecting and delivering cargo and passengers (many of the local people using the 'shuttle' service to shop for food and other items) along the coast."
Hurtigruten is good if you want a relaxing journey with pleasant scenery. If you want above average or better service and dramatic scenery, you should probably go somewhere else.